As my wife and I drove through the rolling hills of Dundee this past fall, my eye was caught by the elegance of a budding building. With a quick left turn, my mind racing with faux excuses, we turned into the “appointments only” parking lot of Domaine Roy & Fils. Walking between the transplanted 30-year-old olive trees and through the artistically crafted glass doors, we made our apologies for stopping in uninvited.
Laughter echoed through the construction. We were instantly put at ease and greeted with an embrace of Grand Cru Champagne followed by a 45-minute VIP tour of the facilities. From the elegantly rustic pressing room to the dense rows of Pinot Noir vines, the level of sophistication, even among the layers of brick and mortar, was evident.
When I finally found time to write about this special experience, I knew I needed to visit again, this time making an appointment to taste the new wine releases and get a feel for the final construction.
Greeting us this second time was hospitality manager Mélissa Rondeau with a familiar bubbling flute and a smile. She took us through the tasting room geared toward custom yet communal experiences. Staging small groups at one of the large tables, or seated deck areas, Rondeau and other staff members guide customers through the wines. The format reflects Domaine Roy’s belief that wine is best shared with friends, new and old.
As Rondeau poured the 2013 Maison Roy & Fils “Petite Incline” and a side-by-side comparison of its more select brother from the same vintage, named simply “The Incline,” she explained this first commercial offering was produced with purchased fruit — the same goes for the 2014s. In contrast, the estate label, Domaine Roy & Fils, has yet to release its first vintage, 2015, a mere 285 cases made with grapes from the winery’s Dundee vineyard.
It is here, in the Willamette Valley’s famed red hills, where Domaine Roy’s adventure begins. But first, the background story is essential to the entire tale.
It all began in 1991, when Michael Etzel and Robert Roy —as well as wine critic Robert Parker Jr., Etzel’s brother-in-law — created one of Oregon’s most highly regarded wineries, Beaux Frères, in what is now the Ribbon Ridge AVA. With a path forged by their fathers, the second generation of Jared Etzel and Marc-André Roy are creating a new legacy at Domaine Roy, only seven miles down the road.
When a former hazelnut farm in Dundee, filled with volcanic soils and basalt rock, became available, the friends of 20 years took a chance on the property and began transforming the land into what they now call Iron Filbert Vineyard. Established in 2013, the site is planted to 13 high-density acres of 10 different Pinot Noir clones and two acres of Chardonnay on its south-facing hillside.
“The goal is to be good shepherds of the property by organic farming and letting the terroir speak,” Jared Etzel said. “This way we achieve the highest quality fruit.”
Sun shining above the valley, Rondeau poured a ruby-red Pinot Noir into my glass, casting a swirling jeweled reflection on the freshly finished deck. We were then joined by vineyard manager Miguel Lopez for a tour among the vines and rich soil.
“The foundation of our wine is the vineyard. Once the wine comes into the building, we try not to add anything,” said Jared. “Following the farming principles I learned from my father at Beaux Frères, I let the learned philosophy translate into our own practices.”
In addition to the Dundee estate, Domaine Roy planted a Carlton site in 2014. Quartz Acorn Vineyard — named for the quartz present in its soil and surrounding oak forest — contains 20 acres planted to Pinot Noir and two to Chardonnay. Jared says a small amount of wine from this estate may be made from the upcoming 2016 harvest.
Even with such dedication to the establishment and management of both vineyards, the heart of Domaine Roy is not solely among the vines, or even the resulting wines or pristine barrel room. Peeling back the layers of opulence and impressive custom-made accents, you’ll find a sincere respect for friendship and their fathers’ success.
“Domaine Roy is a perfect example of the generational bridge between our two families,” Jared explained. “The Roy family brings with them countless years of business knowledge and strategy, while my family, the Etzels, brings wine production and farming to the equation. The two opposites come together to create a beautiful marriage of hard work and vision.”
Delicate bouquets, unfiltered juice and the telltale nuances of the elaborately layered Dundee Hills fruit converge in the Pinot Noir glass to weave a tapestry of wine that will drink impressively for years.
The mistake I purposely made nearly a year ago led me to a truly memorable experience. From the barrel room to the vineyard, to the deck with its unparalleled vistas of the valley, as well as the gracious people and exceptional wine, Domaine Roy is a site to see, a “mistake” I’d like to repeat again and again.