10/13/2023 — Magic from Joseph Drouhin (some in very limited quantities)

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Hi everyone –

This past week we were lucky enough to have special guest Laurent Drouhin, of the legendary Burgundy house Joseph Drouhin as well as Domaine Drouhin Oregon in Willamette Valley, present to a TCWE class. It was one of the top wine nights of our lives, hands down, period, full stop.

Laurent is a true gentleman and a top ambassador for his family’s brand. I’ve known him for about 14 years, but this is the first TCWE event we have done together. He showcased a small series of his family’s wines, all of which were showing perfectly on point and absolutely stunning in quality.

What’s amazing about Laurent, and it’s a talent I rarely see from wine folks that represent wineries or brands (especially when they represent the same brand for decades), is that every presentation he gives is fresh. He NEVER falls into auto-speak, he NEVER sounds like he’s said it all before. He carefully listens to every question then directs his presentation in different ways. That’s a talent we rarely come across.

Why I love the Joseph Drouhin brand

To claim a wine is awesome, we make a big deal about a handful of points beyond a wine tasting great (which, let’s admit, there’s no short of wines that taste great out there in the marketplace).

First, we need family ownership AND involvement. The Drouhin family epitomizes this, training in the fourth generation to be ready to take the reins in the future. Their history goes deep into the soul of Burgundy. You can read incredible stories in the book Wine and War about Laurent’s grandfather hiding from the Nazis. The siblings get along. Each family member takes great pride in the brand. It truly is a family run operation through and through.

(I’ve added the “AND involvement” to my regular statement because there are plenty of family-owned wineries out there where the owner/s only want a showcase to show off to their friends. This is particularly true in California, where many Napa owners are not hands on. But don’t think this is a blanket statement about celebrity and athlete owned wineries. Brad Pitt, for example, is far more involved at Chateau Miraval than people realize.)

Second, we seek land stewardship and it’s here that Drouhin excels far beyond others. Having converted to organic farming way before it was fashionable (organic since 1988, certified biodynamic since 1997). Laurent informed us of the use of horses instead of tractors in their vineyards and how it’s not for show (though the horses are beautiful): it’s because a horse doesn’t compact the soil, allowing insects to thrive and the microbial life to do its job.

Third, we seek wines that reflect place and vintage (i.e. terroir), rather than a ‘style.’ Of course, when talking about one of the top producers in Burgundy, this is a given. But Laurent took it one step further in his presentation. Early in the night he said “We do not make Chardonnay or Pinot Noir [dramatic pause] … and when I say that it’s confusing for people. But the truth is we make Musigny. We make Gevrey-Chambertin. We make Corton. We make Puligny-Montrachet. The place and terroir is first and foremost.”

Understanding how truly small Burgundy and the Joseph Drouhin winery is

This caught much of the class off guard. Laurent began with a slide showing how small Burgundy is. When looking at this slide, know that it’s in hectares. (The totals here are for all of Burgundy.)

So the total vineyard plantings in ALL of Burgundy is roughly 61,000 acres (about four Lake Minnetonkas … hat tip to Mark on that one).

Compare that to Bordeaux, which is 276,758 acres (the size of Upper AND Lower Red Lake in Northern Minnesota)!

Next up was the real shocker. Total surface area owned or controlled by Joseph Drouhin is only 98 hectare, or 242 acres. That’s smaller than Lake Harriet.

But it gets better. Look carefully at that slide. Of the 45 hectare they control in the Côte d’Or, over 90% are Premier Cru and Grand Cru vineyards. That means when you have a Drouhin Bourgogne or Village-Level wine, odds are good it’s partially made of fruit from some of the most valuable vineyards on the planet.

And note the Côte Maconnaise total. Only 18.6 acres. And that’s where our most affordable wine in today’s offer comes from. That’s TINY and usually tiny vineyard holds = expensive.

And chew on this: Joesph Drouhin winery produces over 100 different wines every vintage!

Do the math, and it averages out to under a hectare per wine. Of course, that’s an average and there are some wines that are larger production and some smaller. But the point I’m getting at here is that you can pick any wine in the Drouhin lineup and call it tiny in production.

What we have here for you

Seven wines (out of the 100+ Drouhin produces every year), all of which we had at the class on Tuesday night.

All of them were wonderful, delicious, and right on point.

There’s a variety of styles and price points here, something for everyone, but the key is that we tasted them all and each and every one was simply stunning.

