Drouhin | Joseph & Vaudon
In 1880, Joseph Drouhin, seeking a base for marketing wine under his own name, acquired the cellars of a Beaune firm founded in 1756. The vintner prospered, ultimately purchasing the winemaking facilities of the Dukes of Burgundy, a site located in Beaune's ancient centre ville.
Two generations later, Robert Jousset-Drouhin, grandson of the founder and heir apparent to the firm, completed the international education befitting a modern Burgundy ambassador -a far-flung tour of duty in France, Germany, England and Africa-before enrolling in wine school for a five year apprenticeship. Here the storybook scenario unravelled.
Second generation director, Maurice, suffered a stroke in 1957, leaving Robert-an untested 24-year-old-in charge of Burgundy's most storied firm. Happily, the task proved undaunting. Young Robert quickly revealed wisdom beyond his years in the cellar, and displayed even greater genius as a businessman; Drouhin became the first Beaune negociant to recognize and respond to the emergence of a new Burgundian order, farmers.
Once dependent on the likes of Drouhin, Jadot or Faiveley to produce wine from grapes that the growers, themselves, lacked the ambition or financial wherewithal to vinify, were slowly grasping the advantages of "vertical integration"—handling their own wine, as estate producers, from grape to market. Facing the spectre of a grower stranglehold on supplies, Robert moved briskly to protect his firm's interests, acquiring choice parcels of land in Volnay, Aloxe, Echézeaux, Chambolle, Gevrey, Chablis and Puligny.
More critical to the wine lover is Robert's performance with this marquee acreage, which has gone from strength to strength during the vintner's 42 year reign. Drouhin, now 66, is one of Burgundy's most revered personalities-a thoughtful and methodical man who has seamlessly woven intelligent innovation with the best elements of time-honored tradition. Drouhin, the pioneer, was one of the first Burgundy vintners to practice leaf canopy management as a method for permitting grape bunches to benefit from full exposure to the sun, and was one of the first winemakers, as well, to employ crop thinning and high-density vine cultivation as techniques for intensifying fruit flavor (Drouhin's vineyards are the most densely-planted in Burgundy, with 5000 vines/acre). Still, there is much in Robert's daily routine that would look familiar to his grandfather Joseph. “We have tested the new against the old,” claims Drouhin in Clive Coates’ Côte d’Or; “mostly we find the traditional has much to recommend it.”
In that spirit Robert uses wild yeasts rather than their laboratory-bred counterpart, and selects root stock generated by his 60-year-old vines in “Clos des Mouches” in preference to miracle clones developed by the region's plant geneticists. And if Drouhin’s aggressive techniques for intensifying character-long vatting on the skins, at surprisingly high temperatures-seem the fingerprints of a winemaking "interventionist", that suspicion dissolves instantly with a stroll through Drouhin’s caves, Robert populates his cellar with a scant 10-20% new oak, to prevent “foreign” flavors from intruding on his fragile Burgundies.