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DUCKHORN VINEYARDS is not the first California winery to explore Washington wine country, but it might be the most significant.

Chalone came and went with Canoe Ridge Vineyard, and Gallo arrived in 2012 when it bought Columbia Winery. But Duckhorn landing here is compelling because it is one of the oldest and finest producers from California’s most important region (Napa Valley) coming to make wine in Washington’s top viticultural area (Red Mountain).

Duckhorn began in 1976 in the Napa Valley town of St. Helena and quickly gained prominence. It has since launched such brands as Paraduxx, Goldeneye, Migration and Decoy. Canvasback is the company’s first venture outside of Northern California.

Why Red Mountain? It was a simple decision for Duckhorn.

“We like to explore new regions,” said Carol Reber, Duckhorn’s chief marketing and business development officer. “There’s no question that the wines in Washington are spectacular. We are particularly intrigued by the cabs from Red Mountain.”

The small ridge in the eastern Yakima Valley is intriguing to a lot of top Washington winemakers. Red Mountain is tiny — just 4,040 acres — of which about a third already is planted. Some of Washington’s best vineyards — Ciel du Cheval, Kiona, Klipsun and Quintessence, to name a few — grow the most expensive red grapes in the state.

That Duckhorn chose Red Mountain could well be seen as a watershed moment when we look back in 15 or 20 years. This will lead to Red Mountain being recognized as one of the country’s top viticultural areas. It also will likely lead to more Californians understanding the opportunities that Washington wine country provides.

Duckhorn has hired Brian Rudin as its winemaker. The East Wenatchee native will produce the Canvasback wines at Artifex, a multi-winery production facility in Walla Walla.

Duckhorn is so serious about the Canvasback project that it bought 20 acres near Col Solare and hired famed Yakima Valley grape grower Dick Boushey to plant and manage it. Boushey planted 18.5 acres of cabernet sauvignon and merlot in the spring; its first crop is due in 2016.

The first vintage of Canvasback, which is just now hitting wine shops and restaurants, is 2,000 cases and should be considered highly collectible. Expect more in the future, as the folks at Duckhorn are excited to expand the portfolio as quality and quantity allow.

Andy Perdue is a wine author, journalist and international judge. Learn more about wine at