Cue the spooky music–get ready for a tale of intrigue, set in the vineyard that produces what Sotheby’s wine expert, Robert Sleigh has stated is “hands down the best and rarest Burgundy in the world–the Holy Grail.”
The vineyard is the Domaine de la Romanee-Conti–perched in the gentle hillsides of Burgundy’s Cote d’Or. Less than 5 acres in size, this tiny vineyard produces about 500 cases annually, with the most recent available vintage of 2007 selling for a starting price of $6,455.
So, where does the terror in the terroir begin? With a plan to extort 1 million euros from Aubert de Villanine, the vineyard owner. The year was 2010. De Villaine received a cylindrical container with a blueprint-like drawing of the vineyard and a letter threatening harm to the vines unless demands were followed. De Villaine ignored this first threat, thinking it was a hoax of some sort. When he received a second parcel, he became more concerned and notified the Police National.
An investigation showed that many of the vine rootstock had holes that had been systematically drilled in preparation for a poison to be injected. Plans were made to apprehend the perpetrator. Ransom notes continued, each leading the Police on wild goose chases. Finally, the perpetrator demanded that 1 million euros be delivered to a cemetery.
Fortunately, the villain, a man by the name of Jaques Soltys, was not terribly bright and was caught when he picked up what was really a bag of counterfeit money, and as the saying goes, the crops were saved! All this is told in much better detail in a newly released book entitled Shadows in the Vineyard: The True Story of the Plot to Poison the World’s Greatest Wine, by Maximilian Potter.
Talk about a diabolical plot!
This may be more of a health care tale than a wine story, but certainly both subjects are addressed. Triggered by a delightful Rabiotte rose from the Coteaux d’Aix en Provence a few days ago, my thoughts went back to Christmas Eve 1958.
My new wife and I were on our first visit to Provence and were in a nearly empty comfortable hotel in Aix-en-Provence. The night was very dark — and though the sky was clear, even Van Gogh’s stars seemed reluctant to appear. Dinner was to be in the hotel, limited menu for the few guests because of the holiday.
Throughout the day, while sightseeing, my wife developed chest pains that wouldn’t subside and began giving us considerable concern. When I asked the hotelier about a doctor, she explained that it probably would be impossible on this night to find one willing to come to the hotel. (I have since learned and actually experienced doctors in France coming to a hotel room.) However, she called one on the edge of town who said he would see my wife if we came to his house. He had guests and didn’t feel he could leave them.
Some house. We could see that it was surrounded by vineyards and that it was a chateau with large ground floor windows through which we could see large chandeliers illuminating what was clearly a gala party — people in formal dress dancing to music from a small string ensemble that we could hear even out at the side entrance.
The doctor himself came to the door, not in “scrubs” but in a tuxedo. He escorted us into a small book-lined office and asked us to explain the problem. Limited English on his part, limited French on ours but he readily understood our concern and agreed that it was important to check her out. He looked, he listened, he tapped, he used a stethoscope, his ears, and a bit of balm he rubbed into her chest. He pronounced it “neuralgia” and gave us the balm to take with us, suggesting we apply it several times a day till it’s gone.
Excusing himself for a moment, he returned with two flutes of Champagne and a bottle of wine. He wished us a pleasant Christmas and to relax with the flutes before going back to the hotel. In the course of his examination he had learned we were new to France and to Provence and wanted us to enjoy a bottle from his own vines, then went back to his guests.
The wine was a rose, the first in our memory. Alas, I have long since forgotten its name, and I am not even certain we ever got the name of the doctor. But the town was Aix. Over the years we have been back to Aix several times but have never been able to identify the grand house where we spent our first Christmas Eve in France.
But I think this story helps explain why we are partial to rose from Aix-en-Provence. The one we drank the other night cost about $12 at Total Wine, and it was produced in 2013 at Domaine La Rabiotte in Aix. I like to think that it may have come from our doctor’s vineyards.
Anyone who has accumulated a collection of wines is undoubtedly going to experience a pleasant surprise every once in a while by noticing a bottle almost forgotten. Subconsciously we know it’s there, but we just haven’t thought about it for a while. So it was with me earlier this month.
Hot weather and problems with a cooling system had caused me to relocate several bottles I had had for a while. While I hadn’t really forgotten them, I had put them out of mind because I felt I should review them but yet was reluctant to do so because they are generally not available across the nation and, frankly, I couldn’t remember how I happened to have them.
One, I am sure, was a gift of a house guest who left several bottles that were put aside without careful scrutiny. The other I vaguely recall buying at a tasting shop in Napa. They both have informative and easy-to-navigate websites.
The 2009 Cabernet from La Jota Vinyards on Howell Mountain must have come from that friend, because he and I had traipsed all over the Howell Mountain AVA a couple years ago. That was when I discovered that the best Howell Mountain wines grow above the fog line that blankets the valley on many mornings. This Cab blends only Bordeaux varietals and suggests the pleasant bittersweet finish of classic Bordeaux. According to its website, La Jota will not ship to Indiana, and I did not find a distributor for it.
John Anthony Truchard’s 2009 Cabernet is a blend of Bordeaux varietals from small sites he owns in Oak Knoll and Carneros. At 15.2% it has a body slightly more formidable than La Jota (14.8%), but in spite of their strength — or perhaps because of it — both are fine sipping wines. As far as I could learn, the John Anthony is not available outside California.
So why write about them? This column is less intended to be about specific bottles and more about the experience of re-discovering something in your collection you had set aside for a while. Followers of this column know that the experience of wine is what we are about. There are plenty of wine reviews, shelf notes, and ratings around, but our love of wine is the enjoyment and use of it, where it’s found, what it’s about, and how it impacts on our lives.
Even so, these two wines are worth stumbling across. May you do so.OLDER POSTS »