Friday, April 16, 2010

The Wines of Duckhorn Vineyards, Napa Valley, US

Picture: Christian G.E. Schiller and Dan Duckhorn

The Wines of Duckhorn Vineyards, Napa Valley, US

At Pearson's in Washington DC, I had the pleasure of participating in a Duckhorn Vineyards tasting with Owner and Founder Dan Duckhorn.

Duckhorn Vineyards

Duckhorn Vineyards is a 20.000 cases winery based in St. Helena, California. Margaret and Dan Duckhorn started Duckhorn Vineyards in 1976 with eight investors. Though they have often made outstanding Cabernet Sauvignon, they are best known for Merlot, a variety that they helped pioneer in Napa Valley. In 2007, GI Partners, a private equity firm, purchased a controlling interest in Duckhorn Wine Company at a valuation believed to exceed $250 million.

Today, along with its three production facilities, Duckhorn comprises seven vineyards comprising 168 acres in Napa and four vineyards totaling 153 acres in Anderson Valley. The Napa properties are located in five different appellations: the (proposed) Calistoga AVA, Howell Mountain, St. Helena, Yountville and Napa Valley. In addition to the Duckhorn, Paraduxx and Goldeneye brands, the company also has two second labels: Decoy, which uses fruit not included in Duckhorn; and Migration, made with grapes from the Anderson Valley properties. Prices for the brands range from about $30 for Decoy up to $95 for single-vineyard Duckhorn Cabernets. The company currently has 75 employees.

Dan Duckhorn

For over thirty years, Dan Duckhorn has been a leader in the Napa Valley wine community. A native of northern California, Dan earned his Masters in Business Administration in 1962 from the University of California at Berkeley. In 1976, Dan and his wife Margaret co-founded Duckhorn Vineyards with a small group of friends. Influenced by what he had learned on a journey to France, Dan decided that the Napa Valley was ideal for the cultivation of Bordeaux varietals. Going against the grain of what other local producers were doing, Dan decided against producing Chardonnay. Instead, he made the decision to focus his passion and resources on the production of a world-class Napa Valley Merlot. Though many other wineries were using Merlot as a blending grape, Dan pioneered the crafting of a premium stand-alone Napa Valley Merlot. Dubbed "Mr. Merlot" by Frank Prial of the New York Times, Dan is a highly respected leader in the wine industry.

The Wines we Tasted


Winery Notes: "Since 1982, Duckhorn Vineyards has been crafting a Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc that has become a benchmark for the varietal in North America. Expanding on this rich winemaking tradition, Decoy Sauvignon Blanc allows our winemaking team the opportunity to explore a different expression of Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc. Made using grapes from top independent growers, our Decoy Sauvignon Blanc is fermented exclusively in stainless steel to preserve its lively aromas and bright flavors. The result is an enticing wine that highlights vibrant citrus and lemongrass layers." $20


Winery Notes: "Building on the traditions established by our acclaimed Goldeneye and Migration Pinot Noirs, Decoy Pinot Noir continues Duckhorn Wine Company's exploration of the depth and diversity of Anderson Valley winegrowing. Decoy Pinot Noir allows our winemaking team to highlight a distinctly plush and approachable expression of Pinot Noir that is crafted for more youthful enjoyment. The resulting wine offers bright red-fruit flavors of Bing cherry, raspberry and cranberry, alongside hints of toasty oak." $30


Winery Notes: "This appealing Napa Valley bottling highlights the complexity of the Cabernet Sauvignon varietal. Since 1978, Duckhorn Vineyards has been producing Cabernet Sauvignon that embodies the flavorful complexity of Napa Valley winegrowing and offers classic Cabernet elements of currant, cherry, plum and olive." $30


Winery Notes: "Our Paraduxx winemaking team has been crafting a world-class red blend using Napa Valley Zinfandel since 1994. Decoy Zinfandel allows us to explore this robust and appealing grape as a stand-alone wine. It offers the concentration and complexity that has made the Napa Valley famous, while highlighting classic Zinfandel elements of raspberry, strawberry jam, white pepper, cedar and spice." $30


Winery Notes: "A complex blend of grapes from the greater Napa Valley and seven of its acclaimed appellations, this wine also incorporates a significant amount of fruit from our Estate vineyards. The result is a wine that strikes an effortless balance between dark fruit, oak and tannins. Classic Cabernet elements of black currant, dark cherry, plum and raspberry are accentuated by more subtle layers of mint and black olive. Though a big, structured and age-worthy wine, the tannins are beginning to soften, framing both the fruit and the oak-inspired vanilla and cocoa notes." Wine Spectator 91 points. $70


Winery Notes: "In 1880 the St. Helena Star contended that Howell Mountain "would be to California what Medoc is to France." In 1983, Howell Mountain was approved as a viticulture appellation, confirming what the turn-of-the-century growers already knew about the uniqueness of the region. We believe that this wine will be the Medoc of our portfolio. This is a well-balanced wine with medium weight, beautiful texture, bright acid, and integrated, supple tannins. The aroma is elegant, with elements of earth, black cherry, vanilla and clove, accompanied by a slightly meaty character. On the palate, the wine is layered with rich fruit flavors, most notably blueberry, blackberry, and plum, and accented by subtle notes of lavender and sage." Wine Enthusiast 90 points $80


Winery Notes: "Three Palms Vineyard is legendary in the world of California Merlot and for good reason. A hot site with free-draining soils, Three Palms consistently delivers focused red fruit flavors balanced by an austere minerality, which contributes to elegant aging potential. The 2006 Three Palms Vineyard Merlot delivers all the vibrant fruit one would expect, with layers of red currant, raspberry and black cherry underscored by elements of piecrust, strawberry, caramel and wet stone. The tannins are dry and elegant, leading to a long, jammy finish." $90


Winery Notes: "Gowan Creek is the home to our new winery and offers a perfect mid-valley winegrowing location that combines warmer Anderson Valley elements with coastal fog and cooling influences from the northern end of the valley. As a result, this wine is a classic expression of Pinot Noir, with signature aromatics, lush extraction and rich texture. The nose displays the wild blueberry and blackberry layers that have come to define Gowan Creek, supported by notes of loganberry, char, black pepper and dried meats. On the palate, the attack is immense, the tannins long and the acidity persistent, all combining to create a wine with sumptuous, dark- fruit-driven complexity." Wine Enthusiast 94 points $90

Duckhorn Vineyards, Napa Valley

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