This transcription was created thanks to: Brittany Graham, Paul Knittle, Carlos Càrdenas & Ali Massie.
Brenna (Narration): Hi, this is Brenna Quigley, your personal geologist and terroir guide. Join me on a roadtrip through the geologic history of your favorite wine regions around the world.
This is Roadside Terroir.
Brenna (Narration): Season 2, Burgundy’s Côte d’Or is made possible by our Season 2 partners: Becky Wasserman and Company, La Paulée, and Acker Wines.
Established in 1820, Acker is the oldest wine shop in America, and has a passion for wine and the people who love wine. They’re committed to bringing the great wines of Burgundy, and beyond, directly to you, offering opportunities in auctions, events, travel, retail offers, and more.
They’ve even made it easy to find the elusive producers and vineyards we feature on this show–check out ackerwines.com/roadside-terroir to explore.
Looking for more hands-on opportunities to get yourself in front of some great Burgundy? Join Acker for their spring season of unforgettable Wine Workshop events, including a Raveneau Chablis Grand Cru Les Clos vertical, a Clos de la Roche dinner, Savigny-Lès-Beaune Tasting, and more! More info at: (https://www.ackerwines.com/wine-workshop/.)
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Please, don’t drink and drive… and remember to keep your eyes on the road.
This episode contains explicit language.
Part I: Nuits-Saint-Georges - North
1.1 Intro Mugneret-Gibourg + Vines
Brenna: So we go… straight?
Female voice: Straight. Yes, straight. We go to see two different plots.
Brenna (Narration): In this episode we’re setting out to explore the village of Vosne-Romanée – the single most mythical, most famous, most revered village in the Côte d’Or, in Burgundy, in France, and perhaps, the world. Today, we will trace the pilgrimage of countless others who travel to Burgundy to overlook this perfect part of the slope. We will follow the reputation of Vosne-Romanée from Roman times through today… and hear from some of the most legendary voices in the world of wine…
In order to tap into this place, we first want to understand where it begins – technically, physically, geologically, and historically – so we’re going to pick up right where we left off in our last episode – in the northern half of the village of Nuit-Saint-Georges…
Daniel Johnnes: It’s a large appellation so there’s so many different, different wines, different styles, and you’re going to have a lot of nuance…
Brenna (Narration): Here’s Daniel Johnnes…
Daniel Johnnes: So when you get into the north side of Nuits-Saint-George itself, starting with Aux Torey you find this wonderful, like aromatics and texture that have shocked me that Torey it’s not better known.
Brenna (Narration): Though today the northern half of Nuit-Saint-Georges is significantly less famous than the vines just a few meters away in Vosne-Romanée – the two areas can be shockingly difficult to distinguish by taste alone…
Here’s Paul Wasserman.
Paul Wasserman: It was only recently that Les Torey popped out to me at Cathiard, as one of the best wines in the cellar, there, there’s an elegance, I’d be damned if you didn’t put it in Vosne-Romanée served blind.
Daniel Johnnes: For some reason it’s not as well known, as say… Les Chaignots which is right next door. And, perhaps it has to do with the notoriety of the Mugneret sisters in Vosne-Romanée who have this parcel of Chaigniots, really really an extraordinary value and extraordinary wine.
[Sounds of car door slamming shut, footsteps on soil]
Marie-Andrée Mugneret: So here we are in Nuits-Saint-George.
Brenna (Narration): In order to discover where these similarities might come from, we arrive in the vineyards themselves, guided by Marie-Andrée Mugneret of Domaine Georges Mugneret-Gibourg – one of the most prized domaines in Vosne-Romanée. Marie-Andrée runs the domaine with her sister, Marie-Christine.
We are here to explore two very distinct, neighboring vineyards – Nuits-Saint-George 1er Crus Aux Vignerondes, and just above it, Aux Chaignots…
Marie-Andrée: … les Vignerondes, and we are approximately at 250 meters of altitude and our parcel of Chaignots is just, you see the piece of a little white wall? You see? And our Chaignots are just here. So we have the valley of the Meuzin here, which separates the north and the south of Nuits-Saint-Georges and we have to imagine that soil is different than the soil of the Chaignots, which the Chaignots are on the slope, when you go down on the slope you have more clay here, then there of course and Friday I make some earth samples with the, I don’t know the name of the machine to…
Brenna: *interjects* The carrot!
Marie-Andree: The carrot. Of course when you arrive at 30 cm, you arrive at the rock, I think the bedrock and of course when you come here you have more clay. I think that the difference in the wine is generally, the Nuits-Saint-George are very soft in this place, but we have beautiful tannins and very generous wines and the Chaignots with more limestone, we have maybe more precision. What can I say about Chaignots? Something very important to know, the draining of course is better on the slope.
Brenna: So yeah, you said only 30cm? Probably until it’s…
Marie Andree: There! In the Chaignots, not here.
Brenna: How deep is it here?
Marie-Andree: Ohh… *thinking* close to 91m, yes I think…
Brenna (Narration): Yes, you heard her correctly – Marie Andrée said that the soils in Vignerondes are about 300x deeper than in Chaignots. What she is referring to here, is not really the “topsoil” as we might imagine it, but the depth of unconsolidated alluvium before hitting solid limestone bedrock.
At this point on the slope, it is believed that we’re standing right along the boundary of the Saône rift – as we’ve learned from Françoise Vannier…this boundary is likely a bit more gradual than this description, but the sudden presence of deep alluvial material still has a very real effect on the vines.
1.2 Faults in the Combes, + Intro Pascal
[Sounds of car doors closing, gentle piano music]
Brenna (Narration): As we continue to inch closer to the border of Vosne-Romanée – we think about the invisible line that separates these two villages…
Pascal Mugneret: Attend, Only! Viens la.
Brenna (Narration): In just a few hundred meters we come to the last, northernmost vineyards of Nuits-Saint-Georges, and are now joined by Pascal Mugneret of Domaine Gérard Mugneret, of Vosne-Romanée, and his Australian Shepherd pup: Only.
Pascal Mugneret: Il aime la monde! He loves people.
Brenna: And we love him!
Pascal Mugneret: He loves two things in his life: eating and, uuh, driving.
Brenna (Narration): The Mugneret name is no coincidence – Pascal is the cousin of the Mugneret sisters, who we will see again in just a few minutes.
Paul Wasserman: We work with Pascal Mugneret from Domaine Gérard Mugneret. And they’re two domaines we work with where we’re at the third generation, and the Mugnerets are one of them. Our cellar was full of the grandfather’s wines, when I was growing up – and they were incredible wines. Pascal farms biodynamically. The farming is exceptional! The general health of Pascal’s vines, the poise they have – it’s something almost too subtle to understand, if you’re not a vigneron.
Another interesting thing is that he probably has the lowest total sulfur of a classic domaine in the Côte de Nuits: 25 mg/l total – which is nothing for a red wine.
Brenna (Narration): We begin in a little cluster of 1er Cru vineyards: Aux Boudots, Aux Cras, and La Richemone.
Pascal Mugneret: And then you get into Cras – which “Cras” by definition, the name is craye: chalk. So it’s a very chalky, limestone-y, minerally driven soil. And then Boudots. So Nuits-Saint-Georgers Les Boudots is by many considered one of the great 1er Crus of Nuits-Saint-Georges. And it’s neighboring Vosne-Romanée, so it borrows some of its notoriety from the appellation Vosne-Romanée. But Boudots certainly merits attention.
Brenna (Narration): Legally, all three of these vineyards are allowed to be blended together to be called Aux Boudots, and up until 2017, Pascal and his father before him, had blended together their parcels of Aux Cras and La Richemone, but called it: Aux Boudots.
[Sounds of car doors closing, then the sound of footsteps in high grass]
Pascal Mugneret: Aller, Only! Viens! So, here are the Cras. My grandparents and my grand-grandfather had two parcels of Nuits-Saint-Georges 1er Cru: Aux Cras, the parcel where we are, and La Richemone. So, because these parcels were neighbors, and because La Richemone was so small, they decided to blend them and to call all the cuvée Aux Boudots. So when people ask us to show them where was our Boudots’ parcel, when I show [them] Aux Cras and La Richemone they say: “Ok … so you’ve got some Aux Cras and La Richemone – but where are the Boudots?” So it was difficult to explain. But in 2017 I decided to separate them, because it was not my idea to continue to keep them together.
