image Joseph Roty, sweet dream or beautiful nightmare


We love talking about the non-conformists. The outsiders. The recluses. We talk about them in hushed tones ― of horror, fascination, and sometimes, we’ll admit, even grudging admiration. After all, who doesn’t love the one who scorns convention and turns his nose up at the powers that be? Joseph Roty was one such man and he’s still talked about ― years after his death. But not just for his notoriously abrasive personality, but also for the bold Burgundies he made.

Domaine Joseph Roty produces what many consider to be among Burgundy’s finest. Intense, sensual, and totally unconventional (read: Not your grandma’s Burgundy), they’re made from some of the region’s oldest vines of over a hundred years old and put through a winemaking process that’s as untainted as it is fastidious. The domaine, which enjoys a strong cult following, has a history more impressive than most too. It’s been owned and managed by the Roty family since 1710. Joseph Roty’s son Philippe, who took over the reins after his father’s death in 2008, is the 11th generation.

Just as Joseph’s untraditional Burgundies enjoy a polarizing reputation, so does he. Although I don’t know if ‘enjoy’ is the right word. Come to think of it, ‘polarizing’ may not be the right word either. Having terrified many a hapless journalist and neighbor when he was alive, it’s pretty clear what kind of man he was. Not interested in the limelight, he shut himself (and his family) away from everybody including the media. In fact, especially the media. Which explains why there are hardly any horror stories about him floating around online ― save for one that slipped through the cracks.

The famous wine writer Clive Coates was once granted the privilege of visiting the domaine and tasting Joseph’s wines from the cask. The session was marred by Joseph himself who first, kept talking about himself and second, chain-smoked throughout the entire tasting. Despite the wine writer’s repeated requests that he stop smoking in the cellar, he refused to put out his cigarette. Clive Coates’s request must have incensed the winemaker because Coates was never invited back to the domaine after that. What a legend. This story is almost as good as the one of Robert Parker being mauled by a dog at Château Cheval Blanc. The dog belonged to Jacques Hebrard, the manager of the château, who was so enraged by Parker’s poor rating of his wine that he set his dog on the critic. Apparently, blood was spilled.

Robert Parker’s dog attack aside…

When it comes to Joseph Roty’s wines, love them or hate them, you can’t dispute their exceptional quality. The Prince of Pinot, some call him. That’s certainly a much more becoming nickname than ‘enfant terrible’. There’s one thing we know for sure though ― alive or dead, he wouldn’t have given a toss about what anybody called him.


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