At Double Canyon Winery, the focus is unapologetically on Cabernet Sauvignon
Winemaker Kate Michaud lands her “dream job” at this state-of-the-art winery in West Richland, WA., after many stops along the way.
By Dan Radil
Kate Michaud, winemaker for Double Canyon Winery, stands before a row of tables just prior to the start of a dinner at the winery’s Seattle tasting room. After a brief, personal introduction, she offers the anxious diners a preview of what to expect from the evening’s wine menu.
“At Double Canyon, we’re unapologetically Cab,” she says, referring to the soon-to-be-served vertical tasting of the winery’s 2013, 2014, and 2015 vintages of Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s also a reference to the winery’s initial and continuing focus on this oftentimes bold yet elegant varietal, which has been at the forefront of production since Double Canyon’s inception a decade ago.
That’s not to suggest that Cabernet Sauvignon is the only wine produced at the winery, which is based in West Richland, WA. In recent years, Double Canyon has released smaller lots of a few other medium to full-bodied reds, including Syrah (which Michaud equates to a “velvet couch”) and Petit Verdot. And past versions of Cabernet, including Michaud’s latest effort, a still-in-the-works 2017 vintage, have even incorporated more than a splash of Malbec.
It all means that white wine drinkers won’t find anything with the Double Canyon label at the winery’s tasting rooms located in either Seattle or West Richland. That’s great news for red wine lovers and reflects the state’s gradual shift towards more red varieties, headed by the undeniable popularity and continued dominance of the Cabernet Sauvignon grape.
THE PATH TO WASHINGTON
The Detroit-born Michaud started her winemaking career in California, where, after earning by her own admission a virtually unmarketable art history degree, she worked for Bonny Doon Winery in 1998.
Encouraged by Washington’s potential for producing exceptional wines, she and her future husband, Justin (who is now winemaker at Coyote Canyon Winery in Prosser, WA.), took a trip through the state that eventually ended with their relocation to Walla Walla in 2002.
“We were on our way to Woodinville, looking for a not rainy/serious wine place,” Michaud recalls, when they came to the Walla Walla Valley. They finally made it to Woodinville, but they didn’t stay long. “Within four to five days of being in Woodinville we were back to Walla Walla,” she says with a grin.
During the time leading up to her hiring at the then, newly-opened Double Canyon production facility in West Richland in 2017, Michaud had worked at wineries that specialized in large-scale production. It proved to be a “perfect-fit” experience for a facility that currently produces about 25,000 cases annually and the capacity to top out at 50,000 to 60,000.
Her first job in the Washington wine industry covered a five-year period until 2007 as assistant winemaker with Canoe Ridge in Walla Walla. She followed that with a move to the Tri-Cities and another five years at Covey Run Winery and three more working for Naked Wines from 2013 to 2016.
Along the way, she and Justin started a family that now includes two teenage daughters, and the couple resides in South Richland in close proximity to both workplaces of this rather unique, husband-and-wife winemaking duo.
All of Double Canyon’s grapes are sourced from vineyards located in Washington’s Horse Heaven Hills Appellation. Ninety estate-owned acres were planted at Double Canyon Vineyard in the appellation’s southwest corner near the Columbia River in 2007. Another 15 acres, referred to as “Alderdale East,” were planted in 2015 near Alexandria Nicole Cellars’ Destiny Ridge Vineyard.
It’s that location, along with great vineyard management, that Michaud feels is the recipe for “nearly unbeatable, world-class Cab.”
She tries to keep her base of Cabernet Sauvignon blended with other varietals that fall well below the 25-percent threshold allowable by state standards for single-varietal labeling. “If I can make the Cab better by blending in a small percentage of, say, Petit Verdot, or Syrah, I will.”
Ideally, she likes to see the Cabernet at a minimum of 86 to 92 percent, but will adjust that as necessary. “I’m guided by my palate. I want to make the most delicious wine possible,” she says confidently.
The Double Canyon Vineyard reflects the winery’s commitment to Cabernet Sauvignon, where about 60-percent of the blocks are dedicated to that varietal. Michaud also estimates that the Cabernet label can be found on as much as 20,000 cases annually, which is roughly 80-percent of the winery’s current production.
Apparently, the general wine-drinking community likes the wine that Double Canyon produces, as evidenced by the medals the winery won at the 2018 Tri-Cities Wine Festival held on Nov. 10 at the Three Rivers Convention Center in Kennewick, WA. Double Canyon came away from the Festival with a Double Gold medal and Best of Class honors for its 2016 Cabernet.
TASTING ROOM OPTIONS
Double Canyon is one of a number of wineries under the umbrella of the Crimson Wine Group, a Napa, California-based company that includes ownership in Sonoma County’s Seghesio Family Vineyards, Archery Summit Winery in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, and Seven Hills Winery in Walla Walla.
Wines from Archery Summit, Seven Hills, and Double Canyon are collectively featured at The Estates Wine Room, located in downtown Seattle’s historic Pioneer Square District. Visitors can expect a full menu of wines by the glass or bottle from each of the three wineries, along with cheese plates for those needing a small nosh.
The Wine Room’s inaugural wine dinner, featuring Michaud and Double Canyon wines, took place this past August. The Estates Tasting Room Manager Neil Maertens notes that, “we plan to have wine dinners for Archery Summit and Seven Hills early next year as well as pick-up parties for wine club members.” The space can also host tastings for private parties of up to 60 guests.
On the east side of the state at the West Richland production facility and tasting room, Michaud and General Manager/Vineyard Manager Will Beightol are backed by a team with plenty of experience and state-of-the-art equipment. “It’s a dream job in lots of ways,” Michaud says, referring to the facility as a “purpose-built building with all the nuanced details.”
While there, wine enthusiasts can delve into a full flight of Double Canyon’s signature red wines, although Michaud hints at other possible options for non-red wine drinkers.
“They might be greeted with a taste of Seven Hills Sauvignon Blanc when they arrive,” she says, and also suggests that “a very limited production of Rosé might make it to the tasting room next year.”
That’s a glimmer of hope for non-red wine drinkers who may be interested in planning a visit anytime soon. Until then, Double Canyon will continue to excel at producing plenty of Cabernet Sauvignon…no apologies necessary.
Double Canyon’s production facility in West Richland is located at 8060 Keene Road. Their tasting room at this location is open Friday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The phone number at the West Richland facility is (509) 579-7065. To read more about the Double Canyon story, visit: www.doublecanyon.com.
The Estates Wine Room is located in Seattle’s Pioneer Square neighborhood at 307 Occidental Ave. South. Tasting room hours at this location are noon to 6 p.m. daily. Phone: (206) 623-5835. Make sure to visit The Estates Wine Room’s website at: www.estateswineroom.com.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Dan Radil is a freelance wine writer and educator based in Bellingham, WA., and has been an avid follower and supporter of the Washington wine industry since the mid-1980s. He currently contributes to Wine Press Northwest and Bellingham Alive Magazine, is President of the Whatcom Beer & Wine Foundation, and produces a wine blog called: danthewineguy.com.