DUNDEE, Ore. -- When Jim and Susan Sokol Blosser arrived here 30 years ago to plant a small vineyard, Dundee was barely more than a wide spot in a road in the Willamette Valley.
"If you blinked, you were through it," said Susan Sokol Blosser, president of Sokol Blosser Winery.
Today, Dundee is the epicenter of a growing wine industry whose vintages -- particularly its pinot noirs -- are getting recognition around the world.
"People don't ask me anymore whether Oregon is a county in northern California," said Kevin Chambers, who owns a 17-acre vineyard just west of Dundee. "We're accepted as a world-class growing region."
There are 174 wineries in the state, up from 70 in 1990. About 10,500 acres of vineyards are planted in Oregon, double the number in 1990. Last year the state's wine industry produced $200 million in sales.
About 20 new wineries open in Oregon each year, according to the Oregon Wine Advisory Board, which is funded by both the state and the industry. They are mainly small, family-run operations, but big players are also represented.
In 1987, Robert Drouhin of Burgundy moved into Dundee and now produces Domaine Drouhin pinots and other varieties. He sold a controlling interest in his wineries to the $6 billion Japanese conglomerate Snow Bank Milk Products Co. Ltd. of Tokyo.
Land in the Dundee Hills that sold for $500 an acre in the late 1960s now costs $14,000 per acre.
Streams of tourists enter the valley on weekends for tours and wine-tasting. They can take helicopter tours of the wineries, stay at $150-a-night bed and breakfasts, and go on hot-air balloon rides. Local pinot noir can fetch up to $200 a bottle at Dundee's several gourmet restaurants.
Respect for Oregon wines is growing around the country.
Romy Dorotan, who runs the wine cellar at New York's chic Southeast Asian Cendrillon restaurant, says he prefers Oregon's pinots to those of California.
Bernard Sun, head sommelier at Montrachet Restaurant in New York, says Oregon pinots are not up to the standards of the finest Burgundies, but that's understandable.
"Oregon's wine industry is a relatively young one. The Burgundians do have a couple of hundred years' head start," he said.
Because of the relatively small quantity of grapes grown and finicky climate, Oregon's winemakers focus on quality.
"We will never be a region that produces inexpensive wines," said Chambers. "What we can do here is produce an extremely high-quality grape that by its nature produces an expensive wine."
Most vines in Oregon are hand-pruned, harvests are hand-picked and the grapes producing pinot noirs and pinot gris are thin-skinned. That makes them difficult to handle on a large scale with machinery, discouraging large-scale growers like those in eastern Washington or California, says Jim Bernau, president of the Willamette Valley Vineyard.
Quality over quantity also means high prices.
An Archery Summit Estate 1998 pinot noir, for example, runs $100 a bottle; only 125 cases were made. In a recent Wine Spectator testing session, eight top-scoring pinots were $60 a bottle or more.
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