Duckhorn Portfolio: The Best of the Best

Oenophile | By Denman Moody –

In 1976, Margaret and Dan Duckhorn, along with a few investors, started Duckhorn Vineyards, with the first production in 1978 being 800 cases of Merlot and 800 cases of Cabernet Sauvignon. Over the years until 2007, they not only vastly improved the quality and quantity of the wines but also added the following: Paraduxx, Goldeneye, Migration and Decoy – all now with their own wineries and winemakers. They also added enough estate vineyards in Napa Valley and Anderson Valley to assure a continuous supply of the best estate fruit possible.

In 2007, Duckhorn Vineyards sold to GI Partners.  With the financial investment of GI Partners, Duckhorn went from great to world-class.  Recently, another private equity firm bought Duckhorn, and I believe that it will continue the course of excellence.  As of this writing, here is the lineup of the Duckhorn portfolio:


There are eight wines in the Decoy stable: Rosé, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Zinfandel, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Decoy Red Wine.  This is the introductory line to the Duckhorn dynasty of wines, with prices ranging from $20 to $25 each, and all give a hint at what the rest of the line – most rivaling what wines of the same varietal anywhere in the world taste like.


Duckhorn Vineyards Estate and Marlee’s Vineyard.

After years of searching for the perfect location for estate Pinot Noir vineyards, 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 produced in the 90s, the stable has burgeoned dramatically in quality and quantity to an additional seven all-Anderson Valley, single-vineyard Pinot Noirs:  Confluence Vineyard, Confluence Lower Bench, Confluence Hillside, The Narrows, Split Rail, Gowan Creek and Ten Degrees.  The prices range from $60 to $90, except for Ten Degrees, which is $125.


The first vintage of Paraduxx that I tasted was a blend of mostly Zinfandel with some Cabernet Sauvignon, and I remember not being too impressed.  It seems like almost every year since Paraduxx has expanded and improved.  Paraduxx now makes a Rector Creek Red Wine, Howell Mountain Red Wine, Atlas Peak Red Wine, Winemaker Series Red Wine, Proprietary Red Wine and a pinnacle X2 Napa Valley Red Wine.  The prices range from $75 to $95.  I have tasted them all, and all are fabulous.


Like Paraduxx, every vintage or so seems even better than the last.  Recently, the Sonoma Coast Chardonnay and Pinot Noir bowled me over — great values at $40.  And the class and breed of the more expensive Pinot Noir Dutton Ranch Russian River Valley and Pinot Noir Goldrock Ridge Sonoma Coast, each $70, blew me away.


In 2012, Duckhorn looked to Washington’s smallest but top-tier appellation for growing Cabernet Sauvignon — Red Mountain.  Acclaimed vineyard manager Dick Boushey and founding winemaker Brian Rudin began planting vines in 2014 on a prime 20-acre plot purchased a year earlier.  Washington is one of my favorite areas for new discoveries, and this is certainly one of the best priced at $40.


In 2017, Duckhorn made a statement about the dynamic nature of the company, and its absolute focus on luxury wine when it purchased Josh Jensen’s famed Calera Wine Company and its renowned estate vineyards on Mt. Harlan. The wines are still made by longtime winemaker Mike Waller, and Josh continues to contribute his wisdom and insight as part of the Duckhorn board. Since the acquisition, Duckhorn has invested significantly in the vineyards and winery.  Calera’s entry level Central Coast Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are made using grapes from a who’s who of the region’s top vineyards and range in price from $25 to $30. For those who love terroir-driven Pinot Noirs of great elegance and sophistication, the sought-after single-vineyard Mt. Harlan bottlings — from the Ryan, Jensen, Selleck, Reed, Mills and De Villiers vineyards — are a must and are priced from $60 to $95.

Kosta Browne

What do you do to follow up adding an iconic Pinot Noir winery like Calera to your portfolio? In 2018, Duckhorn answered that question when it acquired Kosta Browne, many Pinot Noir connoisseurs’ favorite boutique winery in California.  The entry-level wines are the Russian River Valley, and my favorite, the Sonoma Coast, is priced at $68.  The awesome single-vineyard Pinots are Cerise, Gap’s Crown, Keefer Ranch, Giusti Ranch, Kanzler, Thorn Ridge, Rosella’s Pisoni, Gary’s and Koplin and are priced around $95 each.  Kosta Browne also produces several fabulous Chardonnays priced from $65 to $95.

Duckhorn Merlot

The original Napa Valley Merlot, which is now the most acclaimed Merlot in the United States and rivaling many $100 Right Bank Bordeaux, now has five sister wines, each also Napa Valley:  Atlas Peak, Rector Creek Vineyard, Carneros, Stout Vineyard and Three Palms Vineyard.  Bugle Blast, the 2014 Duckhorn Vineyards Three Palms Merlot, was awarded Best Wine in the Word in the 2017 Wine Spectator Top 100 Wines!  The Napa Merlot is $56, and the single-vineyard Merlots are around $98 each.


Cabernet Sauvignon

From the original 800 cases of Cabernet produced in 1978, another enormous and successful undertaking has given us an additional seven other-worldly Cabernets priced between $80 and $140, the latter for Duckhorn’s The Discussion Red Wine.  Most are in the $98 range:  Rector Creek, Three Palms, Rutherford, Howell Mountain and Monitor Ledge.  Fabulous, ultra-premium Cabernets, and like the entire Duckhorn line, luscious drinking and an easy choice, along with one of the Merlots, for birthday and Christmas presents.

I believe that with this magnificent portfolio, Duckhorn takes its place among the greatest wine estates in the world.