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.
Cork Tree is an incredibly important vineyard for Paraduxx. This is the source for our Argentine style Malbec/Cabernet Sauvignon blend. The wine is part of our vineyard designate series and a mere 300 cases of this rich and complex wine will be made this year. Cork Tree is on the southern end of Napa valley in the Oak Knoll district. Despite being cooler than the northern end of the valley, grapes coming from this gently sloped vineyard produce wines of dark rich fruit and big tannin structure. The placement of this vineyard on the soft sloping bench of the Vaca range has ideal exposure to the warm afternoon sun. You couldn't ask for better growing conditions for these Bordeaux varietals.
Hoses are another key tool of the trade. They are part of most wine movements, whether between tank and barrel, press and tank, or tank to tank. They get dragged around the winery all day, and are very tough. They do however need repair from time to time. Our DV Cellar Lead Jaime is working on banding some hoses, getting them in shape for the long haul.
Barrels are key to every harvest, but they require a lot of prep work to get them ready for the job. They need to be shipped from France, loaded on a truck, unloaded at the winery, checked for quality of workmanship, laid on a rack, swelled, and rinsed before they are ready to receive freshly pressed juice or wine. Here we have Manny, Scott, and Luis from team Duckhorn racking up new Nadalie barrels.
INTERNS!!! Interns are a very important part of Harvest. They are here to learn and do the dirty work that the rest of us don't want to do! We have 3 rookies this year. Bree, Amelia and Mikaela. They will be doing everything from cleaning tanks to processing grape samples, running lab analysis and keeping us old people up to date on pop-culture. I'll make sure to take a picture at the end of harvest....they won't look as fresh and clean!
The last few days have seen a moderate cool down in temperatures and moderate onshore flow. This has slowed sugar accumulation and respiration of acids in our ripening grapes. This weak trough looks to be nudged out by a moderate ridge towards the middle of the week, pushing temperatures upwards towards normal through the end of the week. Winemakers, grower relations folks, and vineyard managers keep a close eye on the weather as day to day variations in temperature, wind, fog cover, and precipitation can have significant impacts on picking decisions and ultimately wine quality.
Every year hard working folks from many walks of life make the fateful decision to work harvest as interns, perhaps semi-aware of the long hours and longer season ahead. They are in important part of every harvest team. Doing internships is an incredible way to learn the craft and an important part of winery culture. Here we have Paraduxx cellar champ Hudson training our new intern Bree (with Sarah Rogers giggling in the background) on the use of the refractometer to determine the brix of a grape sample.
Alfonso and Rosio have been married for 27 years! Alfonso has been and employee of DWC for 16 yrs, Rosio for 15 yrs. Alfonso's brother Juan and Martha have been married for 33 yrs! Juan has been an employee of DWC for 21 yrs and Martha for 18 yrs. All four of these amazing people started their career at Duckhorn Vineyards and moved to Paraduxx the day we opened our doors in 2005. It's people like them that truly make our team here at Paraduxx a family! We wouldn't be where we are without them. They are the heartbeat of Paraduxx!
Pictured from left to right: Alfonso Hurtado, Rosio Hurtado, Juan Hurtado, Martha Hurtado
Somehow, some way, it is harvest again. Winter and spring have come and gone, and the growing season is nearing its conclusion. The sun has risen and set nearly 165 times since the grape buds pushed and started the annual cycle again. Our incredible Estate Vineyard and Grower Relations teams have worked tirelessly to nurture and cultivate our vines and growers through dormancy, budbreak, bloom, set, and veraison. They have paid careful attention to pruning, vine pest and disease eradication, suckering, shoot thinning, petiole analysis, leaf thinning, cluster counting, mowing, inter-row and intra -vine cultivation, moving wires, hedging, leaf water potential, cluster weighing, and green thinning.
At the same time, our dauntless Operations and Facilities teams have worked unceasingly to fix, replace, and maintain key equipment at our wineries. Countless new projects, each intended to allow us to work safer, more efficiently, and above all make better wine, have been managed and put in place under their guidance. The facilities guys are often the unsung heroes of harvest, always there to get a press back on line, or make a critical adjustment to a destemmer to make it work that much better.
Our bottling team has worked hard to get the best packaging for our wonderful wines in the right quantities and delivered on time to the right places. They have checked QC on countless thousands of corks, and checked and re-checked thousands of bottles to ensure that each and every one that comes off our line is fit to bear the seal of Duckhorn Wine Company.
In the wineries, our devoted and incomparable winemaking teams have played their part in this annual cycle too, caring for the 2014 and 2015 wines as they age gracefully, and readying their cellars for the new harvest. Countless tastings, rackings, blending sessions, barrel maintenance, lab analysis, sulfur additions, spreadsheets, toppings, barrel orders, data entry, vineyard visits, educational tastings, meetings (sorry guys :)), tank cleanings, consumer events, and sales trips have filled the past year, culminating in readiness for today’s 13 bins of Tofanelli Semillon.
