Since its founding back in 1880, Domaine Joseph Drouhin has gradually become one of the largest and most diverse wine estates in Burgundy. Its current vineyard holding of 193 acres spread over a dazzling 90 appellations came about through over a century of careful, piece-by-piece acquisitions of many different plots from many different proprietors. The ultimate aim of this family estate, now run by the fourth generation, has remained unchanged: to express in the glass the quintessence of each carefully-chosen “climat” - its microclimate, its soil, its unique Burgundian terroir. Whether Grand Cru or Village, the wines of Joseph Drouhin offer an exciting adventure across the diverse landscapes of Burgundy.
A Family Heritage of Four Generations
The story of the prestigious estate begins in 1880, when an enterprising 22-year-old by the name of Joseph Drouhin moved from his native Chablis to the Beaune region with ambitions to purchase grapes and establish his namesake wine negociant company. The founder’s son Maurice took over in 1918 and began to expand the family business by buying vineyards, including the famous Beaune Clos des Mouches. Maurice did this with plenty of time, thoughtfully selecting plot by plot from many different landowners in some of the best appellations of Burgundy. In 1957, Maurice was succeeded by his nephew Robert, who was largely responsible to the current breadth of the Domaine Joseph Drouhin holdings. Robert purchased many new vineyards in Chablis and the Cote d’Or, becoming one of the first producers in Burgundy to practice a “culture raisonnee,” meaning the elimination of pesticides and other chemicals out in the vineyards. A forward-thinking visionary, endlessly seeking to improve the quality of his wines, Robert also built a laboratory of oenology and appointed Laurence Jobard, first woman oenologist in Burgundy, to run it. It was Robert also who expanded the family business to the United States in 1987 by founding of Domaine Drouhin in Oregon.
Today, Robert maintains a surveillance role over the family business, which is run by his children. Frederic runs the estate as managing director. Laurent manages the image in the brand, especially in the United States, which is its most important export market. Philippe is the vineyard manager at Joseph Drouhin, introducing organic and biodynamic approaches at the estate back in 1988. And Head Winemaker Veronique is the “guardian of the Joseph Drouhin style,” in charge of vinifying each new vintage together with oenologist Jerome Faure-Brac. The four siblings work closely together to uphold the values of their family business, produce and market their beautiful portfolio of Burgundy wines.
Caring for a Beautiful Puzzle of Plots
Today Domaine Joseph Drouhin expands over a total of 193 acres, a collection of judiciously chosen and carefully assembled plots throughout the Burgundy region. The estate vineyards include 96 acres in Chablis, 89 acres in Cote de Nuits and Cote de Beaune, and 8 acres in the Cote Chalonnaise, vineyards spread across nearly 90 appellations, including Chablis, Beaune, Chassagne Montrachet and Gevrey-Chambertin . Among their vineyards is an impressive selection of Premier Cru and Grand Cru vineyards. To make their Village and Regional level wines, the family blends estate-grown fruit from Village and Regional level plots with grapes purchased from other trusted local vineyard owners. The estate specializes in the two flagship varieties of Burgundy: Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
The Joseph Drouhin portfolio is a vast collection of wines, each one expressing in the glass one of the estate’s thoughtfully chosen and meticulously cared for “climats.” It is the family’s aim to offer the purest possible expression of each vineyard, along with its unique terroir. This is done through an organic and biodynamic approach. The team shows respect towards the soil, plowing it by horse instead of destructive tractors, allowing the grass to grow freely between the vines and using natural compost instead of chemical fertilizers. The vines are treated only with natural methods based on herb infusions and natural predators replace chemical pesticides and herbicides.
The vines are densely planted, at up to 5,000 vines per acre and the roots allowed to grow deep in order to best convey the “message” of the soil through the resulting fruit. Yields are deliberately kept low in order to further concentrate that “message” and to achieve fruit rich in anthocyanins. At harvest, the fruit is collected in small perforated crates in order to protect the skins from being damaged before arrival to the winery.
The Wines of Domaine Joseph Drouhin
The elaboration of each wine at Domaine Joseph Drouhin depends largely on the vineyard of origin, vintage, grape variety and what works best for this combination of terroir, vintage and variety.
One of the flagship wines of the estate (and one of the most famous white wines of Burgundy, even included in the Judgement of Paris Tasting of 1976) is the Beaune Premier Cru “Clos des Mouches ” produced from the family’s historical Clos des Mouches plot, named after the bees that once inhabited the beehives in this area. This vineyard was purchased by Maurice Drouhin in the 1920’s in the form of 41 different parcels from 8 different proprietors. The vines are 45 years old on average and cultivated with organic methods since 1990 and biodynamic a few years later. The Beaune Premier Cru “Clos des Mouches ” White is a 100% Chardonnay aged for 12 to 15 months in French oak barrels of which 25% are new . The 2015 vintage was especially nice, yielding in a wine with a complex floral nose of white lilac and white rose, evolving grilled nut aromas and offering hints of truffle, honey and nutmeg upon age. The palate is lively, with a rich and well-rounded yet never heavy texture.
An example of excellence in red, the Joseph Drouhin Grands Echezeaux Grand Cru is a 100% Pinot Noir, produced from a vineyard once owned by the monks of Citeaux, where the vines are 22 years old on average and planted in chalk soil from the Bajocian layer, ideal for Pinot Noir. Following a manual harvest, the fruit is sorted twice. Maceration takes 2 to 3 weeks using indigenous yeasts only. The cap is punched down once per day until half the fermentation is finished, while the wine is pumped over once per day until the end of the fermentation process. This Burgundy red wine is matured in French oak barrels, of which 20% are new for a period of 14 to 18 months. The result is a wine with very fine aromas, offering cherry, dark chocolate and cocoa bean in its youth, evolving more refined nuances of undergrowth, fine leather, cedar and truffle with age. This is a wine of great elegance, with refined tannins and a velvety texture on the palate.
And although the Joseph Drouhin estate is home to a wide array of Premier and Grand Cru plots, the family also pride themselves on the production of wonderful village and regional level wines, made from a blend of estate-grown fruit with fruit purchased from known and trusted local growers. For example, their Cote de Beaune-Villages is made from a careful selection of plots from the 16 villages making up the Cote de Beaune. The vinification process is similar as the aforementioned Grand Cru, and the maturation is carried out for 12 to 15 months in French oak barrels, of which 10% are new oak. This Burgundy village red wine is simple yet elegant, with delicate fruit aromas on the nose, an expression of Burgundy terroir that is more approachable in its youth.