A veiled power struggle between enemies in the royal court, threats of sabotage and poisoning, and some of the highest valued, most sought-after wines in the world are all part of the rich and engaging history of the famed Domaine de la Romanee-Conti. Situated on the fertile grounds of the Cote de Nuits in Burgandy, the centuries-old vineyard continues to produce some of the world’s best wines.
For a colossus in the production of fine wine, the Domaine de la Romanee-Conti (or DRC) had the most humble of beginnings. In the year 1232 AD, the Abbey of Saint-Vivant in Vosne acquired vineyards that had been cultivated by occupying Romans. This, perhaps, is where the “Romanee” in the DRC’s name is derived.
In 1631, the vineyards were purchased by the Croonembourg family. Further acquisitions made by the Croonembourgs enlarged the estate, bringing it that much closer to the DRC as it is recognized today.
The Croonembourgs owned the vineyards for over a century. During that time, they produced wines that developed a reputation for quality. When, in 1760, Andre de Croonembourg decided to put the lands on the market, the ensuing bidding war caused quite a stir.
It seems both the Madame de Pompadour (Louis XV’s famed lover) and her enemy Louis Francois, Prince of Bourbon (or Prince de Conti) had both grown fond of the prestigious and lucrative vineyards. A bitter bidding war ensued. In the end, the Prince won, paying the extremely high amount of 8000 livres for the vineyards. He added his own name to that of the vineyards and, perhaps to spite Pompadour, hoarded every bottle produced for himself. Not one was sold on the market, and legend has it the Prince refused to share the vintages, even with guests and friends.
The French Revolution ended The Prince de Conti’s ownership of the Domaine de la Romanee-Conti, according to Vanity Fair. The estate fell into the hands of several different owners over the ensuing years, including those of Louis Liger-Belair, a general of Napoleon Bonaparte’s.
In 1869 the estate was purchased by Jacques-Marie Duvault-Blochet, and it not been sold to this day. The Duvault-Blochets purchased neighboring vineyards and developed the Domaine de la Romanee-Conti into the estate as it exists today.
Producer of some of the world’s most exclusive and costly wines, Domaine de la Romanee-Conti has, perhaps inevitably, inspired a number of would-be counterfeiters. The most famous and intriguing representative of this dubious lot is no doubt Rudy Kurniawan. When Mr. Kurniawan’s supply of DRC wines dwindled and eventually dried up, he decided to make his own. Possessed of an incredible palate, he was able to produce a passable version of the 1945 Romanee-Conti, among other vintages. Rudy was arrested in 2013 and is currently serving a ten-year prison term. The story was made into a film, 2016’s “Sour Grapes.”
Counterfeiting isn’t the only crime to have touched the DRC in modern times. One day in January of 2010, Albert de Villaine received an envelope. The co-director of the Domaine de la Romanee-Conti must have felt as though he’d stepped into the first chapter of a Dan Brown novel as he read the ransom note therein. The missive was a demand for one million euros. Should the money not be furnished, the sender threatened to poison the vines of the DRC’s most fruitful and cherished vineyard. Thanks to French police a petty crook named Jacques Soltys was identified as the culprit and taken into custody, say https://vinepair.com/articles/domaine-romanee-conti-facts/.
Boasting such a rich history, the Domaine de la Romanee-Conti is a destination every visitor to France would like to see. Unfortunately, admittance to the world-renowned vineyard is nearly as exclusive as are its wines. The only visitors allowed onto the estate are those who have been invited.
A Societe-Civile comprised of descendants of Duvault-Blochet manages the DRC today.
Thanks to http://blog.lastbottlewines.com/learn-wine/pinot-noir for their contribution to this article.