Napa Valley winery to launch Washington brand

One of Napa Valley’s premier wineries is coming to Washington.

Duckhorn Vineyards in St. Helena, Calif., will launch a Cabernet Sauvignon-focused winery using grapes from Red Mountain. Carol Reber, chief marketing and business development officer for Duckhorn, said it will release its first wine, a Cabernet Sauvignon from the 2012 vintage, around Labor Day 2014.

“We are a little less than a year away from our inaugural release,” she said. “(Red Mountain) is the next great frontier for luxury Cabernet.”

Duckhorn was launched in 1976 by Dan and Margaret Duckhorn. They chose to focus on Merlot in a region known for Cabernet Sauvignon, and they found quick success. The winery also produces Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. The winery has since launched additional brands, including Paraduxx, Goldeneye, Migration and Decoy.

The yet-to-be-named Red Mountain winery will be Duckhorn’s first venture outside of Northern California.

“Our roots will always be Napa Valley — that’s critical to our success,” Reber said. “But we like to explore new regions. There’s no question that the wines in Washington are spectacular. We are particularly intrigued by the Cabs from Red Mountain.”

Red Mountain, in the eastern Yakima Valley, is Washington’s smallest American Viticultural Area. About 1,400 of its 4,040 acres are planted to vineyards. It is home to such wineries as Col Solare, Hedges, Kiona and Fidelitas. Dozens of wineries from throughout Washington use Red Mountain grapes.

The first Duckhorn wine will use grapes from four Red Mountain vineyards: Klipsun, Shaw, Quintessence and Ambassador. The wine is being made at Artifex, a custom-crush facility in Walla Walla. Bill Nancarrow, Duckhorn’s vice president and executive winemaker, has been flying to Washington regularly to make harvesting decisions and oversee the wines.

Reber said the company, which now is owned by private equity firm GI Partners, would like to purchase land on Red Mountain to plant an estate vineyard and perhaps build a tasting room or winemaking facility.

“All of that is a possibility,” she said. “But nothing is imminent. We like to have a stake in the dirt in everything we do. We feel that’s an important part of the wine and the brand.”

Nearly 520 acres of land on Red Mountain — divided into 22 parcels — are being auctioned by the Kennewick Irrigation District on Nov. 23.

Reber said everyone the Duckhorn team has met in Washington has been extremely helpful, from winemakers to the Washington State Wine Commission.

“The reception has been just really unbelievable, really incredible,” she said.

Charlie Hoppes, owner and winemaker at Fidelitas Wines on Red Mountain, is pleased to see a winery with the reputation of Duckhorn come to Red Mountain.

“I think it’s great that they want to come,” he said. “They only add credibility to the reputation of Red Mountain. When you have a premier winemaking company out of Napa coming here, it confirms what we’ve seen all along. It only enhances the reputation.”

Steve Warner, executive director of the Washington State Wine Commission, could not be more pleased.

“It’s another indication that the world is realizing what an awesome wine-producing region we have,” he said. “We’re excited.”

Heather Unwin, executive director of Red Mountain AVA Alliance, said Duckhorn brought its entire marketing team to Red Mountain to walk the vineyards and meet future neighbors.

“That’s a company creating a relationship,” she said. “They really fell in love with everything they tasted from Red Mountain. They’re just captivated by what they found here.”

Duckhorn is the latest California winery in recent years to stake out a piece of Washington wine country. Earlier this year, Napa Valley’s Cakebread Cellars announced it is launching Mullan Road in Walla Walla. Last year, E&J Gallo in Modesto purchased Columbia Winery and Covey Run in Woodinville.

Andy Perdue is editor of Great Northwest Wine, a news and information company. Learn more at www.greatnorthwestwine.com.

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