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.
Washington State is the new frontier for luxury Cabernet Sauvignon. As a young and emerging wine region, there have already been eight wines to earn the coveted 100-point score from top wine publications. Let’s dive into what makes Washington perfect for wine growing.
Agriculture has long been a cornerstone for Washington State, with the farming of apples, wheat, potatoes and many other crops. The earliest signs of grape farming originated with traders at Fort Vancouver in 1825, and by the 1860’s, Italian and German immigrants were making wine. Fast forward to the mid 1970’s, when a few pioneers began planting vineyards and commercially crafting wine in Eastern Washington. These folks paved the way for Washington winemaking as we know it. Today, Washington ranks second in wine production in the United States, behind California. There are a number of factors that make Eastern Washington perfect for winegrowing: namely the geography, the geology and the climate.
Many people think of Washington State as the rainy state, which is quite true in Seattle and Western Washington, as storms roll in from the Pacific Ocean. Eastern Washington is a different story. This region sits in the rain shadow of the Cascade Mountains. So, moisture laden storms are blocked by the mountain range, resulting in an arid, desert climate East of the Cascades. At the same time, there are two major rivers that travel through Eastern Washington; the Columbia River and the Snake River which allows for wine growers to easily irrigate their vineyards.
Geography and location are influential factors in climate. Eastern Washington grape growing sits at a latitude of 46˚ N which is the same latitude of Bordeaux, France. At this latitude, the growing season sees an average of 17 hours of sunlight, which is 2 hours more than Napa. In addition, Eastern Washington’s desert climate also experiences extreme diurnal temperatures shifts, with daytime to nighttime temperature swings of 40 degrees. These long and hot daylight hours slowly and evenly ripen the grapes while cool evenings preserve the grapes natural acidity.
Soil and geology have a significant impact on wine quality. Eastern Washington features some of the most unique soil compositions. During the last ice age, around 15,000 years ago, a large glacial lake in present day Montana, flooded the Pacific Northwest with an 800-foot wave that travelled at speeds upwards of 60 mph. This event, known as the Missoula Floods, and is one of the most significant documented flood events on earth. In its wake, the flood completely changed the native landscape of volcanic rocks and basalt by depositing non-native granitic silt, sands and gravels. This unique soil diversity and excellent soil drainage make the vines work harder thus creating a lower yield and higher quality crop.
The world of Washington wine is young and up-and-coming, earning its place on the main stage of the international wine scene. Since wine is so intimately connected to place, we are taking a side-by-side look at two of our major Eastern Washington appellations.
Carefully selected wines deserve to be served in glassware designed for wine! Appropriate glassware increases your enjoyment of the wine significantly. It’s easy to get in the weeds on this subject, in search of the proverbial best wine glasses. Let me offer some simple tips and ideas on the various types of wine glasses available.
First, realize drinking wine is, fundamentally, a sensory experience. As you taste and contemplate a glass of wine your senses become engaged. Your ability to perceive a wine’s color, aroma, flavor and texture will be impacted by the glass you are tasting the wine from. The options in wine glasses are immense and can be overwhelming. Let’s zero in on the core features you want in good wine glasses.
Regardless of wine glass shape, size or design, they ideally, are clear. If the glass is opaque, we literally can’t see the myriad of colors wine presents. A clear glass allows you to see the true color as well as the clarity of the wine. Color indicates several factors such as the type of grape used and the age of the wine.
A thin, delicate rim allows wine to pass from the bowl to your mouth more gracefully. A well-made wine glass feels balanced and light in your hand.
Still wines (Red, White and Rosé) all benefit from being served in wine glasses that feature a bowl large enough to swirl the wine. This swirling brings air into the wine, releasing the wine’s aromas. The larger the bowl, the more the wine is exposed to the air, allowing the aromas to accumulate in the bowl. The bowl should also taper in slightly at the top. This wine glass shape helps to intensify and direct the aromas as they are released from the swirling up to the nose.
