Domaine Drouhin - A French Vineyard in Oregon
Updated: 4 days ago
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As someone who notoriously does not like Pinot Noir, my palate is humbly corrected and challenged at Domaine Drouhin on every visit. Leaning towards "old world" wines heralding from Europe, I have always felt that Pinot Noir was a flimsy, lifeless varietal that couldn't stand up to the big bolder styles I prefer, like a Grenache (or in Spain, Garnacha). In fact, my time living in Spain has greatly influenced my love for the younger, still emerging Spanish wine scene which in our area in Zaragoza focuses on Tempranillo, Rioja, Garnacha and other robust grapes. So why oh why would I like a 'dainty' red like a Pinot Noir? Because ooh la la and sacre bleu, the jokes on me. Did you know that most of Oregon's wine country is comprised of Burgundy grapes from France? These "cloned" vines stretch across acres and acres of vineyards from Dundee to Willamette Valley and on, bringing a taste of France to America's Pacific Northwest.
Think of it this way - your kids may hate peas or brusselsprouts (my kid loves both so na na na na boo boo) - but they think they hate it, so they hate it. For really no reason other than it being green and healthy looking. That's me with Pinot Noir. I think it's thin and light because it's some lame grape from the crunchy Northwest, but really, it's a complex, itty bitty, dark purple - nearly black - French grape. It's like my ears perked, the hypocrite that I am. French? European? Ooh, then it MUST be good. People do this all the time. From Napa? Too young. From Greece? Too rancid. You get the point. It's easy to make assumptions about things you perceive not to like, until you get a new mindset.
That said, Domaine Drouhin gets a special spotlight because their winery was the first winery in Oregon to make my eyes open to Pinot Noir. Now I am not going to rush to buy this varietal off the shelf, but if I could take home a bottle or two of their stuff, yes, yes I would.
The 'essence' and the story of what makes Domaine Drouhin so special is that it's a family run business. Generations of Drouhins have invested themselves in making Chardonnay and Pinot Noir the life blood of the land.
Papa Drouhin (Joseph) began the legacy of winemaking in Burgundy and Chablis in France (with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes respectively) and passed his enthusiasm on to Maurice, who ventured to the Pacific Northwest to share it with the Americans. Armed with phylloxera resistant rootstock (a nasty crop wiping insect), Maurice and eventually his son Robert were able to launch the business in the Dundee Hills of Oregon in the 1980s and evade the eventual crop slaughter that took hold of farms everywhere.
Now, his descendants have taken over the family business, managing both the French winery and the Oregonian. Soul goes into every pour, as their web slogan is "French Soul ~ Oregon Soul".
The conglomeration of properties held by the Drouhin family all lend flavors that influence the wines.
You have Maison Joseph Drouhin in France, Domaine Drouhin in Dundee and Roserock in Eola-Amity Hills - the latter both in Oregon. The tasting room at Domaine Drouhin offers flavors showcased from each of these vineyards, elegantly illustrating the familiar flavors I love from France, while at the same time taking advantage of different climates and preparation techniques in Oregon. They plant their vines closer together than other vineyards, they also have interesting weather patterns that impact the taste. For instance, one of Roserock's vineyards faces a chill in the mornings or extreme heat midday. But, with the slope of the hill and the inevitable winds they face, it's almost like "a sunburn" as our tasting assistant shared with us - where the harshness of the day on the crop is smoothed over by this comforting wind. The yield is an interesting stress test on the grapes themselves.
If you're a bit of an oenophile like me, you'll know there's a myriad of ways to influence the flavor of a wine - from the terroir (the soil) to the weather, the slope, the insects, the humidity and so on. Then of course you have barrel or stainless steel processing, different pressing and destemming techniques, different bottle shapes and colors, etc. The games you can play to get to peak flavor are outrageously endless. At Domaine Drouhin they take two grapes - the simplest of starts - chardonnay and pinot noir - and find delicately balanced blends of many of these techniques to deliver quality to the Northwest region.
What We Tasted:
The whites were really lovely. The beautiful golden straw colored wines were smooth and supple, with only the slightest hint of oak and butter. I'm not going to lie, I kind of want a glass right now. Mmmm.
2020 Domaine Drouhin Chardonnay: Arthur (their most popular!)
2020 Rose Rock Chardonnay
2020 Domaine Drouhin Chardonnay: Edition Limitee
The Pinot Noirs:
Grappling with the idea of a Pinot Noir being to my liking, I found the reds to be fuller than expected. Some were quite spirited with some hi-ya on the after burner. They were strong in the featherlight weight, and the color of many of these wines took on the color of strawberries and roses. In fact, Zephirine was named after Drouhin's daughter Veronique's favorite flowers. By a simple fate of naming convention, there is in fact a flower called "Rosa Zephirine Drouhin". Of course this thornless pink rose was bred by a Frenchman, so it's all so fitting.
2019 Domaine Drouhin Pinot Noir (the most widely purchased and seen - even in airports!)
2019 Rose Rock Pinot Noir: Zephirine
2019 Domaine Drouhin Pinot Noir: Laurene (the most coveted)
Special Bonus: I got to see some of the harvest season productivity!
Overall, over my many visits to Oregon wine country, this vineyard and tasting room has always had me walking away the happiest. I love the story, the French influence, quality of service, and let's not forget - the view! Do yourself a favor and put this one on your next list for wine tasting in Oregon.
Want to learn more? Visit Domaine Drouhin's website.