Dan Duckhorn and his eponymous Napa Valley winery have been so intimately linked to the success of Merlot as a single variety in Napa Valley, some call him Mr. Merlot. And for the better part of forty years, his high quality, hand-crafted wines have not only emulated his love for the right bank of Bordeaux, but defined American Merlot. Dan started as a businessman after earning an MBA from UC Berkeley in the early sixties. By 1971 he was president of The Vineyard Consulting Corporation, where he developed his eye for soil composition and viticulture, as well as matching noble grapes to best suited terroirs. After a trip through Pomerol and Saint-Émilion, home to some of the world’s most legendary Merlots, he was inspired by the potential he saw in the Napa Valley. In a gift of a vintage, the inaugural wines of 1978 were a humble production of 800 cases of the now famous Three Palms Merlot, and another 800 cases of Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. After that, Dan never looked back as he positioned his winery into a champion of California Merlot.
“I liked the softness, the seductiveness, the color, the fact that it went with a lot of different foods; It seemed to me to be a wonderful wine to just enjoy. I became enchanted with Merlot.”
Dan felt the grape hadn’t gotten a fair chance and was under-valued, so he focused on producing a premium, stand-alone Merlot. Over the years, the Duckhorn Vineyards Napa Valley Merlot has grown by selecting only the best sites throughout the Napa Valley. The 2012 vintage is a classic with notes of plum, crème de cassis and accented with herbaceous aromas of violet and the herbs of Provence. Food friendly and delicious on its own, this Duckhorn cornerstone is the very heart of what the company stands for.
Three Palms Merlot
This specific site in northern Napa Valley has always been a special place. Originally a residence for San Francisco socialite Lillie Hitchcock Coit, of the Coit Tower, planted the three palms now synonymous with Duckhorn Vineyards in the 1800’s. The 83 acre vineyard was an obvious choice for Dan Duckhorn as it sits atop a rocky and well drained alluvial fan perfectly suited for high quality Merlot. Although Duckhorn has produced a Three Palms Merlot every year, in 2012 the winery acquired rights to all the grapes here, and in 2014 took over all farming responsibilities. The 2011 Three Palms Merlot is a quintessential example of the potential Dan saw here nearly forty years ago. It shines in the cool vintage with a pomegranate, blackberry bouquet, accentuated with savory herbs and leather.
The success at Duckhorn Vineyards is not only shown in the brilliance of the wines, but the expansion of the brand into half a dozen distinct and delicious entities. To see more of what Dan has achieved, look over the history of Duckhorn and the future, newer tasting rooms here.
1000 Lodi Lane, Saint Helena, CA 94574