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Maison Joseph Drouhin: A Burgundy Icon
By Ed McCarthy
Feb 7, 2006
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There are two important questions I consider when buying Burgundy, whether from a restaurant wine list or in a wine shop.  First, is this producer consistently reliable, vintage after vintage?  Second, is this wine a good value?  Of all the major Burgundy producers, Joseph Drouhin, Bouchard Père et Fils, and Louis Jadot come to mind as satisfying both criteria most frequently.  Yes, there are many wonderful Burgundy producers, but I seldom want to spend $100 to $300--or more--for one bottle of wine.  I emphasize the word seldom because I have had periods of extravagance in the past.  But I find it so much more satisfying to drink a fine wine that doesn't break my budget. 

The crucial aspect of Maison Joseph Drouhin is that it is a large enough negotiant/producer so that you can find Drouhin wines in most restaurants and wine shops throughout the U.S. and in France.  The U.S. happens to be Drouhin's largest market; more than 25 percent of Drouhin's wines are sold here.  France sells another 25 percent, and the rest goes all over the world.

Joseph Drouhin has three wineries: one in Beaune (its headquarters), one in Chablis, and, since 1988, a third in Oregon's Willamette Valley.  Unlike other large negociants (producers who buy and sell grapes and wine while also owning their own vineyards), Joseph Drouhin specializes only in the two Burgundy grape varieties--Pinot Noir and Chardonnay--for his wines, with the one exception of Beaujolais (made from the Gamay variety).  Also, about half of Drouhin's wines are domaine bottlings, which is to say that they are sourced from Drouhin's own estates.

Joseph Drouhin, the company's founder, began his winery in Beaune in 1880.  His grandson, Robert Drouhin, the current patriarch, probably deserves the most acclaim for making his firm the Burgundy leader that it is today.  Robert headed Maison Joseph Drouhin from 1957 until he "officially" retired in 2003, although he remains Chairman of the Board.  Among his more momentous moves--which include abandoning the use of chemical fertilizers in the vineyards and not filtering his wines in almost all cases--Robert Drouhin was among the first producers in France to appoint a woman, Laurence Jobard, as oenologist/ winemaker, in 1976.  Laurence remains chief oenologist today.

Four young Drouhins run the firm today; eldest son Frédéric is chief executive officer; Philippe oversees all estate properties, including Oregon; Véronique, a trained oenologist, is the winemaker for Domaine Drouhin Oregon (DDO) and also plays a key role in all winemaking decisions for Drouhin wines; and youngest son Laurence, with his headquarters now in New York, is in charge of sales in the U.S. and the Caribbean.  Maison Joseph Drouhin is also the majority owner of its U.S. importer, Dreyfus, Ashby & Co.

Today, Drouhin follows biodynamic principles in the vineyards they own; organic farming is being practiced throughout all Drouhin properties.  Annual production of Drouhin's Burgundy wines range from 300,000 to 400,000 cases per year, depending on the vintage.

I have long been a fan of Joseph Drouhin's basic white Burgundies from the Macon region, such as its Macon-Villages, St. Véran, and Pouilly-Fuissé.  I'm also partial to Drouhin's Chablis wines, which are always fine values, especially the Premier Crus such as the Montmains.  In my view, Domaine Drouhin Oregon deserves its frequent acknowledgment as one of Oregon's premier wineries.  But with all of that said, Drouhin's red and white Burgundies from the Côte d'Or are its shining stars.  Among its white Burgundies, Drouhin is perhaps most noted for its profound, and very expensive, Marquis de Laguiche Montrachet, and the more reasonably priced Beaune Clos des Mouches.

