Standing in Double Canyon’s sparkling new winery, among a crowd of distinguished guests and various industry professionals, I found myself reflecting on the winery’s ambition to make what they deem “benchmark Washington Cabernet,” and what it is that might mean both for the winery itself and the Washington wine industry.
Launched a decade ago by the Crimson Wine Group — owners of Seven Hills and Archery Summit wineries, and others — Double Canyon is centered around a 90-acre plot of land in the Horse Heaven Hills, adjacent to famed vineyard sites like Champoux and Phinney Hill. Vineyard manager Will Beightol and winemaker Kate Michaud have been charged with turning this prime real estate, and a state-of-the-art winery in West Richland, Washington, into an iconic winery. Even with all that behind them, it’s clearly a challenge.
Part of the challenge is historic in context. Many of the iconic Washington Cabernets have a great deal of history behind them, with decades of glowing reviews and gaudy point totals, as well as a perpetually packed membership roster. The relative newcomers that have achieved renown have typically had their own powerful story, or at least a former NFL star as the selling point.
There’s also the decision to only make Cabernet Sauvignon. While it’s become Washington’s top grape in terms of production, choosing to only make one style of wine runs somewhat counter to lots of emerging trends in the wine market, at least locally. My guess is that it’s more likely to get traction nation-wide, where as a Washington Malbec or Merlot might be more of a struggle.
It’s also an interesting bet on an emerging price point. The Horse Heaven Hills Cabernet, Double Canyon’s largest bottling at 20,000 cases, has a suggested retail price of $25, which means that for many buyers it will be something of a special-occasion wine. Yet there’s no doubt that the newest generation of wine drinkers is more likely to push past the $20 threshold on a more regular basis, especially if they perceive a significant quality jump.
Most of all, it’s a bet on Washington, and on the Horse Heaven Hills AVA more specifically. While the industry has long known that some of the best fruit in the state can be found there, it still lags behind AVAs like Red Mountain and Walla Walla in terms of recognition. Perhaps Double Canyon can help drive the reputation of the region to where it belongs, especially if their wine achieves the success they’re aiming for.