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Walnut Creek Magazine

Duckhorn Vineyards’ Renée Ary Pays Attention to the Little Details

Apr 14, 2022 09:00AM ● By Fran Miller

BY Fran Endicott Miller

Can impaired vision make for a better winemaker? In Renée Ary’s case, the answer is yes. Ary, vice president of Napa Valley winemaking for Duckhorn Wine Company, and winemaker for Duckhorn Vineyardsstarted wearing glasses at age six. She was at one point considered legally blind. “My husband tells me I have the ears and nose of a dog, and I think that’s helped me as a winemaker,” laughed Ary, who eventually received Lasik treatment to correct her impairment. A graduate of St. Mary’s College in Moraga, with degrees in chemistry and art, Ary had no idea she would end up in winemaking. She entered the industry through the lab, working at Robert Mondavi Winery as a technician; she believed she would one day open a wine lab. “I became enamored with the winemaking side because it allowed me to use my chemistry and art background. I loved that it was both technical and creative. And I remember the energy that filled the valley once crush began; I fell in love immediately.” 

In 2003, she joined the Duckhorn Vineyards team as the lab manager and worked several positions before moving into the head winemaker role in 2014. With 22 years in the industry, Ary’s attention to detail and love of a good challenge set her apart. “You never know what Mother Nature will throw your way, and you have no control over the weather, so you need to be flexible and think on your feet,” said Ary, who credits Duckhorn Vineyards’ winegrowing program - nine estate vineyards and relationships with the best winegrowers throughout Napa Valley and beyond - as the winery’s greatest strength. “Unlike many wineries, we have never focused on just one or two AVAs,” said Ary. “We take inspiration from the diversity of the Napa Valley, including its cooler and warmer AVAs and its mountain and valley floor regions.” 

Renée Ary. Photo by Frank Deras Photography

In challenging vintages, this diversity ensures that Ary always has excellent grapes with which to work. In exceptional vintages like 2018, 2019 and 2021, the results can be extraordinary. Long recognized as benchmarks for quality and consistency, Duckhorn’s North Coast Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley Merlot and Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon all benefit from this diversity. “Whether we are striving to showcase both citrus and tropical flavors in our Sauvignon Blanc, the depth and structure that can be achieved with great Napa Valley Merlot, or the graceful power and sophistication of Cabernet, each vineyard and AVA brings something special to the blending table,” said Ary. “This includes being able to use fruit from Duckhorn’s famed Three Palms Vineyard in the Napa Valley Merlot, and estate grapes from Howell Mountain in the Napa Valley Cabernet. As a winery that emphasizes depth, energy and layered complexity, it is like having a full palette of colors to work with when blending.”

This palette of colors is on beautiful display with the 2018 The Discussion Red Wine, made from the finest lots of wine from Duckhorn’s nine estate vineyards. “In 2018, Three Palms provided amazing structure, tannin and minerality,” said Ary. “Patzimaro imparted richness and depth. Rector Creek added blackberry and violet layers. Monitor Ledge brought fascinating blue fruit notes and polished tannins. Cork Tree added color and density, and Stout on Howell Mountain brought structure and wild, savory notes.” 


The 2019 Three Palms Vineyard Merlot is an homage to one amazing vineyard. For Ary, the relative coolness of the 2019 vintage made for an extra-special Three Palms Merlot. “Three Palms is always awesome, super-structured and age-worthy, but the combination of a cooler vintage at a warmer up-valley site really imparted a brightness and energy to the wine that I love,” said Ary. “The 2019 Three Palms is one of my top-three vintages of all time!”


“The secret to great wine is quality fruit and finding the balance in each vintage,” concluded Ary. “The secret to making great wine is a combination of timing, being present, and paying attention to the many little details.”

Main photo of Renée Ary by Wildly Simple Productions

Wine photos courtesy of Duckhorn Vineyards

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