Duckhorn Vineyards has been a staple in Napa Valley since 1976, developing six other labels along the way in their portfolio. But up until 2012, none of the Duckhorn labels had been sourced and made outside of California’s borders. Canvasback, officially opening a tasting room in Walla Walla, Washington, this spring, has brought the renowned Duckhorn name to the Pacific Northwest. We sat down with winemaker Brian Rudin to hear all about this move, learning why Washington was the best place for the label.

1) What was the reasoning for opening the Duckhorn Portfolio’s first tasting room outside of California?

Wayne Gretzky once said, “We don’t skate to where the puck is, we skate to where the puck is going to be.” We became obsessed with the quality of wines produced in Washington, and Red Mountain in particular, and we realized that we needed to begin our journey in Washington before the secret was known to all. There was this sense that you could have quality that was on par with the weights and textures of Napa Valley Cabernet, but with this distinctly different sense of place, from the Red Mountain AVA. You get this bold, saturated fruit, loaded with freshness and overlain with the dry sage and earthy aromas of our desert air. We were drawn here by the purity of these wines and the sense of limitless potential for expression of luxury.

2) What’s different between California and Washington Cabernet?

Because of our northernly latitude and dry inland climate, I stress that Cabernet in Washington is a much different starting ingredient than Cabernet in Napa. So we’ve taken a new approach to handling Cabernet in Washington versus what we do in California. Washington Cabernets have a rugged beauty and endurance to them, so we look to our aging techniques to tame and polish the natural intensity of these textures. In a sense, we push the wines. 

In Napa, where tannins can be relaxed, silken and develop quickly, we look to hold back in order to achieve balance. Cabernet ripens and develops more quickly in Napa and our practices there aim more to put the brakes on things. The hallmark of good Washington Cabernet is red and black fruit, desert air, cocoa-powder-like tannins and depth of texture. The calling card of good Napa Cabernet is blue/black fruit, supple weight and silken, fine-grain tannin.

3) What drew you to the Duckhorn Portfolio? Why did you want to make wines for the Canvasback label?

I remember the first time I tried Duckhorn Vineyards Merlot, I was 22 years old and a complete novice to wine. I couldn’t believe that anything could taste that pure, that seamless and that refined. Years later, when I had the opportunity to interview at Duckhorn Portfolio for the position of Canvasback winemaker, the thing that really convinced me was the spirit in the winery. It was so evident that everyone there believed in their mission, loved their jobs and were working together as a team to be the best. I’m lucky that I get to be part of this now. I was drawn to Canvasback in particular because I believe wholeheartedly in the beauty of Red Mountain fruit, and I want to help share this amazing region with the rest of the world.

4) Do you think Washington’s wine regions are underrated in comparison to other destinations?

Washington’s wine regions are off the beaten path, far from population centers. Because of this physical distance from our markets, we have remained a well-kept secret for decades. So now I think we are an industry that has had to build its success slowly and carefully, on solid foundations. Nothing comes easy here, so we must rely on our integrity to quality to keep people coming all the way out to the middle of nowhere to discover our wines. People in Eastern Washington care deeply about their work and you can see it in these wines.