Wine Country Itinerary: Dundee Hills AVA

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By Robert P. Farmer

When the wine discussion turns to Oregon the discussion usually settles in the Willamette Valley. Though it's far from the state's only wine-producing region worth talking about, it is Oregon's leading wine territory, and is home to some two-thirds of the state's vineyards and wineries and has understandably dominated the topic. There are more than 200 wineries in the Valley, a number that has grown exponentially in the past 20 years. And although the region is often considered as a whole, in fact there are six sub-appellations in Willamette--Chehalem Mountains, Dundee Hills, Eola-Amity Hills, McMinnville, Ribbon Ridge, and Yamhill Carlton. Each is interesting for its own reasons, and to best grasp the complexity and diversity of the Valley, it's best to take each appellation as its own entity. Let's start with Dundee Hills.
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Oregon is of course widely known for its pinot noirs. That reputation took root in Dundee Hills, where the earliest pinot noirs were produced. Today the burgeoning AVA is a destination unto itself, populated of course by great wineries, but also by charming inns and restaurants. All of it--this friendly little slice of Oregon Wine Country--has sprouted atop the very clay and loamy soil that continues to give root to some of the best pinot noirs in America.
Stop 1: Winderlea Vineyard & Winery
The Winderlea Vineyard & Winery is stylish slice of life in the otherwise unassuming Dundee Hills. Producers of high-end, limited production pinot noir, Winderlea burst onto the scene in 2005, opened by a duo that envisioned wines that represented the upper echelon of Dundee AVA potential. To best present that idea, they also opened earlier this year a stunning, sustainably built 4000 square foot tasting room, complete with a commercial kitchen, from which food pairings can be hurried out to eager visitors. At select times of year, the winery also offers three-course wine-paired lunch for groups as large as 12l; reservations required.
Tasting Room: Open Fri-Sun, 11am-4pm., 8905 Worden Hill Road, Dundee, 503-554-5900
Tasting Fee: $10.

Stop 2: Erath Winery
Arguably one of the best-known Oregon wineries, Erath is definitely one of the stalwarts. Established In 1967 by Dick Erath, the winery has become a benchmark for Oregon pinot noir. Today, Erath produces three designations of the grape, each having a rabid following in reaches far outside the Pacific Northwest. The charming, friendly tasting room is a great place to discuss the history of Willamette Valley wine with those who were around to witness it. Cellar tours and group tastings are available by appointment.
Tasting Room: open daily 11am-5pm, 9409 NE Worden Hill Road, Dundee, 503-538-3318;
Tasting Fee: complimentary tasting flights, fees charged for premium wines.

Stop 3: Torii Mor Winery
Though the current winery was founded in 1993, the wines here are from vines that are among the oldest plantings in the AVA, dating as far back as 1972. The winery remains a small-lot, boutique-style producer of premium pinot noir, crafted in the Burgundy style. Several wines in the catalog achieve exceptional status, earning critical praise and accolades. The tasting room is intimate, with Japanese influences throughout that impart a Zen-like serenity--the better to be "as one" with your wine experience. The lovely garden area is also designed in the Japanese aesthetic and provides a peaceful setting for visiting tasters.
Tasting Room:  open daily 11am-5pm., 18325 NE Fairview Drive, Dundee, 503-554-0105;
Tasting Fee:  $5

Stop 4: Lange Estate Winery
Don and Wendy Lange are pioneers in Oregon's single vineyard pinot noir production and in barrel-fermented Pinot Gris. Their winery is an outpost of quality, and a leader since its founding in 1987 in the charge to place the state on the global winery map. Today the family-run winery holds firm to those original varietals, which also includes top-notch chardonnay, and the winery continues to welcome visitors in search of Oregon pinot noir yardsticks and a cozy picnic ground upon which to enjoy them.
Tasting Room: open daily 11am-5pm., 18380 NE Buena Vista Drive, Dundee, 503-538-6476
Tasting Fee: $5.

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