For almost a century and a half, the Drouhin family has been a mainstay in the heart of Beaune representing some of the best wines of Burgundy. In today’s wine world, it’s a rarity to find larger reputable houses that are still in family hands, however Maison Joseph Drouhin has managed to buck the trend with respect to its longevity, while simultaneously maintaining an impressively consistent level of quality throughout that time.
Walking through the charming Burgundian village known for its medieval walls and cobblestone streets, Maison Joseph Drouhin sits right beside the collegiate church of Notre Dame which was built in the 12th and 13th Centuries. Christophe Thomas, Maison Drouhin’s Export Director, points to the Monastery on the side where he tells us the Monks were making wine centuries ago on Rue d’Enfer. He then points to a couple of buildings across the street, one where Robert Drouhin still lives, the other where the Maison’s offices are located.
The beauty of the town centre Christophe is showing us is only surpassed (at least for wine lovers) when he shows us what’s right beneath where we are standing.
We enter a building on the street level and sitting on impressive display is an old, traditional wine press that dates back to 1577, a piece of history that is still in use today.
“It’s been used 3 times in the history of Maison Drouhin,” says Christophe. “In 1980, to celebrate the 100-year anniversary of the House; in 2000, because it was the Millennium; and in 2005 to make 1000 bottles of our Beaune Premier Cru Clos des Mouches.” The few times the press has been put to use the same techniques are employed that the monks used meaning no electricity, 2-3 men to turn the enormous wheel, and a total production rate of just 3 barrels a day!
Christophe leads us down a narrow spiral staircase and soon we are in the historic cellars of Maison Drouhin underneath Beaune’s streets. It encompasses a staggering 2.5 acres of limestone-carved hallways lined with barrels and bottles.
“The family very much wants these ancient cellars to be in use for wine. If you visit other places, you will often find barrels but they’re either empty or filled with water. Here, all the barrels you see are filled with wine or spirits. We do a little bit of Marc de Bourgogne (a distillation of the dry extract from the press).” At the end of one of these hallways he shows us a piece of the original Roman wall that surrounds the city of Beaune.
It’s with this backdrop that Christophe has set up several bottles of Maison Joseph Drouhin wine to taste.
“In Burgundy, every time you taste wine, you taste a bit of history as well. Bordeaux started to make wine 800 years ago, whereas Burgundy started before Christ. We have a long history with many stories to tell…our wines were the drinks of the Kings of France, the Emperors of France…Napoleon was in love with Gevrey-Chambertin, Corton-Charlamagne was for the Charlamagne Emperor and Henry IV was in love with Gevrey.”
One of those stories is almost as famous as the House itself, forever immortalized in several historical novels around World War II.
Joseph Drouhin was a member of the Resistance and when the Germans came to the winery to arrest him, he escaped through the family cellars and was hidden by the Hospices de Beaune for a couple of weeks before he was able to rejoin the Resistance. When the war ended in 1945 Drouhin wanted to thank the Hospice for saving his life and gave them 2.5ha of his own land, which at that time amounted to a third of the entire estate. The Maison ultimately bought back the vineyard but continues to donate much of that production to the Hospices de Beaune each year for their famous fundraising auction.
The estate currently has more than 80ha in Burgundy along with more than 120ha in Oregon for their Domaine Drouhin Oregon (DDO) and Roserock labels. Véronique Drouhin is the latest generation overseeing the winemaking (with enologist Jérôme Faure-Brac) and ensuring the Maison stays true to the house style of balance and elegance both in Burgundy and in Oregon.
In fact, once Véronique finishes supervising the crush and fermentation at Maison Joseph Drouhin in Beaune in September, she immediately flies to Oregon to do the same thing at DDO in early October.
Toward the end of our tasting, Christophe disappeared down one of the hallways and returned holding a bottle with no label. Right away we sensed we were going to taste a little history ourselves and he very carefully put the coravin through the cork to extract the wine. As we sipped, the complexity of the wine was nothing short of sensational, but it had so much structure that our guesses ranged from ‘only’ 15-20 years old. Christophe revealed to us that it was in fact older than that and from one of their most famous vineyards: the 1993 Clos des Mouches.
History in the wine world, we have learned, plays an even more important role than in most fields. Perhaps it’s because making fine wine is more art than science.