Paul Wasserman: And?
Pascal Mugneret: And? … and?
[pizzicato strings fading in]
Paul Wasserman: And La Richemone may very well be the greatest wine in your cellar, you think?
Pascal Mugneret: Probably.
Paul Wasserman: A Nuits-Saint-Georges, not a Vosne…
Pascal Mugneret: Yeah.
Brenna (Narration): One of the most interesting questions about terroir in Burgundy relates to these village boundaries – were they drawn blindly, following only the principles of the taste in the wines, or were there other motives, perhaps practical or political?
Pascal Mugneret: Yeah, but if you look at the map – look! Oh la la. Look: we have a great view. We’re much closer from Vosne-Romanée than from Nuits-Saint-Georges. And if you look at the map, you will see the edge is quite exactly in the middle of the distance between Vosne-Romanée and Nuits-Saint-Georges. But if you look at the 1er Crus – [whistles] – the edge is coming just after Les Malconsorts. So, you won’t remove from my mind that – and I have a deep respect for terroir, and it doesn’t change anything about terroir – for sure it could have been called: Vosne-Romanée La Richemone, or Vosne-Romanée Aux Boudots or Vosne-Romanée Aux Cras without any problems. So, why is it Nuits-Saint-Georges? I think it’s only, because the people from Nuits-Saint-Georges were stronger than the people from Vosne-Romanée. It is politics. I’m sure it’s politics. Here you can see Vosne-Romanée vines. You see it? It’s crazy. So no: no problem with the terroir, but with the appellations Nuits-Saint-Georges and Vosne-Romanée. I think we can talk about this a long time…
Brenna: Is the problem that these vineyards are better than other Nuits-Saint-Georges vineyards? Or that they’re more typical of Vosne-Romanée?
Pascal Mugneret: Yeah, I think they’re more typical of Vosne-Romanée. The comparison is not so silly, you know?
Paul Wasserman: The issue is, that people don’t regard it as “as great as” – but they should! Because, objectively, certainly La Richemone is – [makes an exploding sound] – I mean: it’s crazy-wine.
Pascal Mugneret: It’s crazy.
[slow, spherical synthesizer music sets in]
Brenna (Narration): From this vantage point we look south, back towards the village of Nuits-Saint-Georges and across the Combe de Meuzin – the large valley that contains the village. We’ve pointed out these combes many times, and have often noted their physical and climatic significance. And yet, in her detailed work, Françoise Vannier has made an incredible discovery about the geologic significance of these combes, which may make them even more important than anyone had previously realized.
Françoise Vannier: And it’s still due to human beings’ imprint on the territory. Most of the time, the villages have been built at the outlets of the valleys. And most of the time you’ve got a valley, where either you’ve got a river flowing or you’ve got a spring. But the villages have been built, because there was some water and they used it to live.
When the communes have been defined, they took the villages and they cut the territory around the communes. So that’s why, most of the time, you’ve got: a valley, a village, and the appellation, the vineyards, extending both north and south of the village.
And very often you hear about the wines of Chambolle, the wines of Volnay and so on, and so on. Geologically speaking, you’ve got the valley and you’ve got some faults, so the subsoil distribution is not the same…
Brenna (Narration): Here in the Côte d’Or we usually picture the main fault traces running parallel to the orientation of the slope, or north-south. These faults have down-dropped blocks of hard Jurassic limestone, like stair-steps along the Côte – but that’s only half of the story.
[warm and slow acoustic guitar music setting in]
Brenna (Narration continues): Françoise describes another set of nearly perpendicular faults that cut through these ‘stair-steps’. These transverse faults have relative movement more like back-and-forth, or east-west. And – as you may have already guessed – have left behind some clear evidence of their existence: the combes that cut through the Côte.
When you look a little more closely at the seemingly “continuous” slope of the Côte d’Or, you can actually see that between villages the slopes might be offset from one another. As we look out onto the slope here, between Nuits-Saint-Georges and Vosne-Romanée, it suddenly becomes clear that the slope we’re standing on, the Vosne-Romanée side, is actually over 450 meters, or over a ¼ of a mile further west than the slope on the opposite side of Nuits-Saint-Georges. This means that there is significantly more area for village vineyards in between the base of the slope and the main road than in the southern half of Nuit-Saint-Georges.
Françoise has not yet made detailed maps of Nuits-Saint-Georges or Vosne-Romanée, but she did confirm that there is a big fault that separates the northern and southern halves of Nuits-Saint-Georges, and that the northern half of Nuits-Saint-Georges is, in fact, geologically much more similar to the southern half of Vosne than it is to the southern half of Nuits-Saint-Georges.
Françoise Vannier: … there is a big fault in between, just in the middle. So the northern side of Nuits-Saint-Georges is very similar to the southern part of Vosne.
Brenna (Narration): And even more shockingly, this relationship is likely true for every major combe in the Côte d’Or.
Paul Wasserman: The great mystery is, that… well, certainly the northern bit of Nuits resembles Vosne – or Vosne-south resembles the northern bit of Nuits –, but as you go south towards Nuits, there’s still a bit of that stern structure, nowhere near the center of the village. So, the amazing enigma is why there’s this umbrella of this family to most villages – even if, you know, the borders are not drawn in ballpoint pen, they’re drawn in watercolors… they start to bleed into each other.
[melancholic piano music fading in]
Pascal Mugneret: And you can see here… you can keep your shoes – not dry, but… So, it’s La Richemone, and just behind the small wall here, it’s Aux Cras. That’s… [continues in inaudible French…] You want to go? Yeah, you can go…
Brenna (just audible): Ya!
Part II: Vosne Vines
2.1 Basics of Vosne Romanee/Arrival…
Brenna (Narration): With this in mind, we hop over to Vosne-Romanée.
Paul Wasserman: I always get the question of, you know: “What is your favorite Burgundy?” – and, you know, it’s always changing. And that’s because, I think there’s so much magic in Burgundy. And so, certainly Vosne-Romanée is… [chuckles] one of my favorite villages. And the wines out of Vosne-Romanée can knock you back on your heels and give you some of the most memorable tasting experiences of a lifetime.
Brenna (Narration): Vosne-Romanée is a village made up of distinct characters – not the winemakers or people, but the vineyards themselves. It’s a relatively small village, only about 230 hectares in total, and 73 of those hectares – or over 30% – are Grand Cru! Considering Grand Cru vineyards only make up a tiny fraction of the vines in all of Burgundy (something like 2% – depending on how you like to do your math), this is clearly a significant place for these other-wordly wines…
Within Vosne-Romanée, another 25% of the vines are designated as 1er Cru, and these 1er Crus are known for being nearly as individualistic as the Grand Crus. Within a village of individuals, is there really a singular character shared by them all?
Rajat Parr: Wines that have weight, wines that have texture and wines that could be very sturdy – could have a lot of muscle, could have a lot of extract –, just depending on where it is and how, you know… who makes it. So, you can make a wine that’s very light an ethereal…
Brenna (Narration): Because of the price and rarity of the wines of Vosne-Romanée, we requested some help from one of the greatest minds – and souls – in the world of Burgundy: Grand-Cru-expert, world renowned sommelier-turned-Californian-farmer and winemaker… Rajat Parr.
Rajat Parr: And the main reason for that is the clay. ‘Cause there is a lot of clay, as you know, and there is a lot of limestone. So, it just depends where you are. And it’s also a place, where whole cluster plays a big part. You have many producers, who are using a lot of whole clusters – others, who completely destem… so you see the stylistic difference there. I don’t think there’s any other commune that kind of sees that difference. There are very famous producers, who destem and who do whole cluster, and they make very different wines…
[synth piano and xylophone music in the background]
Brenna (Narration): Without Françoise’s maps, we don’t have a ton of specifics on the geology here, but what we know about the big picture gives us our first glance at the classic stratigraphy of the Côte de Nuits:
From top to bottom: there is the Comblanchien limestone somewhere at the very crest of the slope, white oolite, and then the Premeaux limestone, all of which we saw in Nuits-Saint-Georges. And then, just below and a bit older, the Ostrea Acuminata marl – a crumbly marl jam-packed with adorable little oyster fossils, and the harder but also very fossiliferous calcaire à entroque – or crinoidal limestone. Crinoids are ancient sea lilies or marine animals, whose fossils often look like little disks or stars.