For simplicity, I recommend the classic Riedel egg-shaped wine glass. Claus Riedel lit up the wine world when he debuted a wine glass with a simple, egg-shaped bowl, in 1958. The lightweight, slender design was the essence of form following function: It enclosed the wine's bouquet, focusing the aromas toward the nose and allowing oenophiles to savor the full flavor, depth and balance of the wine in a way that hadn't been possible before. We have relied on the Riedel egg at Duckhorn Vineyards Estate House since we began receiving tasting guests in 2001. With a dozen “eggs” in your wine glass storage cabinet, you are set for enjoying still wines.
I also recommend every home have a least a half dozen “flutes” for the service of Sparkling Wine and Champagne. A flute is intentionally narrow and is designed to concentrate and extend bubbly’s natural effervescence.
For outdoor settings like our Courtyard Tastings at Paraduxx, stemless wine glasses can be quite handy. A stemless glass offers the wide bowl and thin lip desired but, without a stem, it is less likely to blow or tip over. Stemless glassware requires less storage space and they are generally easy to wash in your dishwasher too.
Cheers to great wines served in good wine glasses!
Wine tasting is an exploration of geography, variety and the winemaking style. There is no better way to expand your wine palate than to taste more wine! So, try hosting an at-home wine tasting with a group of friends or visit wine country and begin exploring your taste preferences!
HOW TO TASTE -
The experience of tasting wine is a journey of your senses. There is no right or wrong way to taste, it is an experience that incorporates sight, smell, and taste.
Wine is visual! Tasting starts with sight and an examination of the wines color, opacity and viscosity. The color and opacity gives you insights to the varietal and its age. Red wine with age has an orange tint around the edges, while white wine evolves with tints of gold and brown. The wine viscosity is an excellent indicator of the body and sugar content.
Swirling wine pulls oxygen into the glass which helps to awaken the hundreds of aromas in the wine. These aromas give you insights into the grape varietal, the growing region and even the winemaking process. Aromas can be categorized by fruit, flowers, herbs, spices, nuttiness and more.
At last, we are ready to taste the wine! Start off with a sip and swish of the wine around your mouth. Our tongues taste through five flavor categorizations: they are salt, sour, sweet, bitter and umami. Grapes have natural sugar and acid, which we can taste in the finished wine. In addition, the barrel cooperage gives off a bitter or astringent component.
Mouthfeel is a critical factor of taste and there are numerous wine components that influence mouthfeel: tannin, acidity, sweetness, alcohol and body. These compounds create a reaction. For instance, tannin is bitter and astringent with a mouth-drying component. On the opposite spectrum is acidity, which contributes a tartness or tingling sensation that makes your mouth water. Sweetness can be a measure of the residual sugar, but high tannin and high acidity can mask sweetness. Alcohol can be sensed as heat toward the back of our throats. The body of a wine is measured by its weight and range of watery to thick.
Wine also has a time component. There is a taste journey or timeline, in which the tasting experience has a beginning, middle (mid-palate) and end (finish). In this time frame, the wine aromas and flavors change as they travel from your first sip, to the mid-palate and finish.
Lastly, ask yourself how the wine tasted? Was it balanced, youthful, fruit forward, complex?
The most important question of all, is if you liked it? What do you taste? Are there new fruit flavors that present themselves separate from what’s on the nose? Is the fruit bright and refreshing or subtle? Is the texture and mouthfeel intense, sharp, silky, smooth, lush or creamy? Is the presence of oak apparent in the form of tobacco, vanilla, black tea, coffee?
At the end of the day, wine tasting is a meant to be fun! It’s a personal experience and exploration of what aromas and flavors speak to you. So, we suggest grabbing some friends and diving into the tasting experience!
Anderson Valley is the perfect place for Pinot Noir! Yet, this wine region is off the beaten path and relatively unknown. But, for those who understand the nuances of this valley, would certainly call Anderson Valley the ideal home for world-class Pinot Noir.
