NAPA VALLEY, Calif. – December 19, 2013 – Duckhorn Wine Company has acquired a 20-acre vineyard site in Washington State’s acclaimed Red Mountain AVA. The unplanted site is located just above Col Solare, the vineyard partnership between Tuscany’s Marchesi Antinori and Washington’s Ste. Michelle Wine Estates. Once developed, the new vineyard will serve as a source of estate fruit for Canvasback, a new Red Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon.
“While our roots are in Napa Valley, our vision has always been the idea that certain varieties find their best expressions in particular regions,” says Duckhorn Wine Company President and CEO Alex Ryan. “Cabernet Sauvignon from Red Mountain in Washington State is one of these amazing combinations. This acquisition is a testament to how fully committed we are to Washington State and the Red Mountain AVA. Establishing our own estate vineyards is central to Canvasback’s future and consistent with our approach to Duckhorn Vineyards, Decoy, Paraduxx and Goldeneye—all of which use a combination of grapes from top growers and estate vineyards.”
Located near the top of Red Mountain, at an elevation of approximately 1,100 to 1,300 feet, the site is above the frost zone and features gently rolling slopes, an ideal southwest exposure, and Warden series sandy loam soils with a basalt layer deep enough to allow the vines to fully take root. A past “Grower of the Year” honoree by both the Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers and the Washington State Grape Society, and the current vineyard manager for Col Solare, Dick Boushey worked closely with Duckhorn to evaluate the site’s potential. “Our first day in Red Mountain, we saw this property and fell in love with it,” says COO Zach Rasmuson. “Dick confirmed our instincts that this land has the potential to become one of the best Cabernet Sauvignon vineyards on Red Mountain.”
“This parcel is without question the finest undeveloped site on the mountain,” says Boushey. On a personal note, Boushey added, “It’s exciting to see this property in the hands of such an experienced and down-to-earth team. They are all vineyard people and they believe in doing things right. Duckhorn is a great match for Washington.”
With Boushey as vineyard manager, the Duckhorn Wine Company viticultural team will begin planting in the spring of 2014, with the majority of the vineyard planted to Cabernet Sauvignon
The name Canvasback was chosen in keeping with Duckhorn’s waterfowl tradition. Canvasback ducks are native to the Pacific Flyway with breeding grounds in Washington State. The debut 2012 vintage of Canvasback will be released for national distribution in the fall of 2014 at an SRP of $40.
Let’s face it, American Viticulture Areas are a “brand” – they’re a brand of a geographical area that grows grapes. They help customers become familiar with the various regions and sub-regions of vineyards all over the country. The reason wineries love them is because they can bottle wine, stamp a specific AVA on the bottle and assuming the potential customer knows the “brand” of that AVA, it could help sales.
There’s a strong argument that consumers around the USA and perhaps the world, know the “brand” of Walla Walla better than Columbia Valley – it’s cool to say and it’s a way cooler city to visit then the seemingly lifeless towns that litter the Columbia Valley. I know, personally, of many wine lovers who, when given a bottle of wine from Washington, will ask “is this from Walla Walla”? I can’t recall – ever – having someone from out of Washington State ask, “is this from Columbia Valley”? So I guess in that regard, the brand of the Walla Walla AVA is well on its way.
They say that the “devil is in the details” and when it comes to telling the story of the Walla Walla AVA, nothing could resound more true. While it’s true that the AVA bears the name of a Washington State city, the truth that’s not really being told per se is that 60% of the fruit from that AVA comes from Oregon and closer to 70% will be coming from there in the next year or so – how is that you ask?
AVAs are not at all bound by man-made boarders – they follow geographical areas and the Walla Walla AVA is only one of two in the entire USA that crosses state lines. So why is this a big deal? Well if you’re a grower or winery in the great state of Oregon then you’d want to make sure that people realize what’s going on in the northeast corner of that start and can hopefully rid themselves of the notion – once and for all – that Oregon only does great Pinot Noir.
Having the tremendously huge “brand” of the Willamette Valley is a blessing and somewhat of a curse in that the Pinot Noir produced there does in fact seem to overshadow all the great things Oregon is doing with other grapes – Bordeaux and Rhone varietals to be a bit more specific.
