When Veronique Drouhin came to Oregon in 1986, she had just completed her masters in enology. In what was probably conceived as a scouting mission, Veronique worked the harvest with three of Oregon’s early pioneers, the Letts of Eyrie, the Casteels of Bethel Heights, and the Adelsheims. The lasting impression was that something important was happening in the Willamette Valley. A year later, Robert Drouhin was invited to participate in the International Pinot Noir Celebration. It was on that trip that this scion of a century-old Burgundy producer decided to buy land in the Dundee Hills. In 1988, the first edition of the Domaine Drouhin Oregon project was made. As they say, the rest is history.
The winery is celebrating their 30th Anniversary this year. It seems a good time to look back on what had to have been viewed as one of the defining moments in the history of Oregon viticulture. When someone of Drouhin’s stature establishes roots in Oregon, it had to have the effect of validating the entire region. We have been fans of this project since day one and some of those early releases were kind of groundbreaking in terms of shining light on what was possible in the Willamette Valley.
We aren’t going to say that the road was without any bumps. There was a period where we wondered where the mojo of this house had gone. There were a few vintages that simply weren’t all that special. We have no explanation as to why. As inexplicable as that little dip in quality was, the winery seems to have snapped back and is now doing some of their best work ever. Veronique is definitely rolling now as this trio of their traditional releases indicates.
Not surprisingly given the vintage, the Domaine Drouhin Pinot Noir Dundee Hills 2015 is a riveting, pure example of proper Oregon Pinot with the intense dark red fruits, palate-tingling interplay of high-toned spice and savory notes, and bright flavors right through to the end. This reminds us of some of those earliest offers, but with more harmony and finesse. Oregon vintners have definitely raised their game and Drouhin has, too.
It caught the attention of James Suckling, who offered, “A great pinot noir that shows dried flowers, violets and orchids. Cherry and raspberry undertones, too. Medium to full body with an incredible polished texture. Ripe and round tannins and a fresh and vibrant finish. Delicious now but better in 2020…95 points.”
Josh Reynolds expands, “Brilliant red. Fresh cherry and raspberry on the nose, complicated by candied rose, licorice and musky earth flourishes. Juicy, finely etched red berry and bitter cherry flavors show very good energy, and a deeper, sweeter suggestion of cola emerges with aeration. Closes on a bright, spicy note, with sneaky tannins lending framework and grip.” Also ’91’ from both Wine Advocate and Vinous, the wine clearly shows ripe Oregon fruit but a Burgundian sensibility and harmony.
Also from a great vintage, the even more expressive reserve bottling Domaine Drouhin Pinot Noir Laurene Dundee Hills 2014 takes It up another level. Named for Veronique’s daughter, Laurene is their flagship bottling assembled in the cellar from selected ‘best barrels’. From Vinous, “Vivid red. A sexy, highly perfumed bouquet evokes ripe red berries, cola and rose oil, and a smoky flourish builds in the glass. Fleshy, expansive black raspberry, bitter cherry and floral pastille flavors show impressive depth as well as energy, picking up a hint of star anise with air. Finishes juicy, supple and very long, offering lingering spiciness and pliant, even tannins that fold effortlessly into the lush fruit… 93.”
Advocate’s Lisa Perotti-Brown, MW, has this take, “Pale to medium ruby-purple, the 2014 Pinot Noir Laurene offers a very fragrant nose of exotic spices—anise, cardamom and fenugreek—over a core of pomegranate, rhubarb, Bing cherries, fertile loam and truffles. Medium-bodied with a taut, fine structure of fine tannins and refreshing acid, the fruit has plenty of earth and red berry layers that linger with great persistence. ..92+ points.”
One of the most significant developments across Oregon over the last few vintages is that they have finally figured out Chardonnay. The wrong clones planted in the wrong places definitely made Chardoannay the ‘also-ran’ varietal in this part of the world. But the times, they are a changin’. Meanwhile Drouhin did it right in the first place, some of these vines dating back to 1990. The Domaine Drouhin Arthur Chardonnay Dundee Hills 2015 definitely follows the French model with crisp underpinnings and streaks of perceived minerality.
Josh Raynolds of Vinous offered, “(raised in a 50/50 combination of stainless steel tanks and French oak barrels, 20 percent of the oak new) Light gold. Intense, mineral-accented citrus and orchard fruits on the nose, complicated by hints of buttered toast and honeysuckle. Lush and creamy but focused as well, offering concentrated dried pear and peach flavors and a touch of bitter lemon pith. Turns firmer on the incisive finish, which repeats the citrus and mineral notes and leaves a hint of chamomile behind…92 points.”
James Suckling was more succinct, but even more enthusiastic, ” A layered and pretty wine with dried apples and fresh fruit. Linear and spicy, showing plenty of salty undertones. Full-bodied, solid and fresh. Lovely intensity. Drink now…94 Points.”
It is fair to say these wines were more than 100 years in the making, and the knowledge the Drouhins brought to the New World has been good for Oregon as a whole. There are plenty of ‘young guns’ grabbing media attention these days. But Drouhin is doing fine work and definitely is still a standard-bearer for the region. These subtle, proportioned wines belong in everyone’s cellar.