CENTRAL WILLAMETTE VALLEY

 

wine house
Image: Kevin Bell

A view of Domaine Drouhin and beyond from the winery’s Dundee Hills vineyard.

There are many very good reasons why the Dundee Hills, which lie just west of the town of Dundee and 15 miles east of Carlton, are often referred to as the heart of Oregon’s wine country. Perhaps the most important, for some, is the fact that this is where David Lett of Eyrie Vineyards planted the first successful commercial pinot noir vineyard in 1965 (although Lett, often called Papa Pinot, has always maintained his winery in nearby McMinnville). On Lett’s heels came Dick Erath’s Erath winery, then Bill Blosser and Susan Sokol Blosser’s Sokol Blosser winery, followed by the Drouhin family, owners of the esteemed Maison Joseph Drouhin estate in Burgundy, who established Domaine Drouhin here in 1987.

For these wine-country pioneers, the hills’ warmer, isolated climate, southeast-facing slopes and deep, volcanic soils were the perfect place to grow grapes. But wind your way along the area’s many curving roads, and you may wonder if it wasn’t the astounding natural beauty (or the spectacular views) that attracted those trailblazers in the first place. Of course, the proof is in the bottle, which is why a visit to just about any of our recommended wineries in the Dundee Hills AVA is essential.

Once you’ve gotten your fill there, continue west to Carlton, an old farming town (population 1,755) that’s not only the center of the Yamhill-Carlton AVA, but a regional winemaking hub in its own right. Its rise as a wine destination is thanks in no small part to the arrival of Ken Wright Cellars in 1994, whose pinot is some of the most sought-after in the state. In the past few years, some dozen wineries, including Scott Paul and Raptor Ridge, have opened winemaking facilities and tasting rooms there too. In fact, there are so many wineries concentrated between Carlton and Dundee that savvy oenophiles now consider a visit to Carlton a requisite part of their Oregon wine education. And so, we think, should you.