A Tour Inside Joseph Drouhin Winery

The town of Beaune, in Burgundy, has a mayor, but walk through its streets with Veronique Drouhin and you’d think she runs the place. 

Véronique is the winemaker of Joseph Drouhin Wines, one of the region’s largest producers, with a 95-acre estate and a seemingly endless roster of pinot noir and chardonnay wines, including a number of prize-winning grands crus.

Véronique’s great-grandfather, Joseph Drouhin, began making wine here in 1880. Over time, the Drouhin estate grew, acquiring not only new vines, but also a cluster of historic buildings in Beaune, in the shadow of the magnificent cathedral. But you don’t understand just how sprawling the domaine is until you go underground.

“I used to rollerskate down here as a girl,” Véronique tells me as we descend into a maze of cellars beneath central Beaune, the equivalent of several city blocks. As she leads me through the tunnel system, she points out areas that date back to the 13th century, even a stretch of wall built by the Romans. Dark, damp, and lined with barrels of wine and marc—a local grappa-like spirit distilled from wine—the cellars exude an intoxicating aroma of must and oak.

As infinite as the cellars seem, the content of these barrels represents a small fraction of the wine that Joseph Drouhin bottles and sells around the world. I get a better sense of that output the next day, when Véronique shows me the main lab and factory just outside town, a highly mechanized complex of stainless steel vats and conveyor belts that that feels more reflective of Drouhin’s global reach. Véronique seems just as comfortable and elegant walking through the factory floor as she does winding through the cellars or tending to the vines.

As a young girl rollerskating through the cellars in the 70s, Véronique never dreamed of taking over the family business. Wine was a man’s job, she remembers thinking. But when she was 10, her father hired a female oenologist to work in the lab, a young woman named Laurence Jobard, who became a mentor to Véronique. “She inspired me to be a winemaker.”

After getting her masters in oenology—“I was the only woman in my class”—and doing an internship at a winery in Bordeaux, Véronique decided to explore the wine world at large.

“I wanted to go to the U.S.,” she says. “My father said, ‘Don’t go to California—go to Oregon.” This was in the mid-80s when Californian wines had already muscled their way to global prestige, but Oregon wines remained largely undiscovered. “I fell completely under the charm.”

As it turns out, the climate of Oregon’s Willamette Valley, while not nearly as varied as Burgundy’s, was ideally suited for growing pinot noir grapes, the varietal from which all Burgundy reds are made. “Pinot grapes don’t like too much heat or too much cold,” says Véronique.

Though her father was interested in making wine in Oregon, he had to stay in France for harvest every year. So he entrusted Véronique with running an Stateside offshoot he called Domaine Drouhin. In 1988, at the age of 26, Véronique created her first Oregonian vintage.

Today, Véronique has taken over as the winemaker for both branches of the Drouhin operation. Her older brother Philippe is the head viticulturist, and brought in biodynamic practices in the late 80s, before it became a trend. (“But we don’t put ‘biodynamic’ on the labels,” Véronique says, “it’s become too much of a marketing gimmick.”) As part of this approach, the Drouhins have eliminated most pesticides, introduced horses back into the fields, and even adopted some of the more woo-woo elements of the biodynamic dogma, such as filling a cow horn with manure and burying it over the winter to create a rich, fertile humus.

The appeal of a biodynamic approach is not just to eliminate toxic pesticides, but also to extract the best expression of the terroir. “It’s not easy, and it’s not risk-free,” says Véronique. “But the advantage is that we work much more in the vines.”

Tradition and technology; tractors and horses; oak barrels and stainless steel vats; ancient cellars and mechanized factory floors; wine glasses and pipettes; Burgundy and Oregon… This is the new world Véronique introduced.

“We’re always adapting.”

For more on innovative Burgundian winemakers, explore the worlds of Domaine Georges Mugneret and Domaine Yvon Clerget.

The team behind La Paulée will celebrate another popular wine region, Champagne, when La Fête du Champagne returns to New York City November 8-10, 2018. American Express is the Grand Cru sponsor of La Fête du Champagne, offering Card Members exclusive events, ticket packages, and a 2-week presale to the entire program. Terms apply. Learn more here.

Must be 21 years of age or older to consume alcoholic beverages. Please drink responsibly.