Pinot Noir is a finicky varietal to grow. Much like Goldilocks not wanting her porridge too hot or too cold, the Anderson Valley is just right for Pinot Noir. Cool coastal fog funnels in from Mendocino through the Redwood Forest along the Navarro River, only to dissipate for a few hours during the afternoon, giving way to bright and warm sunlight. That cool fog retains acidity in the grapes and the warm afternoon sun increases the sugar content in the grape. Meaning that the Pinot Noir here experiences a consistent ripening.
Anderson Valley offers two distinct terroirs in the form of steep ridgelines and low valley floor, both of which accentuate the best of Pinot Noir. The ridgeline vineyards experience a very different growing season than the valley floor blocks. A more intense sunlight radiates off the ridgelines throughout the day meanwhile the fog sits in the valley floor. The ridgeline slopes create a natural runoff and irrigation system which contributes to development of smaller berries and tighter bunches, with more concentration. Yields on these ridgelines are often smaller due to the vines focus on root growth, as they search deep into the gravely loam soils for nutrients. The intense ridgeline sunlight helps develop a thicker-skinned berry, establishing a stronger tannin presence in the wine. The fruit from the valley floor exhibits fruit forwardness and rich lush textures as well as earthy notes. Winemakers in Anderson Valley are able to craft beautifully rounded and balances wines from these different terroirs.
Due to the Anderson Valley’s weaving terrain, it has a range of microclimates that allow for different profiles of juice to develop, some with bright acidity and others with dark fruit aromas. In most wine growing regions, only one of these flavor identifiers are present. The wines coming out of Anderson Valley are unique in that bright red fruit aromas are on the nose, but at the same time strong acidity, tannin and dark fruit flavors hit the palate. Much like the morning maritime fog gives way to the afternoon sun, the bright red fruit aromas on the nose give way to darker and bolder flavors on the palate.
Here at Goldeneye, we produce a range of Pinot Noirs grown on both the valley floor and steep ridgelines, shop here to see our offerings!
Add a special touch to your wine gift this year, consider wrapping the bottle! Whether you are gifting to the wine lovers on your list or a dinner host, taking the time to wrap the wine bottle is guaranteed to put a smile on their face.
- Favorite Duckhorn Portfolio wine bottle
- Wrapping paper or 12’ by 12’ craft paper for the occasion
- Pair of scissors
- Double sided tape
- An assortment of ribbon/bows and festive accessories
- Lay your Duckhorn Portfolio wine bottle on the center of your wrapping paper with about 1 ½ inches below the bottom of the wine bottle.
- Roll the wrapping paper around the bottle and secure with a piece of double sided tape. Fold the remaining paper under the bottom of the bottle and secure with tape.
Pro Tip: Make sure to tape on the glass so you don't ruin the label!
- Tie the bottle at the neck with your favorite ribbon.
- Add a special touch by placing an accessory over the ribbon, like a festive flower or ornament.
The holidays are here! Can you hear the sleigh bells ringing? There is no better way to celebrate than with delicious culinary delights, world-class wines and your closest comrades.
Plan the most beloved bash of the holiday season by following the tips below from your favorite Events Team!
- Tip 1: Have a Partner in Planning Crime – whether it is your significant other or your best friend, it is always beneficial to have an ally in planning. Two imaginations are always better than one!
- Tip 2: Start Small – For your inaugural party, keep the guest count modest and manageable, recognizing that you can grow each year. We suggest starting with 12 guests (6 couples). This will ensure the setting is intimate and will allow all guests to interact with one another.
- Tip 3: Plan an Activity – Give everyone something to look forward to and encourage some friendly holiday competition! Request that each couple brings two bottles of a selected wine and one dish to pair it with. Guests will vote on their favorite pairing, and the winners go home with an award, building special holiday traditions to look forward to each year.
