Clos Du Val Winemaker's New Project

Staff Writer
After 40 years as Clos Du Val’s winemaker, Bernard Portet debuts Heritance, his new winemaking project

Photo Sasabune Omakase Modified: Flickr/erin/CC 4.0

Recently I had the opportunity to meet with Bernard Portet, renowned Napa Valley vintner, and talk with him about his new winemaking project, Heritance. I had met Portet years ago when he was co-founder and winemaker at Clos Du Val Winery in Napa Valley’s Stags Leap District. Portet was among the pioneering vintners who revitalized the American wine industry during the 1970s while helping transform Napa Valley from a sleepy agricultural backwater into a wealthy, world-renowned wine region. Amazingly, he is celebrating 40 years as a winemaker but he is even more handsome now than he was then.

Portet retired from Clos Du Val Winery in 2009 but his retirement was short-lived and he is now applying his legendary style of Heritance, which focuses on Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon and sauvignon blanc. These are the signature varietals of France’s Bordeaux region, where Portet was raised and schooled in wine.

Derivation of the Name Heritance and Founding of Polaris Wines

The name Heritance is an amalgam of heritage and inheritance. Portet comes from a French family that has been growing grapes and making wine since 1698. He builds on the experience handed down from eight generations of French winemakers before him to make his Napa Valley wines — one family, nine generations and making wines on four continents. The inheritance part refers to his father, André, who was the régisseur of Chateau Lafite and taught Portet much of what he know about growing grapes and making wine.

Shortly after leaving Clos Du Val, Portet encountered an old friend, Don Chase. Chase, who had held executive level positions with Beringer, Rutherford Hill, Quintessa, and Kunde Estate, was also at loose ends so he and Portet decided to form a new company called Polaris Wines, whose initial brand is Heritance. Polaris Wines also imports Ñandú, an Argentinian malbec produced by Portet. Between them, Chase and Portet have 75 years experience in the wine business.  Bernard’s son, Olivier Portet, is National Sales Manager for Polaris.

Portet sources grapes for Heritance from leading Napa Valley growers located between St. Helena in the middle of the valley and cooler districts to the south near the town of Napa. Having enjoyed a long relationship with most of these growers, Portet is able to specify how he wants the fruit grown. After harvest, the grapes are delivered to the custom crush facilities where Portet makes the wines of Heritance, overseeing every aspect of the winemaking process, personally blending the various vineyard lots.

Click here to learn more about Portet's winemaking style, his history at Clos Du Val, and reviews of his Clos Du Val and Heritance wines. 

— Christine Graham, The Underground Wine Letter

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