Grapevine: In Perpetual Pursuit of the Highly Coveted

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Nick Antonaccio
Nick Antonaccio

What is it that makes a wine desirable? Is it its underlying ethereal essence that sets it apart from others? Is it the prestige of its provenance? Is it the lofty price that makes it unattainable to all but a wealthy few? Or is it simply its scarcity?

Certainly, there are multiple examples of coveted goods in our society. Italian race cars have a measurable value. The finest components, superior design and engineering require significant investment. These costs contribute to the lofty $250,000 price tag of a Ferrari 458 Spider. The finest materials, top architectural design houses and ocean vistas contribute to the stratospheric prices for luxury homes in the Hamptons of Long Island. For each of these examples, mystique and scarcity are a minor component of their lofty price tags.

For the world’s coveted wines, the components of price are more subjective than the aforementioned luxury goods. The singular expression of a bottle of wine strikes an inner chord of mystery; its scarcity sets in motion a buying frenzy for the bragging rights of 1) tasting a wine that very few people in the world will ever enjoy or 2) adding such a wine to one’s trophy room or 3) both of the above.

One such wine is La Romanée-Conti Grand Cru produced by the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, known as well by its acronym, DRC, as by its estate name.

Last week I discussed the more objective aspects of this world famous wine: its escalating price, its appeal to high-end collectors of luxury goods and its vulnerability to counterfeiting. With this as a backdrop, I am stepping back this week to present the elements of the wine itself that contribute to the world-wide prestige of DRC.

First and foremost, DRC’s reputation and price are attributable to its macro and micro provenance; second, the winemaker’s production philosophy; and third, its scarcity. As with many coveted goods, the end result is greater than the sum of its parts.

Located in the Cote de Nuits region of Burgundy, DRC is a relatively small plot of land that has been highly coveted since the Benedictine monks toiled in the vineyards and winery eight centuries ago. Even then, it was recognized as a near perfect section in the premier region in Burgundy, which itself was highly regarded throughout France.

Three unique soil components, limestone, red clay and gravel, contribute to the richness and velvety texture of DRC.  Successive owners further enhanced the DRC reputation. The forbearers of the present owners purchased the land in 1869. Jacques-Marie Duvault-Blochet and his family assiduously expanded their envied holdings to 62 acres, which now encircle the present four acres of La Romanée-Conti. So land cost is not a major component of the price of DRC, since the vineyards have been owned by the same family for nearly 150 years.

The second component of DRC’s reputation is the owners’ commitment to sustainability. The vineyards and winery are managed biodynamically: no chemical fertilizers or pesticides are used, only organic products; no mechanical equipment is employed, only the power of horses. These and other practices produce silky, natural wines that are well balanced, complex – and have long-term aging potential (which, in turn, affect prices). In years of below standard crops, much of the fruit is discarded, rather than produce a lesser wine.

The third component is a matter of economics. With only 450 cases – 6,000 bottles – produced annually, demand can never be fully met. While this is an envious position for any winery, the DRC reputation has created an auction frenzy that pushes prices higher and higher each year.

Whether the current vintage at $15,000 per bottle, or the most highly regarded vintage at auction (1978) at $39,700, DRC has stood at the pinnacle of the luxury goods market for generations, highly desirable and fanatically coveted – and deservedly so.

Nick Antonaccio is a 35-year Pleasantville resident. For over 15 years he has conducted numerous wine tastings and lectures. He also offers personalized wine tastings and wine travel services. Nick’s credo: continuous experimenting results in instinctive behavior. You can reach him at or on Twitter @sharingwine.


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