- Tip 4: Keep Things Organized – In order to prevent repeat dishes or wines, create a simple shared document or group text for everyone to submit their culinary creation and pairing varietal. This will encourage diversity of cuisines!
- Tip 5: Create the Base – With your guests bearing the bounty for the main course, take it upon yourself to design the best crudité, cheese and charcuterie board to keep everyone satiated until the pairings begin. Add a handcrafted touch by trying out this delicious rosemary parmesan cheese straw recipe.
- Tip 6: Provide the Necessities – While your loved ones focus on the food, you can administer the accoutrements. The essentials include: ample glassware, ice, plates, cocktail napkins, service-ware and non-alcoholic beverages.
- Tip 7: Begin with Bubbles! – Nothing says celebration quite like sparkling wine. Welcome your friends by starting the evening with 2015 Goldeneye Anderson Valley Brut Rosé Sparkling Wine.
- Tip 8: Play Photographer – Everyone wants photo memories, and no one remembers to take them! Once all guests have arrived, set aside 5-10 minutes to snap candid shots of the party. Don’t forget to get everyone together for a group shot!
- Tip 9: Keep a Few Surprises Up Your Sleeve – Our favorite element of ‘surprise and delight’ is sharing an exceptional wine. Bring out the special bottle of 2014 Duckhorn Vineyards The Discussion Napa Valley Red Wine you have been saving for the right occasion.
- Tip 10: Present Your Guests with a Parting Gift – Although it is certain that no one will forget this night, provide your friends with a little memento upon parting. Whether it be an edible peanut brittle or a customized ornament, a thoughtful treat at departure is always a nice touch.
What are the perfect gifts for wine enthusiasts? We are bringing you a few of our favorite wine accessories, technology and wine experiences from 2018 to help guide your holiday shopping.
Menagerie Aerator Pourers
A wine aerator is a must have accessory for any wine lover! Aerator’s are devices that enable oxygen to interact with the wine in an effort to ‘awaken the aromas'. These devices are especially handy when you do not have one-to-two hours to decant your wine ,but want to soften the tannins and/or awaken the fruit aromas. Menagerie aerators are forged from high grade stainless steel, are dishwasher safe and offer over 100 different animal-themed styles! We are partial to the duck aerator!
West Wine Tours
Wine tasting is all about the experience. The crew at West Wine Tours is taking that experience to a new level. These guys will take you on the quintessential Napa Valley tasting tour in a classic VW bus. Their day-long tour includes stops at three Napa Valley wineries for tastings as well as a delicious lunch. Tours start at $125 per person with their VW bus capacity ranging from 6 people to 8.
A decanter is a must-have item for any wine lover and an exquisite gift item. We decant older wines to remove the sediment and we decant younger wines to awaken their aromas. In addition, there is a charm and grace associated with the use of a decanter, thus enhancing the wine experience. Riedel crafts a range of decanters in with both elegant and playful designs making it a perfect gift for the wine lover in your life. Read more about decanting here: To Decant or Not to Decant
Coravin Wine System
This innovative gadget siphons wine from the bottle without removing the cork and spoiling an entire bottle from oxidation. Coravin technology enables consumers to drink a glass today, lay down the bottle and pour another glass months or even years later, while keeping the wine fresh!
This is the perfect gift for those who want to test wines in their cellar or for those who just don’t want to finish a bottle.
With a total of 8 brands under our Duckhorn Portfolio umbrella, we have the perfect wine for every palate. Our small lot and single vineyards wines can only be purchased directly from our winery. So, whether you are shopping for a Merlot lover, a Cabernet Connoisseur or Pinot Noir aficionado, we have specially curated luxury wine selections to please every palate!
Cheers and happy holiday shopping! Check out our online gift shop.
Hosting a lovely Thanksgiving celebration always seems more daunting than it truly is. By following these FIVE key ‘ingredients', you will be sure to cook up a bountiful Thanksgiving for your loved ones.
