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Canvasback Takes Flight

Duckhorn buys land for new Washington winery

by Peter Mitham
flash wine
Duckhorn plans to plant its new 20-acre property on Red Mountain in Washington state with Cabernet Sauvignon.
Benton City, Wash.— Duckhorn Vineyards of St. Helena, Calif., has landed on Washington’s Red Mountain with the purchase of 20 acres located between Col Solare, Chateau Ste. Michelle’s venture with Italy’s Antinori family, and the Hedges family’s Bel’ Villa Vineyard.

The property was known to be under contract to a Napa winery, but the identity of the purchaser was not known until Duckhorn’s announcement this morning. The purchase price was not disclosed.

Alex Ryan, president and CEO of Duckhorn, identifed the property as being in an area of interest in an interview with Wines & Vines earlier this month, but he declined to give details as the transaction hadn’t yet closed.

Speaking this morning, however, he was obviously pleased with the deal’s successful closing.

“It’s kind of a small purchase, but it’s a big step for Duckhorn,” he told Wines & Vines. “This will be a new venture for us that will hopefully leave a lasting impression in the wine market.”

Plans call for development of a Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard on the property, supporting the new Canvasback label. Duckhorn built its reputation on Cabernet Sauvignon in California, and Red Mountain is known for the character of its red wines, making the new venture a good fit with Duckhorn’s overall portfolio.

But don’t expect Canvasback to be a Washington state echo of Duckhorn.

“We’re not trying to create Duckhorn wines from Washington, we’re trying to create Canvasback wines from Washington,” Ryan said. “They have their unique place, their unique style and nuances.”

Duckhorn bought Red Mountain grapes in 2012 and 2013, and Ryan hopes to build on those relationships as Duckhorn strives to express the terroir of of Red Mountain in its wines. (The wines are aging at Artifex Wine Co. in Walla Walla, Wash., with an initial release slated for late 2014.) Ryan also got a chance to meet many from the local industry at a Nov. 23 auction when Canada’s Aquilini Investment Group trumped everyone else in a play for 670 acres on Red Mountain from the Kennewick Irrigation District.

“The auction process was more than just an opportunity to buy some land,” Ryan said earlier this month. “It was an opportunity to meet our local competition and our local vintners.”

Duckhorn also worked with veteran grower Dick Boushey to select and assess its new property.

Boushey wasn’t immediately available for comment, but in a statement Duckhorn released announcing the sale, he called the parcel, “the finest undeveloped site on the mountain.”

Boushey will serve as Duckhorn’s vineyard manager when vineyard development begins in spring 2014.

Mario Zepponi, a partner at Santa Rosa, Calif.-based transaction advisor Zepponi & Co., said Duckhorn’s deal reflects the approach he sees many vintners taking in the Northwest.

Washington and Oregon allow larger companies to establish vineyards and garner high-quality fruit more economically than in many well-known areas of California. More important, the Northwest allows them to complement existing production, building on their established reputations but exploring new directions.

“I’m not sure that Washington is going to lend itself to being a big volume play for anybody,” Zepponi said. “I think you’re going to continue to see interest up there as long as the wine quality holds itself up. And I think it will.”

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