Wine Appellations

Oregon's Dundee Hills

Meridith May

Photo Opener: It’s way cool, deep and quite dense: Melissa Burr, Winemaker at Stoller Vineyards in the Dundee Hills demonstrates the elements of the AVA’s unique qualities: sloping hills, elevation and its deeply layered red, volcanic clay soil

In the last three decades, Oregon has slowly built its reputation on magnificent Pinot Noir.

Pioneers such as David Lett of Eyrie Vineyards; David Adelsheim, Dick Ponzi, Dick Erath and the Sokol Blossers have led the movement that marked Oregon’s initial solid standing in a winemaking theatre. Pinot Noir has topped the marquee, even upstaging some Burgundies in notorious French-sponsored blind tastings in 1979 and again a year later. A second wave of Oregon winemaking pioneers would follow, updating viticultural techniques and technology, constantly improving and showcasing the regions within this comparatively modest State.

With intuition and experimentation as their guiding stars, the relative similarity to Burgundy in climate (Dundee Hills is cooler with a stronger maritime influence), its undulating and sloping hills – although greener and marked with a distinct red-tinged soil – encouraged a Pinot Noir out of the ground that would show itself as not only these dreamers’ right choice, but as their best choice.

 

The Red Hills of Dundee

In the Willamette Valley, Yamhill County’s shining glory, lies yet a smaller territory. The AVA known as Dundee Hills has only been established since 2005, even though David “Papa Pinot” Lett’s Eyrie vineyards were first established there in 1966 with the Willamette Valley’s first vintage of pinot noir, pinot gris and chardonnay in the early ‘70s.

Custom wrapped in its red volcanic basalt and clay soils – known as Jory – this remarkable region, located 28 miles southwest of Portland and 40 miles from the Pacific Ocean, encompasses 6,490 acres (with 1,300 acres of prime vineyards).

Photo D: Jason Lett of Eyrie Vineyards, Leigh Bartholomew of Archery Summit, Gary Horner, Erath Winemaker; Alan Holstein, vineyard manager for Argyle and Alex Sokol Blosser led a seminar on Oregon’s Dundee Hills at the Society of Wine Educators last month.

 

Dundee Hills Wines

In March of this year, 30 wineries and independent vineyard owners, representing 44,000 cases of Dundee Hills wine – the most densely planted grapeland in the State - united to form the Dundee Hills Winegrowers Association (DHWA).

The group defines the AVA as “the heart and soul of Oregon wine,” showcasing exceptional pinot noir, pinot gris and a second wave of chardonnay (see sidebar).

“The Dundee Hills are the epicenter of Oregon Pinot Noir,” says DHWA President Alison Sokol Blosser. “Our red volcanic soils have long served as an expression of place, and a bottle of wine with ‘Dundee Hills’ on the label now pinpoints that origin.”

The common thread in Dundee Hills Pinot Noir is the brightness of red fruits, a lively acidity that keeps the freshness in the wine and an underlying minerality that speaks the language of the Jory soil: dense, concentrated but ultimately elegant.

PHOTO “JORY”: The red Jory soil of the Dundee Hills

 

Stoller, a Family Vineyard and Winery

Photo “Bill & Cathy Stoller”: Bill and Cathy Stoller with their dogs, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Stoller is Oregon’s first winery to receive the Gold-level designation of the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED’s certification process, for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.

 

Transport back to the 1940’s and there would be no vineyards on this prime land atop the Dundee Hills. The location where Stoller Winery exists today was a turkey farm, the largest facility of its kind in Oregon, owned by Bill Stoller’s father and uncle. When that industry ceased to exist, Bill Stoller and his wife Cathy purchased the property in 1993. The natural slopes and rocky soils that would plague the turkey farmers and break their plows are perfect for winegrowers.

Winery partner Harry Peterson-Nedry (the Stollers co-own Chehalem Winery in Newberg with him), Burgundy vigneron Patrice Rion and vineyard consultant Allen Holstein contributed to the realization that this blessed land would be ideal for grapegrowing.

Low yielding and well-drained Jory soil and steep terrain led to an initial 10 acres of Chardonnay and ten acres of Pinot Noir in 1995 and today there are 130 acres of vines, the largest in the Dundee Hills. It now supports 95 acres of Pinot Noir, 22 acres of Chardonnay and the balance to Pinot Gris with some Pinot Blanc and Riesling.

The environmentally sensitive winery is a testament to the Stoller’s philosophy towards a multi-generational commitment. “The goal is to leave it better than we found it,” states Stoller. “We intend to maximize the quality of wine we produce while minimizing the facility’s ecological footprint.”

 The winery’s “green” status includes a solar roof that can generate up to 70 percent of its electrical requirements, a gravity-fed processing system that reduces power while preserving grapes and juice during fermentation and subterranean cellars designed to maintain proper temperatures.

