Chateau Ste. Michelle
Forty years ago, Washington state was a fledgling wine region with only a handful of wineries. Today, the state’s founding winery, Chateau Ste. Michelle, has helped Washington grow into the second largest wine producing region in America. In 2017 Chateau Ste. Michelle celebrated its 40th year of Washington winemaking.
Originally founded in 1934, Chateau Ste. Michelle pioneered vinifera grape growing in Washington state and has been producing classic European varietal wines under the Ste. Michelle label since 1967. “It’s exciting to be a part of that heritage and it’s what initially attracted me to Chateau Ste. Michelle,” says Bob Bertheau, head winemaker. “I try to honor that legacy by taking advantage of our vineyard research and using innovative winemaking techniques to help Chateau Ste. Michelle maintain that pioneering spirit into the future. Overall, the winery’s mission has not changed in over forty years…to bring consumers world-class wines from Washington state.”
The winery’s roots date back to after the repeal of Prohibition, when the Pommerelle Wine Company and the National Wine Company were formed in 1934 and began producing fruit wines in Washington. The two companies merged in 1954 to form American Wine Growers and continued to produce mostly fortified sweet wines. But America’s interest in table wines was growing, as was the belief that Washington state was well suited to produce more sophisticated wines. In the mid-60s, research projects conducted by Washington State University offered promising information about growing European (vinifera) grapes varieties in eastern Washington. American Wine Growers experimented first with Grenache, then planted White Riesling in 1965 in the Yakima Valley, followed later by Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir and Semillon. These early efforts were met with praise from the greater wine community and in 1967 American Wine Growers began a new line of premium vinifera wines called “Ste. Michelle Vintners” under the direction of legendary California winemaker and consultant Andre Tchelistcheff.
As part of its exclusive new focus on vinifera varietals, Ste. Michelle Vintners planted its Cold Creek Vineyard in eastern Washington in 1972. Cold Creek Vineyard remains one of the oldest and most renowned vineyards in the state. Ste. Michelle was catapulted into the national spotlight when its 1972 Johannisberg Riesling won the now-famous blind tasting of nineteen White Rieslings sponsored by the Los Angeles Times. With its new found fame and rapid growth came the need for a new home. In 1976 Ste. Michelle Vintners built a French style Chateau in Woodinville, outside of Seattle, and changed its name to Chateau Ste. Michelle to reflect its new facility.
As the winery grew, so did recognition for the increasingly top quality wines being produced in Washington state. In 1984, Chateau Ste. Michelle led the way in obtaining federal recognition of the Columbia Valley in eastern Washington as a unique wine growing region or American Viticulture Area (AVA). In the early 1990s, Chateau Ste. Michelle planted its premier vineyard at Canoe Ridge Estate in eastern Washington and later built its red wine facility at the site in 1994. The 1990s also saw Chateau Ste. Michelle form the state’s first international winemaking partnerships with two of the world’s most distinguished vintners: Col Solare, an alliance with Tuscany’s Piero Antinori was announced in 1998 and Eroica Riesling, a partnership with the Mosel’s Ernst Loosen in 1999. Today, Chateau Ste. Michelle is not only recognized for pioneering vinifera grape growing in the Columbia Valley, but is also a leader in modern day viticultural research. The winery combines an ongoing dedication to research with a commitment to classic winemaking traditions. The winery is known for its highly acclaimed Chardonnay, Riesling, Merlot and Cabernet.