In 1880, 22-year-old Joseph Drouhin moved from Chablis to Beaune and founded his very own wine company.One can only imagine the bright-eyed and stylishly dressed dreamer that arrived then, full of ideas and eager to make his name in the world of wine. Little did he know that dream would not only come true, but it would continue to thrive four generations and 130 years later.
A Burgundian Beginning
Joseph Drouhin laid an impressive foundation for the family business, and his son Maurice was keen to develop what his father had begun. He established the house as a domaine, and expanding operations to include appellations like Clos de Vougeot and Clos des Mouches. Maurice’s son Robert took over in 1957 and continued the acquisitions, including going back to the family’s roots in Chablis.
Robert Drouhin is counted as one of the first producers in Burgundy to embrace “culture raisonnée”, a natural method of cultivating the vines without introducing unnatural elements like chemical-laden pesticides. He also built a lab, which was run by Laurence Jobard, the first female enologist in Burgundy. It was dedicated to the study of wine, bringing an organized educational element to the business that would hold a treasured place in history.
Today, the company is still family-owned, now by the fourth generation of Drouhins. Joseph Drouhin’s great-grandchildren, Philippe, Véronique, Laurent and Frédéric run the vineyard, each bringing their own unique feel for the craft.
This Drouhin empire is an impressive one. Maîson Joseph Drouhin is a negociant, which means they purchase grapes from all over Burgundy to use when producing their signature wines. More than 90 appellations are represented, including vineyards in the Côte de Nuits, Côte de Beaune, Chablis, Côte Chalonnaise, and since 1988, in the Willamette Valley in Oregon where winemaker Veronique Drouhin resides.
Simplicity, Terroir, and Respect
Across the board (and numerous geographical boundaries), the winemaking philosophy at Maîson Joseph Drouhin is remarkably simple to sum up: respect. Respect for the land and anything that springs from it is absolutely paramount, which translates to little interference with the vines themselves. Grass is allowed to grow where it may, fertilizing is done naturally using compost, and old-fashioned plows turn the soil and make way for new plantings. Insecticides are banished, and the bugs and bacteria that form instead do a remarkable job of maintaining status quo, giving the grapes what they need while keeping everything else at bay.
The winemakers strive for elegance, and anything short of perfection is considered a failure. Wine is a serious business for the Drouhins, which is not surprising given their family name is nearly synonymous with quality Burgundian wines. There is a great deal of purity, and in the wine world that means simplicity, and more than anything, a lack of fuss. Any tinkering behind the scenes is an effort to boost the wine’s natural flavor, body, and texture.
As a result, Drouhin wines are the reflection of the soil they grow in. Anyone who talks terroir has to talk Drouhin – the two are forever intertwined.
Like any living thing, the wines morph as they age. Drunk young, the Drouhin wines are lively and fruity, almost playful, like kicking through a puddle as the sun begins to shine through on a rainy day. Leave them to age and they wisen up, gaining layers of complexity and the kind of depth you only get from waiting years for your big moment to shine. Drouhin wines have been known to age for decades; some have been opened forty years after their vintage debuted and were found to be bursting with a bounty of aromas and flavors. Luscious, delectable, rich, fragrant–that’s Drouhin Burgundy.
History Living On
“Skills get more refined, methods evolve, but what is important is what is transmitted from generation to generation: the search for excellence, the intellectual curiosity, the sense of values, passion, and the respect for terroir. When your name is Drouhin, wine is more than an everyday job.” –Robert Drouhin
Robert has it right. This winery is built on legacy, but it’s nothing without the current generation. They’re maintaining what their great-grandfather built, and doing it with aplomb. The Drouhin name is found on wines ranging in price, style, and complexity, but that’s the beauty; taste across the spectrum and you’ll be treating yourself to a walk through every patch of land that birthed the grapes contained within. And that is little bit of magic.