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The French Continue to Blaze New Wine Trails in Oregon


The history of the French in Oregon dates to the eighteenth century when French explorers and fur trappers traveled into the territory and settled. According to Zeb Larson, writing in the Oregon Quarterly (“French Twist,” Winter 2014), “French-born people made up a significant portion of the European population in Oregon before the Oregon Trail brought many English-speaking settlers into the Northwest Territory.” Larson points out, “Even the name Oregon may be French. Historian T.C. Elliott theorized that Oregon was a bastardization of the French word ouragan, meaning hurricane or windstorm.

Explorers Jean-Francois de Galoup Comte de La Pérouse (1741-1788) and Eugéne Duflot de Mofras (1810-1884) mapped and documented the western coast of North American including Oregon. Benjamin Louis Eulalie de Bonneville (1796-1878) was a French-born officer in the United States Army who blazed portions of the Oregon Trail during his expeditions to Oregon Country.

The twentieth century has brought a new wave of French to Oregon, this time a group of accomplished winegrowers and winemakers who see the potential in Oregon for the finest Pinot Noir outside of Burgundy. Robert Drouhin, the Chairperson of Maison Joseph Drouhin from 1957 to 2003, established the first Burgundy presence in Oregon in 1987, Domaine Drouhin Oregon (Veronique Drouhin-Boss). Several others followed in recent years, including Domaine des Comtes Lafon (Dominique Lafon, Evening Land Vineyards, 2007), Domaine Marc Roy (Alexandrine Roy, 2007), Comte Louis-Michel Liger-Belair (Chapter 24 Vineyards, 2012), Maison Louis Jadot (Jacques Lardière, Résonance, 2013), Domaine Méo-Camuzet (Jean-Nicolas Méo, Nicolas-Jay, 2014). Why Oregon and not California? Well, the French have always had a close relationship with Oregon, beginning with the early Oregon vintners such as David Lett, Charles Coury, and David Adelsheim, who traveled to Burgundy to study and established relationships and that laid the ground work for future affiliations. Oregonians have always relished Burgundian influence, and the Burgundians in turn have participated with regularity in the Steamboat Conference and the International Pinot Noir Celebration. The midpoint of the Willamette Valley lies at 45 degrees north latitude, the same as for Burgundy’s Cote d’Or and thus vintages in Oregon tend to parallel those in Burgundy. Speaking frankly, the French often dismiss California’s climate as too hot for Pinot Noir, finding more value in savoriness, structure and texture felt to be lacking in many California fruit-driven wines. Finally, although recent investments in Oregon vineyard land have pushed up prices, the cost of vineyards is still less than California and considerably less than Grand Cru Burgundy plots.

The French are intrigued with the opportunity in Oregon because as Jean-Nicolas Méo has noted, they are excited by the idea of taking what they have learned from the grands and premier crus of Burgundy and applying it to a new region, a new climate, new soils and new vineyards. There also is the attraction of building something meaningful from scratch. There are few opportunities in Burgundy to grow and launch new projects.

This article will give a short synopsis of each French contribution to the Oregon Pinot Noir scene and a sample wine will be reviewed. A wine from Domaine Roy & Fils is included since it is modeled after a Burgundy domaine although it has no French-born ownership or French winemaker. Canadian-born Marc-Andrè lives in France and heads construction company Sotramont that his father, Robert Roy, started. This winery began in 2012 with partners Marc-André Roy and winemaker Jared Etzel, whose fathers partnered to start Beaux Frères Winery in 1991.

There are several other French-born winemakers currently working in the Willamette Valley. They are all highly visible and accomplished, and include the following (I did not intentionally mean to exclude any names).

Delphine Gladhart, Winter’s Hill Vineyards. A winemaking job at Lemelson Winery in 2001 led to a meeting with future spouse Russell Gladhart whose family owned Winter’s Hill Vineyards in the Dundee Hills where she became the winemaker.

Isabelle Meunier, Elton Winery, Lavinea Winery. She initially came to Oregon in 2007 to oversee Evening Land Vineyards winemaking for Dominique Lafon, leaving that winery in 2014. She is now the consulting winemaker for Willamette Valley Vineyards new Elton Winery debuting with 2015 vitnage. Her own label, Lavinea Winery, features single vineyard wines.

