Duckhorn Vineyards, masters of Merlot

Duckhorn Vineyards

Originally published in 24/11/2016.

I love Merlot. I also love Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel, but I will always choose a Merlot wine. My all-time favorite wine is the Jean Leon Merlot 2001 and if I’m going to Bordeaux, which I don’t usually do but anyway, I will always go to Saint Emilion. That’s because I love a Merlot wine.

I was thinking about writing a story of a winery that would be using this varietal as a distinct wine, and talking to a buddy of mine, he was always praising the Merlots of Duckhorn Vineyards (@DuckhornWine), a Napa Valley winery. So I decided to do a bit of research on them and see how they elaborate their Merlots to be the quality wines they are.

Duckhorn Vineyards was established in St. Helena, Napa Valley in 1976 by Dan and Margaret Duckhorn. Dan traveled to Saint Emilion and Pomerol in Bordeaux, where he discovered the Merlot varietal. This grape was used in blends by many wineries in Napa Valley but not in single varietal wines. He thought the Merlot had the required potential to be a great stand-alone wine due to its elegance and softness. So this way Duckhorn Vineyards was born. In their first vintage in 1978 they were able to produce 800 cases of Cabernet Sauvignon and 800 cases of Merlot. Later in 1982 they added Sauvignon Blanc to its portfolio.

Nowadays Duckhorn owns seven estate vineyards in Napa Valley, spread over different areas as Carneros, Yountville, Rutherford, St. Helena and the much coveted Howell Mountain. They have almost 200 different vineyards lots and once harvest is done, the wine is barrel-aged by separately vineyards. If this seems to be a challenge, aging the wine like this to later proceed to its blending, keep in mind that they use 25 different types of oak from 13 different producers. And not only that, there is more. Besides growing their own vineyards, they also buy fruit from independent growers throughout Napa Valley. Soon we will talk to Duckhorn’s winemaker Renee Ary to see how she manages to put all this together to produce these wines.

Last year, Duckhorn acquired the legendary Three Palms Vineyard, after decades of working with its coveted grapes. It was a testament to their belief that Three Palms is the preeminent Merlot vineyard in North America. “Three Palms is like America’s Pétrus,” said Renee Ary. “It is not just that it produces amazing wines that are absolutely distinctive—it does so every year, regardless of the conditions. That’s the mark of greatness.” Named for its three iconic palm trees, the warm, up valley vineyard features lean soils that cause the vines to send their roots deep in search of nutrients, producing an intense, age-worthy wine with complex fruit and mineral layers.

Duckhorn produces single varietal wines with the following grapes: six Merlot wines, seven Cabernet Sauvignon wines, two Sauvignon Blanc wines, two Chardonnay wines, one Cabernet Franc wine and a Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc. They also produce The Discussion Napa Valley Red wine, a blend. A Petit Verdot wine was produced in 2009.

The six Merlot wines are the Three Palms Vineyard (89% Merlot, 8% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Malbec, 1% Petit Verdot), Napa Valley (88% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Cabernet Franc), Carneros Napa Valley (100% Merlot), Rector Creek Vineyard (95% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon), Atlas Peak Napa Valley (100% Merlot) and Merlot Stout Vineyard (100% Merlot).

On average the Merlots are aged in French oak barrels for 15 months, half of the barrels are new and the rest are in their second harvest.

Photos © by Duckhorn Vineyards