The art of making wine has history very much at its foundations: it’s passed down from generation to generation, very often within the same family. 140 years since Joseph Drouhin established his Maison in Beaune, successive generations of Drouhins have taken it from strength to strength.
Today Maison Joseph Drouhin is a Burgundy powerhouse; a Domaine that has grown to become a significant business in the area and one that also holds some of the best vineyard lands and produces some of Burgundy’s top wines. Most notably, it has done so with an uncompromising focus on quality with wines that are clearly capable of standing the test of time.
2019 Maison Joseph Drouhin Chablis Premier Cru Sécher
Notes of citrus fruit combine with a really lovely minerality in this crisp, yet textured, Chablis. The medium acidity is perfectly judged to the body which creates a wine of precise balance. Fresh and racy without going too far in that direction, we really liked the textural qualities this wine offers. The finish was long and developed hints of green apple as the wine opened up.
2019 Maison Joseph Drouhin Côte de Beaune Blanc
Medium gold in colour, this is a very approachable, medium-body, medium acid wine that shows depth and balance. Flavours of green apple and pear get additional support from the undertones of almonds and honey. Hints of toasty vanilla appear after a little swirling.
2018 Maison Joseph Drouhin Mersault Genevrieres Premier Cru
This wine was remarkable! The richness of this wine showed the quality of its background. Genevrieres is a top quality vineyard just south of Beaune and marks this wine with its sophistication. A generous wine showing the classic “nuttiness” of Mersault (almond, hazelnut) as well as hints of bread dough, apple and vanilla. Raised in 25% new oak for 12 months, the use of barrel is impeccably judged as it adds only texture and body, not flavour, allowing the fruit to be exactly where it should: centre-stage.
2018 Maison Joseph Drouhin Pommard Chanlins-Bas Premier Cru
Red fruit notes dominate the flavour profile of this medium body wine. With a bit of air we pick up cherry and hints of strawberry. There is a wonderful savoury quality to this wine that comes from the supporting notes of forest floor and dried herbs. Elegant and precise, this wine shows plenty of finesse and impresses its under-stated qualities. The finish is long and mineral-infused.
2018 Maison Joseph Drouhin Gevrey-Chambertin Clos Prieur
Clos Prieur is a top Premier Cru in the northern part of the Cote de Nuits, located near famous neighbours such as Chambertin and Mazi-Chambertin. This is a gorgeous, structured wine that delivers intense flavours of black fruits, black cherry and raspberry. While its power is certainly present at this point of its development, this will get tamed with time in the cellar. The savoury notes found in the preceding wine are amplified here and make this wine already very complex. If you can keep your hands off of this beauty for another 5 years, we think you will be greatly rewarded!
2018 Maison Joseph Drouhin Clos de Vougeot Grand Cru
Clos de Vougeot is among the most famous of all Burgundy’s many renown vineyards.
Not only does it produce miniscule quantities of amazing wine, its history goes back to the 12th century where the monks built a castle that now is home to the Confrerie des Chevaliers du Tastevin, the famous world-wide association of Burgundy aficionados. Dark red in colour, just looking at this wine lets you know you will be impressed. A gorgeous bouquet of cherry, dried herbs, and forest floor greats your nose far above the glass. There is great complexity to this wine (already) which will surely increase over time. Structured, with firm tannins, but equally matched with luscious morello cherry and raspberry fruit. The finish goes on and on. This is an intellectual’s wine that brings you something new to think on with each return to the glass.
1993 Maison Joseph Drouhin Clos des Mouche Rouge
This was a very, very special treat to end our tasting with. If there is a wine or vineyard that is most associated with the great house of Drouhin, it would have to be Clos des Mouches.
Located in Beaune, just south of Pommard, Marcel Drouhin had the foresight in the 1920s to acquire 40 different plots from 8 different proprietors. The Drouhins now own half of this legendary vineyard and they make both white and red wine from it. What a treat it was to taste such a famous wine with so much age on it. And 1993 is up there with the very best vintages of the modern age. Marvellously complex, showing classically Burgundian notes of mushrooms, forest floor, strawberries, cherries and hints of prune. The earthy savoury characteristics add great complexity to this wine. At age 29 it was remarkably fresh showing no signs of tiredness. Just very smooth, savoury and complex flavours of red and black fruits.
1 Cour du Parlement
21200 Beaune, France
T: + 33 3 80 24 68 88