Visit and Tasting Report: Vaughn Duffy Wines

Friday, March 16, 2012

I spent half a day tasting in Sonoma last week and I've got a lot of thoughts to share. I've visited Napa a dozen times, but this was just my third time tasting in Sonoma. A mistake I made the first time I visited - and maybe others have too - is expecting Sonoma to be a more affordable but otherwise just as good place to taste Cabernet Sauvignon. Sonoma is a cooler climate than Napa and therefore a better place to taste Pinot Noir and other cool climate varieties. If they're the varieties you're into then Sonoma may be a better place to visit than Napa.

As I was looking at potential wineries to visit I was like a kid in a candy store. There are so many tremendous Pinot Noir producers to visit in Sonoma. Of all the wineries I visited, the one I'm most excited to write about is this one: Vaughn Duffy Wines

The name comes from a young couple that relocated to Sonoma from San Francisco:  Matt Duffy & Sara Vaughn. I met with Matt at Vinify Wine Services - a custom crush facility for emerging winemakers where he works as a cellar master - to taste the two wines he produces: A Pinot Noir and a rosé.

I first heard of Vaughn Duffy from @tgutting on Twitter. He seems to always be drinking wines from California Pinot Noir producers I enjoy like Siduri, Zepaltas, and Joseph Swan. I pinged him to ask what he thought were some up and coming producers I should check out. Vaughn Duffy was his recommendation.

The wines I tasted were just the second produced by Vaughn Duffy Wines so we're definitely getting in on the ground floor here.

Matt, as earnest and enthusiastic and kind as you can imagine, worked as an intern at Siduri so he follows a similar lineage as Ryan Zepaltas in that respect. While tasting his two current releases - a 2010 Pinot Noir and a 2011 Rosé - I asked about his winemaking philosophy. Although he enjoys leaner Pinot Noir for personal consumption he wants to make wines his family and friends will enjoy. That they'll love.

And enjoy them I did.

The prior vintage of Vaughn Duffy rosé landed on the San Francisco Chronicle's Top 100 list of 2011. Quite an accomplishment for the first wines ever released under this label. Matt makes this wine from juice bled from premium Pinot Noir grapes from clients he works with at Vinify. To pay their generosity forward he donates $1 from every bottle sold to Sonoma charities. No two vintages are exactly the same - Matt says the 2011 vintage took longer for fermentation to begin - but many of the same crowd pleasing characteristics found in the 2010 rosé are also found in the 2011.

All of the winemakers I spoke with agreed that 2010 was a tough vintage for Pinot Noir. The growing season was extremely cool and grapes were slow to ripen. To assist ripening, leaves were removed late in the season. Then a rogue heat spike late in the season with temperatures well over 100F came along and fried exposed grapes.

When I hear that a vintage is "challenging" I tend to treat that as an indicator I should buy selectively. I asked each of the winemakers I spoke with about this and they said that good producers won't put out bad wines. If the grapes were truly fried they wouldn't have been picked. So what we'll see with 2010 Pinot Noir is reduced yields but good wines from good producers.

Although the 2010 Vaughn Duffy Pinot Noir is labeled "just" Russian River Valley, it could technically be labeled as a single vineyard wine. The grape source for the prior vintage was the Suacci vineyard (where Zepaltas and others have produced single vineyard Pinot Noirs in the past). However, in 2010 a fire near the Suacci vineyard imparted smoke taint on the Vaughn Duffy rows within the vineyard. As if the challenging overall weather conditions weren't enough!

So Matt sourced grapes from the Desmond vineyard which is southwest of Windsor in the Russian River Valley. This is traditionally a warmer site so Matt thought the cooler growing season would be a good one for Pinot Noir. Based on what I tasted in the bottle, I think he was right.

Here are my notes on the wines:

2011 Vaughn Duffy Pinot Noir Rosé
14.1% Alcohol
259  Cases Produced

The innocent light peach color did little to prepare me for how electric this wine is. Made using the Saignée method - juice bled from pressed Pinot Noir. Peaches, watermelon, and floral aromatics. Slight residual sugar is balanced wonderfully with sharp acidity. It's hard to imagine this bottle of wine at a deck party going unfinished. Terrific.

92/100 WWP: Outstanding

2010 Vaughn Duffy Pinot Noir
13.7% Alcohol
99 Cases Produced

For my palate, this is a delicious wine. Ripe strawberries, cherries, and a round voluptuous personality. Fresh. Pure. Friendly. Hard to stop tasting. Just the second vintage from Vaughn Duffy. I like the style here.

92/100 WWP: Outstanding

Next Steps:
  • Visit and sign up for their mailing list.
  • If you're a New England friend and would like to go in on a mixed case with me drop me an email ( and let me know. I'd prefer to amortize shipping costs across a larger order.
Lots more to come. Littorai, Kosta Browne, Zeptaltas, and more. I'd love it if you subscribed to the WWP to get regular updates.


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