Domaine Drouhin: Burgundy’s Footprint in Oregon
Some young people are lucky enough to get a new car from their parents. Veronique-
Boss Drouhin got her own vineyard and winery. Veronique-Boss Drouhin is
the daughter of Robert Drouhin, who along with Veronique’s two brothers, oversees
the prestigious nègociant house in Beaune, Maison Joseph Drouhin. Founded
in 1880 by Robert’s great uncle, Joseph, Maison Joseph Drouhin has a lofty image among
respected nègociants in Burgundy.
Growing up in a winemaking family, Veronique was destined
to become the fourth generation to fulfill the family’s tradition.
She graduated from Dijon University in 1985 and with urgings
from her father, traveled to Oregon in 1986 to receive practical
experience in winemaking according to the gospel of David
with David Lett at Eyrie Vineyards, David Casteel of Bethel
Heights, and David Adelsheim of Adelsheim Vineyard. Robert
Drouhin had visited Oregon in 1961 and was struck by the resemblance
of the Williamette Valley to the Côte d’Or. He was particularly impressed
by David Lett’s Eyrie Vineyards 1975 South Block Reserve Pinot Noir
which finished ahead of some of Drouhin’s Burgundies in blind tastings.
In 1987, Robert Drouhin bought 100 acres in the Dundee Hills overlooking the
town of Dundee and sent Veronique to oversee planting of the vineyards in 1988.
She crafted the first three vintages, 1988 to 1990, from purchased grapes, and
these wines were well received by the wine press. More land was purchased
(today there 225 estate acres, 84 of which are planted to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay),
and in 1989, a new four-level gravity-fed winery was constructed. Much of
the winemaking equipment in the new winery came from Beaune. Maison Joseph
Drouhin became the first Burgundy house to make wine outside of France and remains
the only significant Burgundy presence in the New World.
The vineyards at Domaine Drouhin Oregon (DDO) are among the most densely
planted in the United States. The objective was to create more competition
among the vines leading to lower yields. In 1988, when planting began, the norm
in Oregon was for vines to be 6 feet apart and the rows 8-10 feet apart. Initially a
compromise was struck and the vines were planted 1 meter apart with the rows planted 7 feet apart. The initial plantings were Pommard and Wädenswil clones on their own rootstock
since no phylloxera-resistant rootstock was available at the time. In 1989, DDO transitioned to a 1 meter
by 1.3 meter template creating over 3,100 vines per acre (a typical vineyard in Oregon is 800-1,400
vines per acre) and the vineyard was converted to primarily Dijon clones 115 and 777. DDO became
the first Oregon winery to plant the new Dijon clones and the first to use phylloxera-resistant rootstock.
The close plantings necessitated the importation of a special French tractor to assist in farming. Severe
pruning has been the rule and the resultant low yields are such that a vine only produces about
3/4 of a bottle of wine. Phillipe, Veronique’s brother, has managed the vineyards since the beginning.
Chardonnay came later, with the first release of Arthur, named after Veronique’s son, in 1996.
Over the years, Veronique-Boss Drouhin (her husband, Michel Boss, is a website designer and together
they have three children) has been a long-distance winemaker and continued to live in Beaune,
traveling periodically to Oregon to oversee DDO. Barrel samples are sent to her by Fed Ex so she can
monitor the progress of the wines. She has developed quite an affection for Oregon and its wines. She
says, “I have no doubt that the finest Pinot Noir outside Burgundy will come from Oregon, also perhaps
from New Zealand. I’m not so sure about California, where the climate is warmer, the wines are richer
and more powerful.” That said, she believes Oregon has a ways to go. “I am not prepared to say that
we are yet making great wines, wines that move us and inspired great emotion. That we can do in Burgundy
with out best crus, and that is our challenge in Oregon.” (Quotes from Wine People by Stephen
The Pinot Noirs of Domaine Drouhin Oregon have emphasized balance and elegance over robustness,
and although they can be quite charming upon release, they age magnificently. Oak character is kept
to a minimum (new wood has been gradually decreased over the years to about 20%). The grapes are
usually all de-stemmed, natural yeasts are employed, and the wines are aged for twelve months in
barrel. Veronique likes to say that the wines are “Burgundian at heart, but with North West intensity.”
The wines have more extraction and fruitiness than those from Maison Joseph Drouhin, but less extraction
than many other Oregon Pinot Noirs.
Three Pinot Noirs are produced. The Domaine Drouhin Classique
($45) is held in bottle for nine months before released (10,000 cases). It is a soft, accessible style.
The Domaine Drouhin Cuvée Laurène ($65) has been made since 1992 and is named after Veronique’s
first daughter who was also born in 1992. This is wine is a barrel selection showing more structure,
extraction and age ability. (2,000 cases). The Domaine Drouhin Cuvée Louise was first produced in
1999 and is named after Veronique’s youngest daughter. It is a special selection of favorite barrels
and is extremely limited (8 barrels). The Louise has a little less structure than the Laurène, but with more elegance and finesse ($80). It is sold only at the winery and to winery club members.
The Domaine Drouhin wines have been consistent in quality and this has not gone unnoticed in Burgundy.
Despite this, the Burgundians are a conservative lot which explains why Maison Joseph Drouhin
remains the only Burgundy house with a serious Oregon commitment.
There have been a string of talented Managing Directors at DDO. Bill Hatcher was the first and after
fourteen years left to be part of a partnership that operates A to Z Wines in Oregon. Scott Wright followed
him and now owns Scott Paul Wines in Carlton The current Managing Director is the affable
David Millman. If you need any information about Domaine Drouhin Oregon Wines or wish to arrange
a tour, contact him at email@example.com or phone 503-864-2700. The winery’s tasting room
is open Wednesday through Sunday from 11:00 AM to 4:00 PM and offers the opportunity to taste Oregon
and French wines side by side.
Recently I had the pleasure of attending a dinner and vertical tasting of Domaine Drouhin Pinot Noirs at
Parkway Grill in Pasadena, California. The hosts, David (below right) and Janeen Lee, are literally
lovers of wine (check out their website: www.loverofwine.com). Fifteen vintages of Domaine Drouhin
Classique dating back to 1992 and two vintages each of Domaine Drouhin Laurène and Domaine
Drouhin Louise were presented. The evening’s conversation was spirited and the food was exquisite.
David Millman (below standing left) was present, and his encyclopedic knowledge of Domaine
Drouhin wines, as well as his bonhomie, made for a special event.
A few observations: (1) The first three vintages of Domaine Drouhin Pinot Noir, 1988-1990 were made
from purchased grapes; (2) The wines are in general closer to Burgundy in style than many Oregon
wines; (3) All of the older good vintages aged remarkably well. The 1992 and 1993 Domaine Drounin
Classique Pinot Noirs were spectacular and would hold their own against any Cote de Beaune Burgundy
from those years. Several years ago, Veronique Drouhin-Boss remarked that “The wines from
Oregon don’t so far have the longevity of the best Burgundy wines. But as viticulture practices improve,
I expect the wines will become more long-lived.” Maybe the wines don’t have quite the
longevity of many Burgundies, but their age ability is surely superior to many New World Pinot Noirs.
I attended a less extensive vertical tasting of Domaine Drouhin Oregon Pinot Noirs in early 2005. Tasting
notes on that tasting are in the PinotFile, Volume 4, Issue 27.
Domaine Drouhin Oregon (“Beaune in the USA”) is located off Breyman Orchards Road about two
miles west of Highway 99W in Dundee. The phone is 503-864-2700 and the website is
www.domainedrouhin.com. We are blessed to have this French-inspired treasure in our country.