If you really want to understand how even small nuances in terroir can create wines with very distinct personalities, the wines of Burgundy’s most famous and revered estate, Domaine de la Romanée-Conti (DRC), are perhaps the most telling examples.
DRC either owns outright or has an interest in six of the Grands Cru vineyards of Vosne-Romanée. These vineyards either adjoin or are closely located to each other and some are very small. The most celebrated of them all, La Romanée-Conti, is less than five acres.
Positioned mid-slope above La Romanée-St-Vivant, the well-drained soil of La Romanée-Conti is stonier, shallower and poorer than the lower sited La Romanée-St-Vivant. Of course, both of these vineyards are endowed with the signature, highly prized soil of the Cote d’Or – a mixture of silt and scree over layers of marlstone and clay on a base of calcium-rich limestone. But the slight differences in soil type, orientation and elevation of the different vineyards impart unique and authentic characteristics to the wine.
According to esteemed British wine critic Hugh Johnson, La Romanée-Conti is the quintessential expression of pinot noir. It is exotically perfumed, richly nuanced, concentrated and complex with perfect balance. La Romanée-St-Vivant is slightly lighter and more elegant in style than La Romanée-Conti. La Tâche, also owned entirely by DRC and just across the road from La Romanée-Conti, is earthier and more muscular than its siblings. (Hugh Johnson, Editor and Hubrecht Duijker, Touring in Wine Country: Burgundy)
DRC is one of the largest landholders in Burgundy, having assembled around 62 acres of vineyards over 140 years. The Domaine was formally established in 1942 and is jointly owned by two families, Leroy and de Villaine.
Under the direction of Aubert de Villaine, the estate has worked tirelessly to improve the vineyards so the subtle differences between the historic terroirs are fully and beautifully expressed in the wines. In 1986 DRC became completely organic and more recently biodynamic. In an interview with the Wine Spectator’s Bruce Sanderson de Villaine explained that he was “very sensitive to these ideas because you realise little by little that this is a great terroir [that] had given great wines over the centuries without any other defense or nourishment that what man could do naturally.” (Domaine de la Romanée-Conti: Burgundy’s historic estate sets the world’s benchmark for Pinot Noir by Bruce Sanderson, Wine Spectator, 31 May 2010)
The vineyard practices are complemented by the use of traditional methods in the winery. Grapes are meticulously hand-sorted, only indigenous yeasts are used for fermentation, and wines are matured in 100 percent new oak. The wines are not fined and only occasionally filtered.
The results speak for themselves: wines designed to age for 50 years or longer in the best vintages; wines universally admired for their purity and consistency; and, most importantly, wines renowned for their superlative ability to express the nuances of their terroir!
Photo Credit: Tradition Triumphs in Burgundy, Aesthetic Promendades