Duhig's Strong Debut

Winemaker Harvest Duhig's new Napa Cabernets have nearly 20 years of experience at Caymus behind them

Duhig's Strong Debut
Winemaker Harvest Duhig in her Coombsville vineyard (Courtesy of Duhig Wine)
Feb 27, 2020

With a name like Harvest, you’re probably destined to be in agriculture. Throw in a family history of grapegrowing and the wine business seems written in the stars for you.

Harvest Duhig, 43, got her schooling at U.C. Davis. After graduating in 2000 she took a job as a gal Friday for a small winery in Napa Valley. While doing a mix of office and tasting room work there, she got a call from some growers who wanted help selling their grapes. So, she opened a phone book and started dialing. When she got to ‘C’ she landed on Caymus. A guy named Chuck Wagner answered the phone and agreed to meet.

“We toured some vineyards and he asked me question after question after question. Some answers I knew, some I didn’t. But I was impressed with what he knew, what he wanted and how he went about things,” says Duhig. “I realized he was a real farmer.”

After that first meeting in 2002, Duhig thought she might be a bit out of her depth. But Wagner called back a few days later and invited her up to his Atlas Peak facility, where they vinify Caymus' mountain fruit.

“And suddenly I found out I was handling quality control in the vineyards that contract with Caymus but do their own farming,” she says. She’s been doing that ever since, working with about 30 growers and overseeing the vinifications as Caymus' grower relations and mountain Cabernet winemaker.

The Duhig family history in California dates to 1853, when the Duhigs arrived in Carneros and farmed a vineyard until 1915, when the grandparents of Harvest's husband, John, sold it off and moved up valley. In 2008, Harvest and John completed purchasing a property in Coombsville, just a quarter-mile south of Farella Vineyard. The 13.5-acre property has been planted to 3 acres of vines, with 4 more scheduled to go in. Duhig does a lot of the vineyard work herself while also keeping her day job at Caymus and raising two children with John.

“Slow and steady, create and cultivate,” she says. “That way I can wear all the hats and my customers can know what they’re drinking and where it comes from.”

Visiting the property, the first thing I notice is how uniform and manicured the vines are. There’s no California sprawl here, but rather tight 6-foot by 3-foot spacing and low-to-the-ground-trained vines.

“Working alongside Chuck all these years, I’ve seen that high-density plantings work in a variety of soils and climates,” says Duhig. “I love seeing the results of increased density—balance in the vineyard. By balance I mean shoots that grow to fill the canopy wires, not exceed it, with little to no lateral growth and loose, small-berried clusters.”

“Our vineyard site slopes gently west and southward, and has very well-drained, shallow, low-vigor diatomaceous soil,” says Duhig, kicking at a small outcrop of friable, white chalk in the brown gravel. "The 6 feet of spacing between rows eliminates row-to-row shading, and 3 feet between vines seems to work well as the vine shoots end their vegetative cycle at a length of about [4 feet].”

Keeping a tight rein on her vines is paying immediate dividends. The debut 2016 Duhig Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley offers a ripe, dense, dark profile with notes of fig and blueberry reduction inlaid with alder, sassafras and licorice root notes. It has an alluring, creamy mouthfeel, ending with a swirl of menthol and tug of dark earth on the finish. It’s typical of Coombsville Cabernets in its combination of blue and black fruit with a less overtly heady feel than that of up-valley Cabernets, along with a distinctly earthy tone through the finish. There were just 125 cases made, though plans are to increase production as the newer plantings come online. The goal is 1,200 cases max. (Check out this week's Insider Weekly newsletter for my official review.)

The 2017 is lusher in feel, with fig and boysenberry compote flavors marked with sage brush and humus accents. It moves slowly but surely through the finish.

A barrel sample of the 2018 shows a red fruit profile, a bit different from the others, with a shade less density, but it’s long and supple in feel. “This site is in fog until 10 a.m. most mornings,” says Duhig. “So cool vintages such as ’18 are markedly cooler here than up valley. We run about 8° cooler, with lower highs and steadier lows.”

The 2019 seems to show the vineyard settling in, as it straddles the dark profile of the ‘16/’17 duo and the red fruit–profiled ’18, with a mix of fig, cherry and cassis notes and a long, alluring earth- and licorice-shaded finish.

With such a nascent track record, it’s hard to gauge how the wine will age. The 2016 is approachable now but has the stuffing to evolve for a decade at least. I asked if she was making a wine to age, or was willing to accept the common wisdom that most Napa Cabs tend to hit a peak around age 10 or so.

“I want to farm grapes that develop tannin, acid and fruit,” she says after a slight pause. “But I also want people to be able to enjoy it whenever they decide to pull the cork—because that’s totally up to them. If I buy a dress that looks great in the store, I won’t then bring it home and put it in the closet for four years before I finally wear it.”

Follow James Molesworth on Instagram at @jmolesworth1, and on Twitter at @jmolesworth1.

Winery Intel Red Wines Cabernet Sauvignon California Napa

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