There are a couple of things to bear in mind when thinking of the Oregon side of this AVA – “the hills” and “the rocks” – if you ever hear those terms when speaking of wines made from the fruit of this region then you should know that “the rocks” is the area where wines such as the famous Cayuses Vineyards are made – i.e. tons of fruit, silky smooth but not very high acids. To the contrary, the grapes that come from the southern-most vineyards have higher elevation and low rock-counts have higher acids and tend to be a bit more food-friendly.
Here’s a quick run-down of some of the players who are helping to make this such an incredible wine area:
Seven Hills Vineyard Site:
Norm McKibben is one of the most prolific people in the Washington wine business – he’s been at it for longer than most, has invested millions of dollars and countless hours into making northwest wines better – he’s an owner in Pepper Bridge Winery as well as being often referred to as a “founding-father” of Walla Walla wine. But more importantly to this story is his backing of the Seven Hills Vineyard site just outside the town of Milton-Freewater.
Sitting at 235-acres, one of the things that makes this site so incredible is the various soil types and many micro-climates it encompasses. As you can see from the two pictures below, it starts out with an incredibly rocky, basalt-laden form of the earth near the top of the vineyard and as it drops down towards the valley floor turns into much softer soil.
Of course the views from up top are great, however, they also can help provide a sense of what the greater part of this AVA looks like from a topographical standpoint. One can easily see all the lush, green, almost endless land that abounds here so I hope it helps imprint a nice visual of what things look like the next time you sip on a wine from the “Seven Hills Vineyard” in the Walla Walla AVA.
This view is looking down the hill in a northwest direction towards the Tero Estate Winery (located just to the direct west of those grain silos).
Looking back up the hill of Seven Hills Vineyard, one can sort of get an idea of the levels of elevation we’re talking about here – anywhere from 850-1050ft.
Here we see one of the Estate Vineyards of Zerba Cellars – Cecil and Marilyn Zerb started this winery years ago, right near the heart of Milton-Freewater. Today it produces wines from a massive selection of varietals, many of which are sourced from their fruit on the Oregon side of the AVA. Just a few short years ago they hired winemaker Doug Nierman and have been winning tons of awards for his careful handling of their tasty fruit.
Located in downtown Milton-Freewater is the Watermill winery owned by the Brown family which got its start decades ago, growing apples in the local area. Today they have a cidery which produces around 80,000 cases of cider and of course the Watermill winery which is churning out around 4,000 cases.
Watermill’s passion, know-how and “get er’ done” mindset has placated very well for this relatively newcomer to the wine scene. Andrew Brown is the winemaker and as you can see from the video above, is about as down to earth as anyone gets.
Tero Estate Winery:
Another winery in the greater Milton-Freewater area is Tero Estate – started just a few short years ago by Doug and Jan Roskelly, this is a winery that has been garnering a ton of high praise for its ability to produce wines that reflect its own Windrow Vineyard and really showcase the terroir of that area just right down the hill from Seven Hills Vineyard.
I had the chance to sample their wines produce from their estate vineyards with Ashley Trout and can tell you, first-hand, that they are doing an admirable job on their wines and I’m excited for what their future holds.
Don Carlo Vineyards:
Tim and Lori Kennedy started this small winery not too long ago and have really done a great job making headway – yes, that is Tim of “Tim’s Cascade Style Chips”. This duo has Lori making the wine and Tim helping in the vineyard and in the sales. They produce only four wines at this time – a Cab, Merlot, Cab Franc and Chardonnay – all estate-grown.
Wrapping it up:
The next time you pick up any bottle of wine that is stamped with the “Walla Walla Valley” AVA you should get a hold of the winery and find out a bit more of where the fruit came from. Doing so may help give better insight to its origin and ultimately help everyone understand that the great state of Oregon is far more than just world-class Pinot Noir.
I’d encourage everyone to try a bottle from the wineries mentioned and make sure to ask if the wine is from the Oregon side – and ultimately anyone serious about Walla Walla wine owes it to themselves to visit the Milton-Freewater area and get to know the fruit and the people who are directly responsible for helping the Walla Walla “brand” look as good as it is.
