French Influence


This summer's IPNC celebrated the influence of Burgundy on the growth of Oregon's wine industry. And that influence was considerable. While David Left planted the first pinot noir just over 50 years ago, it was 30 years ago that Robert Drouhin decided to invest in Oregon--surprising the wine world and adding credibility to Oregon as a source of quality wines. It was a moment of serendipity. His daughter, Veronique, a recent graduate of wine school, had interned in Oregon--and been impressed. She told her dad that he needed to check it out. When he did, he found terroir that he thought was suitable for good pinot. And Veronique, who was single, had the flexibility to move to Oregon to lead the effort. So Domaine Drouhin Oregon was established in the hills overlooking Dundee.

In the decades that have followed, more wineries and winemakers from Burgundy have invested time and/or money in Oregon. Indeed, you could make the case that the recent rush of top Burgundians to Oregon reflects the fact that good terroir is affordable there...as it certainly no longer is in Burgundy. But coming to Oregon today is notably less bold than it was 30 years ago. IPNC convened a panel of five well-known Burgundians who are involved in Oregon to talk about why they looked to the new world. But before they started, John Paul--who has been quietly making his superb Cameron wines in Oregon for almost 35 years--asked for the floor to offer a spontaneous tribute to Veronique for what she had done to bring international attention to Oregon. His comments were heartfelt and touching. Veronique described the early years at Domaine Drouhin Oregon with charm and grace.

A little over two decades after DDO was founded, the next significant Burgundian appeared in Oregon, in the person of Dominique Lafon--the brilliant winemaker of Domaine des Comtes Lafon. He became consulting winemaker for Evening Land. It wasn't his first new world opportunity. There had been an earlier effort to recruit him for a California project. He told his suitors that people there wouldn't like the kind of wine he made...that Californians would think it wasn't rich enough. It was his way of declining. But Oregon intrigued him. He agreed to become consulting winemaker at Evening Land. While the initial business proposition at Evening Land didn't work out, there was never any question about the qualify of the wines. The relationship that Lafon formed with Larry Stone, who managed Evening Land for a time, would re-emerge when Stone recently founded Lingua Franca, where they now collaborate. No surprise--the wines are excellent.

Soon after Dominique Lafon began in Oregon, Alexandrine Roy--of Domaine Marc Roy--visited IPNC. She had lunch with the owner of Phelps Creek. He poured some of his wines and she poured some of her's from Burgundy. He loved her work--as a result, she now makes wines both places.

The recent arrivals in Oregon are the colorful Jacques Lardière and the suave Jean-Nicolas Méo. Lardière's legendary career appeared to be over a couple of years ago when he retired as long-time winemaker at Maison Louis Jadot. Then Jadot purchased Resonance Vineyard in Oregon--and voilá! Lardière was back. He's the perfect person to establish their new world operation. At least I think he is. I didn't actually understand much of what he said. It wasn't his English that I struggled to follow--he speaks English well. It was his logic I couldn't follow...and I wasn't alone. Jean-Nicolas Méo buried his face in his arms, laughing, as he listened. Méo, who learned his craft from the legendary Henri Jayer before taking the helm at his family's highly regarded Domaine Méo-Camuzet, has opened Domaine Nicolas-Jay in Oregon...a collaboration with his friend music impresario Jay Boberg. Given the elegant Méo-Camuzet wines I've enjoyed, I wasn't surprised that the initial wines from Nicolas-Jay showed elegance as well. It's yet another of Oregon's exciting new wineries.

Thirty years ago, Oregon was grateful to Burgundy for showing confidence in the region to produce good wines. These days, it appears Burgundy is grateful to Oregon for providing a place that they can produce good wines! In a way, the circle is complete.


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