“Wine, especially Pinot noir wine, is all about place. Plant a pinot vine here and it will taste one way, plant it over there and it will taste a different way. Plant it in the Dundee Hills of Oregon’s Willamette Valley, and it will likely taste of silky red cherries or raspberries with a touch of autumn-dewed forest floor and a smidgen of mysterious minerality. It should be, in short, the very signature of what the world thinks of as Oregon Pinot noir. Oregon Pinot noir did not begin in the Dundee Hills, but it is in the Dundee Hills where Oregon Pinot noir first won its worldwide reputation for greatness.”
– Cole Danehower
Reprinted from Portrait of Portland Magazine, Volume 6
In the autumn of 1964, a young graduate of the famed viticulture and enology program at UC Davis named David Lett gathered 3000 vine cuttings from various California vineyards and just after Christmas headed north to Oregon. He found exactly what he wanted on a south exposed slope in what was then known as the Red Hills of Dundee. Shortly thereafter he planted his first vines and christened The Eyrie Vineyards. Lett wasn’t entirely alone in discovering the Dundee Hills affinity for grapes. Quickly after Lett’s vines went into the ground, new wine growing neighbors joined him on the Dundee Hills, including Dick Erath, Bill Blosser and Susan Sokol Blosser. A few years later, Burgundy itself followed. In 1979, a blind tasting of pinot noir wines was held in Paris. To everyone’s surprise, an upstart wine from Oregon’s Dundee hills outranked many of Burgundy’s best wines. The result put Oregon wine on the world’s stage, persuading iconic Burgundian producer Maison Joseph Drouhin to purchase 97 acres and construct a winery in the Dundee Hills.
Just 28 miles south of Portland, the Dundee Hills American Viticulture Area (AVA) encompasses 6,490 acres. Some 15 million years ago, lava flowed from Northeast Oregon into the Willamette Valley, covering all but the highest peaks with up to 1000 feet of basalt.
The colossal Missoula Floods of 10,000 – 15,000 years ago deposited a blanket of rich sediment on the lowlands, sparing the original red volcanic hills above the 200 ft. elevation mark around the town of Dundee. Today, the 200 ft. contour line defines the Dundee Hills AVA.