Young Winemakers Producing Some Of The Best Wines On The Planet
In 1976, Margaret and Dan Duckhorn, along with a number of investors, started Duckhorn Winery, with the first production in 1978 being 800 cases of Merlot and 800 cases of Cabernet Sauvignon. Over the years until 2007, Dan not only vastly improved the quality and quantity of the wines, but also added the following: Decoy; Migration; Goldeneye and Paraduxx — all now with their own wineries He also added enough estate properties in Napa Valley and Anderson Valley to assure a continuous supply of the best estate fruit possible.
Dan is already one of the legends of the California wine industry, with his persistent and successful work on branding one of the great names in California winedom, but also in his roles as a Director of The Wine Institute, former President of the Napa Valley Vintners’ Association, past Chair of the Napa Valley Wine Auction and as a primary instigator of the Premier Napa Valley Trade Barrel Auction.
In 2007, Margaret and Dan sold a majority interest in the winery to GI Partners, a private equity firm in California and London, for an estimated $250,000,000, making, among other things, 80 investor families very happy. Dan remained Chairman of the Board.
There was some skepticism about the sale. You know, corporate bottom line each quarter instead of increased quality? To the dismay of many, Duckhorn has improved so dramatically that it now ranks among the top wineries in the world! GI has provided, among other things:
1— over $40,000,000 in upgrades
2— state-of-the-art LEED-gold certified winery for Goldeneye
3— a fabled Pinot Noir and Chardonnay vineyard for Migration in Russian River Valley
4— coveted land on the iconic Red Mountain in Washington State for Canvasback
5— the purchase of Three Palms Vineyard, probably the best Merlot vineyard in California.
Under the direction of the highly talented and well-respected President Alex Ryan, who actually started his career with Duckhorn during high school, along with his 300-plus employees and hand-picked winemakers and vineyard managers, Duckhorn is now sold in 46 countries and has a wine club approaching 10,000 members.
A General Description of the Wines
Decoy — There are seven wines in the Decoy stable: Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Zinfandel, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Decoy Red Wine. Although considered super-premium, this line is the introduction to the Duckhorn Wine Company. The prices range from $20 to $25, and all provide delicious drinking and great value.
Goldeneye — After years of searching for the perfect spot for Pinot Noir, the Duckhorns found what they sought in the Anderson Valley — vineyards “that could express varietal purity and an intimate sense of place.” From the first Goldeneye Anderson Valley Pinot Noir in the ’90s, the stable has burgeoned dramatically in quality and quantity to an additional seven all-Anderson Valley Pinot Noirs: Confluence Vineyard; Confluence Lower Bench; Confluence Hillside; The Narrows vineyard; Split Rail vineyard; Gowan Creek Vineyard; and Ten Degrees. The prices run from $55 to $115, with most around $80. All are world-class renditions of Pinot Noir.
Paraduxx — The first vintage of Paraduxx that I tasted — possibly in the mid-’90s — was a blend of mostly Zinfandel with some Cabernet Sauvignon, and I remember not being too impressed. It seems like every year, Paraduxx has improved. Today, the original Paraduxx is vastly improved, and sells for around $40 a bottle. I have recently noticed a monumental change. Paraduxx now makes a Rector Creek Red Wine, Howell Mountain Mountain Red Wine, Atlas Peak Red Wine, Winemaker Series Red Wine, Proprietary Red Wine and an X2 Red Wine in addition to the M Blend and the Z Blend! The prices range from $40 for the M and Z Blends to $95 for the X2 Red. Three are $80: Rector Creek; Howell Mountain; and Atlas Peak. I have tasted them all. Some are limited, but all are fabulous!
Duckhorn Merlot — The original Napa Valley Merlot now has five sister wines — all Napa Valley: Atlas Peak; Rector Creek Vineyard; Carneros; Stout Vineyard; and Three Palms Vineyard. The NAPA Valley Merlot is $54, and the rest are in the $70 to $95 range. Once again, world-class Merlots, and all great values. I once served the least expensive of these blind with a $250 Saint-Emilion (primarily Merlot) from a great vintage, and three out of five tasters preferred the Duckhorn and one had them at a tie. And to make it a realistic comparison, the Saint-Emilion had three additional years of age and was from a great vintage.
Duckhorn Cabernet Sauvignon —From the original 800 cases of Cabernet Sauvignon in 1978, another enormous and successful undertaking has given us an additional seven other-worldly Cabernets priced at between $72 and $135 — the latter for Duckhorn’s Discussion. Most are in the $95 price range: Rector Creek Vineyard; Three Palms Vineyard Rutherford; Howell Mountain; and Monitor Lodge Vineyard. Fabulous ultra-premium Cabernets, and like the entire Duckhorn line, luscious drinking and an easy choice for birthday and Christmas presents.
When I first visited the California wine country as a wine writer in 1977, most of the winemakers of great wines were in their early 60s — Andre Tchelistcheff, the most famous of all, was 77, and Robert Mondavi, Joe Heitz, Louis Martini, Warren Winiarski and others were in their early 60s. A recent phenomena of young winemakers making some of the best wines on the planet is highlighted at Duckhorn, with the average age of the winemakers at the five pillars of the Duckhorn dynasty being about 34! I can’t imagine any advancement by Duckhorn over the next nine years that could possibly equal what has transpired since the GI Partners purchase nine years ago, but if I had to bet on it, I’d place my bet on them, along with Alex Ryan, Renée Ary (Duckhorn’s incredibly impressive but understated winemaker), her five sister winery winemakers and J. P. Alviso, the talented Duckhorn Vineyard manager, to find a way!
I believe that Duckhorn is possibly the best winery in the world in the 250,000 t0 500,000 case range!
Denman Moody was the Editor and Publisher of Moody’s Wine Review for six years and Contributing Editor on Rare Wine for International Wine Review in New York for six years. He has published or had published over 400 articles on wine, including The International Wine and Food Society Journal in London, Revue du Vin de France in Paris and The Robb Report in Malibu. He is or has been a member of The International Wine and Food Society, Confrerie Saint-Etienne d’Alsace, The German Wine Society, Commanderie de Bordeaux, Chaine des Rotisseurs, Les Amis d’Escoffier and The Knights of the Vine.
Duckhorn Wine Estate – the Best of the Best
Category: Wine Reviews by Denman Moody