Can “New World” Oregon wines match the quality of “Old World” Burgundy wines? For Veronique Drouhin, the winemaker for Domaine Joseph Drouhin’s global operations here and in France, the answer isn’t complicated.
It’s not a competition of Burgundy vs. Oregon, she says. Instead, it’s bringing out the best of two uniquely different terroirs located a world apart on the 45th parallel.
Domaine Drouhin has been producing Pinot Noir and Chablis (Chardonnay) in Burgundy (Borgogne) since 1881. It started with Veronique’s great-grandfather Joseph, who launched a winery in Beaune that’s been expanded through four generations of family heirs. Veronique’s father, Robert, is now in charge.
In 1987, Robert bought land in Oregon’s Willamette Valley after years of studying its terroir. Robert had a vision of an Oregon estate winery that could produce wines rivaling those of his native country. Two years later, Domaine Drouhin Oregon crafted its first Pinot Noir from Dijon clones brought over from France. Chardonnay rootstock from Burgundy was also planted.
Veronique was 24 years old when she assumed the winemaker’s role in 1988, and she has guided each annual vintage on both sides of the Atlantic ever since.
I met Veronique at the 2016 Boston Wine Expo, where I attended her sold-out seminar, “Visionary Vintners: The Drouhin Family’s Story of Elegance and Excellence in Burgundy and Oregon.” She is a remarkable woman and trailblazer in a field that remains gender challenged. She’s knowledgeable and pleasantly down to earth, just like Domaine Drouhin’s terroir-driven wines.
During the seminar, we tasted 10 estate wines — five from Oregon and five from Burgundy and Chablis. The vintages ranged from 2000 to 2013. Veronique took us through the paces, offering valuable insights on special terroir and characteristics defining each wine.
The tasting was incredibly revealing on several levels: First, that Domaine Drouhin wines, despite being crafted from uniquely different soils in vineyards 5,196 miles apart, are stylistically the same, brilliantly structured, and represent the purest expression of the fruit; second, Domaine Drouhin Oregon is rapidly closing the achievement gap — if it hasn’t already — on the fine ageworthy Pinot Noirs produced by Drouhin’s Burgundy operations; and third, the Drouhin Chablis is in a class of its own.
While a growing number of winemakers seem fixated on popular trends — sweet-infused wines, overheated alcohol, fermentation manipulation — Drouhin has stayed true to itself and nature (organic farming methods are strictly employed). Its wines are vibrant, appealingly elegant, and graceful.
In my view Domaine Drouhin Oregon is living up to its motto — “French Soul, Oregon Soil” — and we can thank Burgundy and Chablis for that.
Below are my tasting notes from the Domaine Drouhin seminar at the Boston Wine Expo:
• 2013 Drouhin Oregon Chardonnay “Arthur”, $35 — Nice pale straw color, mildly fragrant, vibrant on the palate. Long, satisfying, steely finish.
• 2012 Maison Joseph Drouhin Chablis, “Les Clos” Grand Cru — Golden straw color; apple, pear, white flower aromatics; wonderful coating on the palate. Elegant in every way. (Drouhin’s Les Clos soil benefits from the unique mineral nutrients of the limestone rich Kimmeridgian Ridge formed during the Jurassic Period.)
• 2011 Maison Joseph Drouhin Chassagne-Montrachet “Moregeot” Marquis de Laguiche, Premier Cru — Another outstanding white Burgundy and my favorite of the entire tasting. Yellow gold color; a perfume fragrance. Delicious from the tip of the tongue to the back of the mouth. Fabulous, creamy texture. Will age 6-8 years.
• 2013 Domaine Drouhin Oregon Pinot Noir, $30 — Ruby color, cherry and strawberry aromas and flavors. Very smooth. An herbal finish.
• 2002 Domaine Drouhin Oregon Pinot Noir — Brick-red color typical of aged red wines. Rose petal and fig aromas. Fruit flavors are thinning but still quite impressive. A good food wine.
• 2012 Domaine Drouhin Oregon Pinot Noir “Laurene, $70 — Intense garnet color. Big cherry and rock pepper aromas. Refined taste and structure. Classy feel on the palate. Nice spicy herbs on the finish. This is definitely picking up the red clay minerals in the Dundee Hills soil.
• 2000 Domaine Drouhin Oregon Pinot Noir “Laurene” — The core color remains garnet, with a slight brownish tinge around the edges. A Pinot Noir that has matured with grace. Raspberry and earthy tastes. Extremely satisfying.
• 2013 Maison Joseph Drouhin Gevry Chambertin — Fabulous ruby color. It’s young but there’s a real good strawberry rhubarb pie profile waiting to emerge.
• 2006 Maison Joseph Drouhin Chambolle Musigny Premier Cru — Rubyesque color. A blend of six Premier Cru vineyards and it’s surprisingly distinct in its soft, feminine texture. Pure red fruit expressions against a dry, soothing sensation on the finish. I liked this a lot.
• 2002 Maison Joseph Drouhin Chambertin “Clos de Beze” Grand Cru — What a way to end the day! Dark, reddish-brick color. Subtle cigar and tobacco aromatics mingle with strawberry-cherry delights. Very nuanced flavors. Sophisticated. Winemaker Veronique Drouhin described it as a “butterfly in a cocoon” waiting to burst out on its own.