Dukes Family Vineyards - Willamette Valley, Oregon

Credit: Duke’s Family Vineyards

Diane’s note: A couple weeks ago, when I was visiting family in Oregon’s famous Willamette Valley, I decided to make a day of it with three “VIP wine tastings” … and took my brother, Rob, along to all of them. This review covers Archery Summit in Dayton, Oregon. 

Click here for  more information on The Willamette (pronounced Will-AH-met) Valley (500 wineries!) In addition to this review, see my entries on Archer Vineyard and Archery Summit

Each of these vineyards opened their doors for us in a very V.I.P. way (Duke’s doesn’t even offer tastings except around high-traffic holidays), so be sure to visit their websites and call in advance should you decide to follow in our footsteps. 

Here’s what I discovered.

Duke’s Family Vineyards

520 Dukes Vineyards

The thing I love about tasting events with the owners of vineyards is simple: They’re a lot like chefs. They have this crazy passion for wine making, and their story on how that passion developed, how they arrived at the scene, and why they do what they do every day is as fascinating to me as the wine they produce.

Take, for example, Duke’s Family Vineyards in Willamette Valley in Oregon. Husband and wife team, Pat and Jackie Dukes, were happy wine enthusiasts – they happened to like Pinot Noir very much – but in their search for a restaurant location, they wound up buying a vineyard instead.

“Pat graduated from culinary school and loves everything about being a chef, but we’d spent many years in commercial real estate, instead,” says Jackie.

In 2002, the Tucscon-based couple began looking for restaurant opportunities, happened to attend the annual Wine Celebration event in McMinnville, decided to start looking for restaurant space in the Willamette Valley area and … bought a vineyard instead. They closed the deal on her birthday in 2005.

Much like a scene I imagine from “Under the Tuscan Sun,” the Dukes hired winemaker Gary Andrus who promised to show them the ropes so that they’d be self-sufficient in five years. Successful entrepreneurs from decades of business dealings, the Dukes found themselves (literally) hip deep in vineyard management and wine making. The proven entrepreneurs rose to the challenge (even learning how to drive the bulky tractors) and now, 10 years later, they’re producing wines that are getting a lot of attention.

On a 60-acre site with a 20-acre lease on the property below, Duke’s Family Vineyards has created a sustainable, low-impact vineyard management practice, with micro-lot harvests producing rich, brilliant wines. For the most part, the wines are named after children, ergo the Duke’s Family Vineyard name.

The Alyssa (daughter) is light, layered with earth and spice. Bella (niece) is a rare, 2-barrel lot with rich spices on the front end and chocolate and tobacco on the pallet. Charlotte (granddaughter) is an intense, sophisticated wine as no more than four to six clusters are allowed on the vine. This is a deeper, darker Pinot in theory.

Newest to the scene is Blushing Kate, a Syrah blend that produces a light and crisp rosé. And in 2016, the Dukes will be promoting their first Chardonnay.

The only Pinot not named after a girl they know is the Duke’s Nipple Hill Pinot Noir, a gorgeous entry that bastes in French oak barrels for a smooth and silky world of complexity. It is lovely, even though it prefers cellaring a few years.

Having just completed a modern tasting room (that can also serve as a private retreat with Chef Pat on premises), the couple continues to expand on their “second career” with the clean up of their Dragonfly Reservoir and a growing herd of goat and sheep, complete with frolicking Great Pyrenees protector.

Because Duke’s is zoned as ‘agriculture,’ the tasting room is only allowed to be open to the public three times a year, pre-Thanksgiving, pre-Memorial Weekend, and a Dragonfly Annual Harvest Luncheon for Dragonfly Cellar Club members. You can otherwise contact Dukes for private tasting appointments at (503) 835-0620.