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Migration Wines

Sta. Rita Hills AVA

You must pay attention to it from the minute the fruit is picked until the wine is finally bottled.

The story of Dan Duckhorn and his Duckhorn portfolio of wines is well-documented as well it should be. Duckhorn is a master of wine innovation as well as the acknowledged ambassador for Napa Valley Merlot and its rise to fame some decades ago.

Among Duckhorn’s crown jewels is this month’s Platinum Wine Club selection, aptly named Migration for the annual trek for survival of a large number of duck species.

Migration saw life almost two decades ago with the release of 2,000 cases of Anderson Valley Pinot Noir that was instantly accepted by the consuming public as an excellent example of a wine that balanced vibrancy and finesse. That acclimation has not changed during the winery’s nearly twenty years of existence and its intention of showcasing fruit and wine from across California’s broad range of quality growing areas.

“Our intention was to bring together wines from different cold-climate growing areas beyond their original homes to show their different aspects and relationship to terroirs,” offered Dana Epperson, Duckhorn Vice President for Sonoma-Mendocino operations and Winemaker for Migration. “By following this pattern of locating fruit outside its home comfort zone of growing, we are following the patterns set millions of years ago by waterfowl seeking their survival sites by their annual migration from colder to warmer surroundings.”

Migration has a storied history to draw from and an incredible number of awards and high scores to boot. Migration is the embodiment of terroir-driven wines and this month’s wine, the 2015 Pinot Noir, Drum Canyon Vineyard, is an excellent example of that philosophy.

“Drum Canyon Vineyard is one of my favorite sources,” stated Epperson during a recent interview. “All of its vines are southwest facing and planted on sandy soils with outstanding drainage. You can see the coastline from the vineyard and that proximity tends to assure the wine’s unique character. It could serve as a dictionary’s definition of ‘sense of place,’ it’s really that special.”

Migration’s incredible vineyard sources include the Running Creek Estate Vineyard in Sonoma County’s heralded Russian River Valley, and Napa Valley’s Charles Heintz Vineyard. Also included is the venerable Bien Nacido Vineyard of the Santa Maria Valley and it’s neighboring Dierberg Vineyard and Green Valley’s (Sonoma) famed Dutton Ranch where Migration’s wines are made.

“We have bought fruit from Dutton Ranch for many, many years,” injected Dana Epperson, “and have a wonderful relationship with them. It’s just like being at home and that’s what is so important during the winemaking process.”

At the tender old age of 35, Dana Epperson just finished her fifteenth harvest this past fall. The Sebastopol native began her career as a teenager. With the help of family friend and winemaker Sarah Quider, Epperson matriculated to Cal Poly at San Luis Obispo where she studied food science and viticulture. She interned at Sonoma’s Ferrari-Carrano Vineyards and Winery and later became the enologist for the famed Edna Valley Vineyard. That was followed by a stint at Napa Valley’s Artesa Estate Vineyards and Winery where she oversaw 25 different properties. She moved to Napa’s Jamieson Ranch Vineyard and joined Duckhorn in 2014 as associate winemaker for its Decoy Brand.

Her favorite varietal to work with? “The Pinot Noir,” she admitted, somewhat hesitantly. “Because it is so tricky to work with. It all comes back to the vineyard source. In order to make a great Pinot Noir, you must have exceptional fruit. You can’t do much in the winery if you don’t have absolutely remarkable fruit to begin with. I know of no other varietal that gives you a sense of place like the Pinot Noir grape. It’s usually unique and delicate, but it’s not the winemaker’s friend. You must pay attention to it from the minute the fruit is picked until the wine is finally bottled. So many little things can happen during its life, and it is why great Pinot Noir has become the darling of the California wine world. Some winemakers won’t even touch Pinot Noir, but to me, that is the great challenge of my profession.”

A new entity for the Duckhorn Portfolio is a project that is called Migration-Carneros that will be located in the Carneros area of lower Napa Valley. A tasting facility for the project is already under construction and is planned to open in early 2020.

“This is great for Migration in general,” finalized Dana Epperson. “This will give us exposure to the hordes of wine enthusiasts who visit Napa Valley each year. It will allow so many more consumers the ability to appreciate what we are attempting to do here, our own sense of terroir.”

Map of the area

Dear Platinum Wine Club Members,

Picture of Dear <i>Platinum Wine Club</i> Members,

The Migration 2015 Drum Canyon Pinot Noir is one of my personal favorites and I am thrilled to be able to share it with you!

Drum Canyon Vineyard is situated in the heart of the Sta. Rita Hills on a steep southwest facing slope looking out towards the Santa Barbara coastline. It is an impeccably maintained vineyard with low yielding vines, very small clusters and planted on well-draining sandy shale, creating immense concentration.

For Migration Wines, we target our harvest picking discussions to focus on bright fruit and balanced acidity. Picking the fruit at its optimum ripeness allows the terroir of the wine to shine through and stays true to the fruit-driven and balanced style. We choose a selection of oak that complements and lifts the fruit, adding texture and body without overpowering the nose or palate with toast. This wine has a beautiful dark ruby hue, notions of red currants, Bing cherries and a lovely perfumed undercurrent of roses, lavender and sage. The medium body of this wine is complimented by a blend of French oak with ranging toast levels to lift the fruit, add a subtle sweetness and lengthen the finish.

It’s always fun to see how the single vineyard wines will develop from year to year, Mother Nature shifting the style slightly with vintage variation. Drum Canyon Vineyard usually falls right in line with my expectations and is always true to place.

I hope you enjoy this truly special Drum Canyon Pinot Noir.

Dana Epperson