This is the generalized stratigraphy, but the detail of how these rocks have been fractured and rearranged along the slope is another layer of detail not yet discovered…
Francoise Vannier: … and in Vosne it’s one of the places, where the Comblanchien is cultivated up-slope – it’s not so common along the Côte de Nuits. Very often, you’ve got the vineyard, the forest – and the forest is lying atop the Comblanchien. Here, it’s not the case.
And in Vosne you’ve got the specificity, also: you won’t have a lot of woods at the top of the hill, because during the 19th century they brought the earth, to put it into the vineyard… In the archive de Côte d’Or, in the library in Dijon, you can find a manuscript, written just before the French revolution, explaining that, a lot of – oh la la, how to translate it? – so… “natural” terroir is not so natural…
Brenna (Narration): I’m not trying to get myself or anyone else in trouble here, so in order to preserve some mystery, let’s just say that the slopes of Vosne-Romanée were quarried in several places, and have often been backfilled later on to allow for cultivation. Now that you know how much of the slope is planted to Grand Crus – I’ll let you jump to your own conclusions…
[upbeat base music and rhythmic drums setting in, a car engine audible in the back]
Brenna (Narration continues): We head into the vineyards to explore some 1er Crus with Pascal, taking note of just how bumpy and rugged the road becomes on our way…
[the sound of car tires on a bumpy road]
Paul Wassermann: We can’t afford a better road…
Brenna: I know!
Pascal Mugneret: Seats are good.
2.2 Vosne1er Vines with Pascal
Brenna (Narration): We begin in Vosne Premier Cru Le Suchot, the odd Premier ru sandwiched between some major Grand Crus
Pascal: So we are arriving, Suchot. Here is uh, Leroy’s Beaux Monts.
[car engine beeps in the background]
Pascal continues: Here is Brulée from Michel Gros…
[car continues to beep in the background]
Pascal continues: Here is Souchot from Domaine de la Roulot… Ah, just next to Suchot from Michel Noëlat, and after it’s ours.
Rajat Parr: So Suchot is kind of almost surrounded by Grand Crus, right? It’s, so, the reason it’s not a Grand Cru I guess is cause it’s, it definitely falls down a slightly lower elevation, and there’s, I won’t say it’s a ditch but there’s definitely like you feel like you’re coming down in elevation and it almost seems like a little concave situation happening there. And that’s why the wines don’t have the same regal. They’re very good wines but they don’t have that same depth and density.
Brenna (Narrates): We walk into the vineyard where Pascal describes the relationship between distinct terroirs, vine age and wine character.
Pascal: I would say there are three areas in this parcel. This first zone here.. It’s, uh drain?...
[Audience adds: “Very well draininging.”]
Pascal continues: …well draining due to stone coming from the top. And after you have another zone, much more clay, and my grandfather used to say at this place, below, you’ve got a river. And it’s very funny because in summer, when the soil is plowed, you have no grass on the first spot and you can see some grass 60, 70 meters further, and after about I would say another 60 or 70 meters further it stops, but what is very surprising is much more clay but it’s not very think.
[Brenna audibly acknowledges in agreement]
Pascal continues: What is sure after this is the behavior of the vine is completely different.
Pascal: What I know is Suchot is the biggest in surface in Vosne. It come from the cemetery over there…
Brenna: Can we walk down?
Pascal: Yeah we can go! Yes!
Paul Wasserman: And yes, we’ll be in the sun too!
Pascal: You’ve got the cemetery. So it starts with the cemetery. And Paul knows this very well, when we used to say from someone that they go from the Suchot, and people say just tell me where in the Suchot, that was meaning that was dead. Because the cemetery is on the Suchot place.
Pascal [changing topics slightly]: I have someone. A girl was here for one year. She’s here to learn about wine, vines; for the moment I propose her to sample each parcel in order to estimate two things: the age of the vines and the figure of the vines.
Brenna (Narration): Pascal explains that instead of ripping out entire sections of the vineyard, he prefers to replace the underperforming old vines one by one. But that means it’s difficult to understand the actual age of the vineyard as a whole, and how the different generations of the vines are performing.
Pascal: For example, here, it’s approximately ten years old.
Pascal: Okay, so we have and this one is probably five years old.
Paul: And that one?
Pascal: And that’s one more than fifty or sixty years old
Pascal: So the idea is to estimate the age; we have four categories: very young, young, adult, old. And after we have four levels of vigor: weak, more or less weak, more or less strong, strong.When you plant a new one like this with all around old vines, it takes approximately seven years before it produces normally.
Pascal: Because if it dies very young, that means that the new generation will never be an adult.
Pascal: ….And in that case…
Brenna:...it will be a waste…
Pascal:...you have to, you will probably have to say “we have to remove everything!” But you will never have the diversity, and I think the idea is to have some diversity.
Brenna (Narrates): The way Pascal describes this relationship shows just how much depth there can be to a topic that’s often be simply rattled off on a check list.
Pascal: It’s nice! When you change it, The question is, is this here compatible with one style you want to produce and is it economically interesting with the strategy of the domaine.
[Paul murmurs with intrigue]
Pascal: And if it is, I think it’s real interesting, because you can keep the experience of old vines and the energy of young vines. You can compare with PSG,you know the football team, – know, Paris team. We have the best team in the world, but not for the reason, but on the paper many stars, yeah! The whole team is more important than individuals and I think for the vines it’s my philosophy – the same.
Brenna: Are we in the more clay area now?
Pascal: Yes, a bit, yes now more clay. You can feel it I think.
Paul: oh, you can see it even.
Pascal: Over there the first party, the proportion of the adult is more important than here. Here you’ve got more old or very old vines, more easy to find very old vines and there are very resistant. And if you look at the vigor they are old and vigorous. It’s quite vigorous. Beginning of summer we will count the flowering.
Paul: Oh, okay!
Pascal: And after, we will count the grapes. And the idea is that you can be vigorous but with no grapes, so there is a link between vigor and fertility.
[Paul and Brenna agree in unison]
Pascal: …and in fact it’s too weak. It’s not fertile; if it’s too strong, it’s not fertile. So we have to find the balance. Because when we talk about the yield, if you say our yield is 25 or 30 hectolitres per hectare.. It’s quite different if it’s 30 hectolitre per hectare and ALL the vines are producing or if you have 30 hectolitres per hectare but only 70% are producing So when people talk about yield, you can say “ok, I’ve heard.” But if you have a look at the parcel, it’s much more interesting.
[The group begins to walk on. Walking on dirty and gravel sounds]
Brenna (asking questions in the distance): Pascal, were you an engineer before you did wine?
Pascal: In a previous life. [He chuckles]
Paul: You don’t hear it when he talks? [He laughs]
Pascal: You can hear it? Sorry!
Paul: No, it’s just the thought process, which we’re not laughing at you because Brenna is also a scientist, you know?
Brenna: It’s the systematic way of filtering the date.
Paul: So you like this one!?
Pascal (Indistinct French, beckoning the dog to return): Allez!
Pascal: Allez! Oui oui!
Brenna (Narrates): We whistle for Only, hop back in the car, and drive along the Combe Brulee before heading up the slope overlooking the Grand Crus.
Pascal: The dog is in.
Paul: He’s not happy but he’s here.
Rajat Parr: And then you have the Premier Cru Brulee. Which is, as the word says ‘brulée’, “burnt”. I mean, Brulee and Beaumont, that’s a Combe there. If there was no combe there, all the premier crus would be Grand Cru.
Brenna (Narrates): The Combe Brulée is a small one. Probably with very minimal geologic offset, if any. The Road itself cuts through the vineyard Aux-Brulée splitting it into two parts. One, north-facing; one south-facing.
[Car beeping in background and then rolling sounds as the truck moves down the road, onward]
Pascal: Here we’ve got our Brulée parcel. We have two parcels. One is here – We’re not going to stop here. The other one, this one. And the second one is here… we’re going to see. It’s one of my favorite places.
Brenna: Okay But isn’t Brulee on both sides?
Pascal: Yep. Yeah, of course.
2.3 Aux Reignots with Charles
Brenna (Narrates): From Aux Brulée we head to the top of the slope with Charles Lachaux of Domaine Arnoud Lachaux, who we introduced in our last episode.
