A French Connection Lifts Oregon Vineyard

Although the film “Sideways” highlighted Southern California as pinot noir country, Oregon is also a leading source of superb wine made from that grape. Many comparative tastings have shown that Oregon’s pinot noirs rank with the world’s best, and to many consumers it has become that state’s signature wine.

But Oregon also produces stylish chardonnay, a grape that grows side by side with pinot noir in France’s Burgundy region. These two grapes thrive in Oregon, as in Burgundy, because the generally cooler climate allows them to ripen slowly and develop more flavor.

A milestone in the Oregon wine industry was when Robert Drouhin, head of Maison Joseph Drouhin, one of Burgundy’s top producers, purchased land, developed vineyards, and established the winery Domain Drouhin Oregon. Drouhin thought Oregon had potential for producing great pinot noir as early as the 1960s, when he was traveling there to promote the Burgundies of Maison Drouhin. He became friends with David Adelsheim, one of Oregon’s top pinot noir producers, and, with his help, found suitable undeveloped land in the Red Hills of Dundee in the Willamette Valley, Oregon’s premier location for growing pinot noir and chardonnay, just outside of Portland.

Robert’s daughter, Veronique, studied enology at the University of Dijon in Burgundy and worked with leading Oregon producers Adelsheim, Bethel Heights, and Eyrie to gain more experience with the locale. She was the natural choice as winemaker when Domaine Drouhin Oregon was founded in 1987. She and her team have made silky, luscious pinot noir since 1988, their first vintage. Although they started making chardonnay in the mid-1990s, it wasn’t until the 2001 vintage that they produced enough to sell nationwide. (They still have more than five times as much pinot noir as chardonnay planted).

The 2002 Domaine Drouhin Chardonnay, called Arthur (pronounced ar- tour) after Veronique’s son, is a captivating wine. Oregon’s cooler climate and Veronique’s deft hand impart a creamy richness balanced by a vivacity that avoids the heaviness or overripe character sometimes found in California chardonnay. It would go equally well with a simple roasted chicken or a more elaborate linguine with shellfish.

Domaine Drouhin Oregon, Chardonnay, Arthur, 2002 (about $26). Distributed by M.S. Walker, 800-238-0607.

November 24, 2005