Article - RareWine Academy

Significant Changes At Domaine De La Romanée-Conti Make The Future Interesting

Legendary Aubert de Villaine has retired, and this could be decisive for the future. Read on for an insight into the new developments at the world-famous power domain.

New Forces At Domaine De La Romanée-Conti

Even at such an iconic producer as Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, there can be significant changes that are hard to miss. In recent years, not one, but two major changes have taken place at probably the world's most famous wine producer.

The world of wine is wondrous, and a wine's expression and quality are reflected in its management, vineyard, and cellar. Everything has an impact on the final result, which is why apprenticeship is an essential element at Domaine de la Romanée-Conti.

Now, a new winemaker has arrived, and even the legendary Aubert de Villaine has retired after more than 50 years in charge of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti. These are two massive changes that could potentially have a major impact on the future of DRC. Their intentions are still unclear, but fragments of them have leaked out through The Wine Advocate, Vinous and Winehog, who had a chat with the new cellar master, Alexandre Bernier, during a visit to DRC. These fragments are put together in this article, where you can learn more about the future of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti.

New Cellar Master After 32 Years At Domaine De La Romanée-Conti

After 40 years at Domanie de la Romanée-Conti, cellar master Bernard Noblet decided to step down in 2018. At the domain, there is a tradition of years of apprenticeship, and this is exactly how Bernard Noblet himself was trained in the early days. In 1978, Bernard followed in his father's footsteps in the cellar, and when his father stepped aside in 1986, Bernard took over the title of cellar master. And so, in the best Jedi style, the cellar magicians are raised. It is therefore surprising to see how much change has already taken place in the cellar of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, now that Bernard has retired.

Bernard Noblet can be credited with some amazing vintages produced in his cellar days and deserves the utmost respect. The new cellar master, Alexandre Bernier has worked in the cellar for eight years to get to know the wines in the best possible way. Alexandre Bernier is a qualified oenologist and previously worked at the biodynamic Domaine Chanson in Beaune. And although Domaine de la Romanée-Conti strives for continuity, Alexandre probably has his own thoughts and ideas, which are now starting to appear in the wines.

Domaine de la Romanée-Conti

New Barrels In The Cellar At DRC

The work in the cellar is an art, where even small decisions have an impact on the final expression of the wines. Thus, the barrels of barrel maker Francois Frère have dominated the cellar of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti. Their barrels have a distinctive flavour profile due to a relatively hard burning.

However, new barrels have been added to the cellar, which is quite normal. The new barrels come from barrel makers with more delicate imprints on the wines - so the fruit will be more dominant in the taste. The new barrel producers in the cellar include Seguin Moreau, La Grange, Damy and Taransaud, all of which are producers in the absolute "Barrel Super League", if such can be defined.

They still work with 100 % new barrels for all wines, but in a completely new style. These are both barrels that are burned at a lower temperature and generally give less barrel flavour to the wines. The above fits well with a statement made by Aubert de Villaine at the presentation of the 2019 vintage in London: "the domaine's objective is for the wood to be 'totally invisible in flavour and aroma'."

Bottling At An Earlier Stage

Furthermore, the bottling of the wines has also been moved forward, and the racking (where wines are moved from one barrel to another) in the cellar has changed. Wines that have just been racked are out of balance and not optimal to taste. This has meant that some critics who have visited DRC have not been able to taste all the wines. The earlier bottling allows more focus on the fruit in the final wines - without compromising quality.

The Amount Of Sulphites Is Lowered

The last change disclosed to the public concerns the level of sulphite in both production and bottling. In modern times, most producers would like to lower this, and this is also the case at Domaine de la Romanée-Conti. Apparently, they have stopped using sulphites during production altogether and have cut the amount at the bottling to a minimum.

Can It Be Tasted In The Wines?

Comparing tasting notes from critics who have had the pleasure of recent vintages suggests that recent vintages have been characterised by airier wines with more fresh fruit and greater flavour intensity than in the past. This is a combination of both the changes in the cellar as well as some really good vintages in terms of quality.

The ratings awarded, especially the 2019 vintage with 100 points from Vinous for the top wine Romanée-Conti, are slightly higher than in recent years. It would seem that the combination of innovation in cellar and vineyard and a couple of good growing seasons has helped the wines well on their way.

Domaine de la Romanée-Conti

Aubert de Villaine Retires

The legendary Aubert de Villaine has been the man, if anyone, who has shaped the domain's image over the past several decades. He is and has always been a perfect ambassador for the domain and their wines. He has been with us since 1965, which is why many consider him to be the epitome of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti.

The ownership of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti is divided between two big families in Burgundy - the de Villaine family and the Leroy family. The day-to-day management will be carried out by one manager from each family. De Villaine has been represented by Aubert since the early 1970s, but recently it stopped, and Aubert retired. The other half is now managed by Perrine Fenal - daughter of Madame Lalou Bize-Leroy herself.

Now that Aubert de Villaine is retired, he is handing over his share to his nephew Bertrand de Villaine, who officially took over in December 2021. Bertrand, however, has been assisting his uncle for a long time, which is why the apprenticeship is not only in the cellar. This position cannot be applied for - the family decides on its own.

The Future Of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti

A power brand like Domaine de la Romané-Conti has of course known that there would come a day when both Aubert de Villaine and Bernard Noblet would have to pass the torch to a new, emerging generation. That day has now arrived, and it is of course expected that the years of apprenticeship have paid off.

Therefore, do not expect a major revolution other than further optimisation. Domaine de la Romanée-Conti continues on the path to perfection they have spent years making more than passable. Thorough training and recruitment from within its own lines means, in all likelihood, that the future is now in safe hands for perhaps the world's most iconic wine.

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