Once upon a time, in a faraway place called La Bourgogne, there was a wine fairer than any other in the land. Its fame was such, that, like “Madonna,” or “Frank,” or “Elvis,” or other famous celebrities, this wine was known to many by just its three initials, the magical letters
D, R and C.
The vines in this magical vineyard, the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, were first tended by monks who used the wine produced by them as a substitute for their Savior’s blood during holy mass. The property was once owned by a Bourbon prince, and kings, queens, and captains of industry pay thousands of euros for just one bottle of this legendary wine, which is admired for its incredible precision, delicate perfumes, and supple fruit flavors accented by floral and exotic nuances.
No one knows what magic in the Vosne-Romanée soil gives Romanée-Conti wines their power and elegance. It might be the iron-rich limestone and clay soil, worked with horses, instead of tractors, to keep it from compacting. Or it might be the biodynamic cultivation with special natural preparations, administered to a strict lunar timetable.
Or, maybe, as those monks suspected seven centuries ago, Vosne-Romanée is just a special place. If you don’t believe that, consider the story of Oronce de Beler. He came to Vosne-Romanée, from Paris, a dozen years ago, leaving behind an important position as the Advertising head for the prestigious La Revue du vin de France wine magazine. “I cut my income by three, and increased my quality of life by ten,” he said in an interview with that same magazine.
Since relocating to Burgundy, de Beler has earned an agricultural diploma and begun a wine merchant business, where he purchases grapes from several prestigious Burgundy appellations (Corton Grand Cru, Marsannay and Gevrey-Chambertin to name a few), ages the wine in barrels, and then bottles it with his La Maison Romane label. He is also manufacturing and selling, under his Equivinum brand, handmade plowing implements and accessories (harnesses, plows, horse collars, etc.). With his 400-kilo Percheron named Prosper, he also operates a soil management business, plowing over 40ha of vineyards in and around Burgundy.
Now, taking this fairy tale-analogy to its logical conclusion, it’s time to discuss the story of the Three Little Pigs. Last year, while hiking the 180km-long GR20 (Grande Randonnée) trail that crosses Corsica north-south, de Beler encountered a pig farmer near Quenza, approximately the mid-point of the trail, with elevations reaching over 1,000 meters.
Pig farmer doesn’t somehow seem to be the right term. Eleveur de cochon (the French term, which translates roughly as someone who raises pigs) is more appropriate in describing someone who keeps pigs in Corsica, as these swine roam freely, foraging for acorns, chestnuts, mushrooms and other edible delicacies. This diet makes Corsican pork sausages and salamis among the world’s best.
De Beler was so taken with this Pig Raiser (you see, this newly-invented term works much better) that he returned there for a week in January to learn how to make Corsican charcuterie. On the way back to the mainland by ferry boat (details about the voyage, for obvious reasons, are sketchy), he somehow managed to transport three little (Corsican) pigs.
This isn’t any Walt Disney production, obviously, and rather than frivolous, arrogant and practical Fifer Pig, Fiddler Pig, and Practical Pig, the three Corsican pigs situated in an enclosure just above the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti (yes, it’s true; these porkers have a view of the world’s most valuable vines), de Beler has named them for their eventual destinations: Coppa, Pancetta and Figatelle. Being named after air-cured meat delicacies doesn’t seem to bother them, and their affection for de Beler (or for at least the barley-corn-baguette mixture that he feeds them) is evident.
When they are larger, de Beler aims to release them, along with a Gascon pig that he obtained from the French Pyrenees region, in an electrified enclosure. I hope that it’s a strong electric current running through those wires. During my wine-making internship with Didier Barral in Faugères, we had to stop what we were doing at least once or twice a week to retrieve several of his black pigs who had broken free to gorge themselves on grapes in the vineyards.
Barral is a strong believer in the three-strikes-and-you’re-out philosophy. After the first escape, a large orange circle, applied with a spray can, was painted on the back of the offending pig. The second such escape added a large “X” inside the previously painted circle. No signs were needed after that, as such gluttony earned you a place in his larder.
And even though Bungundy winemakers seem to be agreeable sorts, I doubt that the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti would be much interested in a new fairy tale about the “Three little Corsican pigs that dug up the vines that produced the golden eggs…”Portrait photo of Oronce de Beler by Teodore Fiorina