By far and away, the Durney Cabernet Sauvignon is the winery’s most celebrated wine, having received numerous awards and accolades.
Perhaps it was fate. On a business trip to Carmel, California in 1993, Gilbert Heller, a London based investment banker and his wife Toby, were having dinner at the Highlands Inn. Wanting to enjoy a local wine with dinner, the sommelier suggested they try a Durney Cabernet Sauvignon. “I remember telling the waiter how rich and remarkable the wine was,” recalls Gilbert, “then he mentioned that the winery was located nearby in Carmel Valley and happened to be up for sale.” The next day, the Hellers visited the winery and instantly fell in love.
The Hellers discovered the Durney property was situated at the 1,200-foot elevation deep in Carmel Valley’s remote Cachagua region. The huge 1,200-acre spread had roughly 70 acres of vineyards nestled in the sunshine-bathed amber hills, complete with a charming Spanish-style house and swimming pool. A separate guest house with its own private pool was nearby, and both dwellings were situated next to a large pond with a beautiful cascading waterfall. Interestingly, the layout included a small, quaint chapel that Bill Durney built not far from the vineyard. The story goes that during his European travels, Bill Durney often noticed chapels near vineyards and decided he could use all the help he could get. So he decided to build one next to his vineyard!
Bill and Dorothy Durney originally purchased what was then a cattle ranch, in the 1950s. In 1967 they decided to plant the first Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard in Carmel Valley. The vineyard did well enough to sell the crop to other producers who were in turn, producing award-winning wines. As a result, the Durneys decided to build a winery to make wines under their own label. The first Durney Cabernet Sauvignon was released in 1977 to somewhat mixed reviews. But with the next vintage, their Cabernet not only won a Gold Medal but incredibly, also took first place in a sanctioned tasting along side France’s 1st Growth Bordeauxs. All of a sudden Durney Vineyards was on the proverbial wine map.
Bill Durney made many highly successful wines in the 1980s, and at one point the winery’s production reached 15,000 cases. In 1988 though, Durney passed away and the property deteriorated as the years passed.
When the Hellers discovered it in 1993, the buildings and vineyards had fallen in disrepair but the property’s beauty and potential were still shining. Gilbert and Toby, along with a group of European investors, bought the property that same year.
Immediately, the Hellers went to work upgrading the vineyards. Fifty new acres were added, bringing the total to 120. A decision was made to convert the vineyards to totally organic. After three vintages of clean farming, without the use of pesticides or herbicides, the vineyard became one of the few in California to receive an organic certification. “It’s expensive and takes more time, but in the long run it benefits everyone,” states Gilbert. All new French oak barrels were brought in too, as well as a new winemaker, Rex Smith, formerly with Napa Valley’s Cuvaison Winery.
The Hellers also quickly refurbished the buildings and spruced up the surroundings. Interspersed among the new gardens are impressive sculptures created by Toby Heller who is internationally acclaimed for her artwork. In fact the Hellers have designed some of their wine labels using Toby’s sculptures as designs. Her “Dancing Partners” life-size bronze sculpture is depicted on the 1993 Cabernet Sauvignon label. This particular work also inspired the Durney motto “Dances on your Palate.”
Today, Durney Vineyards produces Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Merlot and three different bottlings of Cabernet Sauvignon. By far and away, the Durney Cabernet Sauvignon is the winery’s most celebrated wine, having received numerous awards and accolades. Production hovers around 25,000 cases and Gilbert expects to double the size within the foreseeable future.
Dear Platinum Series Wine Club Members:
We are pleased to learn that our Durney Vineyards much-heralded 1993 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon is now available to Platinum Series members. As you may have seen in the press, this wine has been awarded a number of Gold Medals, including a Double Gold from the Taster’s Guild and a Gold Medal, 94 points, and Best of Class by the California State Fair. Decanter Magazine selected this wine as the ‘Best Red of the Season” in December 1999, and Sotheby’s Serena Sutcliffe has written, ‘It has a brilliant cassis nose and on the palate was vivacious, juicy and deep with black currant fruit. Totally berryish’” and ‘I must say, I found it your best wine so far.”
We produce outstanding Cabernet Sauvignons, which Robert Parker states are ‘super rich, with plenty of toasty sweet oak, a lot of tannin, yet an alluring chewy texture, wonderful purity and focus and explosively long, rich finishes.”
This is an extraordinary California wine made in true Bordeaux style, and will bring you many glasses of pleasurable, satisfying drinking.
Cheers from HELLER ESTATE/DURNEY VINEYARDS - G Heller