[Jasper, in the background, introduces the establishment history circa 1858, of the site…]
Brenna (Narration continues): This small cluster of Premier Crus is a rarity in the Cote d’Or. It’s a bit more common for Premier Crus to sit below the Grand Crus in the Cote de Nuit, and higher elevation vineyards at the top of the slope tend to be designated as ‘villages’. But here, the Premier Cru have a stunning view of the most magical vineyards in the world.
Rajat Parr: What’s very important is that Premier Crus on that little hillside have one of the most important Premier Crus up on the slope there. Above Richebourge is Cros Parantoux, planted by the late Henri Jayer, and now produced by Méo-Camuzet and Emmanuel Rouget… and that is an extraordinary wine – has that kind of weight of Richebourge but maybe more spicy and more red fruit, but again with warmer vintages you can get the kind of black fruit aroma. And then right up above that is another very small Premier Cru, Petit Mont. It's very small Premier Cru and you don’t see many examples of it. It’s a vineyard which is much more boney on the palate but really nice aromas of red fruits, more more red fruits than Petit Mon. Aux Reignots Premier Cru, also known for wines that are more tannic, firmer, slightly more coffee and chocolate notes.
Paul: I think a lot of people would put their favorite Premier Cru of Vosne amongst one of those three. Reignots, which is just above La Romanée. It’s, pretty steep. There’s first of all what appears to be a fault between Reignots and Romanée. There’s a pretty serious drop between the two vineyards and it’s a different color soil, much lighter; and, it is a very very very, mineral wine. Is it…... is it doing to be my favorite Premier Cru vineyard in Vosne? I think so.
Brenna (Narrates): Here again, Charles is once again pushing limits and defying expectations.
[acoustic guitar interlude]
Brenna (Narrates): A section of his Reignots vineyard has been planted at high density. 17,000 vines per hectare. And on échelas, meaning each vine is trained to its own individual stake rather than along wires in a row, as described by Jasper Morris.
Charles: So we go up to, in the middle of the slope, we are going to visit Vosne Romanée 1er Cru Aux Reignots.
*car engine whirring in the background*
Charles continues: You see the échelas in the middle of the stakes?
Brenna, distantly: Yeah!
Charles: That’s where we’re going.
[Car movement rattles and whirring engine sounds]
Brenna: What is the other word that you’re using for échelas?
Paul: …if there’s several of them.
Charles (Chastises Paul, jokingly): But you never plant only one.
Paul: I know.
Brenna: What is the difference in when you use the terms if it’s the same thing?
Charles, clarifies: Paisseaux and échelas?
Paul: Regional difference.
Charles: Yeh, regional. So you don’t hear much about the name ‘paisseaux’ because there are not many in Burgundy but that’s what was used when there were a lot in pre-phylloxera time.
[Conversation continues but trails off]
[Car stops and the team exits vehicle]
Charles: So, La Romanée on your right. And La Romanée on the top on your left. So the Reignot we’re going to see starts here at the wall. It’s the Liger-Belair plot. So it’s like a triangle, you see there’s a wall and just beyond it’s Petits Monts; it’s not Reignot anymore. So Reignot is like big triangle. We are two from the bottom of Reignot; it’s Liger-Belair and *inaudible* . And over grows an honors, high on the slope. I will show you. And at the end of the appellation is that path between Reignots and Richebourg. And it’s where the Petit Monts starts as well.
Here there’s no, nothing, machine that goes into the rows. As you can see the vineyard is a bit too wide but the rows are very short. So we didn’t make the space for a tractor to turn around at the top or the bottom. So there is no soil work like the rest; but no blade, no grass pinching. The spraying is done with no back machine; I do it myself at the moment. A very simple effort; see if you try to take the grass out without a compactor it comes out so easily.
[Interlude musical tones as Charles demonstrates his weeding technique and narrates as he walks along the vineyard rows.]
Charles: You see how the grass, you can pull it out easily? The very small like this as there’s no compaction, only the human walk, but just now I just took it out, it’s coming out so easily. There’s no compaction, nothing.
[More musical tones as they walk along]
Brenna: Do you think it is also a bit lighter in texture?
Charles: Yes. When you look at it. And what’s fascinating is how it’s already naturally compacted because you don’t have heavy tractors coming in. And it smells good.
Brenna: It smells so good!
Brenna (Narrates): Paul plucks a few second crop grapes off the vines and passes them around.
Paul: Here. This is the only Reignots we’ll ever drink!
Brenna (Narrates): It’s no wonder Paul loves this wine and this vineyard. Françoise has reported that she believes there’s a good amount on grèze litée at the top of the slope here. That highly calcareous cryoclastic gravel we’ve seen in a few places on our journey. Paul notoriously loves wines with exactly this kind of distinctive cut and intensity, and always gravitates toward grèze litée wines, even though I don’t think he’s actually aware of the grèze litée in this vineyard yet.
Charles: And after we have this small part in the plot, which is in high density. It was planted in 2015. And we’ll see what it gives because the funny part is that for almost a century it was only grass. We didn’t even have food growing. I love nature!
The more we go up, the more we have rocks. Bigger bigger gravels. And the soil here is not very dark. This spot here is tremendous, you’re overlooking the grand Crus of Vosne and Largar. You can see the Clos Vougeot, a big part of the Musigny. You already see Dijon overlooking La Romanée, Romanée Conti and Saint Vivant, La Tache.. Grande Rue, Richebourg,, Echezeaux - Grand Echezeaux, Clos Vougeot, above Vougeot you can see the Musigny.
And then, it’s the end of the world.
[Slow, soft piano music starts to play in the background]
Brenna (Narrates): If there’s ever a place it would feel risky to push the limits of farming, it would be in the precious, precarious, premier crus of Vosne Romanée.
2.4 Grand Cru Breakdown with Raj + Échezeaux
Brenna (Narrates): It was difficult to decide how to approach the grand crus of Vosne Romanée. These wines are so rare and so expensive they often seem they don’t belong to us mortals. How do we describe wines of such importance without first hand experience, and how do we explain their purpose knowing many of us may never have the opportunity to taste them. I asked a few friends to describe what a ‘grand cru’ is and what it means in the world today.
Rajat Parr: A grand cru always speaks back to you, you know? It’s like you taste it and then you think about it, and it says something to you. Usually it's the little voice who comes back to you that’s like, “this is where I am”. And no place more than Vosne Romanée defines that. A Grand Cru always has that layer – it has that extra dimension.
Brenna (Narrates): Here’s Jasper Morris, author of Inside Burgundy.
Jasper Morris: You have your appellations, and then the Grand Crus are their own individual appellations. So if we go back just to the village level, we have a view, roughly, of what the characteristics are supposed to be in taste terms. So you get this idea of a flavor. The 1er Cru vineyards are those that express that flavor better, and you also get this feeling wine goes into your mouth and there it is, and then it sort of takes off, the airplane has left the ground and you get an extra lift and punch and just delivers more. The Grand Crus should have a strong enough personality of their own, which though it may be linked to the appellation, it sort of transcends it. So that’s my idea, a Grand Cru should have enough of its own personality that it self-defines.
Rajat Parr: Now they just stand as benchmarks, you know? I mean, the thing is that even back in the day, when you were drawing a grand cru, a village wine would just seem so light and not as complex. It’s the same today. A grand cru is just so profound; it’s like the person who wants to tell you a story, you know? A village wine will just say one word; a premier cru might give you a sentence, but the grand cru really talks back to you. They are the benchmark. They define each place. Yeah, too bad we can’t taste them more often and discuss them. But yeah, it’s there to tell you a story.
[Raj trails off...]
[Car continues to drive and casual navigation directions are overhead.]
Marie-Andrée Mugneret: Nuits-Saint-Georges – Vosne Romanée; it’s different here!
Female Voice: Yeah, the road changes!
Marie-Andrée Mugneret: In order to explore these distinct, yet hard to reach wines, Marie Andre Mugneret has kindly agreed to give us a little driving tour; and Raj and Paul will help to illuminate the wines as we go.
Brenna (Narrates): We begin our tour where we started this morning – in the south, arriving in Vosne from Nuits Saint George.
Marie-Andrée Mugneret: And of course, La Tache…
Brenna (Narrates): La Tache is on our left, marked by an ancient cross that sits upon the ostrea acuminata marle, one of the key monopoles of Domaine de la Romanee Conti. Yet the vineyards boundaries and ownership were under flux until 1933. The six hectare vineyard has distinctly variable yet mysterious geologic zones.