Isabelle Dutartre, Deponte Cellars and 1789 Wines. Isabelle worked with Véronique Drouhin-Boss in Burgundy, followed Véronique to Oregon in 1989, worked with her in Oregon and Beaune for many years, and became head winemaker at DePonte Cellars in 2001.

Laurent Montalieu, owner and winemaker for Hyland Estates and Soléna Estate and NW Wine Company. Laurent is a Bordeaux native who has been making wine in Oregon for over 28 years in Oregon.

Gilles de Domingo, Cooper Mountain Vineyards. Gilles is a French-born winemaker, trained in Bordeaux, France, who made wine throughout the world before settling in the Willamette Valley.

Florent-Pierre Merlier, Van Duzer Vineyards. “Flo” is a native of Burgundy who found romance with Krista, an Oregonian, while the two were interning at the same winery in Burgundy. Florent then obtained his Diploma of Viticulture from the University of Dijon before relocating to Oregon in 2009, and becoming the winemaker at Van Duzer in 2011.

Jacques Tardy, Torii Mor Winery. Jacques represents the eighth generation of a Burgundian winemaking family from Nuits-Saint-Georges. After studying viticulture and enology at Lycee Viticole de Beaune, he moved to California in 1982. By 1990 he had made his way to Oregon and joined Torii Mor Winery as head winemaker in 2004.



Domaine Drouhin Oregon, Dundee Hills, Oregon

Robert Drouhin, the Chairperson of Maison Joseph Drouhin from 1957 to 2003 visited California in 1961. He met with Robert Mondavi who suggested investing in California, but Robert Drouhin’s interest was Pinot Noir and California had not achieved success with that variety then. He realized he would have to look elsewhere.

In 1979, Robert Drouhin set up a blind tasting of French Burgundies versus their American Pinot Noir counterparts. At this now famous Gault-Mileu tasting held in Paris, a 1959 Domaine Drouhin Chambolle- Musigny came in first, but David Lett’s 1975 The Eyrie Vineyards South Block Reserve took second. This impressed Robert who was struck by the resemblance of the Willamette Valley to the Côte d’Or and the wines produced by Oregon’s pioneering Pinot Noir winemakers. Robert initiated the purchase of 100 acres in the Dundee Hills overlooking the town of Dundee by Maison Joseph Drouhin in 1987, making the Drouhin family the first Burgundian winemakers to invest in Oregon.

Robert chose his daughter, Véronique, part of the fourth generation of the Drouhin family and a 1985 graduate of the University of Dijon, to direct the new project in Oregon known as Domaine Drouhin Oregon. Véronique oversaw the initial planting of high-density vineyards in 1988, and crafted the first three vintages, 1988 to 1990, from purchased grapes. More land was acquired bringing the total to 225 estate acres, 90 of that planted to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

Veronique-Boss Drouhin is a long distance winemaker, continuing to live in Beaune, but traveling to Oregon frequently to oversee the winemaking at Domaine Drouhin Oregon. Phillipe Drouhin, Véronique’s brother, has managed the vineyards that are among the most densely planted in the United States from the beginning. Domaine Drouhin Oregon is one of the few vineyards in the United States to cultivate their own rootstocks and propagate all their own plant material by selection massale.

The Pinot Noirs of Domaine Drouhin Oregon have set a benchmark for Oregon, emphasizing balance and elegance over extraction and power. Although they can be quite charming upon release, the wines age magnificently. Véronique told me, “My stylistic goal in Oregon is to produce very elegant wines. It is more of a challenge in Oregon than in Burgundy. In both regions, the goal is the same but the challenges are different. In Oregon it is pretty easy to produce wine with both good color and structure, but to capture the finesse is more tricky. In Burgundy, it is easy to obtain a natural elegance, but sometimes more challenging to get enough color and structure.”

In December 2013, the Drouhin family more than doubled their Oregon vineyard holdings with the purchase of the 279-acre (111 acres planted) RoseRock Vineyard in the Eola-Amity Hills AVA.

For more information, visit www.roserockoregon.com and www.domainedrouhinoregon.com.

