In my search to choose wines for the holidays, I had the good fortune to taste the extensive wine portfolio of Washington State’s Chateau Ste. Michelle Winery. Excited by their latest offerings, I approached one of my colleagues and told him I planned to feature the wines this holiday season. To my surprise, his reaction was less than positive. "The wines are great," he said, "but how are you going to sell them? They’re either really exotic or the type of wines customers can find at most supermarkets."
My colleague had a valid point; however, my research revealed that Chateau Ste. Michelle and its wines are far from ordinary. For starters, Chateau Ste. Michelle has a long winemaking tradition. Founded in 1934, it’s the oldest winery in Washington State and one of the oldest in the U.S. They pioneered the planting of the European grape varieties Cabernet, Chardonnay, and Merlot in the Columbia Valley in the 1950s, and by the early 1990s, they were producing award-winning wines at an alarming pace.
In addition, Chateau Ste. Michelle hasn’t had to rely on bulk juice purchases to increase their production. They own the majority of their vineyard production and supplement the remainder through long standing contracts with quality growers. This approach has allowed them to maintain growth without sacrificing the quality of their wines, a statement very few large producers can make.
Chateau Ste. Michelle has also invested a lot of time and money showcasing the unique properties of Washington wines. They’re the only winery in the U.S.-and perhaps the world-that’s built two separate winemaking facilities for the creation of red and white wines. Each winery has its own winemaker, resources, and staff to ensure both types of wine get the attention they deserve.
Their winemaking strategy is very different from the large California wineries. Their wines feature a very aromatic taste profile and a firm structure derived from Washington’s unique microclimates. Each of their four estate vineyards was planted with careful attention paid to both the location and to the unique soil and climate variations found in these locations.
Chateau Ste. Michelle has further enhanced the quality and diversity of their wines by collaborating with some of Europe’s best wine producers. For example, through their joint effort with Germany’s famous Dr. Loosen, they’ve created Eroica, perhaps the best Riesling wine made in America. Future collaborations with winemakers around the world promise even better things to come for this innovative winery.
As you choose your holiday wines, be sure to include the Chateau Ste. Michelle family. Here are a few recommendations:
- Johannisberg Riesling. Tempting aromas of apple and honey give way to ripe peach and citrus flavors on the palate. This wine offers plenty of rich fruit; a hint of sweetness; and a crisp, lively finish.
- Columbia Valley Cabernet. This Cabernet has always offered great value. Sweet black cherry and vanilla bean aromas complement rich cherry, plum, and toasty oak flavors. Refined tannins add weight and balance to this satisfying Cabernet.
- Dr. Loosen "Eroica" Riesling. Intense aromas of green apple and fresh lime lead to juicy pineapple, grapefruit, and citrus flavors. Racy acidity carries the rich fruit to a light, airy finish. AA!