Posted by: David Stewart | December 5, 2014

The French invasion

What’s happening to Oregon? Will hipsters in Portland be trading in their skinny jeans and American Spirits for berets and Gauloises? No, but you might think so to read the Oregon wine news.

Chances are when you see wine from Burgundy in the US, it will either be labeled Louis Jadot or Joseph Drouhin. These two massive winemaking concerns source grapes from vineyards all over Burgundy.  So why have they both stuck their heads into the Willamette Valley?

The Drouhin family invested in Oregon back in the 1980s, when Oregon winemaking was still quite primitive. Their Dundee Hills vineyard sets the bar for their wonderful restrained Pinot Noir and Chardonnay style, typical of an old world aesthetic. 

2013 was a big year for new French purchases. Jadot bought into Oregon in 2013, buying the well-established Resonance vineyard in the Yamhill-Carlton district. Drouhin for their part bought an additional 279 acres in the Eola-Amity district, and blended the grapes into their wonderful 2013 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir release. 

Today there were articles by both Drouhin and Jadot talking up their latest Burgundy releases. I was shocked that buried in the article was the nugget that Louis Jadot had just bought an additional 20-acre site in Dundee Hills.  Pierre-Henry Gagey, president of Jadot was being interviewed about wines from the Beaune appellation in Burgundy. 

While Gagey’s heart clearly belongs in Burgundy, when asked which region he felt was currently making exceptional Pinot Noir Gagey firmly replied, “Oregon” – Louis Jadot’s recent acquisition of two vineyards in Oregon, the most recent just a month and a half ago, proof of his conviction in the region.

This should feel like a continued validation of the small-time artisans who try to make a living making Oregon wine. But the French are invading Oregon because of the Napoleonic-era inheritance laws in France which make it hard to accumulate more top vineyard land in Burgundy.

I sincerely hope that this outside investment in Oregon will not drive out the small producers or make it even harder to produce awesome Pinot for a reasonable price.

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