A dinner and tasting with Robert Drouhin.
By Louis Marmon
Gazette Newspapers April 26, 2006
I want to be Robert Drouhin when I grow up. Tall, articulate and refined, he is the Chairman of the noted Burgundy producer Maison Joseph Drouhin with its 162 acres of prime vineyards in Cote d’Or and Chablis. And if that is not enough, he is blessed to have all four of his children working in the family business.
His grandfather started the estate in 1880, and Drouhin began working in the vineyards as a boy. In 1957, when his father had a stroke, Drouhin, then 24, had to ‘‘step up to oversee the properties and wine production.” He credits the other winemakers in Burgundy for mentoring him during those early years.
In 1976, Maison Drouhin began a modernization program that included updating the winery and replanting most of the vineyards. The results were wines that ‘‘were less typical,” but also ‘‘less satisfying.” In 1988, Drouhin’s ‘‘ecology conscious” son Philippe became the vineyard manager and instituted a program of organic viticulture. Drouhin credits this ‘‘replenishing the soil” as one main reason Drouhin wines have steadily improved. The other reasons, he says, are his daughter Veronique (a trained oenologist who oversees ‘‘style”) and his sons Laurent (their U.S. representative) and Frederic (the ‘‘Boss”).
On a recent visit to the U.S., Robert and Veronique (who is also the winemaker at their Oregon property) poured a number of different wines. The evening began with a new concept from Drouhin: Vero, a white wine created by blending grapes sourced from a number of their properties in Burgundy. Veronique explained that Americans are ‘‘not familiar with white Burgundy,” and that ‘‘Vero provides an introduction to the flavors and complexity that Burgundy can offer.” With the word ‘‘chardonnay” prominently displayed on the label, it is clearly an attempt to attract the American market, which may be otherwise intimidated by French wines.
As an entry-level Burgundy, it works marvelously well. The Drouhin Vero 2003 ($20) has floral aromas and loads of peach, almond and pear flavors with a touch of minerals that clearly expresses the character of many of the white wines of Burgundy.
Next were red and white wines from one of their premier vineyards ‘‘Clos de Mouches.” Named for the beehives originally kept there, it is planted with both chardonnay and pinot noir. Hail damaged the pinot noir in 2004 so none were released, but the citrus and pear-scented Drouhin Clos de Mouches Blanc 2004 ($70) is lovely with lemon and almond flavors, and a touch of smoke on the soft finish. Also first-rate is the Drouhin Clos de Mouches Blanc 2003 ($70) that has peach and citrus flavors and a bit of minerals with a long, floral finish.
The 2003 growing season was considered ‘‘difficult,” but Maison Drouhin dealt remarkably well with the extreme weather conditions. The excellent Drouhin Clos de Mouches Rouge 2003 ($75) is full-bodied with cherry, blueberry and sweet spice flavors and a long finish.
Also very good is the Drouhin Clos de Mouches Rouge 2002 ($60) that has the classic burgundy nose with black cherry flavors along with a bit of minerals and a slight smokiness on the finish.
Robert Drouhin believes grapevines have a 35-year cycle – so ‘‘now the Drouhin vines are old again.” He anticipates that quality will steadily improve as they continue to ‘‘adapt modern techniques to the reality of the soil.” Asked what else he has learned, he reflects, glass in hand, ‘‘that it takes about 70 years to learn not only what is, but also what will be.”