WHEN NAPA VALLEY producer Duckhorn Vineyards announced in 2013 that it would expand its winemaking footprint into Washington, many wondered whether it would be more than a fling or casual dalliance.
Then the company planted a 20-acre vineyard on prized Red Mountain. The first release, a 2012 cabernet sauvignon, sold out in two months. Production quickly grew, and distribution expanded to all 50 states. Part of the success came from great fruit sources from top Red Mountain vineyards, and part came from the winemaking talents of Brian Rudin, a veteran Washington winemaker.
This early success of the new Canvasback brand encouraged the company to add another Washington wine, the Grand Passage cab, priced at $80.
These early wines showed the Duckhorn folks what Washington was all about: wines that reveal purity and generosity of fruit; plentiful land at reasonable prices; ample water; and an industry filled with genuinely nice, helpful people. Not a combination often found in California wine country.
All of this has led the folks at Duckhorn to look at Canvasback as more than a single wine. They’ve expanded their lineup to include 10 wines, and recently opened a tasting room south of downtown Walla Walla, in a building formerly occupied by Doubleback Winery.
It should be noted that Duckhorn Vineyards is no slouch, even in the highly competitive wine world of Napa Valley. In 2017, Wine Spectator magazine named a Duckhorn merlot its No. 1 wine in the world.
The fact that a winery of this caliber and stature chose to expand into Washington — and double down so quickly with an expanded line of wines and a tasting room — speaks well of Washington wine and the future direction of the industry, as well as Canvasback.
Three to try
Canvasback wines have broad distribution, with the cab easiest to find in wine shops and online. Others will be available through the Walla Walla tasting room.
Canvasback 2016 cabernet sauvignon, Red Mountain, $42: This boldly structured red is laden with aromas and flavors that are classic, starting with notes of plum, black currants, vanilla, blackberry cobbler and a pinch of sage. It features perfectly backed tannins and acidity that lifts and amplifies the flavors. Delicious now, and should age beautifully.
Canvasback 2018 riesling, Columbia Valley, $30: A delicious example of Washington riesling, revealing aromas of dusty minerality and slate, as well as Golden Delicious apple, pear and a hint of caramel. Following are long, lean flavors of ripe Fuji apple, lavender sorbet and a hint of ginger.
Canvasback 2016 syrah, Walla Walla Valley, $55: Using grapes from the Rocks District on the Oregon side of the Walla Walla Valley, this big, juicy red is distinctive, with aromas of smoked meats, black olives, moist forest floor, ripe strawberry and traces of molasses. This has a sturdiness often missing from syrah. An utterly fascinating wine.