I attended two Joseph Drouhin tastings recently, one including a range of bottlings from Chablis, and the other covering Drouhin's red Burgundies.  The Chablis were mainly drawn from the 2004 vintage, with one 2003 and one 2002.  The relatively cool 2002 vintage is a great Chablis vintage; buy any that you can find before they disappear completely.  The 2003 vintage is troublesome, especially for Chablis; the heat that summer produced fat, soft, high-alcohol wines--exactly what you don't want in Chablis.  Fortunately, the crisp acidity and classic style returned to Chablis in 2004.  The red Burgundies are from the hot 2003 vintage, but many Burgundians, such as Drouhin, harvested a greatly reduced crop; Drouhin's 2003s are concentrated and intensely flavored.  They are perhaps not on the level of the superior, more elegant 1999s and 2002s, but considerably better than 2003 white Burgundies:


Chablis:

Joseph Drouhin, Chablis (Burgundy, France) 2004 ($20, Dreyfus, Ashby):  Drouhin's basic Chablis, at 12.5% alcohol, is stainless steel fermented and sees no oak.  It is very dry and minerally, with crisp acidity, and has clean, uncomplicated, pure citrus flavors.  Perfect with oysters.  88

Joseph Drouhin, Chablis (Burgundy, France) Domaine de Vaudon 2004 ($23, Dreyfus, Ashby): The single-estate Domaine de Vaudon, perhaps Drouhin's greatest Chablis value, although not a Premier Cru, lies between two of the best Premier Cru vineyards Mont de Milieu and Montée de Tonnerre.  Aged a few months in 50 percent new oak, 50 percent stainless steel, the 2004 de Vaudon has more penetrating flavors and more depth than the Chablis AC, with just a slight increase in price.  90

Joseph Drouhin, Chablis (Burgundy, France) Premier Cru 2004  ($29, Dreyfus, Ashby):  All of Drouhin's Premier Cru and Grand Cru Chablis are barrel fermented and aged in oak, but the basic Premier Cru, a blend of three Premier Cru vineyards, does not taste oaky at all.  This 2004 Premier Cru is clearly a step up from the straight Chablis bottling, with broader, more concentrated orange and lemon peel flavors.  It is minerally, quite full, and enjoyable now, although it should be even better in three or for years.  91

Joseph Drouhin, Chablis (Burgundy, France) Premier Cru Séchers 2004 ($34, Dreyfus, Ashby):  Séchers is a Premier Cru vineyard that is not quite so famous as a few of the others, but right now Drouhin's elegant 2004 Séchers is drinking beautifully.  It has focused, minerally flavor, great depth, and lots of finesse.  Chardonnay at its best.  92

Joseph Drouhin, Chablis (Burgundy, France) Premier Cru Montmains 2004 ($34, Dreyfus, Ashby):  Montmains is reputed to be one of the best Premier Cru vineyards.  The 2004 Drouhin Montmains is a bigger, broader wine than the more delicate Séchers, but is also a bit closed right now.  Give it five or more years of aging, and it should be wonderful.  Chablis-Montmains has great longevity in the better vintages.  91

Joseph Drouhin, Chablis (Burgundy, France) Grand Cru Vaudesir 2003 ($75, Dreyfus, Ashby):  Yes, Vaudesir is a great Chablis Grand Cru vineyard, but this is the 2003 vintage.  The 2003 Vaudesir is full-bodied, soft, and oaky.  It's really a bit too ripe.  Drink it soon with lobster or creamed chicken.  It's not an ager.  88

Joseph Drouhin, Chablis (Burgundy, France) Grand Cru Les Clos 2002 ($78, Dreyfus, Ashby):  Drouhin's 2002 Les Clos, one of the best Grand Crus, is a great wine, but it needs time.  It is rich, powerful, and minerally, with the concentration and depth of flavor lacking in the 2003 Vaudesir.  Hold this beauty for another five years, at least.  93


Red Burgundy (Côte d'Or):

Joseph Drouhin, Chorey-Les-Beaune (Burgundy, France) 2003 ($22, Dreyfus, Ashby): The little-known Chorey-Les-Beaune, one of smaller villages in the northern part of the Côte-de-Beaune, tends to produce delicately flavored Burgundies which are perfect as aperitif wines.  Drouhin's 2003, with 12.5% alcohol, is a perfect charmer, light-bodied and supple, with aromas and flavors of red berries and cherries.  A great value!  89

