Of course, we know about Domaine Serene, the gorgeous Oregon winery renowned for world-class Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. But we had never visited before. So when we arrived in June, we reveled in spectacular views, stunning wines and exceptional hospitality. We immediately understood why the Domaine Serene brand is synonymous with luxury, elegance and quality. And our experience was epic, thanks to our passionate, knowledgeable and friendly sommelier Pao Morgenstern. Read on for details.
Our Visit to Domaine Serene
Above all, Domaine Serene’s focus is to make the world’s best Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. So we really looked forward to our first visit to the winery’s Clubhouse. It exceeded our expectations.
Our new friend and Oregon wine expert A.J. Weinzettel suggested that we ask for sommelier Pao Morgenstern to be our host. A.J. writes a popular weekly email newsletter about Oregon wine called Weinnotes. He is also a Domaine Serene wine club member. Lucky for us, Pao was in the building.
First, Pao gave us a glass of refreshing Domaine Serene Rosé, which helped deal with the unexpected June heat wave. The multi-vintage “r” Rosé Version XII is a rich, dry wine, which Pao calls “summer in a glass.” After that, he poured 11 more wines for us — seven more from Oregon and four from France. Our notes are below. But first, here is the Domaine Serene story.
More than 30 years ago, Grace and Ken Evenstad founded Domaine Serene on a 42-acre hilltop estate in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Their goal focused on producing world-class Pinot Noir. They named the winery after their daughter Serene, and their first vineyard after their son, Mark Bradford Evenstad. The first vintage launched in 1990. They established a white wine program with the 1997 Domaine Serene Côte Sud Chardonnay.
Subsequently, their estate expanded to France. In 2015, the Evenstads purchased Château de la Crée, a Burgundy wine estate in the Côte d’Or. They offer this excellent wine under three labels: Château de la Crée, Maison Evenstad and Les Tourelles de la Crée.
In 2017, the Clubhouse at Domaine Serene opened, followed by the Portland Wine Lounge in 2018. One year later, Domaine Serene opened its second wine lounge in Lake Oswego. Likewise, a third wine lounge will open in Bend this fall.
Shortly before our visit, Domaine Serene announced a landmark Burgundy vineyard expansion in the Côte d’Or with the long-held 15-acre Domaine Christian Confuron et fils estate. The resulting wines will begin with the 2022 vintage.
Shortly after our visit, Domaine Serene announced the release of its first sparkling wines, which aged for four years.
Recognition of Domaine Serene
The most-awarded winery in the world at the prestigious Decanter 2020 World Wine Awards, Domaine Serene took home 23 medals, including Best of Show. Château de la Crée and Maison Evenstad wines received an additional nine medals. Last month, wine expert James Suckling scored eight Domaine Serene wines with 95-97 points. These are simply recent scores. Certainly, accolades have poured in for years.
For example, Wine Spectator recognized Evenstad Reserve Pinot Noir as the #3 Wine in the World in 2013. Spectator also named the 2014 Evenstad Reserve Chardonnay the #1 White Wine in the World as well as the #2 Wine in the World. This made Domaine Serene the only winery in the world to receive a Top 3 rating in Wine Spectator for both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
In addition, the Evenstads have donated or raised nearly $20 million for philanthropic causes. Sadly, Ken Evenstad passed away last year. In January, Oregon Wine Press named Ken and Grace Evenstad 2020 Persons of the Year. “As the Willamette Valley wine community continues to mourn Ken’s recent passing in October, Oregon Wine Press would like to celebrate the Evenstads with the OWP 2020 Persons of the Year award. Their tremendous impact on Oregon wine culture and their rich legacy are undeniable.”
In Oregon, Domaine Serene produces wines from six vineyard estates, planted for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Each estate features different soils, clones and microclimates. As a result, the wines are complex and unique. And let’s not forget the limited production French gems from an authentic 15th century Burgundian estate, Château de la Crée in Santenay. As mentioned, we tasted 12 wines, eight from Oregon and four from Château de la Crée and Maison Evenstad.
Château de la Crée Meursault Les Tillets 2015 ($80) and Domaine Serene Dundee Hills Etoile Vineyard Chardonnay 2018 ($90)
Oh my, Chateau de la Cree Meursault Les Tillets 2015 is absolutely the best Chardonnay I have ever tasted. Aromas of hazelnuts, flint and minerals lead into flavors of citrus, pear and vanilla. And then there’s bright acidity and full-bodied richness.
