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IT’S A SMALL community not unlike so many others in Oregon’s rural Willamette Valley. But this little town is the heart and soul of wine country.

Named after a Scottish town, Dundee has long been agricultural. It wasn’t until the late 1960s and early ’70s when such pioneers as David Lett, Dick Erath, Bill Blosser and Susan Sokol Blosser arrived and began planting pinot noir in the ancient red soils.

The resulting grapes became remarkable wines, turning a dream into an industry. Today, wines from the Dundee Hills are famous with pinot noir lovers.

And rightfully so.

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In 1979, a pinot noir from The Eyrie Cellars made by Lett finished high in an international tasting in France. While it wasn’t nearly as dramatic as the “Judgment of Paris” tasting in 1976 (which put California on the world wine map), it did raise plenty of eyebrows and ultimately encouraged famed Burgundian vintner Robert Drouhin to buy land here and open Domaine Drouhin Oregon.

Of the six small winemaking regions in the northern Willamette Valley, the Dundee Hills wines are perhaps the most distinctive. The wines from these hills tend to be bright, elegant and suggestive of high-toned red fruit such as Rainier cherries, raspberries and cranberries. It’s remarkable, really. In blind tastings of Oregon pinot noirs, the wines of the Dundee Hills almost always stand out.

Today, some of Oregon’s biggest stars are in the Dundee Hills, including Erath Winery (now owned by Ste. Michelle Wine Estates), Archery Summit, Stoller Family Estate and Argyle Winery.

In addition, Dundee is home to superb restaurants, including the Dundee Bistro, Tina’s and Red Hills Market. (For a completely different dining experience — including cold beer and great burgers — head to Lumpy’s Tavern.) And some terrific B&Bs, including the Black Walnut Inn, capture the essence of wine country.

About the only downside to Dundee is the traffic. Highway 99W goes through town and can be snarled at certain times, especially when people who live in Portland head to the coast for the weekend.

But just head into the hills, where many of the wineries have tasting rooms amid beautiful vineyards, to soak in Oregon wine history and some great wines.

Andy Perdue is a wine author, journalist and international judge. Learn more about wine at www.greatnorthwestwine.com.