Last Saturday, Darby and I had the extreme pleasure of finding our way to the heart of the Dundee Hills. After a quick stop at Dobbes Family Estate in town, we motored west and up the hill toward Domaine Drouhin, except we never found Domaine Drouhin. Instead we found De Ponte Cellars.

In winemaking, as in many things, location is crucial to the enterprise, and De Ponte Cellars is on “the hillside” that is home to several of Oregon’s top producers. De Ponte’s slice of this precious hillside is also home to one of the oldest vineyards in the Willamette Valley. This scenic property was acquired by the Baldwin family in 1999 and soon De Ponte Cellars Winery was born.

According to Dundee Hills Winegrowers Association, the location is mostly about the Jory soils.

This special volcanic soil has excellent minerality and drainage. Also, the Dundee Hills benefits from being drier and warmer than many pockets that surround it. All of these factors together combine to showcase unique characteristics found in the best Pinot noirs from this region. Our wines tend to be very focused with great clarity and complexity. Some of the descriptors are bright red fruits, exotic spices, and a gorgeous minerality in the structure.

So, De Ponte has location, soil, climate and family on its side. De Ponte (pronounced Duh Pon Tay) also has winemaker Isabelle Dutartre. Dutartre learned the art of winemaking in the Burgundy region of France where she’s from, and each of her De Ponte vintages reflects her uncompromising commitment to quality and tradition. To learn more about Dutartre, see this video from Wine Is Serious Business.

I think it’s important to note that another one of “the hillside’s” best winemakers is also a woman–Anna Matzinger at Archery Summit. Pinot is a delicate grape and getting the pure essence of this delicate fruit in the bottle is an art and a science, one being mastered by women. But cheers to anyone who can do it well!

De Ponte also produces pinot noir under the Clay Hills label. We tasted the winery’s various offerings, and the 2008 Clay Hill Pinot Noir at $26 turned out to be the wine we were looking for.

See my iPhone picture of “the hill” in question on Flickr.

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