Paul: La Tache in one word is spectacular. It’s such a giving wine, both aromatically and texturally, it almost never has a bad day and sometimes wines that are this giving and generous can be a little dumb, but La Tache is never dumb and never vulgar. It’s just a gloriously expressive, beautiful, embracing wine, probably the closest thing to unconditional love you’ll ever receive from a grand cru in Burgundy and because of this I think of it as the most maternal of all the grand Cru.
Marie-Andrée Mugneret: It’s the road of adventure.
Brenna (Narrates): We slink along the outskirts of the village, looking toward the narrow La Grand Rue, climbing the gentle slope ahead of us, and hugging the northern border of La Tache.
Marie-Andrée Mugneret: *observing the landscape* The birds are ready to go to the south.
Brenna: Wow, yeah. They’re gathering.
Marie-Andrée Mugneret: Of course you know here, Romanée Saint Vivant, La Grand Rue, Domaine Lamarche.
Brenna: Romanée Saint Vivant is on our right. It lies nearly at the bottom of the slope, even touching a corner of the village. The slope is flat with calcareous clay soils nearly a meter deep.
Paul: There’s a lot of talent in this vineyard. Lachaux for example Cathiard and Leroy. It’s pretty delicate. Much more delicate than La Tache or Richebourg.
Rajat Parr: It’s hard to talk about Vosne Romanee and not talk about Richebourg and Romanee St Vivant. Romanee St Vivant, the wines are much more ethereal, like they could be tannic but not very tannic.
Paul adds: It’s sort of built like a long distance runner. Sometimes, to the point of wondering if it has enough meat on its bones, but I personally love the more profile, sleeker, more graceful terroirs. And actually, in its discretion, Romanée St Vivant, is the little cousin of Romanee Conti.
[Marie continues to point out landmarks as the car tour continues. You can hear the tires rumble over the uneven road]
Marie-Andrée: …Richebourg. We’ve crossed the Richebourg.
Brenna (Narrates): The road comes to a crossroads and we turn right. Romanee St Vivant is now below us on our right; Romanee Conti and Richebourg on our left.
Paul, emphasis in his voice: First of all you don’t pronounce the ‘g’. It’s REESHBOOR, not RICH-BORG.
Rajat Parr: Richebourg is always, has been known to make bigger wines, tannic wines, chewier wines, for pinot noir levels, but they are definitely more firmer wines than Romanee St Vivant. And I guess that would probably kind of be because of the more ‘clay-ier’ soils at the bottom of the hill, and as you go up you get more limestone and a good mix I guess. It just gets gluey. The limestone clay is so sticky. And that probably the same happens at the bottom part of Richebourg and the middle part of Romanee St Vivant. Just sticky. But much redder, much more iron soil.
Paul: And it tastes sort of like its name, rich. It’s a flamboyant, showy wine, full of fruit with a powerful structure. Not just complete, but with a whole lot of everything in it. It makes it one of the most beloved grand Crus, not just in Vosne Romanée but in all of Burgundy. And it’s often named as the wine that gave people their Burgundy epiphany.
Paul continues: When it’s young, it can be a little bruttish. For me it it’s sort of like the jock of the grand crus of Vosne. It is unquestionably a brilliant Grand Cru and one of the very very very best, just slightly big and in your face for me. But it is brilliant.
Rajat Parr: Richebourg is maybe someone who is muscular and dense, right? So that makes the wine more tannic. Maybe Richebourg is a 300lb muscle person and Romanée St Vivant is a 220lb muscle person.
Marie-Andrée navigates aloud: …on the left…
Brenna (Narrates): We pause at the intersection.
Rajat Parr: When you go further south, you come upon, next to Richebourg, above Saint Vivant, is Romanee Conti, which is kind of midslope. It’s hard to see the slope until you’re standing below it.
[The car has come to a stop to observe the slope. Church bells ring in the background]
[Marie mumbles: wine tour maybe…]
[Marie is observing what’s happening in the town, or what the bells indicate]
Brenna: Oh yeah, wow.
Rajat Parr: It’s a pretty extraordinary gentle slope going up.
Brenna (Narrates): Although the road is always a rugged mess, there are always a few cars parked here. Pilgrims have made their way to the sanctuary of La Romanée Conti
Marie-Andrée: La Romanee Conti of course!
Brenna: …with the rainbow over it.
Marie-Andrée: Ah yes!!
[Church bells still ringing]
Marie-Andrée: It’s perfect.
Brenna (Narrates): It’s hard to believe at first, that this humble piece of the slope creates the greatest wines in the world, and yet, that perfectly embodies the glory of Burgundy. The vineyard does not shout at you, but encourages stillness; forces you to listen.
Paul: So is Romanee Conti the greatest? Is it ‘the one ring to rule them all?’ Without a doubt for me, absolutely, yes. But the thing is, it is not a flamboyant wine. In fact, when you first taste it, it’s a really small thing and you can be utterly disappointed. It often loses in blind tastings to La Tache or Richebourg and you really have to focus on it to see why it’s so great. You have to work up to it, it’s not going to perform for you even though you’ve spent a huge amount of money on it. However, if you do give it your full attention, it’s like putting a slide under a microscope and suddenly discovering an incredibly detailed universe with everything in the most absolute perfect proportions. There’s no other wine in Burgundy that most fits what people think of Burgundy intensity without weight. And, there’s another thing people love about Burgundy is the layer trick. You know you go back to the glass and there’s another layer, and you go back and there’s another layer, and another layer. And Romanée Conti does this more agonizingly slower than any other Grand Cru and goes on for hours doing this. Your glass is always empty before we’ve seen the full thing; but it is the most glorious, discreet, elegant, complex, slow reveal. It’s just absolutely stunning.
Brenna (Narrates): Just above Romanée Conti is La Romanée, a monopole of the regal and historic Domaine de la Comte Liger-Belair.
Rajat Parr: Above it is La Romanée, which is, you know, they’re planted on differently because the slope changes as you go up. You walk up Romanee Conti and you literally just walk into La Romanée and you see the slope is just slightly more North-South, so it’s planted that way versus Romanée Conti planted East-West.
Paul: …and there’s questions whether it was once one vineyard that got split into two. So La Romanée… Makes it a very similar wine, yet it’s not exactly the same. Romanée Conti is spherical; everything is contained in this little ball. And I suppose because of its position on the slope, La Romanée is a more linear wine, but they share this incredible grace, this beautiful elegance. La Romanée because of its linearity can age a very long time. I was blessed once in one evening to have both 1906 and 1865 La Romanée, and I didn’t find that they had peaked, which is berzerk, but that was the case; there was still this trace of edge in absolutely spectacular graceful Burgundy.
[Car sounds, and Marie is cautiously trying to navigate the hillside aloud]
Marie-Andrée: And normally we will take the left, the first left, but we will see if we don’t have too much water on the…
[slow symbol/high hat drum tapping sounds in anticipation]
Marie continues: No! No, too much water. Not a good idea. We will take the next.
Marie Andrée: We are able to send people in the space. But to find a good *inaudible* is another question
[Understanding chuckles from Brenna & Marie]
Brenna (Narrates): We continue on the bumpy road, trying our best to avoid puddles and potholes of ominously unknown depths.
*slow symbol/high hat drum tapping sounds resume in the background*
Brenna (Narrates): We pass the Suchot and its gentle dip beneath the Combe Brulee before arriving at the Grand Cru beheamonth, Echezeaux.
Marie-Andrée: So just here, we have our parcel of Echezeaux…
Paul Wasserman: So, Echezeaux is very much the elephant in the room, that is Vosne Romanee and Flage Suchot. The question is, should all 11 of these climats have been included in the Grand Cru? And the answer is probably not. It’s one of the few exaggerations of the Burgundy hierarchy, much like Vougeot, its northern neighbor. A great Echezeaux is different on the slope than it is on the flatlands. It’s still beautiful; it still has all the beautiful spice of Vosne, especially with age. The structure is a little square, but it’s never grippy or austere. On the bottom of the slope, you have much more delicate wines, maybe lacking a little in size but with super texture that can be enjoyed much younger and really, really, really pretty.
