I envy David Millman his job. Before David, I envied Scott Wright his job, and before that I envied Bill Hatcher his job.
These three men have each been general manager of Domaine Drouhin Oregon, the iconic Willamette Valley/Burgundy bridge brand that helped bring international respectability to Oregon’s pinot noir.
I first visited DDO sometime in 1999. The winery was not open to the public as it is today, and there was a huge air of Gallic mystique about the place. There was to be a wine country benefit auction at the winery, and those who had tickets would be allowed into the famous edifice. So, with prospect of access to the sanctum sanctorum, my wife and I bought tickets and made reservations at local B&B, The Mattie House.
We drove up from our then-home in Southern Oregon, we dressed the part (it was a black tie affair), and we milled around with elite . . . and felt rather out of place. Still, we were inside DDO, and that was special.
Since then I have been involved with the Oregon wine industry in many ways, and have had innumerable opportunities to spend time at the winery. To me, it has always been a special place, and a true emblem of the character of Oregon’s pinot noir country.
And I do envy David Millman his job.
I thought of him during the big pre-Christmas whiteout that we had in northern Oregon, trapped in his own private DDO on top of the Dundee Hills, unable to do anything but look out at the beautiful expanse of snow-covered dormant vines. Or so I thought. I later learned that he was in Southern California during our incredible snow siege . . . but the image of him on top of the hill surrounded by vines and wines was all the romance I needed.
It has been some time since I’ve seen Veronique Drouhin, but years ago she was kind enough to spend time with me talking about her winemaking, the winery, and taking me through multiple vintages of DDO pinot. I have thought of her as the first “Oregundian” winemaker . . . or is it “Burgonian” winemaker? The fact that she brings a Burgundian sensibility to the making of New World pinot noir has always fascinated me. Wine is a cultural artifact, and Veronique herself is a bicultural phenom.
When she is not around, DDO is purely in the hands of David and his team. David is an intensely easygoing guy (I know that sounds contradictory, but when you meet David you’ll see what I mean). He has a wicked sense of humor that is so dry and subtle that you find yourself nodding in agreement at some bizarrely oxymoronic statement of his . . . before you realize that he has taken you down the primrose path of his humor to the point where the joke is half on you for your gullibility, and half on him for the unconscious credibility of what he said.
But despite his humor, David is a serious man who well understands the depths of winemaking and the intricacies of the wine business.
Recently I had the opportunity to taste some of DDO’s most recent wines, and was firmly reminded of how good a winery they are.
The 2007 Arthur Chardonnay was absolutely beautiful. The nose was particularly rich and deep, and a delicious flinty minerality surrounded beautifully defined fruit. It was a singularly satisfying wine.
Later, I took a glass of the newly released 2005 Laurene Pinot noir down to the tanks and was able to compare it to the 2006 still in steel. I have always found the Laurene to be a profound pinot noir that simply takes what’s best about Dundee Hills fruit and amps it up several notches. I really felt both the 05 and 06 Laurenes were superb examples of the vintages as well as the estate. The 05 was leaner, had a touch more tannin, a bit of pleasing earthiness, and was rich with layered flavors. The 06 was broader, sweeter-seeming, yet deep and complex—quite luscious and rewarding (and seemed perfectly ready for bottling to me!).
Domaine Drouhin remains a signature Northwest winery. I think sometimes it gets a bit overshadowed by the more transitory fashion of new head-turning wineries, but when it comes to sustaining a stylke, a sense of place, and a level of pinot noir quality, there’s none better.
It makes me wonder a bit, though, about the future. Bill Hatcher was DDO’s first general manager, and after he left he went on to found A to Z wines, a success story of epic proportions in Oregon’s wine world, going from inception to the state’s largest winery in just a few years. Scott Wright left the same position at DDO to create his Scott Paul winery . . . and became for my money one of the absolute top winemakers in the state, with pinots that year after year define the term “elegant.”
But for David, it seems a fitting position to simply continue building his own private DDO. He has accelerated the upward arc of the winery and the brand, extending it into new markets, building a stronger flow of tasting room traffic, and enhancing the critical reputation of this great label. Nice work. Nice work, indeed.
PS . . . I don’t often specifically recommend individual wines, but if there was one pinot from the ’05 vintage that I would stick up on, it might well be the 2005 Domaine Drouhin Laurene. A great wine, IMHO.