The Answer lies in the Soil

Friday, 13 July, 2018
Dave March CWM
The distance between the vines of Romanée Conti and Grande Rue vineyards is a couple of metres, separated by a dirt path.

The 2010 of the first, made by Domaine Romanée Conti, is on sale in Beaune at R300,000 (I promise that is what the sticker said) and Le Grande Rue was next to it for R700. Consider Le Chambertin, available at R7800 and one footpath away Charmes Chambertin - another Grand Cru - at R2400.

This is repeated all over Burgundy where regional quality wines selling at €8 sit a wall away from village wines at €17- 50 which are a wall away from Premier Crus fetching €30-80 and again sit beside the Grand Crus at around €60 and to infinity.

Why the difference?

Partly, it is the producer. Some have huge reputations, older vines, low production, fastidious vine husbandry and had a close relationship with Robert Parker. Certainly for Domaine Romanée Conti this applies, adding several noughts to the price.

Then it is the micro climate. Are the vines higher on the slope, do they get more sun or wind or rain? Do they face South, or merely South West? Are they more prone to mildew?

But most importantly, it is the soil. In fact, Baptiste at Domaine A & B Rion in Vosne Romanée says Burgundy is 80% about the soil. Vintage conditions and producer juggle for the rest.

Surely there cannot be that much difference in such small areas?

Over millennia, earth plate movements have thrown up hundreds of soil compositions and elevations and the structure of what has been left on the top few metres varies enormously and is vital to wine quality. Perhaps even deeper matters; Domaine Rion say their vines grow as deep as 60 metres in order to get what they need. One vineyard could have more nutrients, offer better drainage, have more clay, or more limestone or more gravel or have a different water table level and a more perfect aspect.

Soil structure is everything, it explains the ripening, the tannins, the fruit profile, the complexity and, of course, the price. I didn’t find a producer who would rubbish the idea, even those selling their wine at a fraction of the price of their neighbours. There was a sanguine acceptance of their terroir and a lack of questioning of the astronomic prices charged by some.

I met one Vougeot producer who simply smiled and shrugged at the mention of the magic of Domaine Romanée Conti. “Does their site really make that much difference than one three metres away?” I asked. “Of course”, the reply.


La Tachesmall
La Tachesmall

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