Braving the cold for Burgundy: Norway's unique wine queue phenomenon

Norway's Passion for Romanée-Conti


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As the chill of winter snakes its way through the streets of Oslo, a unique yet increasingly familiar phenomenon unfolds outside Vinmonopolet, Norway's state-run alcohol retailer and one of the country's most iconic establishments. This spectacle isn't triggered by a rare concert ticket sale or the latest tech gadget release, but by the anticipation and devotion stirred up by Burgundy wines among Norwegian wine aficionados. These enthusiasts are willing to brave extremely low temperatures for a shot at adding some of the world's most coveted bottles to their collections, most notably the legendary Romanée-Conti Grand Cru.

The year 2024 was no exception to this burgeoning tradition. From day one of the year—yes, you read that right, starting January 1st—the most ardent followers of these esteemed wines set up camp in front of Vinmonopolet's flagship store in the Aker Brygge neighborhood of Oslo. Equipped with tents, board games, and, of course, a hefty dose of patience, they settled in for the long haul. Their dedication is a testament to the allure of "first come, first served" sales, promising the lucky few at the front of the line a chance to take home enological treasures.

Vinmonopolet, a public enterprise, holds the monopoly on all retail alcohol sales in Norway, making it the only legal place to purchase beers, wines, spirits, or RTDs in the country. With over 300 stores nationwide and an online shop, Vinmonopolet plays a pivotal role in the Norwegian alcohol market.

While it's possible to buy wine throughout the year, many queue up for the chance to snag bottles that sell out quickly. Among the most sought-after gems are the grand crus from Domaine de la Romanée-Conti and Domaine Armand Rousseau, which are considered the Holy Grails in the wine world. Some enthusiasts are willing to endure temperatures as low as -4°F (-20ºC) for the promise of tasting, collecting, or even investing in a piece of Burgundy's wine heritage.

This year, the vigil that began with the turn of the new year culminated on February 1st, when Vinmonopolet released its annual Burgundy wine sale. Far from being a mere formality, the wait transforms into a communal experience, with up to 200 people gathering at the peak of anticipation, sharing stories, experiences, and, of course, their love for wine.

The sale featured, among others, three bottles of Romanée-Conti Grand Cru 2020, priced at 80,000 Norwegian kroner (about $7,500) each. This price not only reflects the exceptional quality of the wine but also its scarcity. And though the cost may seem steep to many, to true wine lovers, the opportunity to own a masterpiece of viticulture justifies the investment. Notably, Romanée-Conti is among the few wines in the world that almost guarantees an appreciation in value over time, and events like this in Norway only serve to reinforce the brand's super-premium status and demand.

Camping out in front of Vinmonopolet has become an annual ritual for some, demonstrating that beyond the purchase, what forms during these long winter nights under the starry sky is a community of enthusiasts sharing an unbreakable passion for wine.

This phenomenon, while it may seem extreme to some, is a testament to the depth and richness that the world of wine offers to those willing to dive into it. It's not just about collecting bottles; it's about chasing unique experiences, understanding and appreciating the labor, tradition, and history each bottle embodies. In this sense, the queue at Vinmonopolet's doors is much more than a mere wait; it's a celebration of wine culture, a tribute to the dedication of Burgundy's producers, and, above all, a manifestation of the human spirit, always in pursuit of beauty and excellence.

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