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Duckhorn vineyard view at sunset

Duckhorn Portfolio Wine Blog

Posts written by Neil Bernardi, Vice President of Winemaking  and many special guest bloggers. This collection of insights on winemaking, farming, entertaining and more is a great way to learn about the excitement of winery life and tips for enjoying the wines we produce.

Neil Bernardi - Vice President, Winemaking

Migration Harvest Complete

Congratulations to Bo Felton for finishing the Migration harvest! He brought his last tons in yesterday, some Dutton Ranch Chardonnay from the Triple JS Ranch. As with Goldeneye, this represents a record early year. Bo has many open top and barrel ferments to watch over yet, which is no small amount of work given how finicky chardonnay barrel fermentation can be. We tasted through his barrels the other day and there are many compelling and complex wines in the cellar. Nice job Bo!

Barrel Fermentation - Chardonnay

Time Posted: Sep 22, 2015 at 8:13 AM Permalink to Migration Harvest Complete Permalink
Neil Bernardi - Vice President, Winemaking

Malbec Challenge

The winemaking team has received an extra challenge this year – they will be going toe to toe in a winemaking battle royale for the ages. They will be testing their winemaking skill and mettle in an Iron Chef-style ferment off. The common ingredient? Malbec from our Ridgeline Vineyard. The winning team will be showered in glory, plus receive a matchless prize selected by yours truly.  Here are the details:

  • Each team has received 2 tons from the same block of Malbec.
  • The harvest date was determined by our very own PJ Alviso so the playing field is even.  
  • Final judgment will happen on or around August 1, 2016.

The winner shall be determined as follows:

  • A carefully selected panel of DWC insiders will taste the wines double blind and rank based on pure preference. This score will represent 75% of the total judgment.
  • After the tasting, the winemaking teams will present the techniques or thought process they used, or didn’t use, to make the wine. The judges will be looking at creativity, innovativeness, new (or very old) techniques, and general thoughtfulness when issuing their score, which will represent 25% of the total judgment.  

I have tasted a few of them already and am excited to see the final results!

winemaking - malbec harvest

Time Posted: Sep 21, 2015 at 4:55 PM Permalink to Malbec Challenge Permalink Comments for Malbec Challenge Comments (1)
Neil Bernardi - Vice President, Winemaking


Congratulations to the Goldeneye team for completing our Anderson Valley harvest on Friday! This is the earliest Goldeneye harvest on record, and ranks up there with other early harvests like 2004. While they brought in their last fruit, there is still much work to be done finishing ferments, pressing, and barreling down. Michael Fay says everything is tasting great, another banner year for Goldeneye wines!

Check out this picture of most of the team last week on Tie Dye Friday, how cool are these guys?

Goldeneye - winemaking team

Time Posted: Sep 20, 2015 at 3:17 PM Permalink to Congrats! Permalink
Neil Bernardi - Vice President, Winemaking

Filling Barrels with Juice

I had the great pleasure of working in the cellar yesterday with the awesome Paraduxx team. As you can imagine, they had a very busy day planned and had a lot to accomplish before the day was over. I was so lucky to be working with Alfonso Hurtado, pictured below, who has been with DWC for over 15 years, filling barrels with Duckhorn Chardonnay juice for barrel fermentation. There are few cellar operations as fun as this – crisply lined up barrel pyramids, delicious Chard juice, and the smell of toasty oak barrels and nascent fermentation around you. The process takes a lot of concentration as one is juggling two filling wands at a time, and the barrels have to be precisely filled so they don’t overflow during fermentation. Many thanks to the Paraduxx team, and especially Alfonso, for letting me hang out with them for the day!

paraduxx - filling barrels

Time Posted: Sep 17, 2015 at 8:46 AM Permalink to Filling Barrels with Juice Permalink
Neil Bernardi - Vice President, Winemaking

Goldeneye Gewurtz

Check out this photo of the delicious Goldeneye Gewürztraminer in grape form. This was picked last Friday off of our Confluence vineyard, and tasted amazing.  Gewurtz is one of the tastiest grapes (for me) because of its high terpene content. Terpenes are a diverse grouping of highly aromatic organic compounds produced by the vine, and are responsible for the spicy, lychee, lavender flavors and aromatics that make Gewurtz so enticing. Other varietals with high levels of terpenes are Muscat, Torrontes, and Viognier. If you haven’t tried the finished wine from Goldeneye, make sure to grab a bottle quick this year, Michael and team only make 75 cases a year!

