Explore Oregon’s Dundee Hills on a wine tasting day trip from Portland for great Pinot Noir and other Dundee wines at De Ponte Cellars.
All it takes for an excellent day trip from the Portland area is a winery appointment, a great idea for lunch, and some good friends. My friend had a wine club selection to pick up at De Ponte Cellars in Dundee, and since I had been to this scenic winery overlooking the vineyards before, I readily said yes to going. Our wine-tasting day trip appointment was made for a weekday at 11 am, just when the tasting room opened, strategically timed to have lunch after a leisurely tasting. Here are the highlights of our day sipping Dundee wine in Oregon’s Willamette Valley.
Dundee Hills in the Famous Willamette Wine Region
The Dundee Hills AVA was formally approved in 2005 as a sub-appellation of the Willamette AVA, but the area’s importance was recognized much earlier. Many of the vineyards in this area of rich red volcanic soil (often called the Red Hills) were the earliest planted in the Willamette Valley. De Ponte Cellars is the site of one of the oldest vineyards in the Willamette Valley. The property we would be tasting was purchased by the Baldwin family, the current owners, in 1999, and they established De Ponte Cellars Winery soon after.
The Dundee Hills AVA is historically known for Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, as well as other varieties of grapes. We enjoyed our drive through the countryside south of Portland, past Champoeg State Heritage Area on the Willamette River to De Ponte Cellars in Dayton, where my friend looks forward to each year’s Pinot release.
Award-Winning Pinot Noir Brings Fame to the Region
The first Pinot Noir grapes in this land of rolling hills and well-draining soils were planted in 1965 by winemaker David Lett who dubbed his vineyard The Eyrie Vineyard. Some names you will recognize today—such as Erath and Sokol Blosser—along with other noted winemaking families, planted these early vineyards. They knew that this area, with the ocean breezes coming in from the Coast Range, was an excellent cool-climate winegrowing region. The area burst upon the wine scene when Eyrie Pinot Noir placed among the top three wines in the 1979 Gault-Millau French Wine Olympiades, beating out more famous French wines, some from Burgundy, the birthplace of Pinot Noir.
Wine Tasting Day Trip Begins with Our Tasting at De Ponte Cellars
The Dundee area is known for excellent wine with a laid-back tasting experience. You may taste in a barn, a deck overlooking the vineyards, or a small tasting room lined with barrels. There are more elegant and larger settings, but I love sticking to the small producers with the more intimate tasting experiences. Many times, the person telling you about the wines is a member of the winemaking family.
When I first visited wineries in Dundee, most were in plain sight of Hwy 99W, which ran straight through the little town. I remember when Duck Pond Cellars opened, and we were wine-tasting novices. The tasting room wasn’t crowded, and the tastings were free. I loved the ornithological art on the labels and, at the time, selected my wine according to the color of the wine and the beauty of the duck. But now, at least 100 vineyards are in the area, and most of the tasting rooms require reservations and a tasting fee. My friends and I have learned and grown with the area, and I now no longer buy my wine because of the label’s beauty!
Perfect Weather with Perfect Dundee Wine
We arrived for our 11 am appointment and were ushered to a deck table with a view of rolling hills, vineyards, and evergreen trees. We were fortunate as our friend was a wine club member and had complimentary tastings for us. The usual tasting fee of $20 includes sampling five De Ponte current releases.
2018 Meon de Bourgogne
Our tastings were served at the table; we could linger and savor each wine and enjoy chatting with the staff members about the wines, the weather, and the views. It was a warm, sunny day, so the 2018 Melon de Bourgogne was ideal. Its light fruity flavor with citrus on the finish was refreshing. But we were there to savor and compare the Pinot Noir wines.
2018 Clay Hill Pinot Noir
The 2018 Clay Hill Pinot Noir was light despite its rich color. I loved it. It’s a great everyday wine I like to buy (I could fit only one bottle in my suitcase, so the 2018 Clay Hill was it!).
We then went through a tasting of several vintages of Pinot Noir, all of which my friend, who had belonged to the wine club for years, could easily comment on and differentiate between. The conversation and wine flowed, and a beautiful calico winery cat came over for some attention after basking in the sunshine. We all purchased wine, and the staff member brought the heavy boxes to the car for us. Before leaving, we strolled around the winery gardens and soaked in the sunshine and beautiful scenery before driving down the steep hill back into central Dundee.
Red Hills Market Lunch
Of course, no wine-tasting day trip from Portland is complete without lunch. The Red Hills Market is just off Hwy 99 in Dundee. It has a large general store building and an open-air tent in the back. Red Hills Market is known for excellent gourmet sandwiches and wood-fired pizzas.
Grab a craft beer and a local wine, and you can while away another hour or two in Dundee. After perusing the shop with all the gourmet goodies, you order at the counter.
I was hungry for pizza, and they didn’t disappoint. The staff brings your meal to you hot from the kitchen.
By then, it was relatively warm out, so we were happy to have the tent’s shade and a light breeze. As we enjoyed our lunches, we almost forgot that Oregon is known for rain. It just wasn’t happening the week I visited, and I was glad.
Taking Advantage of the Bypass on Your Wine Tasting Day Trip from Portland
On my last visit several years ago, we were frustrated with the traffic back-up in little Dundee. This time, the bypass built to relieve congestion on Highway 99W from Newberg to Dundee was open. We could avoid much of the traffic coming from Portland by taking the four-mile expressway extending from Highway 219, south of Newberg, to Highway 99W. There was much more countryside to see, and the traffic flow was so much better.
Dundee Hills Wine Recommendations
We spent our time in the Dundee area on a very relaxed wine-tasting day trip and just went to one winery. But we also recommend a few others if you want a full day of wine tasting.
The Four Graces
The Four Graces, with the tasting room in a quaint farmhouse, is known for rich, complex wines and hearty pinots. I enjoyed a holiday event there one December where we enjoyed wine pairings with vendors, such as the chocolate maker at a lovely table filled with gourmet chocolate truffles. It’s been many years, and I still remember the damp barn with the hand-made chocolates and Four Graces Pinot Noir.
Physician-owned Alexana Winery is another winery with a spectacular view and an elegant tasting room with a deck that takes advantage of it. This small-production winery features Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, and Chardonnay.
A little farther up the road, you’ll find Domaine Divio in Newberg. It is a small winery with a decidedly French feel to the atmosphere and the wines. The owner is a fourth-generation Burgundian vintner who studied winemaking in France. They desire to create “the perfect Pinot.”
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Wine Tasting Day Trip to Dundee, Oregon
For more ideas in Dundee Wine Country, see the Travel Dundee website with an interactive map. Our Wander writers and wine experts have plenty of other places to enjoy wine tasting. And, because of the popularity of the Dundee area, you’ll need a reservation to taste on your wine-tasting day trip.