Last year I had the opportunity to cover an engrossing topic for France Amerique, one that fascinates Pinot Noir lovers: what is the connection between Oregon and Bourgogne?
The Willamette Valley, being a much younger wine region, has obtained a reputation of being a sort of outpost for fine Pinot Noir and Chardonnay fashioned after the Burgundian method. In many ways, the impression taken from this depends on who one talk to. Consumers tend to find stylistic similarities: handcrafted, terroir-driven wine that is often made in what is perceived as Old World style.
But when one talks to winemakers who craft Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in the Willamette Valley, they seem hesitant to overuse the comparison. This is especially true for the clutch of French domaines, vignerons and winemakers that have chosen to relocate (or locate simultaneously) in Oregon. Many will say that the sensibilities they learned in France are the groundwork for their North American practice, but that the atmosphere in Oregon was the main draw.
Domaine Drouhin Oregon
The pioneering family in the this trans-Atlantic leap across Europe and North America are the Drouhins, of Maison Joseph Drouhin in Beaune and Domaine Drouhin Oregon. Oregon’s potential blossomed for Véronique Boss Drouhin when she arrived in the Willamette Valley to work a harvest in 1986. She returned to France with enthusiasm for what she calls the “strong sense of community” she experienced during her time in Oregon.
By the next year, Domaine Drouhin Oregon was born. Yet, this was a time when Bourgogne didn’t invest outside of Burgundy. As I wrote in my story for France Amerique: “Consumers around the world recognize the Drouhin name as one of Burgundy’s most remarkable houses, and the capacity to tie this respected heritage to a new world product has proven to be a successful endeavor accepted by both French and American wine drinkers.”
Véronique sensed a good business opportunity here, but there was something deeper that solidified this option other than a solid plot of land to grow grapes, other than another layer of product to offer the North American market.
In French winemaking the concept of terroir includes vine husbandry along with the environmental aspects of the vineyard. The people involved in the process are essential, and Véronique recognized that not only was this a community of winemaking potential, they were also welcoming to outsiders (not that anyone would call the Drouhins winemaking outsiders, exactly) and to expanding the capacity of what their region could offer.
“From the beginning, people shared their experiences and worked together, which is unique and hugely important,” says Drouhin. “It is also a good part of why we planted our roots in Oregon in 1987 — because we were welcomed into the circle.”
Earlier this year I covered ¡Salud! The Oregon Pinot Noir Auction, a financial generator for healthcare services for vineyard workers and their families in the Willamette Valley. Both Domaine Drouhin Oregon and Résonance (see below) are participants in this annual event. David Millman, managing director of Drouhin Oregon, expresses that the domaine’s participation in this event is largely driven by the deep connection that is felt with the Oregon community.
He tells a story that the first thing that Robert Drouhin told him, in the car from PDX to the winery, was to “make sure that the local community knows how important they are to the family.” Millman says: “they were essential to him; the people of Oregon are the people that matter most to the [Drouhin] family.”
This effort is tied in theory to the oldest wine auction in the world, the Hospices de Beaune. Generosity for the community is part of a culture that goes back to early days of the wine industry in Bourgogne, mirrored by the industry in Oregon as well.
On a crisp April day in 2013, Thibault Gagey and Jacques Lardière of Maison Louis Jadot (the notable Burgundian house dating to 1859, well-known in both the United States and France) fell in love with a vineyard that was to become Jadot’s first operation outside of Burgundy and a signal of the potential for further French investment in Oregon.
Jadot even sent one of their own, Guillaume Large, to take the position of winemaker at Résonance. “Oregon is the perfect transition from Burgundy,” says Large. “The longitude is exactly the same, and like Burgundy, the Willamette Valley is populated with small towns, has incredible gastronomy, and is full of friendly people.”
Résonance has two estate vineyards: Résonance Vineyard (Yamhill Carlton AVA) and Découverte Vineyard (Dundee Hills AVA). For this event, I was able to taste 2017 Résonance Découverte Vineyard Pinot Noir as well as 2018 Résonance Willamette Valley Pinot Noir. I paired the Découverte Vineyard with seasoned rice, and grilled sirloin kabobs with peppers and onions. The wine is both complex and balanced and I enjoyed sipping a glass after dinner as well as with the pairing because the red fruit with hints of pepper and spice felt complimented the range of flavors on the plate. Lots of freshness too. Highly recommend!
The French Winophiles
Join us as our group chats about winemaking houses with ties in Oregon and in Bourgogne. Saturday, December 19, 2020 at 10am central. Find our hashtag on Twitter: #winophiles. And then away we go. Meanwhile, participating writers have prepared the following essential reading on the topic:
Wendy at A Day in the Life on the Farm tells of “Countries United Through Food and Wine”
Camilla from Culinary Adventures with Camilla shares “Galette au Chou + 2017 Résonance Pinot Noir”
Terri at Our Good Life tells tells us about “Resonance Pinot Noir and Roasted Pork Loin”
Lynn from Savor the Harvest shares “Oregon Pinot Noir With a Burgundian Heart – Domaine Drouhin Laurène”
Jennifer at Vino Travels cooks up “BBQ Brisket with Domaine Drouhin Pinot Noir”
Linda at My Full Wine Glass shares “Oregon PN for a PNW holiday meal: A Résonance”
Robin from Crushed Grape Chronicles has a discovery: “Découverte! Pinot Noir from Oregon’s Dundee Hills and Mediterranean Salmon” #Winophiles
David from Cooking Chat shares “Braised Moroccan Chicken Thighs with Oregon Pinot #Winophiles”
Jane from Always Ravenous has an “Oregon Pinot Noir Paired with Braised Chicken Thighs, Blackberries, and Fennel Purée”
Melanie from Wining With Mel tells us “New World meets Old World: Oregon’s Résonance pinot noir paired with beef bourguignon”
Liz from What’s In That Bottle shares a “Taste of the 45th Parallel”
Jeff from Food Wine Click! tells us about “Louis Jadot on Both Sides of the Pond”
Payal from Keep the Peas shares “Burgundy via Oregon”
Nicole at SommsTable has a “Burgundy vs Oregon Showdown with Drouhin Wines”
Jill at L’Occasion covers “Bourgogne’s Western Vineyards: Crafting Pinot Noir in Oregon”
Gwen from Wine Predator shares “From France’s Bourgogne to Oregon’s Willamette Valley: Domaine Drouhin does Pinot Noir” #Winophiles
Michelle from Rockin Red Blog takes on “Best Of Both Worlds: Burgundy Producers Craft High-Quality Wine in Willamette Valley”
Cindy from Grape Experiences offers “Résonance Wines Express a Burgundian Vibe in the Willamette Valley”
Our host, L.M. Archer shares life “À Table with Domaine Drouhin Oregon and Résonance Wines”
12 thoughts on “Bourgogne’s Western Vineyards: Crafting Pinot Noir in Oregon | #Winophiles”
When a wine region is a community, the wine is always better.
While these wines of Oregon and Bourgogne are apples and oranges, they are both still delicious! I can imagine how amazing it is for a French house to be able to explore new soils.
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Excellent article. Love having all the background information.
Thanks for the GREAT post, Jill. And your pairings sound divine, too. I wonder if I can wrangle Jake to grill some steak kabobs for me. Cheers.
After reading a ton about Drouhin, ‘a pioneering family’ is a super description. Family, community and roots stand out in your article, thanks Jill and happy holidays!
At another Willamette Valley winery we visited this fall, our host also mentioned this sense of community in the region. Floats all the boats!