Goldeney Gewurtz

Time Posted: Sep 16, 2015 at 2:50 PM Permalink to Goldeneye Gewurtz Permalink
Neil Bernardi - Vice President, Winemaking


I arrived at our Decoy Winery in Hopland early this morning, around 6 am, and was greeted by this eerie sound from just on the other side of the pond. A decent sized pack of coyotes was on the prowl. What a cool way to start the day!

Time Posted: Sep 11, 2015 at 5:50 PM Permalink to Coyotes Permalink
Neil Bernardi - Vice President, Winemaking

It’s Heating Up!

The Labor Day heat spike is right on time, and is making this harvest exciting. The weather report is telling us that we are in for 4-5 days of consistent heat, upwards of 104 degrees in some places. At this point in the growing season, this will put a lot of pressure on already tired vines, and we will see sugars increase dramatically through shrivel and desiccation. Pretty much everyone is picking as fast as they can to get grapes into the barn before things get overripe, and the team is doing an incredible job managing the many details of the peak of harvest, as always!

Harvest Weather Forecast

Time Posted: Sep 9, 2015 at 4:10 PM Permalink to It’s Heating Up! Permalink
Neil Bernardi - Vice President, Winemaking

Vineyard Visits and Grower Relations

I had the great fortune to spend early Friday morning with our talented and knowledgeable Napa grower rep Cindy Johnson. In addition to seeing some incredibly beautiful vineyard sites in Carneros, Atlas Peak, and Howell Mountain, I got a chance to see Cindy in action, checking on vineyards and meeting with growers to ensure that only the best fruit comes into the winery. She is pictured here atop Atlas Peak amidst a 100 year old Zinfandel vineyard. The grower relations team plays a hugely important role in the quality of all of our wines in that they are the main contact between the winery and the grower throughout the growing season. They are the ones translating the needs of the winemaker to the grower, asking for that extra thinning pass or canopy management shift. This time of year, they are the extremely busy air traffic controllers, organizing and monitoring the flow of fruit into the winery. Being in grower relations is extremely challenging and requires great skill, patience, and tact in balancing the needs of the grower and our winemakers. We are very lucky to have such a great team, composed of Jerry Chong, our Director of Grower Relations, and Mary Basore, our Contract Coordinator, and Cindy J. In addition to the full timers, we have a crack team of supportive seasonal assistants and grape samplers, namely Alex B, Mike E., Mike S., Brad, Barry, Emily, and Peggy (who is currently recovering from a fall in the vineyard, get well soon Peggy!). Thanks to you for all your hard work, you are doing a great job!

Cindy - Grower Relations

Time Posted: Sep 9, 2015 at 8:28 AM Permalink to Vineyard Visits and Grower Relations Permalink
Neil Bernardi - Vice President, Winemaking

Beard Invitational

Beard growing has long been an important harvest custom. Each beard is a silent statement to the challenges of harvest faced, and met. The longer and gnarlier the beard, the longer and gnarlier the hours worked. The other day I received what may be the greatest honor in the universe. I was asked to be a judge in the first annual Harvest Beard Invitational by founder Joe Uhr, our DV assistant winemaker and resident genius. After I wiped away the tears, the weight of responsibility descended upon me, and having been a beard aficionado for many years, I realized the importance of this first competition. As in other deeply serious competitions, the criteria for success are rigorous, with points being awarded for:
Overall beardedness (0-10)
Length (0-5)
Bonus points are awarded for integration into your head of hair. (0-5)
Good luck noble competitors, good luck.

harvest beard competitors

Goldeneye Assistant Winemaker Michael Accurso and Duckhorn Vineyards Assistant Winemaker Joe Uhr

Time Posted: Sep 8, 2015 at 1:07 PM Permalink to Beard Invitational Permalink
Neil Bernardi - Vice President, Winemaking

Mt St Helena and the Russian River

I was out sampling the other morning with Bo Felton and had to capture this incredible morning scene of the Russian River Valley with Mt St Helena in the distance. What a beautiful time of year to be in a vineyard!

russian river valley at sunrise

Time Posted: Sep 4, 2015 at 9:35 AM Permalink to Mt St Helena and the Russian River Permalink Comments for Mt St Helena and the Russian River Comments (1)

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