ST. HELENA, Calif. – Canvasback, a rising star on Washington’s Red Mountain, was purchased Monday – along with the Napa Valley-based producer that created it.
“Everything stays in place,” said Carol Reber, chief marketing and development officer for Duckhorn. “All the winemakers, all the management.”
Brian Rudin, a longtime Walla Walla Valley winemaker, took on the role as Canvasback’s first resident winemaker when he arrived after the 2013 vintage. Prior to Canvasback, the Wenatchee native was head winemaker for Cadaretta Wines in Walla Walla. The first two vintages of Canvasback were made by Duckhorn’s Napa Valley winemaking team.
News of the sale arrives as Canvasback prepares to harvest its first estate grapes. It purchased 20 acres high on Red Mountain in late 2013 and planted it in early 2014 under the guidance of acclaimed Washington grape grower Dick Boushey. It was planted primarily to Cabernet Sauvignon, as well as Merlot.
This will be the first full harvest for the Canvasback vineyard, which is across Antinori Road from Col Solare – another vineyard managed by Boushey.
Reber told Great Northwest Wine that she expects the new estate grapes will fuel at least 3,000 new cases of Canvasback Cabernet Sauvignon, as all the contracts with existing Red Mountain vineyards will remain in place.
The inaugural 2012 vintage was about 2,100 cases. That grew to 7,500 cases with the 2013 vintage, released last fall. And production for the soon-to-be-released 2014 Cab is expected to double again, with the goal of filling Duckhorn’s nationwide distribution network.
Duckhorn sale to TSG
Duckhorn began in the Napa Valley town of St. Helena in 1976 by Dan and Margaret Duckhorn and quickly gained a reputation as one of California’s top producers.
This success led to the launch of new brands, including Paraduxx in Napa Valley, Goldeneye in Mendocino County, Migration in Anderson Valley and Decoy, a value-priced brand.
In 2007, GI Partners in San Francisco purchased Duckhorn Wine Co. GI is a middle-market private equity firm. Now it has been purchased by TSG, a San Francisco-based strategic-equity investor with a history of involvement in consumer brands such as Stumptown Coffee Roasters, Planet Fitness and Vitamin Water.
“GI has been an ideal partner, and we look forward to working with TSG,” Alex Ryan, president and CEO of Duckhorn, stated in a news release. “TSG recognizes and values how unique we are in the North American wine industry and is committed to preserving the strong culture that defines us. At the same time, we share an exciting vision for our company’s future.”
TSG President Jamie O’Hara was equally bullish on the sale.
“Duckhorn is one of the most respected wine portfolios in the world,” he stated. “Duckhorn boasts six wineries that are all recognized as benchmarks for their regions and categories. We are thrilled by this incredible opportunity to partner with and invest in a company as dynamic and well-run as Duckhorn, a rarity in any industry.”
Canvasback continues to gain strength
Since its beginnings in 2012, Canvasback has been solely focused on Red Mountain. Today, Rudin works with no fewer than a dozen vineyards across the 4,040-acre American Viticultural Area in the eastern Yakima Valley.
“I’m really glad to see people have as much interest in the Red Mountain AVA and Washington state as they do with other Duckhorn wines that we’ve been producing for years,” Rudin told Great Northwest Wine. “We were able to access very high-tier Red Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon, so I feel great that we were able to bring the production level up – but also bring the quality level up, as well.”
Rudin produces Canvasback wines at a custom-crush facility in Walla Walla, where he lives.
The first release of Canvasback in September 2014 was enough to go into 17 states. With increased production of the 2013 and now the 2014, Reber said Canvasback wines at $40 are able to carry the message of Red Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon to a national audience.
“It is our ambition to be a nationally distributed Red Mountain Cab,” Reber said. “It’s the right AVA for the right price point for the right variety.”
She added that Canvasback sales have been nothing short of spectacular so far.
At this time, Canvasback has no tasting room presence, as the wine is sold primarily to restaurants and wine retailers. Reber told Great Northwest Wine last year that a tasting room could be in Canvasback’s not-too-distant future. Likely locations would be Red Mountain, Walla Walla or Woodinville.