There are so many hands that take part in this ancient annual cycle of dormancy, growth, and harvest, and the excitement surrounding a good vintage is still felt in a deeply visceral way. At almost 40 years running, Duckhorn Wine Company has a team who is steeped in the traditions and legacy founded upon Dan and Margaret’s vision. This tradition is most wonderfully expressed by the blessing of the grapes, and Renee Ary, our eloquent Duckhorn Vineyards Winemaker, captured that spirit in her toast. Happy Harvest Everyone!
Duckhorn Vineyards was founded in 1976 by Dan and Margaret Duckhorn. After taking a trip to Pomerol in the mid-70’s, and tasting some of the Merlot-influenced “Right-Bank” Bordeaux wines, Dan met up with Ric Forman. Ric was the winemaker at Sterling Vineyards at the time and when he heard that Dan was looking for some Merlot, he gave him a call – “I’ve got a vineyard you have to see”.
The two met up, and Ric took Dan up to the Three Palms Vineyard in Calistoga. Besides the gift of introducing Dan to Three Palms Vineyard fruit, Ric also recommended a winemaker by the name of Tom Rinaldi. When Tom rolled up to the winery on a motorcycle looking like “a flower child” as Margaret Duckhorn called him, they had no idea what they were in for. It worked out perfectly because Tom ended up as the Duckhorn winemaker for the next 20 years.
The early days of winemaking were simple with only three stainless steel tanks under a big oak tree and hand cranked basket presses. For the first vintage in 1978, they only harvested 28 tons of grapes into apple lug boxes, half Cabernet Sauvignon and half Merlot. Everything was handpicked and sorted extensively. Dan’s trip to France had also introduced him to the Nadalie family who were barrel builders and he decided that brand new French oak was the way to go. Those first few vintages were cellared exclusively in Nadalie coopered barrels.
By 1982 Tom and Dan decided that it was time to make Duckhorn’s first white varietal wine, Sauvignon Blanc. The Sauvignon Blanc was an exciting addition for them because it was a brand new wine for them to create. With the expansion of the winemaking program came a need for more fruit, this is when Duckhorn began acquiring some of the properties that are still so important today. Two of the early vineyards purchased were Patzimaro Vineyard in 1989 and Monitor Ledge Vineyard in 1992. Now, 40 years after being founded Dan’s dream of having his wine served in every city with an NFL team has been realized!
Greetings from Red Mountain in Washington State,
The first modern arrivals to this area were hardscrabble immigrants. They came in oxcarts and covered wagons via the Oregon Trail, to settle and farm in a region that promised good dirt, sunshine, and ample land. They were homesteaders: hardworking rural Americans, Germans, Italians, and Irish. These and subsequent waves of migrants endured arduous journeys to get here, and they worked over tough ground once they arrived. They pulled rocks from fields. They dug canals and diverted streams. They planted wheat, potatoes, onions, orchards, and vineyards. They were a determined, thick-skinned people. (Photo Credit: University of Washington Photo Archive)
I think about our wines from Canvasback in the context of this place where they are from: that they are the result of hard work in this land of extremes, their character defined by the thickness of their skin.
When it comes to making muscular, sumptuous Cab, it’s the skin that matters most, as it contains all the flavor, color, and textural bits that make a red wine. And while sugar is important for its role of turning boring old grape juice into a fun alcoholic beverage, we can all agree the yummy, fleshy, dark, brooding flavors; all the blackberry, plummy, dark cherry and spicy goodness of Cab, is coming from those skins.
Red Mountain generates very generous grape skin, thanks to its southwest-facing hillside located smack in the warmest part Washington. It is a natural solar panel that scoops up all the heat of afternoon sun. Midsummer daytime temperatures can stay above 100° F for several weeks during June and July, causing the skin of the berry to thicken in resistance to the sun. Consistent winds also engender thick skin development. And that we are in a desert, in nutrient-poor soils, we tend to have small canopies and small clusters, with lots of little berries. It’s all about the skin to juice ratio.
How does this translate into flavors in the glass? First, one notices the inherent bigness of Red Mountain Cabernets. While the tannins may be fully mature and ripe, there is noticeably high tannin. It gives the sensation of weight and intensity. It can be chewy and assertive on the palate.
These thick-skinned cabs make for wines that demand your time, your patience. It takes a year or so in bottle for them to come back together. They start to really hit their stride around year six. At 20-30 years, they are on full afterburn, glowing with refined energy like a hardwood coal in the heart of a bonfire. Slowly is the power of the sun un-packed.
The thickened skins can make for formidable wines. Our charge is to take something tough and make it into something beautiful. Think of it like making a rock-solid table from a nice piece of oak. With craftsmanship and raw materials like these, we can make something both enduring and delicious.