Rajat Parr: So Echezeaux is kind of – a very – maybe the most complicated Grand Cru of all Grand Crus because the soils at the bottom is more water and there’s more clay. It also kind of a little convex situation happening at the bottom of Echezeaux, which produces kind of, like, good Echezeaux, you know… could pass off as Premier Cru. And if you keep walking up Echezeaux and you see it's ah.. a slope, it's like you’re walking up a hill. So it’s very, very…, depends on the lieu dits. That’s why some people blend the Echezeaux; some keep them separate. You won’t find that many Echezeaux that says, ‘oh that wine is tannic’ or’ firm’ or ‘hard’. They are more kind of silky in texture.
[Brief piano music]
Brenna (Narrates): Both Echezeaux and Echezeaux technically lie within the village of Flage Echezeaux; however this village doesn’t have its own ‘villages’ status. So the few Premier Cru and ‘villages’ vineyards are labeled as Romanee. Grand Cru vineyards transcend village and so never claim one on their labels.
[Brief piano music]
Marie-Andrée: Grand Echezeaux, here….
Brenna (Narrates): Grand Echezeaux lies at the same elevation as Romanee St Vivant, and just below it is the Grand Cru Clos De Vougeot, which extends all the way down to the D974.
Rajat Parr: Then when you come to Grand Echezeaux, you see it’s like, similar silky – a little more grittier tannins – slightly more gritty. It’s just more broad, so it’s basically taking Echezeaux and super-sizing it in length on your palate, but it has a profound texture. That’s what makes Grand Echezeaux so unique.
Paul: It’s very complete. There’s beautiful fruit that’s lush but not too rich; and, it also has impressive structure, so we can age it extraordinarily well. At Domaine de La Romanée Conti, it’s often the wine that ages the longest.
Brenna (Narrates): Now at the end of our tour, Marie Andree drives us to her favorite parcel of Echezeaux so we can see the Grand Cru soils for ourselves.
Marie-Andrée: The soil is really different. So we can stop here, yes.
[car rolls to a stop and sound of a door opening as the group exits the vehicle and steps onto vineyard soil]
[2 car doors shutting, and you can hear the swish of rain jacket material as they move onto the vineyard site]
Brenna: It’s very special to be here, thank you.
Brenna (Narrates): Our minds spinning, we make our way make into the center of the little village of Vosne Romanee.
Part III: History and Significance
3.1 Deep Human History of Vosne, Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Intro
Brenna: So… where are we headed?
Paul Wasserman: We are headed to Domaine de la Romanée-Conti in Vosne-Romanée.
Brenna (Narration): Even just the name Vosne-Romanée is draped in sounds of mystery and mysticism… As we drive into the village, I’m startled by how quiet it is. It seems like in Vosne, you never see a big gathering, or people bustling in the cobblestone streets. There’s a small church in the center, of course, but I’ve never personally been to a restaurant or cafe of any sort… Jasper Morris lists no less than 36 producers of note in the Village, so with a population of only 350 you imagine that every building must be filled with brilliant winemakers…
Today, Vosne-Romanée is without a doubt, the most famous wine producing village of the Côte d’Or – but we want to know how, and why this became the case…
The name Vosne, or Voanna, was first recorded in the mid 7th C – . The Romanée addendum of course refers to the virtually undisputed greatest vineyard in the world – La Romanée-Conti, with the word Romanée alluding to a mythical acknowledgement of this spot of land by the Romans circa the first century AD – and while there is evidence that the Romans did indeed grow vines in and cherish the wines of Burgundy, there is no documentation that connects them specifically to Vosne or to Romanée Conti itself…
The prestige of Vosne-Romanée has always been intrinsically linked to Romanée-Conti, even long before that was it’s name…
Paul Wasserman: It was It was originally called the Cru des Clous, and the Saint Vivant vineyard was named after the priory the Clous de Saint Vivant
Brenna (Narration): The priory of St Vivant was located in the village of Curtil de Vergy, located in the modern day Hautes Cotes de Nuits. In 1241 the priory purchased what would become Romanée-Conti from Alix de Vergy.
Paul Wasserman: The first lords, if you want, of Vosne-Romanée were the Vergy family… who had their chateau near where the priory was founded, and in the 12C they start giving the priory, Saint Vivant a lot of land. So, it gets donations of lands, it creates this sort of little cuverie in Vosne-Romanée, and then it gets wealthy enough that it can buy vineyards and it increases holding.
Brenna (Narration): It’s unclear exactly when or how the vineyards in Vosne developed their fame and reputation, but over the next 500 years, the wines became legendary… local lore tells us they were favorites of the French court.
Sometime in the 17th C the Cru des Clos becomes, confusingly, La Romanee – and
was purchased by Louis Francois de Bourbon the Prince of Conti in 1760 — for an unprecedented price. The prince of Conti, known for his love of art and extravagant lifestyle… finally added the Conti to Romanée Conti.
Paul Wasserman: As legend goes, he actually fought over it by Marquis de Pompadour another famous French aristocrat just goes to attest to how famous the wines had become, when the French revolution happen, almost all the vineyards are confiscated and sold off at auction, for the most part they went down to a very rich merchant class or lawyers, but a fairly well off class, and that’s when you see gradually appearing the very important families in Vosne-Romanée. At first though, Romanée-Conti was sold off to Nicolas de Fer and he’s listed as a gardener in Paris which is kind of amusing, eventually Romanée-Conti went to the Ouvrard family and eventually, in 1869 it was sold to another important Burgundy land holder - the Deblouchey and the DeVillaine family are descendants of the Duvault-Blochet family. And it’s really not until, Phylloxera that you start seeing all the names of the Vosne people we see today. So by the late 19th C you see Grivot, Méo-Camuzet, Gibourg, Gros, Faiveley… (continues…)
Brenna (Narration): On a quiet, foggy morning, Paul and I arrive at the legendary Domaine de la Romanee Conti – hidden in plain sight in the center of the village, next to the church along the Rue du Temps Perdu… The Road of Lost Time…
3.2 Aubert de Villaine
[Footsteps as entering the property. Church bells chime deeply, nearby.]
Paul: How are you!?
Man: Fine, thank you!
[Quiet, peaceful discussion, total focus on what he has to say.]
Paul: Not a bad morning for either of us!
Brenna (Narrates): In Burgundy, the name Aubert de Villaine, is spoken with true reverence. Domaine de la Romanee Conti is basically royalty, but in the most sincere, most generous sense. In the years I’ve spent traveling here, I’ve never once the Domaine referenced with anything short of genuine admiration.
Brenna (Narrates): In preparation of our visit, I asked Jasper Morris how to prepare for this rare and intimidating opportunity.
Jasper Morris: I mean, it’s always fascinated me. You meet Aubert de Villaine, and he’s the most charming, delightful, mostly relaxed – sort of ordinary in one sense – human being. And he’s totally humble for himself. And then, just completely, absolutely nuts about the business, the company, the vineyards, and all the rest of it. So yes, you just have to go there and let it wash over you and not be intimidated by the glory… *continues with his gushing about the sense of magic at the winery*
Brenna (Narrates): Aubert, who has recently retired as co-director, has always embodied and reflected a deep sense of respect and devotion to all of Burgundy.
[Car sounds as it pulls up to an entrance.]
Paul (Speaking in French to announce their arrival): Oui, bonjour… continues in French… Monsieur de Villaine…
Brenna (Narrates): Paul Wasserman has known Aubert nearly his entire life.
Paul: My parents moved in 1968, and very, very quickly they met winemakers. They become friends with mostly Hubert Demontille, Jacques Seysses, and Aubert de Villaine. So in ‘68, ‘69, they meet Aubert, he’s just turned 30; he’s not working at the Domaine yet, his father is the co-director. He’s very literate. I believe he studied literature in school; he’s very tall and skinny, as he still is; he's already very graceful and dignified but also very funny. So they start hanging out a lot together, and our house is one of the places they like to come. Becky was cooking at the time. And so all these people are at the house, so they’re loud, opinionated, super coverations because they’re all very passionate and very bright.
[Staccato string music begins, as Paul continues the story of his personal relationship with Aubert]
Paul: As children, my brother and I would have to sit through the dinner, but I don’t remember ever being bored. …and they were all tasting it, and every five minutes one of them would go ‘oh no! NOW it’s good!’ And there would be five minutes of silence and conversation and someone says “oh, taste now! NOW it’s good!” And this conversation would go on for two or three hours and they would finally finish their glasses. But I was always allowed to sip. And I waited for like 10 minutes and I had some left in my glass and I got their attention, took a sip and I told them all, “NO, NOW it’s good!” I was like 12 years old and they laughed. Aubert actually started running for my glass. I took it and we started chasing each other around the table. It was actually all super fun, but also he’s a very dear friend. When my mom started her business, it was to be financially independent from my father so she didn’t want to go to him but she needed somebody to co-sign at the bank and Aubert did it without even thinking about it two seconds. So they were close.