Some wine lovers out there haven’t even heard of the grape, Petit Verdot so that alone makes them somewhat intrigued. What is it? Well, it’s one of the six red Bordeaux varietals that for the longest time was only used for blending. The reason for this is because it generally has a longer ripening time than the other Bordeaux grapes in France so it sort of fell out of favor there. However, in the New World, where hotter temperatures can help it ripen faster, it has attracted a lot of winemakers.
Richard Funk, owner and winemaker of Saviah Cellars in Walla Walla Washington has fallen in love with this wonderful grape and his current 2007 release totally reflects that love and passion.
Appellation: Walla Walla Valley
TA 0.54 g/100mL
Alcohol 14.7% By Volume
Fermentation: 36-hour cold soak; Open top fermenters with cap punched down by hand three times per day. Secondary fermentation finished in barrel.
Barrel Aging: 100% New French oak barrels
Aged 21 months
Cases Produced: 190 cases
Bottling Date: June 11, 2009
Release Date: October 1, 2010
Nose: Smells like a blackened prime-grade New York Steak – very “meaty” on the nose. Good aroma’s have charred wood, plumsauce, boysenberries, blueberry and blackberry jam.
Taste: First off, this wine kicks some major ass – it’s like a Slip-N-Slide flavorama of black licorice, blackberry jam, squid ink, plums and beef. The mouthfeel couldn’t be better and the overall “hang time” of the finish is obnoxiously long – in a good way. Easily the best Petit Verdot I’ve had anywhere at anytime. Would pair well with grilled steaks, veal meatballs or game.
Hailing from the greater Wenatchee Washington area, Saint Laurent winery makes a big deal of owning its own fruit which in this day and age can be a good thing. While it’s clearly not a guarantee of great wine it can help and it certainly hasn’t hurt the flavor of the 2009 Riesling.
Its winemaker, Craig, has a good pedigree and has worked with some of the better winemakers in Washington State, including the infamous Charlie Hoppes.
Estate Vineyards Riesling, from Malaga Vineyards
R. S. 2.4%
Nose: Stone fruit – peaches, apples and a hint of pear that I pick up right off the bat. I’m also getting some nice minerality and a bit of ivory soap.
Taste: Apricots, green apples and bosch pears flood the initial attack with a nice group of back-up singers in the form of peach-skins, blue-stone and something tastes like Tide laundry detergent smells. Good crisp finish that brings out some good acidity and structure – would be an easy pairing with seafood ceviche, scallops or even some lightly-spiced thai-foods and sushi.
A solid effort for $12 and frankly one that should be a no-brainer, go-to everyday Riesling.
Like most small wineries, Willis Hall prides itself on staying as close to the “purity of the fruit” as possible and sources from the best vineyard sites it can get its hands on. Winemaker, John Bell, is extremely passionate about his craft and is always eager to share the wines he produces.
Willis Hall has sort of carved out a small cult-like following and is one of the wineries that are starting to put Snohomish County on the map (well, that and some help from the scores Quilceda Creek wines have garnered).
I’ve had the pleasure of meeting John a few times now over the past several months and am always impressed on how personable he is and the gleam in his eye whenever you get him started talking about wine – it’s great to see his passion.
Barrels – 100% French Oak (50% New; 50% One Cycle Used)
Ageing – 22 Months
Nose: Cherries, raspberries, black cherries. The smell reminds me of a warm, safe place where as a child I’d Hide (Guns n’ Roses rocks!) – seriously, this wine has comfort-101 all over the nose. It’s pleasant, soft and full of fruit that you’d love to pound by the fistfull.
Taste: The sheer balance of tannin structure and dark fruits of this wine are “off the chain” – this is a Cab Franc that is truley world-class and shows good evidence as to why Washington State kicks ass with this grape. It has the classic darker berry fruits on the front-end with an incredible mid-palate transition that layers on a sort of caramel-pie-crust-like layer and the finish lasts for weeks.
