The Judgment of Paris in 1976 was a landmark event for American wines — Napa in particular. Movies and books have lauded the famous blind tasting where Stag’s Leap Cabernet beat out such legendary Châteaux as Mouton Rothschild, Montrose, Haut-Brion and Léoville-Las Cases. At the same time, Chateau Montelena Chardonnay trumped Domaines Roulot, Joseph Drouhin, Ramonet-Prudhon and Leflaive. The 10-judge panel included wine luminaries Aubert de Villaine of Domaine Romanée-Conti, Pierre Tari of Château Giscours, Christian Vanneque, sommelier for Tour D’Argent and Michel Dovaz for the Wine Institute of France.
Still to this day, the results are spectacularly remarkable!!! There are any number of theories about the competition, blind tastings, etc. We’ll leave all that for future blogs…
What’s also interesting is that just a few years later, in 1979, Oregon wines were involved in a similar competition, the Gault-Millau French Wine Olympiades. In this tasting, the 1995 Eyrie Vineyards was rated the top Pinot Noir. Again, spectacular news!
This time, however, winemaker Robert Drouhin arranged for a rematch with a better collection of French wines than those presented in the Wine Olympiades. Joseph Drouhin’s Grand Cru 1959 Chambolle-Musigny won, but the Eyrie was still a very close second. That Oregon wines would place so well is especially impressive, given the fact that the wine industry there had begun only 20 years prior, around 1960, with plantings in Umpqua, Dundee and of course, Willamette.
Fast forward to 1987 and the Drouhin family is again in Oregon winemaking headlines, when they purchased 100 acres in the North Willamette Valley, and established Domaine Drouhin Oregon. Undoubtedly the 1995 Eyrie was stuck in the minds of the Drouhin family since the famous competition. But whatever the motivation, their venture “initiated a tectonic shift in how the world viewed the region’s potential for Pinot Noir.” (Paul Gregutt for Wine Enthusiast)
The Willamette Valley AVA is, of course, well suited to Pinot Noir — after all both the Willamette Valley and Burgundy are at the same 47-degree latitude. And, like Burgundy, Oregon winters are cool and wet while summers are temperate with cool evenings.
Oregon’s mild climate and overcast days force the grapes to ripen slowly — again, just like Burgundy. But also (for the sake of comparison) very much unlike California, where the sun is intense and days are warm to hot. Even the color of California Pinot Noir versus Oregon Pinots is dramatically different. California is darker and more purple in color because of the riper fruit, while Oregon Pinots are lighter and more delicate with much thinner skins.
Because of the similarity in climates horticultural exchanges between Oregon State University and OMIVINS (Office des Vins de FranceAgriMer) were established in 1980. Raymond Bernard further cemented the Oregon-Burgundy connection when he provided Oregon vintners with Pinot Noir clones. Since then, the exchange has continued with plantings from various appellations throughout the Burgundy region.
Other French investors have followed the Drouhins: Maison Louis Jadot founded their Résonance project, while Maisons & Domaines Henriot purchased a majority interest in the Beaux Frères Vineyard.
Film producer Mark Tarlov, founded Evening Land Seven Springs Vineyards in 2005 with Dominique Lafon of Meursault-based Domaine des Comtes-Lafon as consulting winemaker. Tarlov has since left the project to launch a new Oregon wine label, called Chapter 24. He again brought in another high-profile Burgundian to direct winemaking at his new venture — Louis-Michel Liger-Belair, who revived his family’s Vosne-Romanée domaine.
The list of French transplants continues, with winemakers Jean-Nicolas Méo at Nicolas Jay, Laurent Montalieu at Hyland Estates and Soléna Estate. Jacques Tardy is at Torii More Winery and Florent-Pierre Merlier at Van Duzer Vineyards.
To celebrate this fruitful Oregon-French connection, we’ve put together a list of wines that reflect this great collaboration.
À la vôtre santé!
Evening Land Seven Springs Vineyards
2014 Anden Pinot Noir. $94.99. 5 bottles.
2014 La Source Pinot Noir. $61.99. 9 bottles.
2014 Seven Springs Vineyards Pinot Noir. $30.99. 9 bottles.
2014 Summum Chardonnay. $79.99. 9 bottles.
2014 La Source Chardonnay. $61.99. 9 bottles.
2014 Seven Springs Vineyards Chardonnay. $35.99. 9 bottles.
Free shipping on one mixed-case (minimum).
More Oregon Pinot Noir
2016 Archery Summit Dundee Hills. $36.99. Low Net $49.99!! 60 bottles.
2016 Argyle Reserve. $26.99 Lowest Net price. 84 bottles.
2016 Ponzi. $28.99. Lowest Net Price. 12 bottles.
2016 Beaux Frères Vineyard. $75.99. 24 bottles.
2016 Beaux Frères Zena’s Crown. $59.99. 36 bottles.
2016 Beaux Frères Willamette Valley. $39.99. 60 bottles.
2016 Cristom Mt Jefferson Cuvée. $27.99. 82 bottles.
2015 Bergstrom Cumberland Reserve. $35.99. 48 bottles.
2015 Bergstrom Shea Vineyard. $50.99. 36 bottles.
2015 Cristom Jessie’s Vineyard. $47.99. 12 bottles.
2015 Cristom Marjorie’s Vineyard. $50.99. 24 bottles.
2015 Domaine Serene Evenstad Reserve. $59.99 Lowest Net Price. 60 bottles.
2015 Domaine Serene Yamhill Cuvée. $41.89 Lowest Net Price. 60 bottles.
2015 Soter Mineral Springs Ranch. $60.99. 12 bottles.
2013 Bergstrom Vineyard. $49.99. 2 bottles.
The Eyrie Vineyards Oregon Pinot Noir
2015 Daphne Vineyard 2015. $69.99. 6 bottles.
2015 Roland Green Vineyard. $59.99. 6 bottles.
A Few Burgundy Treats – At Exceptional Prices
2016 Domaine Joseph Drouhin Clos des Mouches 1er Cru. $119.99. 3 bottles.
2016 Domaine Joseph Drouhin Gevrey-Chambertin. $59.99. 60 bottles.
2016 Domaine Joseph Drouhin Musigny Grand Cru. $789.99. 3 bottles.
2016 Domaine Henri Boillot Volnay 1er Cru Fremiets. $74.99. 8 bottles.
2016 Domaine Henri Boillot Volnay 1er Cru Caillerets. $89.99. 6 bottles.
2015 Château Génot-Boulanger Clos Vougeot. $179.99. 12 bottles.
2015 Domaine Lamarche Grande Rue Grand Cru. $539.99. 2 bottles.
2017 Domaine Laurent Tribut Chablis. $38.99. 12 bottles.
2016 Domaine Laurent Tribut Chablis. $37.99. 12 bottles
2016 Joseph Drouhin Chablis Les Clos Grand Cru. $77.99. 3 bottles.
2016 William Fèvre Chablis Les Preuses Grand Cru. $199.99. 3 magnums
2016 Domaine Étienne Sauzet Puligny Montrachet Champ Gains. $158.99. 12 bottles.
2015 Domaine Ramonet Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru Vergers. $118.99. 2 bottles
2015 Domaine Ramonet Chassagne Montrachet 1er Cru Morgeot. $108.99. 2 bottles.