Brian Rudin frequently hauls 8 tons of Cabernet Sauvignon grapes from Red Mountain to Walla Walla in the back of his pickup.
Duckhorn Wine Co.'s new Red Mountain winemaker doesn't waste a trip between Red Mountain vineyards near Benton City and the Walla Walla custom crush facility where he is fermenting grapes for the 2014 vintage of Canvasback.
It's the first venture outside of Northern California for Duckhorn, one of Napa Valley's premier wineries.
Rudin, who also lives in Walla Walla, brings empty containers with him to Red Mountain each morning, dropping them off at vineyards still to be picked. He then tastes grapes in the ripening vineyards to decide which vines need to be picked next.
Duckhorn officials have called Rudin one of the emerging stars of Washington winemaking.
Red Mountain wineries are among the first in the state to start harvesting because of the area's warmth.
This year's harvest is short, keeping Rudin hopping between 14 vineyards and the crush facility.
Rudin's a winemaker who loves being in the vineyard even more than the cellar. For him, there is no separation between growing the grapes for wine and making the wine. That's why he's hands on -- from pruning to harvest.
Harvest for Canvasback should wrap up by Oct. 12, but Rudin's role with the grapes will be far from over.
Fermenting the crushed grapes into young wine takes about six weeks, Rudin said.
It also takes about four months after making the wine to really start understanding its character, he said.
The older the wine gets, the more he'll know about how the wine will behave and its texture, he said. "For me, listening to the wines is really important."
The wine will age in barrels for about two years. It takes that amount of time to polish the edges of a young wine, Rudin said. He'll age the wine by vineyard parcel for most of its life, and then blend the wine later to create Canvasback.
Rudin, who is in his 10th vintage, can't take credit for Duckhorn's debut 2012 Canvasback Red Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon, which recently was released.
He joined the team a week after the 2012 vintage was bottled.
But he saw that wine come into being. The wine was made at Artifex, a custom-crush facility in Walla Walla, and used grapes from four Red Mountain vineyards.
At the time, Rudin, a 2007 graduate of Walla Walla Community College's Institute for Enology and Viticulture, also was making wine at Artifex for Cadaretta.
He also was the winemaker for Buried Cane, both owned by Middleton Family Wines.
He met winemakers from Duckhorn while they were working on Canvasback. They urged him to apply to become Canvasback's winemaker, but he said he was hesitant because of how much he enjoyed working for the Middletons.
But the chance to work with Red Mountain grapes and develop a new wine won him over.
He's still working at Artifex as the sole winemaker for this year's vintage of Canvasback.
Rudin said that eventually his team will grow, but flying solo for now will aid him as he learns about the grapes from the vineyards that will go into making Canvasback wine.
Red Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon has a lot of flavor, but also a lot of tannins, which is a challenge for winemakers since too much can create a harsh and dry feeling, Rudin said. It's his fifth vintage using Red Mountain grapes.
Taming the tannins will be his focus for much of the first two months in cellar. Rudin said he starts working with the tannins from day one, carefully handling grapes to avoid adding any extra tannins from seeds or stems.
Pressing the grapes too is a careful task to get all the flavor and color without adding too many tannins. And then he ferments at higher temperatures to break the tannins down early.
Wine made from this year's grape harvest will be released in 2016, the same year Duckhorn's newly planted 20-acre estate vineyard will give its first grapes into the mix. The vineyard is 75 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and 25 percent Merlot.
Duckhorn's Longwinds Estate Vineyard is neighbor to Hedges Family Estate, Force Majeure and Col Solare.
Col Solare and Kiona Vineyards both allowed Duckhorn access to some of their irrigation water for its newly planted vines this summer.
Those vines currently peek out of grow tubes.
The vineyard will have water from a Kennewick Irrigation District project to bring Yakima River water to existing and new vineyards on Red Mountain, but that water won't be ready for use until next year.
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-- Kristi Pihl: 509-582-1512; email@example.com; Twitter: @KristiAPihl