It’s one part Matt Duffy, one part Sara Vaughn, mixed with passion, grit and a sprinkle of San Francisco Giants team spirit. That’s the secret recipe behind Vaughn Duffy Wines, a Sonoma Valley label known for its rich and diverse Pinot Noirs.
In March of 2020, winemaker Matt Duffy finally went full time with Vaughn Duffy, just over a decade after making his first bottle and batch in 2009. Ironic timing as the world was shutting down from the pandemic but his commitment to his product was at an all-time high.
Feeling fortunate to have been able to keep things afloat by consulting while winemaking through the pandemic, Vaughn Duffy now has a full-time tasting room in Sonoma County’s Kenwood community. The label’s namesake is a combination of Duffy and his wife, Sara Vaughn, who embarked on their winemaking journey just after their 2007 engagement.
Duffy learned by doing after years of working in wine retail, alongside good mentors and teachers who all shared the same purpose: finding the best fruit that they can.
He remembers the first batch and barrels fondly. It was 2009 and from the Saucci Vineyard where he and Vaughn, newlyweds at the time, had purchased their first ton of Pinot Noir grapes which produced two barrels of wine. He said he loved how it came out. “It was a more cool-climate-style Pinot Noir, not over-the-top fruity that some Russian River Pinot can be. There were tart cherry elements and it had some savory spiciness to it – whole bunches from the fermentation,” he says.
Finally having a product after years of labor, one they loved so much, was a sweet reward. An even sweeter reward was being recognized and applauded by the San Francisco Chronicle, Wine Spectator and Wine & Spirits Magazine, among others publications right out of the gate.
However, the early recognition did not stop Duffy from the fast pace nor the hard work that producing each year’s harvest and production takes. Hard work and grit; the theme of each bottle, which is where the Vaughn Duffy logo comes into play. “It takes a forklift to raise a wine,” Duffy says. The illustration on each bottle showcases a forklift holding the couple’s first two barrels (from 2009), and symbolizes where the label began and what it still takes to make a quality product.
Each bottle of wine is not just corked but uniquely capped with orange wax. The color, bright as a traffic cone, signifies the hard work it takes to make each bottle and is a nod to the family’s favorite baseball team, the San Francisco Giants. This small but bold detail for each bottle of wine stands out when on retail shelves.
This winemaker’s favorite part of winemaking? Harvest – the time where everything is on hold. With all that comes along with winemaking – marketing, sales, production, etc. – Duffy relishes harvest time even more. “It’s a time where I can forget about selling wine and can focus on making wine. That’s what I loved to do in the first place.”
When chatting with him, you can tell that Duffy is a casual man with a mountain of knowledge and a heart of passion. When walking into the tasting room in Kenwood, more likely than not you’ll be greeted and served by Duffy. Getting to talk to the winemaker himself is a simple luxury that will make the tasting experience even more special.
Enjoy two different samplers: the seasonal sampler and the Pinot Noir sampler. We highly recommend the Pinot Noir sampler, considering that’s where Vaughn Duffy began.
The Pinot Noir tasting starts with 2018 Pinot Noir from Russian River Valley with thick legs but soft and smooth on the palate, and follows with the 2015 Pinot Noir from Saucci Vineyard, 2018 Pinot Noir (also from Saucci Vineyard) and 2019 Pinot Noir from Bricoleur Vineyard.
The Seasonal Sampler consists of the green label 2021 Sauvignon Blanc, sharp and sweet from Hopkins Ranch. The tasting continues with the the 2020 Chardonnay from Knowlton Farms, the 2021 Rosé of Pinot Noir (a soft rosé, light but flavorful) and finishes with the 2019 Zinfandel from Poor Ranch.
Each one sips perfectly for the Pinot Noir “geeks” and the rosé lovers.
Though Duffy doesn’t mention it, we can’t help but think of the specific years within his winemaking timing. His first batch was produced in 2009, and he committed to running the brand full time was 2020. Both are such monumental years in the winemaker’s journey, but these years in history are unfortunately known for tragedy, one from U.S.’s economic downfall and one for the global pandemic. It seems as though whatever is thrown at someone with such a strong work ethic, as long as he has his family and vine, no hill nor valley can shake this winemaker.
Vaughn Duffy Wines are available at the tasting room, online or at restaurants across the Bay Area. Find bottles online at Vaughn Duffy Wines | Sonoma Family Winery or contact the team at firstname.lastname@example.org.