Dundee, Damn It!
California’s Santa Barbara wine region might have captured Hollywood’s attention for its Pinot Noir wines in the film “Sideways”, but Oregon State is producing the finest Pinot Noir in America. Oregon, pronounced ory-gun (not oruh-gone) is coming into its own. And as is the case with all maturing wine regions, the state is being divvied up into officially recognized wine districts, known in France as Appellations and in the States as AVAs or American Viticultural Areas.
One of the recent Oregon AVAs to gain recognition is the Dundee Hills, an area formed some 15-17 million years ago when blistering lava from Washington heatedly spilled over the Oregon border. Dundee Hills is home to some 30 wineries and is a micro-AVA in the heart of Oregon’s most important wine region, the Willamette Valley. The Willamette (Will-AM-it) Valley is Oregon’s largest wine region, but suffers from chronic mispronunciation ultimately leading the valley to produce promotional stickers declaring, “It’s Willamette, damn it.”
Oregon was pumping out passable wine early in the 19th Century, but it was not until David Lett “Papa Pinot” of Eyrie Vineyards made his way to the red hills of Dundee that Oregon’s place in the wine world began to take shape.
Papa Pinot sought a fine cool climate site for planting Pinot Noir and found it in the Northern Willamette Valley’s Dundee Hills. Fifteen years later, his inspired Pinot Noir took third place in a Parisian wine Olympiad sponsored by the highly regarded French publisher Gault Millau. When Eyrie’s Pinot Noir outranked hundreds of entries, including a number of revered Burgundies, the French wine industry was stunned. In disbelief, eminent Burgundian vintner, Robert Drouhin, staged a rematch, this time in Beaune, the epicentre of Burgundy itself. Eyrie proved its Pinot Noir was no fluke by placing second, less than a point behind Drouhin’s 1959 Chambolle-Musigny. Not long thereafter, savvy Drouhin bought land within sight of Eyrie Vineyards, setting up the first French joint venture in Oregon, Domaine Drouhin Oregon.
As the Dundee Hills AVA was carved out of the Willamette Valley only twelve months ago, few Pinot Noir labels will specify their Dundee Hills origin yet. Top producers from this district include Archery Summit, Argyle, Domaine Drouhin Oregon, Erath, Eyrie, Domaine Serene, Sokol Blosser Winery and Stoller Vineyards. Excellent wineries in the larger Northern Willamette Valley include Elk Cove and the superb Panther Creek.
Dundee Pinot Noir chases Burgundian styled Pinot Noir and rivals that of New Zealand, but with slightly softer acid. Watch for raspberry, cherry and black- cherry fruit with either delicate lavender or violet nuances or spicy clove hints. These are elegant wines. And while the “It’s Willamette, Damn it” campaign has appeal, surely the new Dundee Hills AVA will soon enlist the help of Paul “Crocodile Dundee” Hogan to draw Hollywood’s attention?