2005 Dolcetto – W.E.P. Rating: 90%
Alcohol by Volume – 13.7%
Blend – 91% Dolcetto; 9% Sangiovese
Vineyards – Morrison Lane; Snipes Canyon Ranch
Barrels – 100% French Oak (40% One Cycle Used; 60% Neutral)
Ageing – 22 Months
Nose: Shampoo, black cherries, rhubarb, sour cherries, white pepper, bubble gum and beef jerky.
Taste: Good amount of an ocean-spray tartness that goes on in the fruit attack of this wine – flavors of cherries, raspberries and lognberry. A solid mid-palate transition that brings on some nice layers of cocoa, white pepper and a hint of medicine cabinet. Good finish that lingers on nicely for hours.
Powers Winery in the Richland WA, has been producing wines for longer than most other wineries in the state – its legacy extends back to 1982, which for WA is a decently long time. Started by brothers Greg and Bill Powers, they also produce wine under another label called Badger Mountain. It was also one of the first wineries in our state to transition to 100% organic grapes back in 1992 – long before it was the savvy thing to do.
2006 Reserve Meritage: W.E.P. Rating: 90%
Vineyard Sources and Grape Varities: 31% Cabernet Sauvignon from Coyote Vineyard (Wahluke), 22% Merlot from Katharine Leone (Wahluke Slope, Milbrant), 21% Malbec from Goose Ridge (Columbia Valley), 18% Petite Verdot from Alice Vineyard (Wahluke), and 8% Cabernet Franc from the Estate (Columbia Valley)
Copperage: The Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec both were in new wood (French), the rest in 3-4 yr old.
Bottled in August of 2008
240 cases made
Nose: Blackberries, tar, pie crust and some herbaceousness.
Taste: Black plum, blackberry and black cherries combined with some leather, sweaty sock, firm tannins and a finish that lingers quite well. This wine should easily lay down for the next 5-10 years.
Nose: Obvious cherries, blackberries and big league chew, pomagrante, brussel sprouts on the nose along with some vanilla-laced tobacco.
Taste: I get dried cherry, shoe-leather, dark chocolate, tobacco, anise, not a bad mouth-feel, hints of smoothness and a good finish. This wine would be a natural pairing with prime rib or grilled steaks topped with blue-cheese; however, at it’s price of $30, there are some better values out there – to me this wine is currently bringing about a $20 experience.
Winemaker, Chuck Reininger, of Reininger Winery in Walla Walla WA has been producing premium wines from the fruit of local Walla Walla vineyards for over a decade now. Along with his primary label of Reininger, Chuck also launched another label called Helix – this wine always features grapes sourced from the Columbia Valley which opens up a new direction for him and the style of wines he wants to produce. For those who may now know, Columbia Valley has been growing wine-grapes for a much longer time than Walla Walla and still has arguably the best fruit in the state.
In this review, we look at their Sangiovese and Pomatia:
2005 Sangiovese: W.E.P. Rating: 90%
Vineyards: Stillwater Creek Vineyard
Blend: 100% Sangiovese
Total acidity g/100ml
Cases Produced 327
Nose:Some good bluebeery components at play along with bubble-gum, rhubarb and some veggie action.
Taste: Peppered bacon with some eucalyptus and tart rhubarb on the front-to-mid palate. Good spice, pencil lead, pepper and a striking finish of dark fruit on the end – good finish and acidity which makes this wine an easy pick for many types of food.
2005 Pomatia: W.E.P. Rating: 120%
Vineyards: Ash Hollow, Bacchus, Minnick, Pepper Bridge, Phinny Hill, Pleasant, Seven Hills, Stillwater Creek
Cooperage: 52% French, 42% American, 8% Russian Oak, 9% New Oak
Bottled: August 2007
Total acidity: .593 g/100ml
Production: 3265 Cases
Nose:Elmers glue, blackberry, blueberry and some road-kill funk – some nice black pepper, and smoked paprika.
Taste:Huge black fruit on the front palate – an onslaught of blackberries, black plum and black cherries for days. I get some stellar hints of dark chocolate, pepper, leather mit and some char. Its finish lasts a long time – the tannin struture on this wine is stellar for its price point and the overall finesse it has proves to be one of the more memorable wines I’ve had at this price. Nice lingering finish of fresh black fruits, pencil lead, ink and leather.