Thursday, February 20, 2014

Things Domaine de la Romanée-Conti owner Aubert de Villaine says: a writing exercise

Aubert de Villaine
Many of my colleagues are currently at the Symposium for Professional Wine Writers in Napa Valley. In the interest of contributing to their dialogue on narrative construction as well as ethics, I offer this exercise.

This week I heard two anecdotes about Domaine de la Romanée-Conti co-owner and co-director Aubert de Villaine's recent visit to New Zealand for the Central Otago Pinot Noir Celebration.

1. Blair Walter, winemaker, Felton Road: "We just had a big event here, and three of the 18 bottles of DRC Echezeaux were corked. Aubert said, 'It was not good.' We had a bottle of DRC the last time he was here and it was horribly corked. He wouldn't admit it. He said, 'The wine's not showing well today.' If DRC is corked, it's no skin off his nose. He's not going to replace it."

2. Stephanie Lambert, winemaker, Amisfield: "I had an argument with Aubert de Villaine when he was here. I said I was there in Burgundy in '06, I was working the vintage, and it was raining the whole time. He said, 'No it wasn't.' But I was there. We argued outside a restaurant. He wouldn't admit it was raining."

Now, writers, here are your discussion questions.

1) Should these anecdotes be reported? If so, how should they be reported?

2) Can you construct a narrative around them? If so, what is the theme?

3) Would it influence your judgment if you thought you might never again be invited to taste a DRC wine? Should it?

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Unknown said...

Not being a writer I won't try to answer the questions but I do have another of my own relating to #1. Could you report either story without first checking in with AdV? And if he declined to respond would you be obligated to note that he was contacted and declined to respond or would that inform whether you should report them at all?

W. Blake Gray said...

Tyler: These are very good questions. If this were a newspaper, the answer would be No, you cannot. But it's a blog. So are my obligations different? It's a worthwhile question.

As I have more questions than answers on this post, here's another: I tried for more than six months to get an interview with Aubert for a profile of HdV, but I was told from the outset that he would not answer any questions about DRC, and he never agreed to an interview even under those restrictions. So that's why I didn't try to contact him before posting this: it seemed futile. But is that a legitimate excuse?

Let me add that if Mr. de Villaine would like to respond in any way to this post, he may do so privately or publicly.

Charlie Olken said...

In all fairness to the report, you have quoted specific professional individuals. No anonymous sources. No, I heard a couple of stories that I can't confirm but they are pretty remarkable so I am going to report them anyway.

I don't know either individual, and I am sure that there are two sides to every story, but when you can quote respected professionals and there is no chance you can get an answer out of AdV, then you have certainly done as much do due diligence as is called for.

Anonymous said...

I'll bite. 1. Sure. Those comments were made with full knowledge that you're a wine writer, and with no caveat about not sharing (I know that's true in the first case; I'm assuming it's true in the second). I'll admit that I don't see a problem with anonymizing those comments or attributing them under those circumstances.
2. Heck, we could construct a narrative out of half a wet cardboard box. You could question Villaine's leadership, or DRC's integrity. Or you could talk about honesty and integrity in wine on a bigger level, use these as two of multiple examples, and ask how charades and putting on faces affects the consumer. I'd go for the latter because I don't drink DRC, and I don't doubt that DRC and Villaine is the only problem.
3. Would it? Heck, yes. Should it? No. Would I do it anyway? Yes, and not just because I'll probably never be invited to taste DRC. What is wine writing if all of us tiptoe around wines and people with power? We're writers, not advertisers. We make ourselves useless and risk the future of wine writing as a whole if we make everything sweetness and light. But I'm cantankerous, I suppose.