In the 1970s Napa had about 20 wineries and Cab was King. Dan Duckhorn was going to school in Berkley. He and Margaret would head to Napa to get out of the city. They fell in love with the wine industry and in 1973 they moved to Napa with their 3 young kids.
They didn’t have an option, they had to make this work to support their young family. Margaret became the school nurse (the only school nurse) in Napa Valley.
They fell in love with Merlot, a variety that at the time was taking a backseat to Cab. They loved Merlot, it was not so bold, it didn’t require the aging that Cabernet Sauvignon did and it had a velvety texture (all things I love about Merlot also).
*These wines were provided as samples, no further compensation was recieved. All opinions are our own.
They went to Bordeaux to learn about the varieties and the classic styles of making them, visiting Pomerol and St. Emilion. They studied the cellar techniques and found that all the houses there had their own styles and blends.
In their first vintage, they made 800 cases of Cabernet Sauvignon and 800 Cases of Merlot. The Merlot they priced at a hefty $12.50 a bottle (at the time Cab Sav was going for around $7 per bottle). This raised some eyebrows and gained interest.
They have been making world-class Merlot ever since.
The Duckhorn family launched #MerlotMe in 2013. The idea was to celebrate Merlot during the month of October, leading up to National Merlot Day on November 4th. This is the 9th year of this celebration. This year 111 wineries will participate along with countless writers and fans of this grape.
Renee Ary, Director of Winemaking at Duckhorn
There are still too few female winemakers out there, but that is changing. At Duckhorn, Renee Ary runs their winemaking program.
Renee hails from New Jersey and studied chemistry and art in San Francisco. When looking for jobs doing lab work, she was hired for a job a Robert Mondavi, which started her passion for wine.
She joined Duckhorn in 2003, working in their lab. She became the Assistant Winemaker under Mark Beringer. In 2013 she became the winery’s 4th head winemaker. In her first vintage in 2014, the Duckhorn Three Palms Merlot was named the #1 Wine of the Year by Wine Spector Magazine.
Dana Epperson, Decoy Winemaker
Add another to the list of prominent female winemakers in the Duckhorn Portfolio.
Dana Epperson is a third-generation Sonoman. She studied food science, wine, and viticulture and interned then worked at Ferrari-Carano, Edna Valley Vineyard in SLO Wine Country, and Atesa in Napa Valley. She, like Renee, had the opportunity to be mentored by Mark Beringer. She worked with a handful of other wineries before coming to Decoy.
Decoy sources from many vineyards and they do over 100 individual fermentations, some in lots as small as 5 tons. This gives them lots of room to play with blending.
“If you want to achieve small-lot quality in your wines, you have to apply the same small-lot attention to detail, including hand-sorting, the use of the finest coopers and French oak, and a commitment to artful blending. From the wealth of viticultural and winemaking talent, we can draw from to our world-class cooperage program and more, Decoy benefits greatly from the remarkable resources of The Duckhorn Portfolio.” Dana Epperson, quote courtesy Duckhorn winery
2019 Decoy California Merlot
This wine comes from vineyards across 3 appellations; 60% Sonoma County, 32% Central Coast and 8% Mendocino County
80% Merlot, 18% Cabernet Sauvingon, 2% Cabernet Franc
It ages 12 months in 35% New French Oak
13.9% abv – $25.99 (on Wine.com)
My notes: red currant, cranberry, and anise with notes of nutmeg and baking spice on the nose. In my mouth, more cranberry and currant with red cherry notes and a smooth finish with nutmeg. and vanilla
2018 Duckhorn Napa Valley Merlot
A blend from vineyards in Carneros, Oak Knoll, Calistoga, Napa Valley, and Yountville this wine is 82% Merlot, 16% Cabernet Sauvignon, 0.4% Cabernet Franc, 0.4% Petit Verdot, and 0.2% Malbec.
It ages 15 months is 40% New French Oak
My notes: This wine had more complexity than the first with notes of black currant, black plum, cranberry, stewed fruits, fennel, and wet stone on the nose. There were notes of cloves and cedar with wet leaves in the background. It was like fall in a glass. This wine was delicious, but it will continue to age and round.
14.5 abv – $56 SRP (on the Duckhorn site)
What to pair? Curry, inspired by the Winery!
We were doing the #WinePW Twitter chat for #MerlotMe and someone had paired a dish with coconut milk with their wine (I think it was a soup that Gwendolyn Alley of Wine Predator made). Duckhorn had mentioned that it made them wonder how curry would pair. I still had my two bottles of Duckhorn and Decoy to pair so, my research began.