Paul, continues: You know, Romanee Conti is such an institution, I don’t think there could have been anybody better during those years where it went from not the most sought after Domaine in the world to this greatly prestigious place, that it was run by somebody with such dignity. It’s the first word that comes to mind when I think of Aubert.
Brenna (Narrates): Though Romanee Conti has been famous and precious for possibly thousands of years, it hasn’t always benefited from the world renown it has today. Jasper once told me that the first time the Domaine broke even was in 1972, and Aubert himself remembers a time when he had to go out into the market to sell the wines.
Aubert: The vineyard Romanee Conti is small. Makes a wine that doesn’t taste like any other wine. A powerful wine, but on the contrary, a wine all in finesse and transparence. The wines had to be sold and I remember traveling to England or the United States. At the time there was no regulation like today, and with a bag full of bottles that I would put in the …*laughs at himself and the memory* … and the bottles to be tasted, and the wines had to be sold, and Romanee Conti was revered by a certain number of people, connoisseurs, but most people didn’t know about Romanee Conti.
Brenna (Narrates): Aubert arrived at the Domaine in 1965 and began managing in 1974 in partnership with the brilliant and eccentric, though often controversial, Madame Bize Leroy, who left the Domaine in the early 90s.
Aubert: When I was hired at the Domaine, I was able to taste very rarely, but very few times, and once or twice to taste old Romanee Conti made from the vineyard before it was grafted. Because Romanee Conti, there was so much respect around the vineyard that the owners, my family at the time, didn’t dare to tear it out and replace it, so it was kept on these old vines until ‘45.
[Revelatory ambient music]
Aubert, continues: With a density of about 30,000 vines per hectare. Our, there was this perpetuation of the vineyard by provinage, which is when the vine would give good grapes. You wish for 30 or 40 years, it would be bent into the soil and you will have one, two, or three new vines coming out from buds, from shoots. So the vineyard, which at the beginning was not so dense, became little by little very dense. And Romanee Conti, when it was torn out in ‘45 had no age. I mean, nobody knew the age! Nobody knew. It was perhaps 200, 300 years old. Nobody knew.
Brenna (Narrates): Jasper writes, “the whole vineyard became a knot of underground vine stocks. It has been speculated that in this way some vines may have dated back to the replantation of 1585.”
Aubert: Each vine would produce very little. And it continued to produce in spite of phylloxera. It produced really great wines until it was torn out in ‘45. It produced in ‘45 two barrels only, 600 bottles for almost 2 hectares. So they decided to tear it out and replace it completely. But the wines that were left – unfortunately there are very, very few now. We have perhaps 5 or 6 bottles left of this – were very impressive. I remember with your father and mother [referring to Paul], I remember we tasted, we drank at least two occasions, these wines and it was religious. Yes, it was religious. What was interesting also is that this Romanee Conti that was kept and grafted, supplied graftings for the replantations of all the other vineyards. Replantations started in the domaine around 1910 and it lasted, I mean, until almost second world war. And these graftings from Romanee Conti were used for all these vineyards, which gives us today the chance to select, still, some types coming from the old La Romanee Conti.
[The whole room is silent in awe]
Brenna (Narrates): In discussing wines at this level, with this amount of history tied to them, and this amount of care given to every step of the process, I wonder how do you even begin discussing terroir. How do you begin to unravel the ‘how’ or the ‘why’ when we have a difficult enough time expressing the ‘what’.
Aubert: When everything is in conjunction, in other words, if the soil has been well-taken are of, if the vines, have the height quality, the ripeness, it certainly can make a wine that can be called (if there is an existence of perfection - it’s always in comparison with other things)... and it’s true that Romanée Conti can have something perfect in comparison with all the other wines in the sense that there is something that is not at all powerful but it shows a balance, a perfect balance …voila!
Brenna (Narrates): There is a science in terroir just as there is a science to geology, viticulture and enology.
[Ambient interlude music]
Brenna, narration continues: …but the sheer number of factors that go into creating the uniqueness of a place over thousands of years of human history and 170 million years of geologic history seems to approach infinity; and perhaps with infinite variables comes magic.
Aubert: Tasting recently the Richebourg ‘78… this bottle was perfect and when I tasted this elegance, this grace – can you say grace? – this texture, which is really silky compared to other wines that are perhaps very soft also but velvety, more velvety. This one was so silky, that I really wondered what was the molecule? I don’t know. Something that happens, that it is completely mysterious because we hide the reports, we try to link the wine made with what happened during the year with the microbiology which is right, but it’s not an answer. We don’t know where it comes from. What is the mystery that makes this wine so ageable, ‘78, first so great and so different from the others? Frankly, I am eighty-two now and I have the impression to know much less the more we go, the less we know.
Brenna: How do you do that now? When do you think techinical and when do you think magic?
Aubert: To make wine is a technique of course, very technical. The manner in everything we do is very important and it’s part of the terroir. The terroir, the cilmat, is not something that exists by itself; it does command in a way, but we command also. And this is the thing: we have to navigate between what to think the vineyard can do by itself and what you have to bring yourself for the vineyard. Le Tache is a vineyard of 6 hectare – more than 6 hectare – all in one hand, and from the bottom to the top you have 4, 5 different types of soil. And of course the top of Le Tache and the bottom are separated by the road. And obviously if you made Le Tache, the bottom, separately, you would make two different types of wines; but, it wouldn’t be Le Tache. Ah! And this is the thing that is interesting and it shows that it’s not only nature, it’s man. Sometimes, people tell me “oh why don’t you make two Le Tache?! It would be interesting to see!” …I don’t see any point because we would go against what history as built.
Brenna (Narrates): Recognizing both the significance and the vulnerability of this history, Aubert formed a committee that would petition to protect this uniquely Burgundian feature. And in July of 2015 the climat of Burgundy were officially inscribed on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Brenna: It seems like that is the biggest key in understanding the difference and the definition between a terroir and a climat. It seems like the climat has human history attached to it.
Aubert: So it’s completely right. With a team that I put together we decided to become candidates for world treasures UNESCO. To be on this list of the world treasure you need to show that you possess something that nowhere else exists in the world. Something that is really precious, and it would be a pity if it was damaged or lost. And so in Burgundy it was, obviously, the idea of terroir that has been carried from the very beginnings. And in Burgundy, in the notary documents, in many books, the words that was used to designate a parcel with a special designation and with a name was ‘climat’. So we chose to put our list candidacy under the banner of ‘climat’. And ‘climat’ is as you said is much more than terroir. Terroir is a great word but as you said it can designate any production in the world. ‘Climat’ is something typically Burgundy. I’m sure it can be extended to other parts of the world but it’s very Burgundian in the sense that it designates a piece of land that has been delineated by history with a name that very often comes from the middle ages, which makes a wine where everybody agrees that there is a special character. Even if it takes different faces with the vintages, it has a special character, a personality.
Brenna (Narration): There ‘s lots of terms that we use to describe individual vineyards in Burgundy, which sometimes seem unnecessarily confusing. But, put this way, the different terms start to make a bit more sense: A terroir is the complete set of natural factors that go into making a growing area unique, including the geology, soil, slope, aspect, climate and weather. According to Sylvian Pedio’s Atlas of the Great Vineyards of Burgundy, a lieu dit literally refers to a place with a name. These are historic names given to a piece of land according to traditional usage, often referring to particularities of the site. For example, Le Clos de Duke refers to historic ownership. Genevrier refers to juniper bushes, and Aux Croix refers to chalky, calcareous soils. The term ‘climat’ is a bit more elusive, and a bit more holistic. Each climat has its own natural conditions, its own name, its own history, and its own taste. There are over 1000 climat within the Cote d’Or from Dijon to Santennay. A climat seems to marry the ideas of terroir to lieu dit. It’s a terroir that has been shaped by human civilization.
Aubert de Villaine: It’s a thing that comes from the roots of history in Burgundy so it’s something that is not a production of one year; it’s a production of centuries. It’s something very muchr icher than the idea of just terroir
[Ambient sounds and sounds of liquid pouring.]
