The name Corton comes from the Latin Curtis Othonis, Otho’s domain. This Roman emperor refused to allow this fine vineyard to be harvested by anyone else. Since then, many sovereigns have been fascinated by Corton. Charlemagne gave his name to the white Grand Cru which appeased his wife by avoiding undignified red wine stains on his long white beard. The Dukes of Burgundy sought out the best plot for their enclosure, honouring the table of the Capetian line from the 11th century, then the Valois line in the 14th and 15th centuries.
The Valois dukes were known as the grand dukes of the west, the princes of the best wines in Christendom. Philippe the Hardy, Jean the Fearless, Philippe the Good and Charles the Bold link Corton to the flamboyant days of the Order of the Golden Fleece. On Charles’s death, Louis XI confiscated the enclosure, which remained as the Clos du Roi (king’s enclosure) until the French Revolution three centuries later.
The royal vineyard, which had been well maintained under the Dukes of Burgundy, declined through lack of care. In 1603 it passed to Burgundy nobles under a cense, a sort of perpetual leasehold close to true ownership. Over the next fifty years 30 ouvrées, (a little over 1 hectare, an ouvrée being an old land measure representing the amount of vines harvested by one worker in a single day), were uprooted and de-stoned, then replanted with good vines. Under the Revolution, the Clos du Roi was divided into seven lots of fifteen ouvrées, and auctioned off for an exorbitant price, one and a half times that of the neighbouring Corton-Charlemagne. The Clos du Roi was almost completely renewed during the first half of the 19th century. In 1931 a decree granted the right to use the Corton name for the entire Clos du Roi climat, and in 1936 it was declared a Grand Cru under the Appellations d’Origine Contrôlée system.