Joseph Drouhin Mâcon-Villages 2021

Quantity available: Good inventory, no worries

This was our ‘welcome wine’ when the students arrived and it’s the most affordable wine in the Drouhin collection. Coming from the Mâcon district of Burgundy, where the hills flatten out a bit, the harvest is more efficient, the land is more affordable, and yet the weather systems and soils are very typical of Burgundy, Macon is the ultimate “foot in the door” wine for those wanting an affordable glass from a legendary producer and region.

This is delicious Chardonnay and showing in perfect form: loads of apple and pear aromas, a bit of minerality on the palate, a long and rolling finish but without oak. It’s simply yummy, gulpable, and affordable.

This is the go-to pop-on-a-whim white at our house this winter. We try to keep 6-12 bottles around at all times for gift giving, spontaneous glasses, and good fun.

Drouhin Vaudon Chablis Premier Cru “Vallions” 2020

Quantity available: Only 41 bottles left in stock.

The Chablis portfolio of Drouhin is called “Drouhin Vaudon” and this particular one is from the Premier cru Vallions vineyard, which is one of my favorites, located southwest of the city of Chablis on a chalk/limestone ridge that is packed with fossils in every rock. The fossils are those of ancient marine life, from when this was the ocean floor.

A great Chablis is a gift to the world of wine. One of my favorite things to do is pour a wine like this for people that dare say “I don’t like Chardonnay,” for those folks have simply never experienced a wine like this before.

Absolutely laser-focused, with enormous complexity of talc, minerals, key lime zest, pink lady apple, mombrillo paste, and fresh cut grass. The taste starts light to medium bodied, but finishes medium to full based on the volume of the flavors … it’s a bit of a magic trick that this pulls off.

I can’t imagine a better wine is oysters, but this sings with any seafood dish or simply a plate of top notch cheeses.

Joseph Drouhin Chassagne-Montrachet 2021

Quantity available: Only 8 bottles left in stock.

The first thing to mention is the vintage. 2021 was a DISASTER in Burgundy in terms of weather. Horrible frosts hit late in the spring, destroying the bud break in many vineyards. Then rain and hail. Then mildew. It’s the kind of vintage that publications that try to paint with too big of a brush simply don’t understand (such as Wine Spectator). But for a detailed and balanced report on the vintage head to this page on Jancis Robinson’s site.

Back to the weather. Yes, it was a disaster. Yes, it was a horrific challenge (note that the 2021 vintage was in the middle of Covid restrictions as well). But what happens on vintages like this can be exceptional for top producers such as Drouhin: yields are down between 50-90%, less wine is made, but the wine that is made is STUNNING. Why? Because they have experience and patience, and they know this is just part of being a Burgundy producer. Declassify more fruit, make more basic Bourgogne, and if you dare put out a village-level wine in a vintage like 2021 it better be monstrously delicious.

I’ve had every vintage of Drouhin Chassagne-Montrachet going back to 2005, and in my opinion this is the best one yet.

Drouhin Côte de Beaune-Villages 2020

Quantity available: Only 36 bottles left in stock.

This was a great educational point during our class: the fundamental differences between the reds of Côte de Nuits (the northern half of the Côte d’Or) and Côte de Beaune (the southern half, best known for their white wines).

In general, here’s how I describe it. The reds of the north tend to have a more rustic nature to them, with more hints of forest floor, loam soil, mushrooms, umami, and ‘from the earth’ things. The flavors have more angle, more grip, and more tannin. The fruit also tends to be more black and occasionally peppery or clove. The reds of the south tend to have more polished edges, softer tannins, more plump fruit, more purple and red aromas, and less of the ‘from the earth’ things (though that all changes again when you get to Santenay).

So back to this wine, which is a blend of select top-grade vineyards across multiple villages. This is, to me, a textbook “red of the south” wine and it is DELICIOUS. Plump and juicy aromas of wild strawberry and plum, with a polished flavor that is round and generous. It’s a great Burgundy to pour for lovers of Russian River Valley and Willamette Valley Pinot Noirs, for it kinda bridges the gap between the styles of the west coast and Burgundy. It’s enormously complex but at the same time generous, which is not an easy feat.

Drouhin Santenay 2020

Quantity available: Only 6 bottles left in stock.

I LOVE SANTENAY. Located in the far southern edge of the Côte d’Or, Santenay consistently achieves three things for me:

  • It has the roundness and richness I love from the Côte de Beaune.
  • It always has a rustic edge (earthy and interesting, like walking into an old barn on a farm).
  • It is always one of the most affordable village-level Burgundies you can buy.