2014 RoseRock Drouhin Oregon Eola-Amity Hills Oregon Pinot Noir

14.1% alc., $37. First bottling from Domaine Drouhin’s new acquisition, RoseRock Vineyard. This wine is a cuvée selection from the estate vineyard’s 35 blocks that are individually fermented. Vineyard is farmed sustainably by Phillipe Drouhin. Winemaker is Véronique-Boss Drouhin. · Moderately dark reddish purple color in the glass. Inspiring aromas of black cherry, blueberry, sous-bois and shaved oak. Rather bold and ripely fruited that is reflective of the vintage, with flavors of black cherry and blueberry-pomegranate. Velvety in the mouth with complimentary oak in the background, firm tannins, and a generous, slightly astringent finish. Score: 91




Evening Land Vineyards, Salem, Oregon

The history of this winery is very complicated. Mark Tarlov, a former attorney and Hollywood producer and director, along with several partners including Danny Meyer of Union Square Hospitality Group, the Prieur family of Domaine Jacques Prieur, sommelier Larry Stone, and Dorothy Cann Hamilton, the CEO of the James Beard Foundation, established Evening Land Vineyards in 2005 with the purchase of Occidental Vineyard on California’s Sonoma Coast. The name Evening Land Vineyards was inspired by Homer’s ideal mythical garden where the fruits of immortality grew, the final chapter of Homer’s Odyssey.

Evening Land eventually owned two vineyards in California (the 40-acre Wind Harp Vineyard in the westernmost reaches of the Sta. Rita Hills and the 3.5-acre Occidental Vineyard in the Sonoma Coast), but the centerpiece of the winery was the Seven Springs Vineyard in the Eola-Amity Hills that was secured with a 45- year lease in 2007. The 100-acre Seven Springs Vineyard, first planted in 1982, was a revered vineyard that was a source of wines for many esteemed producers in Oregon. Due to the lease arrangement, all grapes were consigned to Evening Land Vineyards after the 2008 vintage. A new label, Seven Springs Vineyard, was created for wines from the estate vineyard, and Evening Land remained the name for wines made from sourced grapes.

Vigneron Dominque Lafon of Domaine des Comtes Lafon joined the project as consulting winemaker. He declined to make Pinot Noir from California, claiming the wines were too extracted and high in alcohol. The California wines were crafted by Sashi Moorman in Lompoc, and Lafon worked with winemaker Isabelle Meunier to produce the Oregon Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs. Meunier oversaw the conversion of Seven Springs Vineyard to biodynamic viticulture and overtook responsibility for the company’s Sonoma Coast wines in 2012. Winemaker Christophe Vial produced wines in Beaune that were also part of the portfolio.

Founder Mark Tarlov left Evening Land Vineyards in January 2012 as did general manager Larry Stone. The winemaking team remained intact initially. In the summer of 2012, Evening Land Vineyards sold its Sta. Rita Hills acreage to winemaker Sashi Moorman, sommelier Rajat Parr and their business partners. Moorman and Parr introduced their own estate label, Domaine de la Côte. In 2014, Moorman, Parr and Charles Banks of Terroir Selections became minority partners in Evening Land Vineyards and took over operations. Winemaker Ian Burch, who had been assistant winemaker in both Beaune and Oregon, replaced Isabelle Meunier. Whetstone Wine Cellars winemaker Jamey Whetstone was hired in 2014 to be winemaker for Evening Land Vineyards’ Sonoma Coast operations.

It would appear that Evening Land Vineyards is an estate producer completely focused on Seven Springs Vineyard and the Eola-Amity Hills led by winemakers Rajat Parr and Sashi Moorman since the 2014 vintage. A second label, Salem Wine Co., was started with the 2014 vintage offering Eola-Amity Hills Gamay Noir and Eola-Amity Hills Rosé of Pinot Noir. I do not know if Dominique Lafon remains as a consultant for the winery.

The wines have had a pricing based on a color coded system with a range from blue, silver, gold and white labels, with white being the most expensive and blue the least expensive. The Chardonnays from Seven Springs Vineyard have set a benchmark for Oregon. The 2012 Seven Springs Vineyard La Source Pinot Noir received a score of 98 points and was #3 on Wine Spectator’s 2015 Top 100 List. A tasting room is located in Dundee at 1326 N Hwy 99W and is open daily. Vineyard tours are available by appointment. Visit www.elvwines.com.