- Embrace the Invite List: Thanksgiving is a time for family to reunite – but it is not just family that you can include in your celebrations. The customs of this holiday have grown beyond bloodlines, and into new traditions, such as ‘Friendsgiving.’ Invite your closest pals and mutual friends to embrace the inclusivity of this beloved holiday.
Pro Tip: Always allot for one extra person than your guest count for that last-minute addition!
- Choose the Perfect Flock of Wines: When choosing your wines for service, select those that pair well with your autumn-ingedient provisions. Pinot Noir is often known as the quintessential Thanksgiving wine due to its amazing versatility. Lucky for you, the Duckhorn Portfolio offers a beautiful array of Pinot Noir from many climates spanning from the Anderson Valley to Santa Maria Valley. Some of our favorite Pinots for pairing right now are the 2015 Goldeneye Anderson Valley Pinot Noir and the 2016 Migration Santa Maria Pinot Noir Bien Nacido Vineyard.
- Pre-Plan for Showtime: Advanced preparation will save time on the big day when you are an hour from guest arrival. Prior to Thanksgiving, outline your shopping list and dinner timeline. Get the groceries purchased early to avoid the last-minute market mayhem and allow for multiple days of cooking to ensure you aren’t running laps around your kitchen on Thursday.
Pro Tip: Poll your attendees for any dietary restrictions in advance so you can ensure all guests are well-fed.
- Create New Traditions: There are many special traditions associated with Thanksgiving, especially surrounding family-favorite dishes. Customize your meal by incorporating the culture and interests of your family and friends in attendance. Dinner can go beyond the turkey. Try one of these fall recipes to spice up your Thanksgiving menu, or welcome your guests to bring their favorite childhood dish!
- Add a Personal Touch: Build your custom tablescape according to the occasion. Using the elements around you is a great start. Heirloom pumpkins can be found at your local pumpkin patch or market. Pine cones, leaves and branches can also often be sourced from your own backyard. When in doubt, keep it natural and simple!
Pro Tip: Creating specialized name cards with assigned seating can mix things up and encourage new conversation amongst guests!
We get a lot of questions this time of year asking which wine(s) go best with Thanksgiving. Dinner parties can be tricky enough when it comes to wine pairings, but especially with this holiday. Not only do you have an abundance of family and friends with many palates to please, you are also working with many different ingredients, spices and textures. Everything comes together on one plate and each dish starts to merge into one – there is a lot going on. So which wine pairs well with all of the different dishes? The answer is Pinot Noir!
Why is Pinot Noir perfect for your holiday feast?
Pinot Noir is a beautifully balanced medium-bodied wine with bright acidity. It will be soft and subtle enough for the lighter dishes on your table, but it also has just the right amount of structure, fruit and supple tannins to hold up to bigger dishes.
When it comes to my family, the side dishes are the star of the meal. We tend to stick to the classic Thanksgiving dishes (no turducken on our table)! But every year I like to try at least one new side dish. Sometimes it works and sometimes it’s a one-hit wonder. I tried this recipe out a few years ago and it has now become a family staple: Brussel sprouts with pancetta and lemon with fig vinaigrette. Brussel sprouts in general can by a finicky dish to pair, but the integrated components of this dish complement Pinot Noir well. The bright acidity from the lemon matches the acidity in the wine, so it highlights both the dish and the wine without overwhelming either. The savory notes from the caramelization of the brussel sprouts and saltiness from the pancetta highlight the red fruit and soft tannin structure of the wine.
To take your festivities to the next level, consider a festive Sparkling Rosé, like our Goldeneye Sparkling Brut Rosé (a blend of predominately Pinot Noir with Chardonnay). I firmly believe that any wine pairing problem can always be solved with bubbles! The Sparkling Brut Rosé has such great acidity with just a touch of residual sugar that it brightens and lightens your heavier dishes, (which let’s face it, most holiday dishes tend to be)! You can serve this wine at every course. From popping a cork upon your guest’s arrival through dessert, it is a great way to to complement your holiday gathering.
