Eleni Papadakis, winemaker at Domaine Serene

We were at the end of a busy night, so I cut to the chase:  How’d you land such a sweet job?  Well, she responded in her easy-going, unpretentious, earth-mother sort of way, “a lot of years of hard work.” 

The wine world has a well-deserved reputation for snobbery and hoity-toityness and yet we get winemaker after winemaker in here who are just an easy going, unpretentious lot.  And yes, the winemaker from the ultra-premium Oregon Pinot producer, Domaine Serene, was another salt of the earth sort of gal.  But she’s serious about what she does and her love of these excellent wines shines through.  In the middle of what we hope is the worst recession of our lifetime, she sold us out of a mountain of wines ranging from $50 to $140 per bottle.  Okay, with a case discount (and most people bought cases!), you can knock off 20%.  The point is still clear.

As you can tell by her name, Eleni grew up in a Greek/American household and with the Mediterranean influence, she said someone was always brewing something somewhere.  In high school, she did a year abroad in Germany, landing with a family in rural Baden Baden.  Her German is excellent, by the way.  She still visits her host family and she said that this junior year abroad played an important role in her development.  She didn’t elaborate, but my feeling is that it had to do with her developing sense of independence & adventure as well as the opportunity for cultural exchange & understanding.  Simply said, it changes you to live abroad and I had the impression she was grateful for this opportunity and impact it had on her life. 

In college she studied philosophy and then followed her father’s footsteps into law, but was dissatisfied with her experience in this field.  At some point in her studies, she landed a part-time job at a winery tasting room in Santa Cruz.  It was through this job that she discovered/reconnected with her interest in the analytical side of winemaking combined with the social, temperamental, emotionally-charged, Mediterranean-rooted aspects of creating wine.  Following her heart on this one, she went back to college to learn the science of winemaking.  After finishing, she did internships around the world, including Champagne, where she said she was gladly paid in food & drink.  Back in the U.S., work for nearly 15-years with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in the Santa Cruz Mountains, moving to Oregon in early 2008. Initially she was hired as the Associate Winemaker at Domaine Serene, working with Drew Voit (former associate winemaker) as the Consulting Winemaker but was promoted to Head Winemaker within her first year(though she requested to continue blending work with Drew Voit for two full years to maintain consistency).  

She said it’s such a pleasure working for the Evenstad’s because they are dedicated to the tradition that they’ve built up of producing superior Pinot Noir and that they’re willing to make the tough short-term decisions for the long-term preservation of their name which is associated with Oregon Pinot Noir of the highest  quality.  

Because Eleni was so fun to listern to in her (often anthropomorphic) descriptions of the wines, I’ve tried to capture close to what she said during our inteview:

Domaine Serene 2007 Coeur Blanc  (limited) $78.99 | Case $71.99
With this wine, we’re just fermenting the juice of the grape so that it’s light in color, but not in its flavor/texture profile. In fact I find the wine quite rich. What is ‘light’ is the ridiculously careful pressing of the grapes to extract the ‘white heart’ of the Pinot Noir.  I have a love-hate relationship with this wine because it’s a pain in the backside [explaining that it’s a time sensitive process that she had stop everything she’s doing at a particular moment and race over to deal with the grapes].  It’s a little crazy to take your best Pinot Noir lots and turn them into white wine – but people love it.
Domaine Serene 2007 Clos Du Soleil Chardonnay  $49.99 | Case $44.99
I am thrilled to death with the ’07 Chardonnays – there’s magic in those wines!  I love the crisp, fresh characteristics – “just a lot of brilliance.  They sparkle.”

Domaine Serene 2007 Yamhill Cuvée Pinot Noir WA90 $47.99 | Case $43.99
This wine is “pretty”. It’s a snapshot of the evolution of the wine. I think it’s going to develop into an elegant wine.

Domaine Serene 2006 Evenstad Reserve Pinot Noir WS92 $63.99 | Case $57.99
This wine [their flagship] is everything a wine should be. It’s a culmination of a lot of magic and a lot of hard work.

Domaine Serene 2006 Grace Pinot Noir (limited) (93 pts Parker)  $142.99 | Case $124.99
This vineyard has grown into its name.  The wine is feminine, graceful, the tannins are really elegant. It’s something quite exotic, not a classic Pinot. It can be a little herbaceous with tea-like characteristics.  Something elegant in the tannic structure. When I took a sip tonight, I thought “silk pajamas”.

Domaine Serene 2006 Jerusalem Hill Pinot Noir (limited) WS92 $79.99 | Case $71.99
When I was little, my dad was a rancher and one of the cattlemen had a horse that was rambunctious, adolescent, very reliable, but strong-willed.  That’s this wine.  Smoky, red smoke with blue plum.  I originally thought this vineyard would be an earlier harvest, but it has a different soil profile and it has ended up being one of our latest to harvest.  I used to call this wine “the teenager”, but now it’s just becoming a strong-willed young adult. This wine is for people who think they don’t like Pinot Noir or that Pinot is wimpy.

 Eleni, you were a delight and we welcome you back with open arms!

Cheers to everyone as you enjoy these wines.  Note to our customers, we also carry Domaine Serene’s Roadblock series, which wasn’t in the lineup at the tasting, but is available.