Joseph Drouhin, Côte de Beaune (Burgundy, France) 2003 ($28, Dreyfus, Ashby):  Drouhin's 2003 Côte de Beaune is a bit weightier, richer, and rounder than the delicate Chorey-Les-Beaune, but with the same delicious red fruit aromas and flavors.  It would be a fine complement for burgers, tuna, or salmon.  89

Joseph Drouhin, Volnay (Burgundy, France) 2003 ($42, Dreyfus, Ashby): Volnay is my favorite Côte de Beaune village.  Its Burgundies have a finesse and elegance which is lacking in other Côte de Beaune wines.  The 2003 Drouhin Volnay is delicate and harmonious, with lovely raspberry aromas and flavors.  It is already approachable, although it should even be better in two or three years.  91

Joseph Drouhin, Beaune (Burgundy, France) Premier Cru Clos des Mouches 2003 ($76, Dreyfus, Ashby):  Yes!  Here we have one of the true stars, not only of the Drouhin portfolio, but in all of Burgundy as well.  Clos des Mouches (average age of its vines, 38 years) has long been considered one of the great Premier Cru vineyards on the Côte d'Or, and the Joseph Drouhin house is majority owner, with 32 acres, equally planted with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay (Drouhin's Clos des Mouches Blanc is every bit as good as the Rouge).  The surprising thing is that Drouhin was able to make such an elegant, velvety, balanced Clos des Mouches in such a hot vintage.  Complex and deep, with black fruit aromas and flavors, it should even be better in five years.  94

Joseph Drouhin, Gevrey-Chambertin (Burgundy, France) 2003 ($41, Dreyfus, Ashby):  Gevrey-Chambertin, a village on the northern part of the Côte de Nuits, produces perhaps the most full-bodied, powerful Burgundies on the Côte d'Or.  Drouhin's 2004 Gevrey-Chambertin is rich and tannic, with faint black fruit aromas and flavors.  It really needs four or five years to develop.  90

Joseph Drouhin, Vosne-Romanée (Burgundy, France) 2003 ($55, Dreyfus, Ashby):  I've always loved Burgundies from Vosne-Romanée, but who doesn't?  This village produces quintessential Burgundy: elegant, harmonious, rich, and long-lasting.  Drouhin's 2003 Vosne-Romanée stands out.  Along with the Beaune Clos des Mouches and the Amoureuses, it was the class of the tasting.  Completely delicious even now, with a depth of flavor (small red fruits) and a concentration which is the hallmark of great Burgundy.  93

Joseph Drouhin, Chambolle-Musigny (Burgundy, France) Premier Cru Amoureuses 2003 ($207, Dreyfus, Ashby):  Oh, my gosh, Burgundy this good is rare.  The Amoureuses vineyard is rated Premier Cru, but it's as good if not better than most Grand Cru Burgundies, vintage after vintage.  Drouhin's 2003 Chambolle-Musigny Amoureuses is on another level from all of the other Burgundies we tasted: it is rich, luscious, velvety and complex, with great length on the palate.  The one Burgundy all of us wanted to taste again!  This is drinking so beautifully now that it's hard to imagine it will improve, but it will.  Only 50 cases come to the U.S.  96

Joseph Drouhin, Griotte-Chambertin Grand Cru (Burgundy, France) 2003 ($183, Dreyfus, Ashby):  Griotte-Chambertin is one of the smallest of the Grand Cru Chambertin vineyards, and also one of the more delicately-flavored Chambertins.  The 2003 Drouhin Griotte-Chambertin has the classic, tart cherry aromas and flavors characteristic of this vineyard; it is velvety and complex on the palate, with great length.  Save it for at least five years.  Some 60 cases come to the U.S.  92