Wine Tasting in Willamette Valley: Domaine Serene and Domaine Drouhin.
By Maren Swanson • May 16th, 2016
When I booked my plane ticket to fly to Portland and visit my sister, I knew I had to convince her to visit Willamette Valley and go wine tasting (about an hour outside of Portland). The popularity of Oregon Pinot Noirs has grown considerably in the past decade and I was determined to drop by Dundee Hills to taste what all the fuss was about.
There are plenty of fantastic wineries in the Willamette Valley area, but I wanted to hit the Domaine “powerhouses” so we booked tastings at Domaine Serrene and Domaine Drouhin. While many wine varietals are grown in that region, Pinot Noir is definitely the star. The valley is actually divided into six sub-appellations: Chehalem Mountains, Dundee Hills, Eola-Amity Hills, McMinnville, Ribbon Ridge and Yamhill-Carlton. Domaine Serene and Drouhin are located within the Dundee Hills AVA (American Viticultural Area). The complex soils, cool/maritime climate and longer growing season of Willamette Valley contributes to an ideal terroir for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes in this region – and fantastic flavors.
Our first stop was at Domaine Serene, a couple miles off the OR-99W S/Pacific Highway. We drove up some winding hills and entered a large estate with a construction project underway on the right and a winery on our left. Once you walk down the flower-lined pathway, you'll run smack dab into a massive metal mammoth structure in the foreground of a stunning valley view. It was the perfect welcome to our first Willamette wine tasting room.
The winery is painted a vibrant buttercup yellow and apparently the entire structure has 360-degree views of the vineyard.
Before we were seated at our tasting table, we were greeted with a taste of their “r” rose ($35), a dry style rose and a great first sip for a warm spring day. I immediately started asking questions about their wines, starting the the name. Why Serene? According to our tasting room “guide,” Serrene is the name of the Evenstead’s (Grace and Ken) daughter. Awww, I may have to add that name to my baby queue!
Grace and Ken Evenstead had settled in Dundee Hills in 1989 (hailing from Minnesota - same as me!). With their love for Burgandy wines and strong determination, they built Domaine Serene, which produces some of the most high-end and sought after Pinot Noirs from Willamette Valley.
We tasted their 2014 Chardonnay and four of their Evenstead Reserve Pinot Noirs. I actually kept gravitating back to the 2013 (over the 2012) vintage that was layered with some cherry notes and a nice balance from the French Oak barrel aging. Luckily, we also got the chance to try the 2013 Two Barrels Vineyard Pinot Noir, my favorite of the lot, and the 2012 Mark Bradford Pinot Noir (named after their son and their oldest vineyard).
Our second and last stop in the Dundee Hills was Domaine Drouhin
, conveniently located across the rocky road. Yes, be warned that the short road leading up to the Drouhin estate in very rocky, so if you don’t have the right set of wheels, take it slow. Domaine Drouhin is usually closed on Mondays, but oftentimes they can accommodate appointments made with enough advance notice.
The estate itself doesn’t have the fancy and elaborate curb appeal at its neighboring Serene, but their vineyard views are equally stunning. On the Monday we arrived, workers were staining the wood porch, so we couldn’t sit outside, but the lovely lady (French teacher on the side) orchestrating our tasting offered to let our dogs come and hang out while we “wined down.”
As we tasted the line-up of Pinot Noirs, we learned that the Drouhins (of Burgundy, France), had purchased the land in 1987 and produced their first Pinot Noir in Willamette in 1988, from fruit they had purchased nearby. Their vineyards now boast 124 acres. Veronique Drouhin-Boss, Robert Drouhin’s daughter, is the winemaker and all of their current wines are 100% estate grown and produced.
The three of us were shocked at how much we liked the first 2014 “Arthur” Chardonnay we tried. Heck, I liked it so much, I took a bottle home with me. We also sipped on their first vintage Roserock (a vineyard purchased by the Drouhins in 2013) 2014 Pinot Noir and their 2012 Laurene Pinot Noir. The Pinot Noir flavors were elegant and nuanced with just the right amount of fruit for my California-girl palatte. Too bad our trunk was full because I was ready to buy more than we could carry.
We drove away from Dundee Hills that day with a new appreciation for Willamette Valley wines and a photograph worthy of my wall at home – ohhh, those fuchsia-blanketed flower fields! My wine rack is now home to some sophisticated Oregon visitors…