napa's duckhorn lands on red mountain

Thursday, December 19, 2013

When the recent auction of prime Red Mountain vineyard land was co-opted by a Canadian investment group who had no apparent expertise or interest in wine production, I was more than a little dismayed. Prominent, qualified bidders from both in and out of state had been shut out from what was arguably the most important new development in the past decade.

So it was with a great sense of relief that I learned today that Napa’s Duckhorn Wine Company had done an end run and secured a prime 20-acre parcel on Red Mountain. I spoke by phone with President and CEO Alex Ryan about Duckhorn’s plans for the property.

PG: What happened at that auction? And was this in the works before you lost out on that bid for land?

AR: I didn’t see it coming, that a true outside guy would come in and pick up the whole thing. I thought it would have been really neat to see existing stakeholders and a smattering of new players come in. But these were professional auctioneers. Their job was to maximize value for the seller. You can’t blame them for that. Unfortunately a very focused group couldn’t outbid an outside buyer.

PG: It seemed designed to maximize the money with no regard for maximizing the value to the wine industry in this state.

AR: The land auction is a great American tradition you don’t see much anymore. These are throwbacks from yesteryear, so it was a historic opportunity. There were some great parcels we were chasing. But we didn’t become committed to Red Mountain because of a land auction. We’ve been looking around, buying grapes, making wine in Washington for the past two years. This new acquisition is a separate land deal that took several months to put together.

PG: Can you describe the site? Dick Boushey is quoted in your press release as saying “This parcel is without question the finest undeveloped site on the mountain.” Really?!?

AR: It’s above and to the southwest of Col Solare, and sits above one of the Hedges properties. To be honest I tend to agree with Dick Boushey 100%. Everything around it has been planted out, but this one strange holdout piece of property is tucked right into the center. The owner I don’t know well , but he seems to have held out. It had a premium price tag attached, and most vintners could understand why, but it didn’t attract a whole lot of bidders.

PG: So are you thinking in terms of Napa prices it’s still a steal?

AR: It is in the upper range of where the great Red Mountain properties should trade at. I accepted the fact that if we are going to play with some very serious players we needed a premium piece. It’s somewhat steep hillside, rocky, a challenge.

PG: With water rights?
AR: That was part of the attraction. It’s a water-challenged area and we are part of the regional water distribution plan with adequate water rights.

PG: When and to what will this new acreage be planted?

AR: It will be our first estate vineyard for our Canvasback brand, planted primarily to Cabernet Sauvignon. We will plant the whole 20 acres next spring. We have dreams of – some day – having a little winery up there. But that’s just a dream at the moment.

PG: You already have made two vintages (2012 and 2013) of your new Washington wine, Canvasback. Can you tell me a little about it?

AR: The 2012 and 2013 vintages have been made at Artifex. A number of Red Mountain vineyards supplied those grapes – 8 to 10 different sources. It’s a varietal Cabernet – a single wine called Canvasback – with small amounts of Merlot. We have been working with our Duckhorn winemaker, but we are going to begin a search to find a winemaker – from Washington I hope – to oversee the brand on the ground in Washington. Case production is just a couple thousand cases; I’d like to get up to 15,000 or 16,000 in the next few years.

PG: Final thoughts?

AR: We might look at making some Merlots and some Syrahs sometime in the future, but we have no firm plans for that today. We are honored to be part of this great appellation. We will hopefully learn from the locals and we feel challenged – in a good way. We are definitely focused on the region and the wines it can produce.

PG: Thank you, and welcome to the best wine-producing state in the country!

NOTE: JJ Williams has kindly provided this link to a Google map showing the property.

8 comments:

Bob Bentley said...

Any information on the former Blackwood Canyon property? That was a prime Red Mountain site with water rights if I recall correctly.

PaulG said...

I believe all the Mike Moore/Blackwood Canyon land was purchased by Michael Corliss.

terroirist said...

"AR: It’s above and to the southwest of Col Solare" Wouldn't the Duckhorn property actually have to be northwest of Col Solare to be above it (higher in elevation, since Red Mtn. slopes to the SW)?"

PaulG said...

I was a bit puzzled by that too - I think he meant above and Northwest also (as the map above would also suggest).

JJ Williams said...

Terroirist and PG, you guys are correct. Putting on my Red Mountain AVA board member hat, I made a Google Earth map showing the block's location. I'm not exactly sure of the boundary on the northern part of the property, but I assume it's rectangular.

https://mapsengine.google.com/map/edit?mid=zEBNW1AG48MA.kji8_YvHFYU0

PaulG said...

Thanks JJ!

Anonymous said...

give up the blog?

PaulG said...

I'm buried in paying gigs right now so just letting things hang blog-wise. Future uncertain. Thanks for asking!

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