2013 Seven Springs Vineyards Eola-Amity Hills Oregon Pinot Noir

13.0% alc., 2,469 cases, $40. Released fall 2015. The only bottling in the Evening Land Vineyards 2013 lineup to include non-estate fruit. Sourced from three vineyards within the Eola-Amity Hills (young vines Seven Springs, Rocky Hill and Eola Springs vineyards). Following a 4 to 5-day cold soak, there is a feral fermentation in open-top oak and concrete fermenters. Aged in neutral French oak barrels. · Moderately light reddish purple color in the glass. Aromatically charming with scents of cherry, spice and sandalwood. Light to medium in weight, with flavors of cherry and boysenberry, backed by a hint of oak seasoning. Elegant in style with a dry, lengthy finish. Score: 89




Phelps Creek Vineyards, Hood River, Oregon

Robert Morus founded Phelps Creek Vineyards to focus on estate grown Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The estate vineyard consists of 30 acres of self-rooted and grafted Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, with initial plantings of Pinot Noir dating to 1990 and Dijon clone Chardonnay to 1992. Today, there are 25 acres of Pommard, 777 and 115 clones of Pinot Noir, 4.5 acres of Dijon clone 75 and 76 with a few vines of Wente clone, and .5 acres of Pinot Gris.

Alexandrine Roy, who crafts the wines at her family’s Domaine Marc Roy in Gevrey-Chambertain, became a contributing winemaker at Phelps Creek initially in 2007, crafting a special reserve Cuvée Alexandrine, eventually assuming the role of Director of Winemaking in charge of all wine production beginning with the 2012 vintage. A fourth generation Burgundian winemaker, Alexandrine flies to Oregon three or four times a year to oversee the estate’s winemaking.



The winery’s current 5,000 case production includes Cuvée Alexandrine, a reserve level estate Pinot Noir. Robert continues his duties as a captain flying B-777s internationally for Delta Airlines. Visit www.phelpscreekvineyards. A tasting room in Hood River is open daily.

I have known Alexandrine for several years as she attends the International Pinot Noir Celebration every year. I greatly admire her Domaine Marc Roy wines, and have developed a fondness for the Phelps Creek Vineyards wines as well.

2013 Phelps Creek Vineyards Cuvée Alexandrine Columbia Gorge Oregon Pinot Noir

13.5% alc., 244 cases, $54. A selection of the finest estate barrels. · Moderately light reddish purple color in the glass. Aromas of cherry, cranberry, petrol and cigar smoke lead to a light to mid weight wine offering delicate, even shallow, flavors of cherry and red berries. The tannins are firm yet silky, making for easy drink ability. The oak treatment stands out a bit and the finish is pleasant but modest. This bottling is usually a stunner, but this bottle was not as good as another previously reviewed. Score: 89



Chapter 24 Vineyards, Dundee, Oregon

This winery takes its name from the Last Chapter of Homer’s The Odyssey. Mark Tarlov, formerly an owner of Evening Land Vineyards, launched this winery in 2012. He brought on Burgundian vigneron Louis-Michel Liger- Belair as a consultant to work with winemaker Mike D. “Mikey” Etzek, the son of Beaux Fréres winemaker Michael Etzel. Max Marriott, who worked for Louis-Michel in Burgundy as well as at Cristom in 2012, took over as winemaker, finishing the 2013 vintage and crafting the 2014 vintage.

Domaine du Comte Liger-Belair was created in 2000 by Louis-Michel Liger-Belair, but the Liger-Belair family’s winemaking roots extend back to 1815. The Domaine’s holdings include the smallest appellation in France, the renowned Grand Cru of La Romanée. Louis-Michel’s emphasis is on the vineyard, and his background in agricultural engineering has brought to bear highly esteemed wines that have revitalized the storied family name.

Tarlov plans to build a winery and acquire vineyards in the Willamette Valley while signing long-term contracts with several other vineyards. Currently, Chapter 24 produces wines from 48 vineyard sites.

