By Celia Strong
What do ducks have to do with wine? Besides maybe eating and drinking them together? A look at Duckhorn Vineyards in Napa Valley will make it clear why duck wines rule.
First, let’s look at a wine-producing area of California — Mendocino County. This is one of northernmost wine grape regions in California and makes some really phenomenal wines. Most of us just don’t know it as well as other areas, but within the county there are 10 designated viticultural areas and together they are one of the leading regions for organically grown wine grapes. The name “Mendocino” comes from the family name, Mendoza, for the 16th century Spaniard who explored this coastline. The first vineyards in Mendocino were established in the 1850’s in the Redwood Valley by farmers who didn’t find success and wealth in the great Gold Rush. Most of the vineyards stayed small and, because of that, were basically eradicated by Prohibition. Vines were ripped up and replaced with fruit and nut trees. (Not nearly as fun or tasty as vineyards!) In 1931, while Prohibition was still in place, the Parducci family founded a winery in Mendocino County. Later, in 1968, Fetzer Vineyards was founded. (This winery grew to become the largest in the county.) And, soon, many others followed.
Mendocino County has a wide range of geographic and climatic conditions. On the eastern edge of the county, the Mayacamus Mountains separate Mendocino from Lake County. The Mendocino Range, part of the Coast Ranges, divides the region into two distinct separate climate zones. In the west, the Pacific fog plays a dominant role in the climate, particularly for the Anderson Valley. This western part of the county tends to have a more maritime climate, thanks to the cooling and rain influences from the ocean. On the eastern side of the range, the climate is warmer and more Mediterranean. (It is here that the Russian River starts and runs south into Sonoma.) Today, we’re going to look more at the Anderson Valley, in the western, cooler part of Mendocino.
The Anderson Valley lies 10 to 15 miles from the Pacific Ocean and about 100 miles north of San Francisco. The valley is known to have huge temperature variations, from 40 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit, and long Indian summers, which can give the grapes a last ripening spurt. The Anderson Valley is actually one of the coolest wine grape growing areas in California. Cool-climate grape varieties like pinot noir, chardonnay, Riesling and Gewurztraminer flourish in this cooler area. This cooler climate has also made the area a great source for high quality sparkling wines.
Now, finally, it’s time to look at this week’s wine. Its parent is Duckhorn Vineyards in Napa. Duckhorn was founded in 1976 by Dan and Margaret Duckhorn and for more than a quarter century now, they have worked to establish themselves as one of the very best producers of Bordeaux grape varieties in North America. Duckhorn’s concentration on high quality fruit from great vineyard locations played a large part in their success. At the end of the 20th century, they expanded not only their vineyards but their variety of wines and grapes as well. In 2001, they made their first Anderson Valley Pinot Noir. (It is the Pinot Noir we want to pay attention to today. Yum yum!)
Because Duckhorn was the name (brand) established with merlot, sauvignon blanc and other Bordeaux varieties in Napa Valley, a new name was chosen for the new wines from a new location. “Migration” defines the idea of movement and is dedicated to the exploration of these new grapes and vineyards. In the Anderson Valley, Migration is surrounded by soil and climate that is very much like those of the Burgundy region of eastern France. These similarities are clear when you taste some of these wines. And, lucky us, there are three levels of Anderson Valley Pinot Noir. The top level, and most expensive, is Goldeneye. (Yes, all Duckhorn wines have names associated, somehow, with ducks. Spectacular marketing.)
The Goldeneye is probably one of the best Pinot Noirs from California that I’ve tasted in the last couple of years. Its price is slightly more than $50, which, all things considered, is not much for how good it really is. The lower level is Decoy Pinot Noir. This wine, for much less at $20, is layered with flavors including cherry, anise, mint, some vanilla from the oak barrels and much more. Full but not heavy, it is a great example of what Anderson Valley Pinots can be.
In between the Goldeneye and the Decoy is the Migration Pinot Noir. This wine is just lovely, rich in flavors, smooth textured, great for sipping or enjoying with many foods — roast ducks, turkey, seafood, lean red meats, Asian flavors. There’s no limit to it! I’m sure you can guess that the price on Migration is in between the other two. Actually, it is listed on its website at $34 dollars, right in the middle. But what would you think if you could get it for $23.99? Wouldn’t that just make you love to try it this weekend when the temperatures are going to be lower again? Yes? Good! The ducks do rule. Enjoy.