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Who's the Boss?

Part 3 of a 2006 Oregon travelogue

by Thor Iverson

[DDO sign]
14 July 2006 – Willamette Valley, Oregon

Domaine Drouhin Oregon – This is an absolutely beautiful and expansive facility sitting on a marvelous hilltop, surrounded by tightly-controlled vines. We’re here a few minutes before opening, and a guy is shuttling boxes of wine from his car to the open window of the tasting room. I can’t resist commenting that I’ve always heard it’s supposed to work the other way.

It turns out that our anti-thief is Mark Bosko, the tasting room manager, and it also turns out that he’s from Boston. He gives us a short spiel, which includes the rather uncharitable fact that the price of the “Laurène” Pinot Noir has gone up $15 as of this morning. Why would you share that with a potential customer?

DDO (as some people tend to call it) produces just four wines: a regular pinot noir and three prestige cuvées – one chardonnay, two pinot noir – named after winemaker Véronique Drouhin-Boss’ children. The “Louise” is made in micro-quantities and not on offer, but the other three are…for a fairly princely tasting fee that is not easily refunded. Even though we walk out with $150 worth of wine, only one fee is absorbed. That strikes me as a little larcenous, but it’s their winery, and no one’s holding a gun to visitors’ heads (or wallets). I suppose I could have requested special access, especially since I’ve interviewed Véronique – one of the most relentlessly nice and generous people I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting, and who once set up a memorable visit to their Burgundian cellars – but sometimes it’s nice to just get in, taste, and get out as efficiently as possible.

[DDO vineyard]
Drouhin-Boss is an involved but absentee winemaker, doing much of her work from Beaune via overnight-shipped samples, and there’s always at least one local talent on hand to oversee daily operations. Scott Paul Wright, long associated with the winery, has moved on to his own project (which we’ll visit later), and David Millman now fills this role, with Arron Bell as cellarmaster. Everyone wishes she would spend more time in Oregon – not just for her expertise, but because people appear to have great affection for her, both at DDO and in the Valley in general – but with her husband and young children in Burgundy, I’m sure it’s a difficult trip to make with any great frequency.

Domaine Drouhin Oregon 2004 Chardonnay “Arthur” (Willamette Valley) – Tight, showing fig, grapefruit rind and a hint of dusty gooseberry on the nose. The palate is more elegant but with youthful solidity; Rainier cherry and walnut skin flavors present as dry as a desert wind. This wine is stuffed to the gills with extract, but remains wonderfully textured and balanced throughout…a quality which really emerges on the finish. This is one of the best domestic chardonnays I’ve ever tasted.

Domaine Drouhin Oregon 2003 Pinot Noir (Willamette Valley) – Chewy nuts, but otherwise pretty tight and oddly disjointed; a strange performance, or a strange wine? It’s hard to say, but there’s just not much here to judge. Mild taint? Perhaps, but our pourer pre-tasted the wine.

Domaine Drouhin Oregon 2002 Pinot Noir “Laurène” (Willamette Valley) – Sweet plum, strawberry and black mission fig with a deep undertone of black earth and traces of thyme and leather. Medium-bodied, though with a full and strong palate presence, turning to juicier blackberry and other dark fruit on the finish. Brilliant balance and structure.

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Copyright ©2006 Thor Iverson.