Ryan Hannaford, the former vineyard manager at Seven Springs Vineyard, joined the team as company viticulturist to assist with grower liaison and the biodynamic management of two leased vineyards. There are multiple vineyard sources from all six appellations.

The label, Fire+Flood offers The Fire and The Flood, that explore the two main soil types in the Willamette Valley, Jory (Fire) and Willakenzie (Flood). The highest priced release is labeled Last Chapter, which was the highest rated Pinot Noir in America in 2014.

By 2015, production was 12,000 cases, the majority of which was made for the second label, Maison l’Envoyés Two Messengers and Attaché Pinot Noirs.

The Fire+Flood tasting room in open Friday-Sunday in Newberg, and other days by appointment. Visit www.chapter24vineyards.com.

2013 Chapter 24 Vineyards Fire + Flood The Flood Willamette Valley Oregon Pinot Noir

12.68% alc., 800 cases, $60. Sourced from four vineyards (Shea, Croft, DDL and Stardance). 100% de-stemmed, feral yeast fermentation lasting 23 days. Aged 12 months in French oak barrels, 50% new. · Moderate reddish purple color in the glass. Gorgeous perfume of fresh black cherries and lacy oak. Silky and polished on the palate, even sexy like a Pinot with curves. Flavors of black cherry, black raspberry and savory herbs with a noticeable oak overlay. Impressive harmony and thoroughly enjoyable, but not up to the 2012 bottling that was other worldly. Score: 92





Nicolas-Jay, Newberg, Oregon

Jay Boberg first met Burgundian winemaker Jean-Nicolas Méo 30 years ago when they attended the same university in the United States. They remained friends over the ensuing years as Jean-Nicolas took over as the winemaker at his family’s Domaine Méo-Camuzet in Burgundy, where he was mentored by legendary winemaker Henri Jayer who was a leaseholder in the family estate. His style of balance and finesse, fruit and elegance rather than stalkiness and tannin, catapulted Méo-Camuzet to fame.

Jay carved out his own success as cofounder of the indie record label IRS Records, and later as president of MCA/Universal Records. As he began winding down his full time role in the music industry, he approached Jean-Nicolas about starting a winery together in the Willamette Valley.

Jean-Nicolas now spends nearly two months in Oregon each season, traveling to the region throughout spring, summer and harvest to oversee the viticulture and winemaking. Jay spends up to six months each year in Oregon working in the vineyards and winery alongside Jean-Nicolas and the winery’s associate winemaker, Tracy Kendall.

The winery’s Pinot Noir is made using grapes from the estate Bishop Creek Vineyard located in the Yamhill- Carlton AVA, as well as grapes from other top Willamette Valley vineyards such as Nysa, Momtazi and Zenith. The 13.5-acre Bishop Creek Vineyard includes 11 acres of clone 777, Wädenswil, Pommard and 667, with the majority planted in 1988 and 1990 that are own-rooted. The youngest plantings are from 2002. Since the vineyard was acquired in 2014, it has been farmed organically. Jay and Jean-Nicolas are pictured below at Bishop Creek Vineyard.



The winery’s website is www.nicolas-jay.com.

2014 Nicolas-Jay Willamette Valley Oregon Pinot Noir

13.5% alc., pH 3.63, TA 0.56, 1,691 cases, $65. Released April 2015. 100% de-stemmed, 5 to 7-day cold soak, slow native fermentation, pump-overs early on to accentuate weight, body and flavor while keeping berries intact and reducing the influence of seed and skin tannins, followed later in fermentation when close to dry by punchp-downs to build tannic structure. The wine was aged 15 months in French oak barrels, the same coopers and barrels that Jean-Nicolas selects for his Méo-Camuzet wines, 33% new. Bottled unfined and unfiltered. · Moderate reddish purple color in the glass. Complex aromatic profile offering scents of dark red cherries and berries, sandstone and savory herbs. The silky texture is mesmerizing and clearly the most outstanding feature of this wine. Mid weight plus in style, with flavors of purple and black fruits that make an impression on the attack and carry through to a persistent finish that slips off the back of the palate. When tasted the following day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle, the balance was clearly admirable, the seductive texture pleasing, and the finish was remarkably long. Score: 93





