According to many knowledgeable observers, La Romanée-Conti remains the world’s most expensive wine simply because it has no peers. In Allen Meadows’ lapidary phrase: “Romanée-Conti is the single greatest wine in the world, red or white.” The vineyard itself, a clos or walled vineyard, is comprised of 1.81 hectares and is situated in the commune of Vosne-Romanée, west of the village and immediately downhill and east of its sister Grand Cru, La Romanée. La Romanée-Conti is a Grand Cru climat and a monopole of the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, which of course takes its name from the famous vineyard.
The vineyard itself is approximately square in shape, each side measuring around 150 meters. Facing east with a 6% slope varying from 260 meters to 275 meters, the vineyard enjoys ideal exposition as well as virtually perfect drainage. The soil, rich in iron and sodium carbonate, is composed of Prémeaux limestone, sand and pebbles, with a relatively high (35%) content of clay. The yield of the vineyard averages 35hL/ha, with only 500 to 650 cases available each year.
The Domaine de la Romanée-Conti also owns the entirety of La Tâche (6.06 hectares), 3.51 hectares of Richebourg , 3.53 hectares of Grands-Echézeaux, 4.67 hectares of Echézeaux, 5.29 hectares of Romanée-St-Vivant, and .67 hectares of Montrachet.
By tradition at least, Gauls drafted by Caesar into the Roman army from Burgundy were later rewarded with landgrants, known appropriately as “Romanée” vineyards. Many of the best of these vineyards were located in and around the village of Vosne, which was not , however, rechristened Vosne-Romanée until 1866. By the 9th century, much of Vosne, including the Romanée-Conti vineyard, belonged to a Cluniac priory named in honor of St. Vivant. By the 13th century, however, the vineyard came under the control of the Abbot of Cîteaux.
In the earliest extant records, the vineyard was not yet known as La Romanée-Conti . but as the Cloux des Cinq Journaux (“Walled Vineyard of 5 Journals”). A Journal (plural form Journaux)is a measure of land that a man, aided by a plough and horse, could work in a single day. (For more on units of measurements, ancient and modern, see here). By 1584, then known as the Cros des Cloux, the vineyard was put under perpetual lease, and held by a succession of powerful nobles, passing finally in 1631 to Philippe de Croonembourg, who recorded his leasehold under the name “La Romanée.” The vineyard would remain with the Croonembourg family, under whose skillful cultivation it would achieve unparalleled fame, until 1760, when it was sold to the Prince de Conti, who reserved the wine entirely for himself and the guests he lavishly entertained. In 1794, the vineyard, now finally known as La Romanée-Conti, was confiscated by the Revolutionary government and sold (albeit for worthless assignats) to Nicholas Defer de la Nouèrre.
In 1819, Romanée-Conti was acquired by Julien-Jules Ouvrard, a famously prosperous wine merchant who also owned the Clos de Vougeot and Château de Gilly. He enjoyed superb vineyard holdings, including parcels of Chambertin, Chambertin Clos de Bèze, Latricières-Chambertin, Les Amoureuses, Corton Clos du Roi, and Le Clos Blanc de Vougeot. In late 1869, Jacques-Marie Duvault-Blochet acquired the vineyard and it has remained in his family, through whom it descended through marriage to Edmond-Gaudin de Villaine, grandfather of the current co-gérant (co-director), Aubert de Villaine. During the Second War, while Edmond’s son was held prisoner by the Germans, the Villaine family sold a 50% interest to Henri Leroy. The Domaine is today owned equally by the heirs of the Villaine and Leroy families.
A certain amount of confusion continues to obtain regarding the relationship between La Romanée-Conti and its sister Grand Cru, La Romanée, a monopole of the Domaine du Comte Liger-Belair. Allen Meadows has thoroughly studied the relationship and, in his new book The Pearl of the Côte, adduces a great deal of credible evidence that suggests that the two vineyards were indeed once a single parcel.