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Domaine Drouhin Winery

French Soul, Oregon Soil

The first seeds for what would become Domaine Drouhin Oregon were sown in 1961. Robert Drouhin, head of Burgundy's legendary Maison Joseph Drouhin, was visiting America's west coast promoting the Drouhin Burgundies. The California wine industry was just starting to receive its first recognition back then, but there was little if anything going on in Oregon. Robert's first visit to the the Northwest and its earliest vineyards left him with the impression that it quite possibly would be Oregon, not California, that would ultimately prove to be the best place to grow the great grape of Burgundy - Pinot noir.

Domaine Drouhin view
View of Domaine Drouhin's winery from Sokol Blosser
Smoke is from burning leaves

In subsequent visits to Oregon over the next two decades, Robert had the opportunity to taste the early wines of many of the area's winemaking pioneers, and thought that the wines showed great promise. These wines confirmed to Robert his belief that Oregon would be home to the best New World Pinot noirs. Robert began a friendship with Oregon vintner David Adelsheim when the two met in Beaune.

 

In 1979 a tasting was held in Paris, where, for the first time, the best new Oregon Pinot noirs were tasted in competition with the finest Burgundies. A wine from Oregon's Eyrie Vineyards stunned the wine world by winning first place. Then in 1980, Robert sponsored a blind tasting at the Drouhin cellars in France, with several of the best Oregon Pinot noirs going up against the finest Drouhin Grand Crus. It was a Drouhin Grand Cru that took first place this time, but an Oregon wine (the now legendary 1975 Eyrie Vineyards South Block) placed 2nd by a very narrow margin with the French experts. News of this tasting brought the first widespread international attention to Oregon Pinot noir.

The Domaine Drouhin wines have received world-wide acclaim from the press and the wine lovers year after year. The Pinot noir bottlings are frequently awarded "Outstanding" scores from the Wine Spectator and Wine Advocate critics, and the Chardonnay was recently named "Best New World White Wine" by the UK's influential Decanter magazine.

Of the future, Robert Drouhin has said, "I would like to think that one day, people will taste Oregon wines, and particularly our wines and will say 'it is really true to the classic Burgundian Pinot Noir. Not a Côte de Beaune, not a Côte de Nuits, but uniquely Oregon."

 
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At the very heart of Domaine Drouhin Oregon’s 225-acre estate are the 85 acres of highdensity vineyards in Oregon’s Red Hills, which produce three acclaimed Pinot noir cuvées and a very limited amount of Chardonnay. These vineyards share a nearly identical climate, latitude, and aspect with their counterparts in France. Domaine Drouhin Chardonnay Arthur

Domaine Drouhin places an unusually demanding emphasis on viticulture, the art of vineyard management. These vineyards are unique – perhaps the most densely-planted vineyards in America, with the vines tightly-spaced in narrow rows. This is also one of the few vineyards in the country to cultivate its own rootstocks, and propagate all of its own plant materials – meaning that everything planted on the estate is unique to the estate.

The winery itself is a landmark, nestled deep into the slopes of the Red Hills. It is the first four-level gravity-flow winery built in Oregon, and in fact the first building built as a winery in Oregon. In the cellar it is Véronique’s mission is to let the wines reveal the true character of the fruit. The goal is to produce wine naturally, treating it gently and with an absolute minimum of intervention or manipulation.

Domaine Drouhin Pinot noir The result is wines of superb structure and balance – sublime, elegant, and silky Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay that displays great complexity and depth. The wines are never heavily oaked – less than 20% new French oak each year – allowing the wines to reveal the true nature of the terroir, the purity of the fruit, and the full expression of their innate qualities. Vintage after vintage, the Domaine Drouhin wines are greatly sought-after, and continue to be acclaimed by critics and enthusiasts worldwide.

