Introducing: Roserock Drouhin Oregon

5 01 2017

[These bottles were provided as samples for review purposes.]

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New vineyard, new venture, new heights.

Maison Joseph Drouhin has been a Burgundy mainstay for over a century, but third-generation proprietor Robert Drouhin discovered a kindred spirit location in Oregon close to 40 years ago when he arranged a Judgment of Paris-esque blind tasting competition between a group of classic red Burgundies and some upstart USA Pinot Noirs back in 1979.  At a time when almost nobody even knew that Oregon was producing quality wine and all American hopes were seemingly based on the performance of the California contingent, it was “Papa Pinot” David Lett’s Eyrie Vineyards Oregon Pinot Noir that lapped the New World field in the tasting, placing 2nd overall behind only Drouhin’s own 1959 Chambolle-Musigny, an exalted Burgundy from a top vineyard.  Within less than a decade from this revelatory event, Drouhin had bought land in Oregon’s Dundee Hills (a subregion within the large Willamette Valley located almost equidistant from Portland and the Pacific Ocean) to plant to Pinot and had assigned his own children to carry the family legacy across the ocean, naming his daughter Veronique as winemaker and his son Philippe as viticulturist, positions both still hold at Domaine Drouhin Oregon today.

Fast forward a quarter century.  Drouhin Oregon has established itself as one of the premium producers of the Willamette Valley had has become firmly entrenched in the Oregon community.  On the lookout for additional top vineyard lands outside of Dundee Hills, it never quite comes across what it is seeking…until the Roserock vineyard comes up for sale.  Roserock is located due south of Dundee, right in the centre of Willamette in the well-regarded Eola-Amity Hills subregion, about a half hour south of Portland and just west of the state capital, Salem.  It is replete with features that would make any winery’s ears perk up:  complex, well-draining volcanic soils; high (for Oregon) temperature-controlling elevation, perched between 550-750 feet above sea level; sited in the middle of a wind corridor channelling cool Pacific air right through the vines, maintaining acidity and prolonging ripening.

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Roserock was planted to 111 acres of Pinot Noir and 11 acres of Chardonnay, Oregon’s (and Burgundy’s) signature grapes and had previously supplied fruit not only to Drouhin but to a laundry list of Willamette’s bright lights, including Soter, Argyle and King.  Drouhin pounced on it, acquiring the entire vineyard in December 2013 in its most significant transaction since starting up business on this continent.  This was not just a blip on the radar of a global wine power:  it single-handedly almost doubled Drouhin Oregon’s vineyard land holdings in the state, and it led to the creation of a new standalone Drouhin brand dedicated to the preservation and celebration of Roserock’s unique identity.  2014 was the inaugural vintage of this new label, and the first Roserock Drouhin Oregon Chardonnay and Pinot Noir make it eminently clear why this vineyard deserves to stand on its own.

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Cork Rating: 2/10 (Totally do not understand the syntax distinction between the Pinot and Chard corks – why list the varietal on one but not the other? Sloppy.)

2014 Roserock Drouhin Oregon Chardonnay

This is a blend of the three separate Chardonnay blocks at Roserock, hitting shelves here in Alberta at around $40, which tends to be the Canadian starting point for quality Oregon Chardonnay.  Even though it is a recent release and a young wine, it is a deep, penetrating lemon colour, but it comes across as clean and mineral on the nose, fresh Gala apple, plantain and falling rain with just a kiss of oak-aided almond brittle and beeswax.

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For a Chardonnay, this is surprisingly middleweight on the tongue, with zero languidity of texture and only a trace of the grape’s expected creaminess; instead, it’s Chard in attack mode, all penetrating lines of acidity and no flabby edges. Its flavours mellow and soften to honeydew, Asian pear and white flowers, accented by butterscotch, but all other tactile and sensual elements are sharpened and honed down to a fine point, vibrating with energy.  Drinking this, I have no difficulty seeing the grapes’ high-altitude, cool-climate surroundings, the wind whipping through its leaves; the feel of the wine on the tongue all but sings this out.  Who says Chardonnay can’t be exciting?

92 points

$35 to $40 CDN

2014 Roserock Drouhin Oregon Pinot Noir

While the Roserock vineyard has three designated Chardonnay blocks, it has 35 designated Pinot blocks, and this bottle melds them into a single cuvee.  For Oregon Pinot Noir, this immediately commands notice for its dark, dense ruby colour, but there is nothing else about this wine that is weighted down.  No one can smell this and describe it as anything other than “joyous”:  absolute pure essence of cherry, freshly picked and perfectly crisp and ripe, accented by dark chocolate, cardamom, orange peel and…can I say cherry again?  So much gorgeous cherry.

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This Pinot Noir might have the same palate weight as the Chardonnay, which is amazing and says something about them both, but it truly distinguishes itself through polished teeth-squeaking tannin and a pleasant bitterness on the finish, almost like oolong tea.  While the nose is almost bouncy enough to make you think Cali, the palate is all Oregon, deft and elegant and almost floating in its dexterity.  You taste a different expression of cherry than you smell, tarter and crisper but no less rarified, and yet still with enough heft and structure to keep developing for years.  This is serious, serious juice, presented playfully; for me, the ideal combination.  For a first effort from this vineyard, it is unspeakably good.  Oh, and on the label of this Roserock is painted an artistic representation of a type of rose that is actually called the…Zephirine Drouhin.  No relation, and yet it all fits.  What a wine, especially for its $45 price tag.

93+ points

$40 to $45 CDN

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