Duckhorn Vineyards was founded in 1976 in St. Helena, in the Napa Valley. It was started by Dan and Margaret Duckhorn after Dan, a California native, toured the Bordeaux region of France in the 1970s. In 2007 a private equity firm took a significant ownership interest in Duckhorn, though Dan Duckhorn remains in charge of the estate. The winemaker is Renee Ary. The 229-acre estate is known for its big Cabernet Sauvignons and Merlots. Duckhorn was one of the first California producers to champion Merlot, and its Merlots are still highly regarded although today the estate also makes Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet France and Semillon. About 75,000 cases are produced annually. Robert M. Parker has written that Duckhorn has “a very positive style that represents a hypothetical blend of the ripeness of Napa allied with the elegance of a top Bordeaux.”
Sonoma County is not an AVA, but it is a commonly used informal designation for wines made outside of more specific AVAs within Sonoma, which is a large wine producing region just west of Napa Valley. Though Sonoma is often overshadowed by its glamorous neighbor Napa Valley, it has a long history of wine production. The area specialized in jug wine until the mid-20th century, when Sonoma producers took a cue from Napa and started improving quality. Unlike Napa, where Cabernet Sauvignon is king, Sonoma specialized in Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Zinfandel, though excellent Cabs are produced too. There are at present 16 AVAs within Sonoma County, and, like much of the West Coast of the United States, new AVAs are created in Sonoma County with regularity. Some Sonoma appellations, such as the Russian River Valley, are renowned for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.