 

 


 

Star Vintner Domaine Drouhin Oregon:
a profile and interview with Winemaker Veronique Drouhin-Boss
By Jim Clarke
starchefs.com
reprinted with permission

A French invasion sent ripples through the Oregon winemaking community in 1988. They didn’t come en masse, the way Champagne producers came to California. Only one producer made the journey, but in the close, neighborly fraternity of Oregonian winemaking, they made a splash - like a Peugeot in a pond.

Okay, so maybe Maison Joseph Drouhin isn’t that big, but their impact on Oregonian winemaking was dramatic. Winemaker Veronique Drouhin-Boss feels that at the time, “Oregon was not a well-known region, and the fact that a famous producer from Burgundy came to Oregon brought some credibility to the area.” The state first caught the eye of Robert Drouhin, the head of Burgundy’s Maison Joseph Drouhin, during a visit to the Pacific Northwest back in 1961. He stayed in touch with the then-nascent winemaking community and got to know some of the area’s pioneers, like David Adelsheim and David Lett. Lett’s Eyrie Vineyards Pinot Noir would later bring worldwide attention to Oregonian Pinot Noir by taking first place at a 1979 tasting competition in Paris.

Meanwhile, Robert’s daughter Veronique had decided to follow in her father’s footsteps and completed her Enology studies at the University of Dijon in 1986. She visited Oregon with her parents that same year, staying on to work the vintage at Adelsheim Vineyards, Eyrie, and Bethel Heights. Around this time Robert also let slip to David Adelsheim that he might be interested in buying some land in Oregon and putting it through its paces. David responded not much later: a prime piece of land in the Red Hills of Dundee was up for sale; the 225-acre site – once a mix of wheat fields and a Christmas tree farm – had south-facing slopes perfect for catching the sun and ripening grapes. By the end of 1987 Robert and Veronique had decided to make a go of it and bought the property; Veronique was to be the winemaker.

Beginnings

Once they made the purchase their eagerness to begin making wine mounted rapidly. But they had only just begun planting vines in 1988, and the winery Veronique had designed would not be ready until the 1989 harvest. So in the meantime Veronique and her father decided to purchase grapes from local growers, and Veronique made their first wines by renting space at the Veritas winery nearby; 1988 became Domaine Drouhin Oregon’s first vintage.

Initial plantings used the Pommard and Wädenswil clones of Pinot Noir, spaced in seven-foot rows, an arrangement which was more-or-less standard procedure in Oregon at the time. But the following year Veronique called on her Burgundian background and began planting five or six different Dijon clones that she had obtained from Oregon State University. It was an important change, and Veronique is happy with their clone selections now. “We like the Pommard clone but never liked the Wädenswil very much. We pulled out the vines a couple of years ago.” She also planted the vines at a higher density than had been previously done in the U.S.; their vineyards have over 3,100 vines per acre, whereas Oregon’s norm is somewhere between 800 and 1,400. Putting the vines closer together makes them compete for nutrients and dig deeper in to the soil, concentrating the flavors in the grapes.

Until Drouhin arrived, Oregon’s winegrowers had planted their vines on their original rootstocks; the threat of phylloxera, a louse which destroys vines by infesting their roots, had not yet reached the state. But Robert Drouhin realized that it was only a matter of time, and as they planted they began grafting their new clones onto phylloxera-resistant rootstocks. While its progress was slowed by the cooler climate and the distance between individual vineyards, phylloxera did indeed become a problem for Oregon’s vineyards in the 1990’s, and many vineyard owners found it was time to follow Drouhin’s lead.

Today

Today Domaine Drouhin Oregon has 70 acres planted with Pinot Noir, and 13.5 acres with Chardonnay. All of the vineyards are on the slopes of the rolling Dundee Hills, dotted with groves of Oregon’s State Tree, the Douglas Fir. They still buy grapes from other growers (although very few at this point), so Veronique has experience with grapes grown on the Hill’s Red Jory Clay, as well as on the Willakenzie soils of the flatter areas. She prefers the former: “I like the diversity of soils but think the red hills give grapes that lead to wines with incredible complexity, which is hard to achieve in Oregon.” The region’s soils also bring out a different set of flavors: “Usually more color than a Pinot Noir from Burgundy, more dark fruit flavors such as cherries and black berries, and more spicy nuances; Pinot from Oregon matches very well with fish such as salmon or tuna.” Portions of the estate are reserved for growing rootstock and cuttings for future plantings, so their source material is now self-contained and unique to their property. Another 50 acres of the Drouhin property remain to be planted and are destined for more Pinot Noir.