Résonance, Newberg, Oregon

Jacques Lardière was the winemaker at Maison Louis Jadot for 42 vintages, handing over the reigns in 2013 to Thibault Gagey, the son of Pierre-Henry Gagey, the president of Louis Jadot. Jadot had decided to invest outside Burgundy to expand its business and chose Oregon because of the availability of the appealing Résonance Vineyard and the fact that the United States is a significant market for Jadot wines. After retiring, Lardière moved to the Willamette Valley to craft the Résonance wines. There has been a tremendous amount of ballyhoo regarding Résonance.

Résonance Vineyard was owned by Kevin Chambers, who sold grapes to Sineann and Big Table Farm and made wine under the Resonance label. It is an own-rooted 19 acre vineyard on 32 acres in the Yamhill-Carlton AVA planted in 1981 primarily to Pinot Noir. Some existing Gewürztraminer was grafted over to Pinot Noir by Louis Jadot, and Chardonnay may be produced from the site in the future. 2013 was the first vintage of Résonance Pinot Noir under Jadot ownership and vinified.

Louis Jadot also bought a 17 acre site in the Dundee Hills AVA in 2014 with 7 acres planted to Pinot Noir. Wine from this site will be called Découverte with the first release from the 2014 vintage.

2013 Résonance Résonance Vineyard Yamhill-Carlton Oregon Pinot Noir

13.1% alc., pH 3.62, TA 0.352, 2,000 cases, $65. Maison Louis Jadot’s first venture outside the United States since their inceptions in 1859 and the first vineyard purchased outside France since 1826 (Clos des Ursules). Aged 15 months in French oak barrels, 50% new. · Moderate reddish purple color in the glass. A rather woody and rustic wine in the Burgundy vein with aromas of black cherry, blueberry, blackberry and stem, and mid weight flavors of black cherry and blueberry-pomegranate. Earthy and pastoral with firm tannins, noticeable oak overlay, and a dry, extended length finish. Unchanged the following day when tasted from a previously opened and re-corked bottle. Score: 90





Domaine Roy & Fils, Dundee, Oregon

This winery was started in 2012 with Marc-André Roy and Jared Etzel as noted previously in this article. The wines produced with the Domaine Roy & Fils label are made from estate vineyards. The Maison Roy & Fils wines are produced from non-estate fruit but made with the same uncompromising process.

The Dundee Estate Vineyard and Winery consists of 13 high density acres of Pinot Noir and 2 acres of Chardonnay, planted on the site of a former hazelnut orchard and farmed organically. The vineyard is on a south facing hillside at 400 to 600 feet elevation in volcanic soil embedded with basalt rock. The inaugural vintage from the Dundee Estate will be 2015.

The Carlton Estate Vineyard consists of 24 acres of Pinot Noir and 2 acres of Chardonnay that is farmed organically. Elevation ranges from 360 to 550 feet with south and east exposures. Soils are marine sedimentary speckled with crystalline quartz. The inaugural vintage from the Carlton Estate will be 2016.



The production of the estate wines will be small and therefore allocated through a mailing list at www.domaineroy.com.

2014 Maison Roy & Fils Petite Incline Willamette Valley Oregon Pinot Noir

14.5% alc., pH 3.55, TA 0.59, $35. Sourced from six vineyards (Gran Moraine, Terry, Merrimen in the Yamhill- Carlton AVA and La Collina, Stoller and Kelly in the Dundee Hills AVA). Unfined and unfiltered. · Moderate reddish purple color in the glass. Shy aromas of dark cherry, blackberry and rose petal lead off. Plush and husky in the mouth, with plenty of black raspberry, blackberry and cassis flavors in a mid weight plus style. Still a bit tight and moody, but offering good balance and a sweet blackberry finish. When tasted the following day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle, the nose was still shy, and the husky tannins remained evident. This wine should evolve with more time in bottle. Score: 90



Final thought. Oregonians are doing a fine job with Pinot Noir on their own thank you, but the French offer a different take on Oregon Pinot Noir that will undoubtedly prove interesting, and every serious pinotphile should welcome the potential for stylistic diversity.


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