I knew that I wanted to include a protein that would stand up to these wines and that I did not want anything too spicy. I came across a couple of recipes for Beef Massaman Curry and combined them with a few updates. We plated this with an ancient grain mix that was cooked in beef stock.
The curry sauce is shallot, garlic, ginger, lemongrass, ground coriander, ground cumin, coriander seeds, nutmeg, cinnamon, clove, cardamon, fish sauce, brown sugar, and coconut milk. I charred the garlic, shallot, and ginger before tossing them with the other ingredients into the food processor. I did toast all my dry spices to release the oils and fragrances before I tossed them in.
The beef is stew meat, tossed with flour and pepper and seared, then tossed in a dutch oven with the curry paste, beef stock, and coconut milk. This all cooks together for a little less than 2 hours, then carrots and potatoes are added and cook for another 20 minutes.
We plated this with an ancient grain mix that was cooked in beef stock and garnished with lime wedges, toasted peanuts, and fresh cilantro.
The pairing worked wonderfully and made for a cozy dinner, perfect as the weather is cooling. The spice notes in the dish play against the fruit notes in the wine beautifully.
Massaman Beef Curry
This hearty warming Massaman Beef Curry has warm spices without the heat. It is the perfect dish for fall, served with ancient grains cooked with beef stock.
- 1 large shallot
- 5 cloves of garlic
- 1 thumb-size piece of fresh ginger
- 1 stem of lemongrass
- 1 tsp ground coriander
- 1 ½ tsp ground cumin
- ½ tsp coriander seeds
- 1/8 tsp fresh grated nutmeg
- ½ tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/8 tsp ground Madagascar clove
- ¼ tsp ground cardamon
- 2 tbs fish sauce
- 1 tsp brown sugar
- 2 tbs coconut milk
- 1 ½ lb stew beef cut into cubes
- 1 2/3 cups of beef stock
- 1 can of coconut milk
- ½ lbs baby gold potatoes
- 3 carrots
- Juice of one lime
- Cilantro, toasted peanuts, and lime wedges to garnish
Peel the shallot and garlic, char in a rod iron skillet with the ginger
Chop the shallot into quarters, peel the ginger and cut into chunks
Grate 1 stalk of lemongrass on a fine grater
Toast your dry spices in a dry skillet
Toss the shallot, ginger, and the whole charred cloves of garlic in a food processor with the grated lemongrass and the toasted spices.
Add the fish sauce, brown sugar, and 2 tbs of coconut milk.
Process until the paste is relatively smooth.
Toss the beef with flour, salt, and pepper to coat.
Heat a rod iron skillet with 2 tbs of vegetable oil over medium-high.
Brown the beef for 5 minutes, flipping after 2 minutes.
In a dutch oven heat 1 tbs of vegetable oil, add the seared beef.
Add the curry paste and toss to coat.
Add the beef stock and coconut milk.
Stir, cover, reduce heat and cook 1 hour 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Quarter the baby potatoes, peel and cut the carrots into ½ in ovals, cutting on the diagonal.
Add to the mixture, cover, and cook for 20 minutes.
Make couscous or rice to place this on at this time
Finish with the juice of one lime before serving.
Garnish with toasted peanuts, cilantro, and lime wedges.
Amount Per Serving Calories 336Total Fat 18gSaturated Fat 13gTrans Fat 0gUnsaturated Fat 4gCholesterol 84mgSodium 536mgCarbohydrates 16gFiber 2gSugar 3gProtein 31g
Nutrition information isn’t always accurate.
Check out some of our other Merlot pairings for #MerlotMe
- Two easy to find and affordable Merlots to celebrate #MerlotMe Month
- Kicking off #MerlotMe with 2 Rutherford Hill Merlots and decadent burgers with chocolate
- Merlot from 2 big name companies that are worth finding for different reasons
- Celebrating Merlot Month with a Selby Merlot from Sonoma County
- Merlot from elegant to badass. Time to #MerlotMe with #WinePW
- Washington Merlots from L’Ecole No. 41 paired with Fig and Shallot stuffed pork loin
Robin Renken is a wine writer and Certified Specialist of Wine. She and her husband Michael travel to wine regions interviewing vineyard owners and winemakers and learning the stories behind the glass.
When not traveling they indulge in cooking and pairing wines with food at home in Las Vegas.
It was the Duckhorn that made us fall in love with new world Merlot. That pairing is so on point we can taste it!
Both of the Duckhorn wines were delicious and now I have truly fallen for Massaman Curry!