The vines are pruned ruthlessly so that each vine concentrates its energy on an average of eight clusters per vine. This means each vine only produces three-quarters of a bottle of wine. It’s expensive winemaking - Veronique also feels that their production cost “is certainly one of the highest in Oregon” - but it guarantees a consistently high level of quality. After the rigors of life in the vineyard, the gentle treatment in the winery might seem like luxury to the grape; nevertheless, the attention to detail here is actually as intense as the work outside. The grapes are harvested in shallow baskets that prevent them from crushing each other and fed into a gravity-flow system – there are no pumps putting undue pressure on the must (unfermented or partially fermented grape juice). Nor are the musts inoculated with yeast cultures; the yeast that ferments the wine and even the bacteria that cause malolactic fermentation are all naturally occurring. Eventually the wine is aged, using a low proportion of new French Oak – generally less that 20% - that will support rather than obscure the wine’s natural flavor profile.

Fruit from each section of the vineyard is vinified and aged separately; regular tastings of each individual lot - over 30 from each vintage - help Veronique learn even more about how each clone is responding to the different sites. A few barrels are eventually separated out from the rest of the vintage to be blended as the Cuvée Louise, and a few more are set aside for the Cuvée Lauréne (each named after one of Veronique’s daughters). The rest will be blended in varying percentages into the Domaine Drouhin Classic Pinot Noir.

Lauréne and Louise’s brother Arthur has not been left out; his name has been added to the winery’s Chardonnay. However, it only earned the name after Veronique changed her approach to the wine: “After a couple years making ‘classic American-style Chardonnay,’ my vision for Chardonnay in Oregon is now slightly different from the vision my colleagues have. I do not think Oregon should and can compete with Californian Chardonnay. My style for our Oregon Chardonnay is very French: beautiful fruit and mineral flavors and a long, complex mouthfeel. It works well; we are extremely happy with our last vintages. The wine is very food friendly.”

The future

Oregon’s wines have been riding high on a series of fantastic vintages, the most recent being the hottest in some time. Veronique finds the 2003 Pinot Noirs to be “a little too high in alcohol and rather low in acidity,” but with “very good” tannins. “The wines will be very pleasant when young, but I am not sure of the extended aging ability. This is fine as we have a range of excellent vintages including the ‘98 that will last for a long time - 2001 can also wait a couple years.” Her judgement bespeaks a confidence, built on a family tradition several centuries in the making.

It’s a tradition that has attracted attention worldwide and provided a “how-to” example for the next generation of Oregon’s winemakers. Most of the skeleton crew that works full-time at the winery aspires to making their own wine some day; Scott Paul Wright, the Managing Director, already does. Other would-be winemakers, especially Pinot-philes, come from all around the world to work the harvest and see how it’s done. To accommodate less strenuous visits, the winery recently opened a beautiful tasting room at the winery; Hospitality Director Arron Bell enthusiastically guides visitors through tours and tastings, and even gives them a moment to enjoy the hilltop view. It’s amazing - you can see Burgundy from here.

 

Jim Clarke is the Wine and Spirits Editor at StarChefs, the online culinary magazine. A Western Washington University graduate (in music composition), he came to the wine world by working his way up through the New York restaurant scene, where he has established himself as a voice of curiosity and enthusiasm for wine, beer, and spirits alike.

StarChefs™ is both a backstage pass to the celebrity chef world for food and wine-savvy consumers and an essential information resource for aspiring professional chefs.


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