Domaine Drouhin has been on the viticultural cutting edge in Oregon since our first plantings, and we continue to set the pace. The 90 acres of hillside vineyards that ribbon our 225-acre estate are at the very heart of Domaine Drouhin wines. Philippe Drouhin is in charge of all of the estate vineyards in Oregon & Burgundy & it is his vision & passion that drives our advances & improvements in winegrowing year after year. Situated atop the Dundee Hills, between 400 and 800 feet in elevation, our site was selected for its remarkable similarity in climate, latitude and aspect to the legendary vineyards of Burgundy. DDO places more emphasis on viticulture than most producers in America. Our vines are perhaps the most densely-planted in the New World, with an average of 3,300 plants to the acre. We are also one of the few vineyards in the country to cultivate our own rootstocks and propagate all of our own plant materials. This allows us to further our vineyards with site specific rootstocks and plants.
In 1988 we planted our first eight estate acres of Pinot Noir, split evenly between the Pommard and Wadenswill clones on their own roots. At this time, there were no Phylloxera-resistant rootstocks available, the Dijon Clones had not yet come in to the country, and no vintners in the New World were planting high density vineyards. The Drouhins, through their extensive experience in Burgundy, knew many of these methods and options currently available in Oregon could be improved upon. Phylloxera, a microscopic insect that can invade grapevines' root systems and kill the plants, was not thought to be a threat to vines in Oregon back then. Robert knew, however, that it would only be a matter of time before the pest would arrive in the area. Consequently, he was the first to graft all future plantings onto rootstock that was immune to the effects of Phylloxera. Most Oregon vineyards of the day were planted with rows 8-10 feet apart, and the vines 6 or more feet apart, so as to accommodate the size of the tractors that were then available. The Drouhins knew from their experience in Burgundy that they were getting the best results from vines planted one meter apart along the rows, and in France they generally planted the rows also one meter apart, sometimes even narrower. The first Domaine Drouhin plantings in 1988 ended somewhere between the Burgundian tradition and the Oregon standard, as Robert decided on spacing the plants one meter apart and the rows seven feet apart. Robert thought it would be interesting to compare these medium-density plantings with the high-density vineyards he planned for the future. 1989 - The innovation begins More acreage has been planted on the estate every year since then. The true innovation of the DDO vineyards began in 1989. Domaine Drouhin became the first in Oregon to plant on Phylloxera-resistant rootstock, the first to plant the new Dijon clones of Pinot Noir, and the first to plant high-density vineyards on a 1-meter x 1.3 meters template. The DDO vineyards now have over 3100 vines per acre, in contrast with the typical Oregonian vineyard of 800-1400 vines/acre. The first in the New World to be planted on this centuries-old template, the vines at Domaine Drouhin Oregon must search deep into the earth for sustenance, curtailing the vigor of the plant and concentrating its resources into the production of more intensely flavored fruit. With nearly four times the vines per acre yielding the same or less production as a typical Oregonian vineyard, much painstaking handwork goes into each small cluster of fruit. Also in the Burgundian tradition, our vines are trellised in VSP - Vertical Shoot Positioning - with one fruiting cane and one renewal cane left on the plant each year. We prune each vine every winter, low to the ground, leaving only 6-8 positions on each vine for new shoots to grow forth each spring. Each of these shoots will naturally bear two or three clusters of fruit each year. We will generally do a "green harvest" every summer and remove clusters of grapes in August, leaving only one or two clusters per shoot to ripen in the fall. In years when the clusters are larger than usual, as in 2001, we may even drop more fruit, leaving only one cluster on every other shoot - removing all the clusters from the remaining shoots. This allows each vine to put all of its energy into producing deep and concentrated flavors in the small amount of fruit that it carries. This severe pruning leads to an average of only 8 clusters per vine. This means we can produce approximately ¾ of a bottle of wine from each vine. Or put another way, we need 5 vines to make 4 bottles of wine. Over the years we've found this to be the optimum crop level for our estate, resulting in fruit that gives us silky, elegant, and age-worthy wines.
Our first Chardonnay vines, a selection of Dijon clones 76 and 96, were planted on the estate beginning in 1992. This noble grape, originating in Burgundy, is planted in several different locations around the estate. Mostly planted at the highest elevation, you will also find much of our chardonnay planted right alongside rows of Pinot Noir, as was the tradition in Burgundy for centuries. Our Chardonnay Arthur is made exclusively from the 13.5 acres planted on the estate.
Vineyard Character - Terroir Over many vintages we've found that different sections of the vineyard produce distinctly different characteristics. Each unique flavor profile becomes a building block for the selection that will ultimately become our Laurène or Classique Pinot noir bottlings. (The Laurène cuvée debuted in 1992. It was our first bottling of 100% estate-grown fruit, and it was named after Véronique's first daughter, also born in '92.) It's interesting to note that the Laurène does not always come from the same sections of the estate every year. Each vintage brings its own unique characteristics to the mix, and the vineyard blocks that go into Laurène this year may be entirely different than those in next year's version. When we plant new vineyard blocks every year, we do not purchase vines from outside nursery sources. Instead, we select cuttings from vines on our own estate that have shown over many years to consistently produce the highest quality fruit, and we propagate new vines from these cuttings. We also have two large blocks of rootstock planted on the estate, so we can graft the cuttings onto rootstock that we have grown ourselves. We grow and plant rootstocks that we've learned are well suited to the specifics of our vineyard sites in terms of site elevation, soil depth, and moisture-holding capacity. In this way we can maintain the highest level of quality control over our plant material. Thus, everything planted on the Domaine Drouhin estate is unique to the estate. At harvest each year, there is generally a two-week window in which we pick all of our grapes. The younger vines with lower yields tend to ripen earlier than older, mature vines. Also, sections of the vineyard lower on the slopes will ripen sooner than sections higher up. We're thankful to nature for spreading it out this way, otherwise we'd have to deal with 85 acres of fruit all coming into the winery at once!