 

Photo C: “Stoller “JV” (jeunes vignes, or young vines”) 2004 Estate Grown Pinot Noir sports a screw cap (we love that!). From its refreshingly melodic ripe cherry notes to its plumy richness, the earthy minerality reminds us (and Bill Stoller) of the sensation often found in a Barolo. (SRP $22, Diane Harder in CA)

 

Lange Estate Winery

PHOTO “Lange”: Jesse and Don Lange, with Maggie (short for Magnum, of course)

Don and Wendy Lange moved to the Dundee Hills in 1987, with the intention of making world class Pinot Noir. Almost 20 years later, their son Jesse is part of the process, full steam ahead as General Manager and Winemaker.

“It’s exciting to see the industry evolving here in Oregon,” Jesse told Patterson’s. “Ten years ago, we were preaching the word about our wines, now it’s progressed to the point of educating the trade and consumer about the AVAs.”

Located on the northeast knoll of the Dundee Hills, with its southeast facing vineyards, Lange was one of the original pioneers of Pinot Gris from Oregon. “We were the first in the U.S. to barrel ferment Pinot Gris – Alsace style,” added Don Lange.

Taking us into the barrel room and tasting the upcoming spectacular properties of the 2005 vintage, Jesse Lange explained, “The last two years Oregon experienced poor bloom conditions – good for quality, not for quantity. I would say ’05 was a phenomenon, possibly the earliest bud break on record (early March) and one of the latest harvests (first week of October). But 2006 will be a bumper crop harvest, at least two tons an acre; just lots of fruit!”

Utilizing nine different Pinot Noir clones on the estate alone and separately barreling additional clones (Pommard and Bien Nacido for example), Jesse points out that he can conduct 300 Pinot Noir “experiments” for great blending options.

What do we love about Lange? You can taste the sunshine and soil in these wines, from the deep dark meaty character from the North Block vineyards to the violets and roses and Swiss chocolate of the silky textured beauties from lower elevation plantings.

Photo “LANGE PINOT NOIR DUNDEE” : (Distributed by Northwest Wines in CA and SW&S of NV)

 

Domaine Drouhin

Photo: David Millman, managing director of Domaine Drouhin, in front of the immaculate “sideways” tanks

“This is a good time for Pinot Noir,” says David Millman, managing partner at Domaine Drouhin, the property inspired by the world-renowned Drouhin family of Burgundy.

The Drouhins brought a priceless credibility to Oregon – and the Dundee Hills. Robert Drouhin not only fell in love with the land when he came out in 1961, but instantly saw the likeness to Burgundy. It was he who restaged the Paris tasting when Eyrie fared so well. His own Beaune version resulted in Eyrie taking second place to a Drouhin Burgundy.

There is a clear vision of house style, whether it is the coffee, lush black fruit and melt-in-your-mouth quality of Domaine Drouhin 2003 Pinot Noir or the earthy sensuality of 2002 Joseph Drouhin Vosne-Romanée. “Veronique Drouhin is the guardian of the Drouhin palate,” Millman insists, referring to the talented latest generation family Winemaker. “Her influence is obvious on both: a signature of length, elegance and finesse.”

PHOTO “Vosne Romanée & DD” (Distributed by Dreyfus Ashby)

 

They Sent in the Clones

Oregon’s Second Wave of Chardonnay

David Adelsheim, Argyle’s Alan Holstein, Tony Rynders of Domaine Serene and David Millman of Domaine Drouhin led a seminar at the Society of Wine Educators conference in Eugene, Oregon to introduce us to ORCA, Oregon’s Chardonnay Alliance.

Why the necessity for the organization?

“The world was beating the path to our door when it came to Chardonnay,” said David Adelsheim, one of the true pioneers of Oregon’s grand wine reputation. While Pinot Noir accolades mounted from the 1970s and into the ‘80s, and the reception of Oregon’s “star” whites – Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc and Riesling – were on the rise, Chardonnay fell flat on its non-dimensional face.

“The answer hit me when I was in Burgundy in 1974,” noted Adelsheim. “Chardonnay grapes are picked there at the same time, while in Oregon, we would always pick Chardonnay two to three weeks later.”

Robert Drouhin and Adelsheim walked through some Dundee Hills vineyards and Drouhin even wondered if what he was looking at was Chardonnay. Something was wrong.

It was the clones. Dijon clones solved the puzzle, the very ones that represents Burgundy.

ORCA came together to rejuvenate Oregon Chardonnay from its overly lean or flagrantly tropical one-note wonders to an updated elegance, more up-front fruit, volume and weight on the palate, balanced acids and minerality and age-worthiness.

Photo “ADELSHEIM”: Adelsheim 2004 “Caitlin’s reserve” Chardonnay revels in candied pears, juicy pineapple and a feminine yet flinty, finish.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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