We sold a ton of this at the class, so I’m sorry to say for those reading this that there’s barely any available, but I wanted to put it out there and at the same time make sure you think of Santenay when it comes to Burgundy bang for the buck.

If it’s still available on the order page, buy it.

Drouhin Gevrey-Chambertin 2021

Quantity available: Only 3 bottles left in stock.

Here we’re back to the difficult 2021 vintage, and the same holds true here that I wrote regarding the Chassagne-Montrachet: extreme weather thinned the crop, and extreme selection of only the best fruit resulted in a precipitous drop in production numbers but an honest and intense focus on quality.

This is one of the best Gevrey-Chambertins I’ve had in years.

My take on Gevrey-Chambertin: this is the benchmark village for red Burgundy, and it’s the wine I seek out if I encounter a new producer that I don’t know. It’s kinda like when I’m on a road trip and we stop at a little cafe for breakfast: I always order the same thing (pancakes, hashed browns, bacon, toast). Why? Because that is my benchmark to compare to others. Why not scrambled eggs or omelets? Too easy to dress up with makeup and perfume. But pancakes, bacon, and hash browns are pure (IMHO) and the only true way to compare one diner to another.

Back to Burgundy (sorry about going off for a bit there).

A great Gevrey-Chambertin, such as this one, combines power with panache and brings forth a concentration that becomes a show-stopper at the dining table. It’s the kind of wine that even makes people like Chuck Kanski stop talking, and that is a big feat. Powerful red and black fruits, rustic edges of tree bark and compost, firm acidity that glues everything together, mellow tannins that seem to melt and reveal even more flavors, and a finish that I can still taste a few days later.

There’s nothing like a great Gevrey-Chambertin.

Domaine Drouhin Oregon Dundee Hills Pinot Noir 2021

Quantity available: Fresh vintage and new release, good inventory.

Many people still don’t know the story, so here’s a short version for you.

In the early to mid 1970s the infant wine industry of Willamette Valley, led by David Lett of The Eyrie Vineyards, David Adelsheim of Adelsheim Winery, and Dick Erath of Erath Winery, started to get some big time attention internationally. Robert Drouhin took notice, and went to Willamette Valley to see what was going on and very much liked what he saw and tasted. Shortly thereafter, David Adelsehim called Robert Drouhin to let him know a Christmas tree farm on the Dundee Hills was up for sale and he should consider buying it, which he did.

Domaine Drouhin Oregon in 1988 and 2022.

The winery was the first gravity-fed winery in Willamette Valley, with no pumps used from crush to bottle.

This big and surprise investment by an established Burgundy producer into the then little-known area of Willamette Valley truly sparked the Oregon wine revolution. The valley was on the map right away. Robert sent his daughter Veronique to Willamette to learn the ways, make friends, and build the new winery.

Veronique is still the winemaker today.

Onto this wine. The vintage before was 2020, which was plagued by smoke levels so high that Veronique didn’t make any red wine at all. Zero. 2021 was just what the doctor ordered, bringing concentrated, fresh, and age-worthy Pinot Noir back to the top producers. The only rub on 2021 for many consumers was the incredible heat spike that happened in June, shooting temps higher than ever before (over 110 degrees for three days). The truth of the matter is that the vines simply shut down and stopped pumping for a few days. It was less of an impact than many made it out to be, especially if they were pruning their vines carefully and keeping the fruit in the shade.

I don’t want to sound like a broken record here, but this yet again one of the best examples of this wine I’ve had (and I’ve had every vintage since they started). The vines are getting older, and the winemaking team is learning more every year. True to form, this wine is more concentrated and generous that their Burgundy counterparts (it’s the terroir and the fact that it doesn’t rain in Willamette in July and August), with layers of black fruit with red edges, mellow roundness, and a very complete/rich/satisfying finish with an acid lift at the far end.

In other words, and in the spirit of brevity: this so damn good.

Buying advice

The wines speak for themselves. These are all great, but there is a range of prices and availability here and depending on when you click to the order page, a couple wines might be gone. However, the Macon-Villages and Domaine Drouhin Oregon are in very good stock at the moment, so at the very least having some Macon-Village kicking around to pop on a whim, along with a bottle or two of one of the best Willamette Pinot Noirs, isn’t a bad idea.

Thank you, everyone! We couldn’t do this without you!

Jason Kallsen
Sommelier and founder/owner of Twin Cities Wine Education

Offer and special pricing are available through Monday, or as inventory lasts

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