Parlez-vous français? No? Well, that’s OK. English is perfectly fine at Domaine Drouhin Oregon, the U.S. outpost of the famed Maison Joseph Drouhin of Beaune, France.
According to Domaine Drouhin, the first seeds for what would become Domaine Drouhin Oregon were sown in 1961. Robert Drouhin, head of Burgundy’s legendary Maison Joseph Drouhin, was visiting America’s west coast promoting the Drouhin Burgundies. The California wine industry was just starting to receive its first recognition back then, but there was little if anything going on in Oregon. Robert’s first visit to the Northwest and its earliest vineyards left him with the impression that it quite possibly would be Oregon, not California, that would ultimately prove to be the best place to grow the great grape of Burgundy – Pinot noir.
In 1979 a tasting was held in Paris, where, for the first time, the best new Oregon pinot noirs were tasted in competition with the finest Burgundies. A wine from Oregon’s Eyrie Vineyards stunned the wine world by winning first place. Then in 1980, Robert sponsored a blind tasting at the Drouhin cellars in France, with several of the best Oregon pinot noirs going up against the finest Drouhin Grand Crus. It was a Drouhin Grand Cru that took first place this time, but an Oregon wine (the now legendary 1975 Eyrie Vineyards South Block) placed 2nd by a very narrow margin with the French experts. News of this tasting brought the first widespread international attention to Oregon pinot noir.
According to Domaine Drouhin, in 1986, Robert’s daughter Véronique had just graduated with an advanced degree in enology from the University of Dijon and wanted to expand her experience by working in Oregon. Véronique interned with Adelsheim Vineyards, Bethel Heights, and Eyrie for the 1986 vintage. Later on, Robert mentioned to David Adelsheim that it might be interesting to buy a piece of land in Oregon, to see what it might produce. What started as a passing thought began its transformation into reality when Adelsheim phoned the Drouhins in Beaune not long thereafter to tell them of a property that was for sale that they might be interested in.
In 1987, Robert and Véronique came to Oregon to explore the site. The 225-acre estate had once been wheat fields and a Christmas-tree farm. Situated on south-facing slopes, Robert saw potential for what would become some of the finest pinot noir vineyards in the New World. It was decided and the purchase was complete by the end of the year.
In 1988, Domaine Drouhin Oregon was truly born, with Véronique making wine in rented space at the Veritas winery (now Chehalem) with purchased grapes from Oregon’s top growers. The first eight acres of estate vineyards were planted using the local Oregon pinot noir clones (Pommard and Wadenswill) planted on the 7-foot-wide row spacing that was then the local custom.
Domaine Drouhin Oregon now focuses on producing excellent pinot noir and chardonnay.
The tasting room is a pleasant place to visit year-round and is open from Wednesday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. The address is 6750 Breyman Orchards Rd., Dayton. Tours are available and should be arranged in advance by calling (503) 864-2700.
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