I’d heard a lot about Oregon Pinot Noir, and thought about visiting Willamette Valley to see what all the fuss is about. This month, as part of a road trip to Portland, I finally made it happen. Some friends and I spent a day near Dundee, an area regarded as the epicenter of the Oregon wine industry, where early wine pioneers began planting Pinot Noir in the 60’s.
As we drove through Dundee and began seeing all the tasting rooms on 99W, we couldn’t help but wonder where all the vineyards were. It turns out the vineyards and scenery are off the beaten path to the west on NE Worden Hill Road.
We started our day at Argyle Winery, which specializes in Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Sparkling Wine. The wines here were very nice, although a tad on the expensive side. I would recommend tasting the 2000 Extended Tirage Brut, which is crisp, clean and absolutely danced on my tongue. I was also impressed by their 2007 Spirithouse Pinot Noir, with its silky smooth mouthfeel and berry flavors.
Next we headed westward and into the hills to visit Erath. The wines here are moderately priced, and this was one of the few wineries we visited that would waive the tasting fee with a purchase of $30 or more. Their 2007 Battle Creek Pinot Noir was impressive, and I also took home a bottle of their 2006 Estate Pinot Noir, which incidentally was $30 and a good value in my opinion.
The grounds at Domaine Serene are exquisite, almost like a country club. The tasting room feels like you’re in someone’s mansion. If you plan on visiting, you should be aware that the tasting fee ($15) and wines are on the expensive side. My favorite here was the 2008 Jerusalem Hill Vineyard Pinot Noir.
Finally, we visited Dobbes Family Estate, which was a real pleasure. The tasting room was modest and warm, the folks behind the tasting bar were very friendly, and Joe Dobbes (owner and winemaker) even came through and introduced himself to us. The 2009 Grand Assemblage Pinot Noir was delightful and very accessible at $28. Joe has another label called “Wine by Joe”. These are meant to be unpretentious, accessible everyday wines to be enjoyed with food. The 2008 Pinot Noir was fruity, balanced and just $19.
I’ve tasted a lot of Pinot Noir from California, particularly from Russian River Valley, and Dundee hills Pinot Noir is very different.
By and large the Dundee hills Pinot Noir I tasted tends to be lighter in body and has less concentrated fruit flavors. In looking at the wines, you’ll also notice they tend to be much lighter in color. Some say Pinot Noir here follows a more traditional Burgundian style. Other folks I spoke to say the wetter Oregon climate leads to less concentration in the berries, particularly if rain occurs before harvest.
Trying this different style of Pinot Noir was a great experience for me and I look forward to visiting some other Oregon AVAs in the future.