Thirty years ago, Robert Drouhin, owner of Burgundy’s elite Maison Joseph Drouhin winery and negociant business, purchased 225 acres next to David Lett’s vineyard in Dundee Hills, Oregon, validating the state’s status as a source for excellent pinot noirs. (See Oregon Pinot Noir from Lett to Lardiere.)
Drouhin charged his 26-year-old daughter Veronique with winemaking. She started with purchased grapes in 1988, and by the early 1990s was harvesting from Domaine Drouhin’s new vineyard.
With its reputation for high quality Burgundy, and the good will and relationships that Robert established from decades of visiting America’s markets, Drouhin’s Oregon wine was in demand. And Veronique did not disappoint.
As the vines gained maturity, and each vintage added to Veronique’s knowledge of Oregon’s soil and climate, the wines marched on a steady uphill path. They have a more modern style of body, pronounced fruit and oak than the family’s Burgundy wines.
On a hot, midsummer New York City night, I met Laurent Drouhin as he returned from a week in Oregon. Laurent, one of Veronique’s older brothers (she has three), lives in New York and carries on the work of his father overseeing the American market.
We began dinner at Bar Boulud with the 2015 Domaine Drouhin Arthur Chardonnay Dundee Hills. Named for Veronique’s son, I remembered tasting the first vintage of this wine in 2002, when Arthur was in primary school (with what seems like warped speed, as he is now studying in France for his MBA) .
Harvested from an 11-acre vineyard, a portion of the chardonnay was made in stainless-steel tanks, retaining the fruit and acidity of the grapes, and some was fermented and aged in French oak barrels, bringing complexity and body.
The method yielded mellow white fruit and floral aromas with a white nectarine flavor. A line of minerality carries the 2015 Arthur to an elegant finish. It reminded me of an Auxey-Duresses blanc premier cru. 91 points. Retail prices range from $29 to $35.
Zephirine Drouhin is not a new wine from the Drouhin family: It is the name of a hybrid rose. But smarly, the Drouhin’s have used it for the pinot noir from their new Roserock vineyard at the southern tip of the Eola-Amity Hills in Oregon’s Willamette Valley.
Like its namesake, the 2014 Roserock Zephirine Pinot Noir Eola-Amity Hills is very perfumed. Its cola, black-cherry scent fills the air as you tip the glass for the wine’s refined and delicious cherry, blackberry flavors. Over the course of two hours, I observed how the cola accent diminished and a Volnay-like body and flavor developed. This first vintage from the Roserock vineyard was excellent with the selection of pate and saucission from Bar Boulud’s kitchen. And this Zephirine, like the rose, is thornless. 92 points. Retail prices range from $47 to $65, shop accordingly.
In 2015, Oregon experienced its second consecutive ideal growing season. From a warmer than average winter to a splendid autumn with cool days, the vintners had the luxury to pick when they had perfectly ripe grapes.
The 2015 Domaine Drouhin Pinot Noir Dundee Hills is from Drouhin’s original estate. Its translucent black-cherry hue, and refined red-fruit released aromas and flavors of vanilla, cinnamon, raspberry and cherry. Integrated tannins give it a long, pleasing finish and a more velvet texture than the 2014 Roserock. 93 points. Just released to the market, expect pricing to range from $39 to $55.
A week before my rendezvous with Laurent, I opened a bottle of the 2014 Domaine Drouhin Pinot Noir Dundee Hills. While it had the same color as the 2015, it differed from that vintage’s red-fruit profile with a bigger body containing a mild smoky oak accent in its black-plum, pomegranate and cherry aromas and flavors. 90 points. Retail prices are $35 to $55; shop accordingly.
The only difference between the two Dundee Hills pinot noirs is the vintage. The same soil and the same winemaker produced two different wines: One with a red-fruit accent, the other tilted to black-fruit. It is an endless fascination of wine, one to be explored in a future article.