Whether you are hosting your own Thanksgiving or wondering what wine to bring to your host, the wine to remember is Pinot Noir!
We have a diverse Pinot Noir portfolio, but here are some of my personal favorites. Try one or try them all and of course, Happy Thanksgiving!
- Migration Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir Drum Canyon Vineyard
- Calera Mt. Harlan Pinot Noir Ryan Vineyard
- Goldeneye Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Confluence Vineyard – Hillside
- Goldeneye Anderson Valley Sparkling Brut Rosé
Membership & Customer Service Manager
Here at Duckhorn Vineyards, our 41st harvest has come to a successful completion. As we exhale, wipe our brows and take an introspective pause, reflecting upon our 4-decade love affair with Merlot is appropriate. Today, Merlot is the second most widely planted varietal in the world. Merlot is the third most plated grape here in the Golden State and it leads the acres planted in Washington State as well as on Long Island. Merlot is a regular and trusted choice for wine drinkers around the world. However, when our visionary founders Dan and Margaret Duckhorn made the critical decision to focus their winemaking efforts on this grape, the wine was very minimally known.
Dan and Margaret became enamored of Merlot due to some enlightening travels they enjoyed in Bordeaux. They were particularly smitten by the wines they experienced that were made on storied Right Bank, specifically from the communes of Pomerol and St. Emillion. In those two regions Merlot is the dominant varietal and they both fell hard for the inherent smoothness, approachability, plushness and concertation displayed in the local wines. The seed was set: Duckhorn Vineyards would position itself as the preeminent producer of premium Merlot in Napa Valley. Though many Napa Valley wineries were using Merlot as a blending grape in the late seventies, few were exploring the potential of this varietal as a stand-alone wine.
Ric Forman, a helpful local friend introduced Dan to the remarkable brother-brother team of John and Sloan Uptown, owners of the vineyard we consider our spiritual home: Three Palms Vineyard. Dan assessed this unique up-valley site to have the appropriate climate, soil, and drainage needed to grow the caliber of Merlot he wanted to put his name on. A deal was struck: the Uptons sold us the first bins of Merlot from which our founding Winemaker Tom Rinaldi created our debut wine: 1978 Duckhorn Vineyards Napa Valley Merlot Three Palms Vineyard. Eight hundred cases of this wine were released sporting what is now one of the most recognizable labels in American wine. The use of the yellow paper and the ink drawing of a Mallard duck are recognizable elements of our brand identity today.
Making the wine was one thing, explaining it and selling it was another challenge all together. As Dan recalls in an interview with journalist and author James McClure typical responses from early customers were “What is this stuff” and regarding the mysterious varietal on the label “How do you pronounce it?”
Ambivalence in the marketplace did not discourage Dan and Margaret and their dedicated employees. Building on our role as the first American winery to pioneer luxury Merlot, we made our debut vintage of Napa Valley Merlot in 1979. Today this iconic wine is a juggernaut, a popular and respected choice for American wine drinkers as well as fans in over a dozen countries we reach through our export efforts.
Our passion for creating world class Merlot benefited from the boom in Merlot sales that surged in the 80s and 90s. We stayed steady, invested in new vineyard sites, got better and better at our craft and emerged from a slump in Merlot sales in the 2000s as a true standard-bearer. That steadiness, dedication and single-minded adherence to quality was recognized by the Wine Spectator in December of 2017 when they chose our 2014 Three Palms Merlot as the Wine of the Year. We were all humbled a well as ecstatic about this powerful recognition.
Today, we continue to make our flagship Three Palms Merlot as well as the globe-trotting Napa Valley Merlot. In addition to those two “greatest hits” we’ve added four more offerings of terroir-driven Merlots that embody the unique characteristics of their growing site. Any one of these terrific wines demonstrate quite deliciously why Duckhorn Vineyards is often referred to as “A Master of New World Merlot.”