Part IV: Closing
4.1 Pascal Tasting / Philosopher
Brenna (Narration): With a new appreciation of the history and meaning of this village, we head just down the road to Domaine Gerard Mugneret, to complete our day with a tasting of wines from the vineyards we have just seen…
[Sounds of glasses clinking, wine being poured]
Paul Wasserman: Very fresh minerality…
Brenna (Narration): We begin with Nuits-Saint-George 1er Cru Les Cras…
Paul Wasserman: Almost white wine…
Brenna (Narration): And compare it to its neighbor La Richemone…
Paul Wasserman: It behaves like it’s superior - you know, it carries itself like it’s superior. And it knows it… *laughing*
Pascal: And now you know where the parcels are, you can say they are very close to each other.
Paul Wasserman: It’s not the same minerality as Les Cras.
Paul Wasserman: It’s darker, I’d like to hang out with Les Cras more, as a person. But that’s the better wine.
Brenna (Narration): I find that the minerality is finer than Les Cras.
Paul Wasserman: Yes, yes yes yes - it’s posher - it’s like it went to ballet school, it’s got good manners, it’s superior in every… It’s the prettier of the two sisters, or brothers. It’s… [continues in French…]
Pascal: It’s a case for which the concentration does not decrease elegance or accuracy of the wine, it’s the most concentrated wine of the cellar, and it’s probably one of the most accurate. One of the he most mineral.
[Light piano music]
Brenna (Narration): We then continue with the Vosne Romanee 1er Crus: Les Suchots and Brulées…
Paul Wasserman: Everybody needs a little Suchots in their lives, sometimes. It’s so embracing.
Pascal: Exactly, you can imagine two arms. But no body, no head, just arms. But if we had to compare the personality… I used to say that Suchots… imagine someone is knocking on your door, and you open the door and you have no time to see who is knocking, he’s already on your sofa. And if, you consider Aux Brulee is knocking on your door, you open the door and Brulee is already going out.
Brenna (Narration): So he changed his mind?
Pascal: So you say it’s a mistake. First impression and you close the door. If this guy came and knocked on my door, probably he has something to say, so I have to go outside to go and see him and ask him what he wanted. I would say more discreet, more introvertée?
Paul: Yeah, same word…
Pascal: Suchots is more extra. But of course when you taste both just one after another, you can compare, and even if you don’t want to compare, you do it. But people, generally speaking, do not open two or three bottles from the same Domaine or the same vintage, and the most important is the pleasure you can have with the wine at the moment that you drink the wine. Like at a restaurant, you can’t eat in a three star everyday,if it would be the case, it would become normal.
Paul: And therefore boring.
Pascal: And the most interesting thing, the passionate thing you wanted to eat, would be a pizza! ANd depending the people you’ve got, you’ve got to share the wine. It’s a wine for after dinner. I would say, with friends… with very few friends. And here it’s for the party. It’s very joyful.
Paul Wasserman: That’s a nice party - I’ll come to your party! *laughing*
Pascal: But yeah, if it’s very joyful - big ambiance and you have Aux Brulee it’s uh… there is something wrong.
Paul: Yeah, Aux Brulée is for wine people and food…
Pascal: Yeah, yeah yeah and I would say a very quiet atmosphere. You know it’s very… cerebrale?
Paul: Cerebral. It needs to be quiet.
Paul: La Richemoine is very cerberal too. And even though Les Cras has minerality - it’s not that cerebral. It’s crunchy.
Pascal: And even a not very famous wine can be the greatest wine of the evening if it’s at the moment for the wine, and a good moment for you. With the good people. You can have the greatest wine on earth with very boring people, you have a lot of problems - unfortunately. It will stay just a good wine. So this is something very important to have the maximum amount of emotion it requires two things - good quality wine, but it needs from people to be open to accueillir?
Pascal: To welcome the wine. Continues in French…
Paul: I don’t know, she asks the questions, I’m just the chauffeur.
Pascal: I just wanted to know… sorry.
Brenna: I’m also driving.
Paul: She’s also the chauffeur.
Pascal: If you wanted to know something else or…? To see something else?
Paul: Do you want a sip of Echezeaux?
Brenna: That’s what you’re really here for…
[Sounds of getting wine from barrel]
Paul: But you never know, maybe we’ve already had the greatest wine in the cellar…
Pascal: Speaking in French
Paul: Ah, another cuddler.
Brenna [Narration]: In the vineyards Pascal is all engineer…but in the cellar he reveals another side of his personality…the philosopher…especially while tasting Grand Cru…
Pascal: I understood that we are not able to write the situation in equation. It’s not possible… When I was an engineer it was the trail to try to be able to write this equation with these parameters and da da da, and in the end you’ve done it. And, the first time when I started here, my first idea was to try to produce a wine everybody would like. It’s like an equation, but I think quite quickly it appeared to me that it was completely silly, because when you produce something everybody like there’s two possibility, but more in ninety nine percent of cases people will say not too bad. It’s okay, but nobody will be astonished by the wine. Or very emotionally touched. The one percent remaining it’s something magic and I think it’s not human being creation. And you can imagine when you collect the grapes, it exists best approach with these grapes in order to obtain the highest potential of these grapes and when something is magic it’s probably when your actions suit perfectly the divine plan, which you have no consciousness of. But you’re perfectly in the right movement, but we’re not able to reproduce and do again. I call the grace - you know, it’s a grace. But most of the time we are not conscious of what it is exactly.
Brenna (Narration): When tasting great wines, it seems almost inevitable that the conversation shifts to the intangible – scientific terms seem insufficient to describe how a few drops of fermented grape juice can be so transportive.
And…the wines themselves force you to contemplate… the boundaries between the physical and the metaphysical…
Pascal: And uh, these magic wines we’re talking about.I remember it was one of the most magic wines I ever tasted - it was La Tache ‘45. The first taste, we didn’t know but he said, just taste once and after I will tell you. It was in February 2010, and I thought the wine was 15 years old, so fresh, so sensual.
Paul Wasserman: Was it in Vosne?
Pascal: Oh oui, c’etait au Domaine de la Romanée Conti. C’etait La Tache directement chez eux.
And uh, he said it can’t be completely human… there’s something divine in this. You can’t explain it - human being is not able for me, because I’m Chrisitian - it’s probably why I think this. I think human being is not able to be so magic. Without something else - I believe in that.
[Light drumming music]
Thank you to our guests: Marie-Andrée Mugneret, Pascal Mugneret, Charles Lachaux, and Aubert de Villaine…
Thank you to Rajat Parr, Paul Wasserman, Daniel Johnnes, Jasper Morris, and Francoise Vannier for your commentary, guidance and expertise.
Our main source for historical and technical information is Inside Burgundy, by Jasper Morris. For further detail on Vosne Romanée we look to The Pearl of the Cote by Allen Meadows, and for a history of Domaine de la Romanée Conti we look to Richard Olney’s book Romanee Conti
This episode is made possible by our Season 2 partners: Becky Wasserman & Co, La Paulee, and Acker Wines…
Remember, you can now get 15% off of your first order of $350 or more by entering the code ROADSIDE at check out. Check out their website, ackerwines.com for details.
Roadside Terroir is hosted and produced by me, Brenna Quigley
Recording and sound engineering by Nick Canepa and original music and sound design by Jeff Alvarez
This season wouldn’t be possible without the support from all of you – Check out our website roadsideterroir.com to learn how you can stay in touch, and how to help support this season by donating, sponsoring, or becoming a Roadside Insider.
We would like to extend a special thank you to our Grand Cru patron Steven Lipin – thank you for making this episode possible!
Thank you to Esa Eslami, Jerusha Frost, Ali Massie, Summer Staeb, Michael Sager, and everyone else who helped make this episode a reality.
Pascal: Nuits Saint George 1er Cru, very close to Vosne Romanée.
**Camera clicking agressively**
Pascal: Blind tasting, I’m not sure you would be able to identify Nuits-Saint-Geroge from Vosne-Romanée
**Camera sounds clicking**
Brenna: Yeah *agreeing*
Brenna: Sorry will turn your camera volume off!
Esa: Oh is it really loud? Sorry, I can’t hear it with the headphones.
Brenna: Yeah! It’s like paparazzi!
Pascal: C’etait chient?
Paul: Non non, on rigole parce que la volume pour prendre des photos sur la camera…
Pascal: Ah oui!