Sitting adjacent to California and its world famous wine regions, Oregon and its history, on the other hand, have been rooted in wildlife, stunning landscapes and quirky residents. The beaver state may have been about a century behind its Napa Valley neighbor, but now it’s writing its fruity future with the help of its exploding wine scene.
Nearly 600 wineries call Oregon home totaling almost 25,000 acres of planted vineyards. At the center of it is the majestic Willamette Valley (rhymes with “damn it”). Its seven American Viticulture Areas (AVAs) include Dundee Hills, Eola-Amity Hills, McMinnville, Chehalem Mountains, Ribbon Ridge, Yamhill-Carlton and Van Duzer Corridor. While its known for its pinot noir, the valley also produces a slew of other grapes including pinot gris, pinot blanc, chardonnay, riesling, sparkling wine, sauvignon blanc, syrah, cabernet and merlot.
European Roots in America
Nestled in the Dundee Hills AVA, Domaine Drouhin is a family-owned winery with a 225-acre estate that produces pinot noir and chardonnay. But the family’s winemaking history didn’t start in Oregon. A century ago, the Drouhin family started to farm the French lands of Burgundy and created its Maison Joseph Drouhin wine in 1880. Today, the estate still runs 193 acres in France, producing pinot noir and chardonnay.
Back Across the Pond
In the early 60s Joseph’s grandson, Robert, came to America to explore Oregon’s soil and climate and fell in love. Then it was Robert’s daughter, Veronique, who moved to Oregon to work the land and learn about the wine that was blooming from it. By the late 80s the Drouhin family had purchased its first acres of land and began to plant its vineyards. As the newly appointed winemaker, Veronique produced the estate’s first vintage in 1988 with the help of her brother Philippe.
Today, the winery also has a gorgeous tasting room that is open to the public. The tasting flight includes six wines – four pinot noirs and two chardonnays. Visiting tip: try to go during the spring or summer months to take full advantage of its spacious outdoor terrace that overlooks the vineyard grid, rolling hills and lush valley spreading out to touch the cloudless cerulean sky. For those interested in diving deeper into the winery’s history, it offers a daily French Soil, Oregon Soul tour and comparative tasting. During the visit you will check out the winery while learning more about what makes Burgundy and Oregon wine similar and different before taking a seat and tasting wines from both regions.
New World vs. Old World Wines
Speaking of the two regions more than 5,000 miles apart, the pinot noirs they produce do come with a few similarities. Earthier and fruit forward, especially tart fruit flavors, can be used to describe Oregon’s wine. And since both Oregon and Burgundy sit on the same latitude and share cooler climates, the wines also share similar acidity, which gives the wines those bright and fresh notes.
If you’re looking for smooth, light body, easy drinking wines, Oregon is the answer. Tasting notes can range across all the AVAs but most wines from this area will have notes of cherry and even have a subtle sweetness in some vintages. It is also not uncommon to find slightly spicy notes in some pinot noirs from the region due to the oak aging. This area really does produce approachable wines, especially for those novices looking for a stepping stone onto their new wine journey.
Whether you’re in France or America you can be certain that satisfying your craving for a silky and delicious pinot noir is not only attainable but most certainly guaranteed thanks to the passion and dedication of families and producers like the Drouhins.
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