At first taste, Dave preferred Domaine Serene Dundee Hills Etoile Vineyard Chardonnay 2018. Indeed, this wine from Dijon clones in Jory volcanic soil is brighter and crisper than Les Tillets. The nose mirrors the flavors of lemons, grapefruit, peach and green apples. Subtle oak and high acidity result in an appealing, popular Chard.
Château de la Crée Santenay Premier Cru Gravières Chardonnay 2015 ($80)
Wow, we also loved this opulent Burgundy Chardonnay, sourced from one of the great vineyards in Santenay. The French word Gravières means gravel, which is present in the vineyard. Aromatics of rocks, honey and stone fruit lead into more stone fruit flavors and hints of citrus and vanilla. Its minerality brings intensity and complexity, while the honey notes are the signature of Gravières Chardonnay.
Domaine Serene Evenstad Reserve Chardonnay 2016 and 2018 ($65)
This complex, pure and classy wine is the flagship of the Evenstad’s Chardonnay program. With just one sip, we understood why this has been poured for several administrations at the White House. The quality is superb. As mentioned, Wine Spectator called the 2014 vintage the #1 White Wine in the World, and the #2 Wine in the World. Every year, esteemed winemaker Michael Fay blends select barrels of Dijon clones from different estate vineyards. We immediately noticed the consistency between these two vintages. Moreover, James Suckling awarded 96 points to the 2018 Evenstad Reserve Chardonnay. And Wine Enthusiast called it “a standout among the winery’s very strong Chardonnay portfolio.”
Domaine Serene Evenstad Reserve Pinot Noir 2017 ($75)
Likewise, the Evenstad Reserve Pinot Noir is also a flagship wine at Domaine Serene. Pao noted that “flagship” means it’s the standard by which everything else is measured. It has been a benchmark for Oregon Pinot Noir since its first vintage. Wine Spectator recognized this Pinot as the World’s #3 Wine of 2013. This 2017 vintage also drew critical acclaim, with 96 points from James Suckling. It’s a powerful, complex Pinot, with a nose of spices, blackberries and cherries, and flavors of spice, mushrooms, dark fruit and a hint of chocolate.
Château de la Crée Santenay Monopole Clos de la Confrérie 2015 ($95) and Domaine Serene Members’ Limited Edition Pinot Noir 2018 ($65)
Clos de la Confrérie is a unique parcel of 32-year-old vines, nested in the heart of Santenay. These older vines, along with gravel and clay soil, result in an earthy, savory concentration of red and black fruit flavors, with licorice and spicy notes in this stunning 2015 from Château de la Crée.
Meanwhile, James Suckling just awarded a whopping 97 points to the luscious Members’ Limited Edition Pinot Noir 2018. This is the first vintage of a special bottling paying tribute to wine club members. It’s made from select grapes from some of the best vineyards. The nose opens with aromas of black pepper, mushrooms cherries and cocoa. On the palate, juicy dark fruit flavors are laced with spicy, smoky and earthy notes. Gorgeous!
Domaine Serene Abbey Oaks Vineyard Pinot Noir 2018 ($95) and Maison Evenstad Nuits-Saint-Georges Premier Cru Les Rues de Chaux 2016 ($150)
Abbey Oaks Vineyard Pinot Noir 2018 showcases the dark elegant nuances from the winery’s only property in Yamhill-Carlton AVA. Pao told us it is a perfect example of time and place in a bottle. Aromatics of red and dark fruit are mirrored on the palate, in addition to spices and minerality. This small-batch wine is velvety smooth and fantastic. But we loved Maison Evenstad Nuits-Saint-Georges Premier Cru Les Rues de Chaux 2016 the most. You can imagine how exquisite this outstanding wine tasted, being our favorite out of so many stellar wines mentioned above. Dark, intense, balanced and beautiful, this impressive wine can be enjoyed now or cellared up to 15 years.
Grand Cheval 2018 ($85)
Released on Father’s Day, this special wine is dedicated to the memory of Ken Evenstad’s grandfather and his “Grand Cheval” (horse). Pao told us that this also pays homage to Ken, who loved ribeye steak. “This wine has bright acidity to pair with the richness of a ribeye steak.” Walla Walla Syrah is blended with the estate’s Pinot Noir. Therefore, the wine features a fusion of the pepper flavors of Syrah, along with cherry and raspberry from Pinot Noir. This is the ultimate steakhouse wine – so bring on the barbecue!
In conclusion, our time at Domaine Serene marked a highlight of our first visit to Oregon wine country since 2013. The warm and generous hospitality of Pao and other staff, and the incredible wines, combined to a tasting of epic proportions. We definitely will go back. And we recommend you stop by their winery or one of their tasting rooms when you are in Oregon.
Margot and Dave