A day at Duckhorn Vineyards, Napa Valley California

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Thanks to my Australian wool industry associate, David Nancarrow, we were introduced to his brother Bill, who is the executive winemaker at Duckhorn Vineyards.

Founded by the Duckhorn family in 1976, this winery sources it’s fruit from 8 vineyard sites ranging from the southern to the very northern end of the valley.

This is one of the premier wineries in Napa, and probably California, and although most famous for its mighty Merlots, it is the Sauvignon Blanc that accounts for around one third of the 280,000 case Duckhorn production.

So we arrived at Duckhorn to be greeted with a glass of this delicious Sauvignon Blanc while we waited for Bill and his son Fergus to show us around this state of the art winery.

Bill Nancarrow is an expat Kiwi who cut his teeth at the famous C J Pask winery in NZ Bordeaux central, the now world renowned Gimblett Gravels of Hawkes Bay. Bill joined the Duckhorn team in 2003 as the winemaker at Paraduxx, another Duckhorn winery that makes a unique blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel, and assistant winemaker at Ducklhorn. Bill has been Executive Winemaker for the Duckhorn Wine Company since 2007.

This Sauv Blanc actually has 24% Semillon in the mix and 15% of it undergoes barrel fermentation. The aroma is actually a little like an aged Aussie Hunter Semillon with its grassy and slightly toasty notes. The wine really takes off on the palate with tropical flavours, passion fruit, lemon zest, and a superb core of citrus acid running right through; a wonderful white wine.

We then had a taste of two wines from the tank just prior to bottling, a Merlot (I think the 2010), and ‘The Discussion’ (2009 I think), a Bordeaux left bank blend of Cabernet Sauvignon with Merlot, and a touch of Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc.

I’m sure you will read more about this Merlot, it was just a stunning wine; full, rich and round with high toned ripe tannins lifting it higher. A wine with all its characters in perfect harmony, we can only drool about how good this wine will be in 4 or 5 years.

Then a sample of ‘The Discussion’, brooding, complex, layer upon layer of fruit, spice, vanillin oak, licorice, grippy tannins flowing through the mouth. I’m sure this is going to be a great wine, but you need to keep your hands off it for 5 years. I’d like to see tasting notes today for some of the older ‘The Discussions’.

Bill and Fergus then took us to the bottling operation where the latest version of the Duck-horn Napa Cabernet was being bottled, and Bill gave us one each straight off the end of the line. ‘Drink it either tonight or in a year, to avoid bottle shock’ said Bill. We drank ours that very night with home grilled hamburgers; it was fragrant with violets, blackcurrant, blueberries and dried herbs; smooth, soft and silken in the mouth with gentle tannins, and really in need of a few years left alone.

We then headed back to the tasting patio to taste some of the portfolio of wines.

First was the 2009 Goldeneye Anderson Valley Pinot Noir, at 14.5% quite alcoholic by Aussie terms; it was rich with dark cherries and ripe plum, lovely mouthfeel and quite voluptuous.

Next was a 2009 Three Palms Vineyard Merlot, a thoroughly enticing wine of raspberry, blackcurrant, hints of cocoa, full bodied and velvet in the mouth, supported by fine and firm tannins. Someone in the film Sideways said ‘I ain’t drinkin’ no Merlot’, and promptly devastated merlot production all over US. Well folks he clearly had not tried this, and I now declare myself a full Merlot convert, the only proviso is that I want it to be this good.

Next up was the 2007 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon, now at 5 years beginning to show lovely complexity, with rich, ripe fruit flavours and fine tannins, finishing long and satisfying.

20120802-155536.jpgLast in the lineup was the 2008 ‘The Discussion’, a left bank Bordeaux blend of 73% Cabernet Sauvignon, 21% Merlot, 4% Petit Verdot and 2% Cab Franc. Like the tank sample we tried earlier, this is voluptuous, rich and multi-layered, blackcurrant, stewed plums, licorice, spice, sweet oak and ripe tannins all contributing. You can notice the alcohol, but oh boy!, what a wine this will be in 5 years time.

So sadly it was time to leave this remarkable winemaking operation. We were simply stunned by the complexity and class of these great wines, all clearly made with meticulous fruit selection and formidable winemaking skills.

And what really made it special was the generosity of time and knowledge from Bill, and the expert assistance of Fergus. Guys – anytime you’re in Sydney you’re good for a Aussie version from my cellar.

 

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