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.
One of the best things about being part of a winery is introducing the magic of harvest to my kids Lucca and Everly. Every year since they were born they have spent some time at various wineries checking out cool machines, sitting on barrels, tasting juice, and of course, eating delicious grapes. Being able to show them where I go every day softens the blow of being gone so often during the harvest season, and hopefully inspires them to one day make winemaking a part of their lives (if they want! :)).
Neil has been dedicated to the wines of Duckhorn for 10 yrs. Starting as the Assistant Winemaker for Goldeneye then taking the reigns as Winemaker for Migration, Neil is well faceted in the many sides of winemaking for Duckhorn. Now as Vice President of Winemaking, Neil often finds himself behind the scenes and out of the limelight. As the main contributor of this blog, he frequently has the chance to praise others. Now is our chance to praise him.
Neil isn’t just another handsome face. A graduate of Viticulture and Enology (where he was a trombone player in a ska band), Neil came out of the gates running! His acclaimed winemaking and viticultural insights impressed the company early on and opportunities quickly came knocking. As GM of our Sonoma county operations, Neil mastered the many sides of the Sonoma County wine industry as well as the many uses of the word nuance. Now as the leader of the Duckhorn Portfolio winemaking team, Neil can be found on the roads of Northern California and Washington State trying to keep us wily winemakers in line. Neil is highly respected in our winemaking community, is a mentor to many and a friend to all. He works tirelessly to make sure that we get world-class fruit from which to make outstanding terroir-inspired wines.
Neil and his lovely wife Kim are expecting their third child next month (this will be their second harvest baby….perfect timing Neil!). I’m sure he will be back with his pink boxes full of donuts soon to ensure we don’t lose too much weight over harvest. Congrats NB!
Another first day of harvest, this time Migration has kicked off the season with the typical first pick of Bien Nacido Pinot Noir. This remarkable vineyard, located in Santa Maria, is known as the source of some of the best Pinot and Chard in California. Planted on the famous Tepusquet bench, it has a unique maritime climate and partially calcarious soil, a relative rarity in California, but common in the old world. As you can tell from the incredibly small yet perfectly formed clusters, these wines are intense, unique, and totally delicious. Bo and German are also looking intense and unique as they ponder the beginning of a long harvest.
Sarah has been with Paraduxx for 3 yrs! She started as an intern and was hired full time in the Spring of '14. The Winery would disappear into a black hole if it weren't for Sarah. She is the detailed oriented team member that reminds Don and Cardiff where they are supposed to be. An ex-college soccer player, Sarah uses her athletic prowess to run circles around everyone in the winery.
Harvest is such an exciting and high energy time of the year. During this time there are some very important tools that we use in order to safely and efficiently harvest all the grapes over a 2-3 month period. Here are some of the Vineyard Team's most important tools:
This grey box is important for hand harvesting fruit. Our harvesting crews use these lugs to pick fruit into. Once they fill up one of these they dump it into a bigger bin that gets transported to the winery.
Gloves/ Safety Vest:
The cut resistant gloves and bright orange safety vest are very important for keeping the crews safe and visible!
A good pair of reliable, warm and comfortable boots make the long work hours so much easier!
The majority of our harvesting is performed at night and although we have large, overhead spotlights to make the area we are picking bright as day it still helps for the guys to have headlamps so that they can see the fruit perfectly with no shadows.
This is the tool that each harvester uses to cut each cluster from the canes.
While it is our Winemaker and her taste buds who decides when the fruit is at the optimal maturity to harvest, we in the vineyards use a refractometer to run quick tests to assess if the sugar content in the fruit is at a point where it needs to be sampled more extensively by the Winemaker.
Rector Creek, the home ranch of Paraduxx is a spectacular place. Located just north of the Yountville Cross road on the Silverado Trail, Rector Creek sits adjacent to the Rector Reservoir. Possibly due to the more consistent temperatures of the reservoir, Rector Creek seems to always have clear skies above it. Even on foggy mornings, you can see the sky at the winery. When approaching from afar, it's almost like a beam of light from the heavens is shining on Rector Creek. Loose rocky soils and a daily afternoon breeze adds to the mystique of this place. For Paraduxx, we harvest 4 red varieties that go into 3 Vineyard designate wines as well as a little Viognier for our Proprietary White Blend. Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot are Harvested and each blended with Zinfandel from Rector Creek to produce 3 of our Vineyard designated wines. We only make 500 cases of each of these wines and they are only available from us directly through our tasting room, wine club and online. All 3 of these special wines show off this special place in their own way. We are very lucky to come to work here every day!
(First, a little history): Last year the winemaking teams vied for glory in the first ever Duckhorn Wine Company Winemaking Challenge. Each team made 2 tons of Malbec from our Ridgeline Estate Vineyard, and the results are remarkable. The final judgement is coming up in the next few weeks, and the results will be posted as soon as they are in.
Harvest 2016 is here, as is the new challenge – Orange Wine! Now, don’t get worried, we haven’t traded in our beautiful vitis vinifera for citrus. Orange wine is a term for a white (grape) wine fermented with skin contact. In typical white wine fermentation the juice and skins are separated immediately, as the skins impart tannin, color, and astringency to the resultant wine. Skin fermented white wines (Orange Wines) are actually one of the oldest styles of wine out there, being a staple of Georgian winemaking for at least 6000 years. These wines are experiencing a small renaissance in wineries, boutique restaurants, and wine shops across the US, Northeastern Italy, and in some parts of France. If you are interested in more information about these fascinating and very distinctive wines check out this great website (Wine Folly). Good luck to the winemaking teams, and may the best wine win!
Cardiff has been with DWC for 10 yrs! He is a master of the cellar and is coming into his own as a standout winemaker. Cardiff spends most of his time giving direction in the cellar and helping interns figure out which way is up! When he's not at the winery, he and his wife Jenny are neglecting their rock climbing hobby to chase their 1 yr old sprinter around the house.
Rosé can be fairly tricky to get right, especially the color and texture. There are a couple different ways to make rosé wines, but we prefer to whole cluster press red grapes, and then ferment the juice as a white wine to preserve the fresh fruit aromatics. Being vigilant at the press is very important: if you squeeze too hard you can get excessive color and tannin, which can be bitter and astringent. This picture shows the difference in color between the free run portion and hard press of Pinot Noir, which we keep separate. That free run juice will make a beautiful wine for next spring!