NAPA, Calif. – After a California-based company purchased Seven Hills Winery in late January, many people in and around the Washington wine industry were questioning who Crimson Wine Group is and what its intentions are here in the Pacific Northwest.
As it turns out, Crimson Wine Group has a foundation firmly based in the Northwest and has a well-established history of building and buying small wineries with quality in mind.
“Our philosophy is based on three pillars: quality, focus and growth,” said Patrick DeLong, CEO of Crimson Wine Group. “Our three pillars will be our guide. We have a good track record.”
Crimson Wine Group is not a giant company looking to swallow small- and medium-sized wineries, DeLong told Great Northwest Wine. Rather, its total production is just 300,000 cases spread across a half-dozen artisan producers in California, Oregon and Washington.
Today, Crimson’s footprint in the Northwest is strong, owning such wineries as Double Canyon and Seven Hills Winery in Washington and Archery Summit in Oregon. Late last year, Crimson opened The Estates Wine Room in Seattle’s Pioneer Square.
“It’s obvious that we’re believers in the Northwest and believers in Washington,” DeLong said. “If someone asks why we are doing these projects in Washington, we tell them we believe in the quality here.”
Crimson Wine Group origins
Crimson Wine Group began in 1991, but its roots actually stretch back several more years.
Gary Andrus established Pine Ridge Vineyards in Napa Valley’s Stags Leap District in 1978. Later, he met Ian Cumming, and the two partnered to create Archery Summit in Oregon’s Dundee Hills in 1993.
“At the time, it was very visionary to go to the Dundee Hills (from California) to establish a benchmark Pinot Noir producer,” DeLong said.
That marked the origins of Crimson Wine Group.
Along the way, Crimson purchased Seghesio Family Vineyards, one of the oldest wineries in Sonoma – established in 1895. Its specialty is Zinfandel, and DeLong said that fits perfectly into his vision.
“It is focused on the highest potential quality, hand-crafted sustainability,” he said. “We are focused on what we can do best in each appellation and what we can do in the world.”
Crimson also owns Chamisal Vineyards in the Central Coast community of San Luis Obispo, Calif. Using grapes from the Edna Valley, Chamisal’s focus is on Chardonnay.
By 2002, Andrus was no longer a part of Crimson Wine Group. According to an article in Wine Spectator, he divested his interests in Pine Ridge and Archery Summit when he and his wife, Nancy, divorced.
Both wineries became wholly owned by Crimson Wine Group.
By 2004, Andrus was remarried and had started Gypsy Dancer Estates in Oregon and had purchased a Pinot Noir property in New Zealand. Andrus died in early 2009 of pneumonia in Hillsboro, Ore. He was 63 years old.
Moving into Washington
In 2005, Crimson bought land from the Mercer family in Washington’s Horse Heaven Hills. What became Double Canyon was a long time in coming.
“We were rustling the bushes 15 years ago in Washington,” DeLong said. “I don’t think Washington is out in the bushes anymore.”
The goal, he said, was to find some of the best land in the state, and Crimson found a pretty good neighborhood, as Double Canyon is near such vineyards as Champoux, Phinny Hill and Coyote Canyon – three of the state’s best.
“What could produce the highest quality? That’s how Double Canyon was established,” he said. “The focus was on trying to find the absolute best land available.”
Today, Double Canyon is 90 acres of planted vineyard, most of which is Bordeaux varieties. In 2010, the first vintage of Double Canyon was made, and earlier this winter, it made a move into national distribution with a competitively priced $25 Cabernet Sauvignon.
DeLong pointed out that Napa Valley has all but run out of plantable ground, and that creates a nice opportunity for Washington in the Cabernet Sauvignon space.
In January, Crimson surprised everybody by purchasing Seven Hills Winery in downtown Walla Walla. Seven Hills is one of the original wineries in the Walla Walla Valley, with Casey and Vicky McClellan launching it in 1988. For several years, they were about 15 miles south of Walla Walla in Milton-Freewater, Ore., returning to Walla Walla in 2001.
DeLong feels fortunate to have acquired Seven Hills and said it fits the company philosophy perfectly.
“We’ve had our eye on Walla Walla for quite some time,” he said. “Casey’s history in Walla Walla is extraordinary, and he’s clearly a guy focused on high-quality winemaking and winegrowing. That’s what we’re all about. It was a great fit for us adding another high-quality wine-growing region. We have big smiles on our faces.”
Crimson also has opened its Estates Wine Room in downtown Seattle, a space that features the wines of Double Canyon, Archery Summit and – soon to come – Seven Hills Winery.
“Since Double Canyon was established, we’ve been trying to find a way to showcase it with consumers,” DeLong said. “While we were there, we knew we had an opportunity with Archery Summit, which is complementary. We really, really like Seattle in general and Pioneer Square in particular. It’s a historic neighborhood, Seattle’s original downtown.”
Future of Crimson Wine Estates in Northwest
DeLong said little will change at Seven Hills Winery. Casey McClellan will remain as its winemaker – as he has been since its beginnings in the 1980s. He pointed to Seghesio Family Vineyards in Sonoma as evidence.
“I would look at what we’ve done with other acquisitions,” he said. “Ted Seghesio is still the winemaker (as he has been since 1983). We’re about estate-based wine growing. We’ve acquired more vineyards and are reinforcing Seghesio’s Sonoma County history.”
DeLong suggested that Crimson is not done in the Pacific Northwest and might well continue to grow here.
“It’s obvious that we’re believers in the Northwest, believers in Washington,” he said. “We love the quality here. If there’s an opportunity for expansion, we’ll go back to how we decided to go into Walla Walla. We’re very, very picky. That’s on purpose. I don’t think you can be great without being selective. We look everywhere for that.”
With Double Canyon’s vineyard established in the Horse Heaven Hills and Seven Hills Winery in Walla Walla, another logical step forward for Crimson could be Red Mountain, which is Washington’s smallest and, arguably, highest-quality grape-growing region.
DeLong smiled when asked if it could be part of Crimson’s future, noting that Seven Hills has long made wines from the area.
“We are thrilled with Casey’s Ciel du Cheval Vineyard wine from Red Mountain,” he said. “It’s a nice introduction for us to that appellation.”