Producers: Juliet, Alexis & T-bone
Located in: Lyle, Wash.
Supplying PCC since: 2007
Try Domaine Pouillon Deux
Dirt has it. Some people, even dogs, have it. Great wines have it. It’s not about price or prestige but is all about love, passion and laughter. You can’t make it or buy it, but you can taste it.
Alexis and Juliet at Domaine Pouillon have it. They make wines that are a snapshot of nature at work, wines for people to drink every day — and maybe even fall in love with.
At PCC, you’ll find great wines from all over the world, made by people like Alexis and Juliet.
Winding up Lyle-Snowden road from the river to the bench land stretching along the Gorge’s northern flank, you easily could be on a back road in the Mayacamas. The steep, twisting road ascends through rugged, oak and brush-covered hills, a ringer for the ranges ringing the Napa Valley. But beyond the flora, aroma, and the torpor of a hot, dry, late-summer day, all similarity to that storied real estate ends.
There are no majestic gates framing imposing faux chateaux or sharp, designer villas. No immaculately groomed vineyard or garden, no preening, no manicured reverence. On the right, as you crest the hill, there’s a simple, neatly lettered sign reading “Domaine Pouillon” next to a weathered barrel that says “Open.” The narrow dirt road leads past a forest of oaks on the right, while a field of native grass and several acres of young syrah, grenache, rousanne, marsanne and viognier vines cover the rolling hills to the left, anchored in the distance by a windmill that has borne witness to many a season.
No, Toto, this truly isn’t Napa. Turning off the paved road and down the drive is like stepping through the looking glass into a place that calmly breathes la dolce vita. It’s a sense of sweetness rooted in inspiration, hard work and love.
For Alexis and Juliet (and T-Bone!), it’s not about scores, ratings or the adulation of the wine paparazzi. Founded on a firm belief in the potential of the Columbia Gorge AVA as prime location to produce wines from classic Rhône Valley varietals, their goal is to “make wines for everyday people to drink every day — wines to go with food, friends, conversation and laughter.”
Naturally, it all begins with dirt — and reaches to the sun, embracing rain, wind, flora and fauna on the way. Farming following biodynamic philosophy allows all the elements of a given terroir — the dirt, the surrounding plants, insects, animals (and people, if they behave) — to coexist and flourish as a living ecosystem. As I arrive on a fine, late summer morning, Juliet has just discovered that the local skunks have been at work overnight, eradicating several nests of yellow jackets. It’s a good thing. As we walk through vineyard and vineyard-to-be, Alexis points out a bald-faced hornet’s nest and notes that the hornets aren’t a threat unless threatened (live and let live) and they have a taste for yellow jackets, too. Some animals eat bugs, and so do other bugs, while some weeds and grasses keep down other weeds and grasses. If you know which ones do what, which ones are good and which ones are a nuisance, and apply a little influence to encourage the good guys to go to the top of the food chain, it’s a really good thing.
It doesn’t happen overnight, though. It requires patience, attention and a huge dose of love. Alexis shows me where the new block of syrah will soon be planted, a gently rising knoll crowned by an ancient oak. He and Juliet have noted that it’s the first place to melt after a snowfall, an indication that it’s a warmer spot, hence a good place for the syrah to ripen fully and develop depth and complexity. Already on their second leaf and soon to begin producing fruit are several acres of classic southern French varietals — grenache, carignan, roussanne, marsanne and viognier (several rows of which were planted by PCC wine people on a 2009 field trip). It’s evident that the bond between vineyard, vigneron and vigneronne is an intimate one. One gets the sense that they regard these vines practically as children, so thorough is their awareness of the peculiarities of every foot of vineyard.
Meanwhile, although the wines are “made” with purchased grapes, all show an elegant poise, allowing the character of vineyard to marry with the singularities of each varietal, allowing all to sing as an ensemble. Alexis points out that the key is to subtract the winemaker’s ego from the equation, to interfere as little as possible, ensuring that the vineyard takes center stage. He quotes an anonymous French vigneron who once observed that “one needs to have the courage to do nothing at all.”
Given that philosophy and the promise of fruit soon to come from a vineyard nourished with love, we can’t wait to taste the fruits of this sweet labor.