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Savoring Washington Wine with Bob Bertheau

Bob Bertheau joined Chateau Ste. Michelle in June 2003 as its winemaker of white wines, after 16 years of winemaking in Sonoma County, California. He was promoted to Chateau Ste. Michelle head winemaker in August 2004.

“I am amazed at the difference in grape growing in eastern Washington,” says Bob. “We have such unique growing conditions here: low rainfall, extra sunshine during the growing season, cooler days at the end of harvest for longer hang time, and a pioneer spirit of the local growers and winemakers. These conditions help us grow world-class fruit and make wines of character, complexity and quality.”

Bob has maintained Chateau Ste. Michelle’s legacy of crafting awarding-winning Chardonnay, Riesling, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, while putting his own signature on the wines.

1.    What inspired you to become a winemaker? (Or tell me about your family history) My mom actually got me my first wine job in a tasting room in Boise, Idaho for Ste. Chapelle Winery.  Back then the drinking age was only 19 in Idaho and I was pouring wine on the weekends while getting a degree in Chemistry (Pre-Med).  Decided to go the wine route instead of Med School and went down to UC Davis for my Masters as someone told me I could actually get paid to be a winemaker!!  Really?

2.    Oak barrels or steel barrels?  Yes.  Oak for all reds and most Chardonnay. Stainless Steel for all aromatic varieties (main one being Riesling here at Chateau Ste. Michelle).  Riesling isn’t allowed to get within 100 yards of an oak barrel.

3.    If you could have any celebrity (dead or alive) as a spokesperson for your wine, who would it be and why?  Julia Child and Robin Williams. Julia to talk about how wine should just be a part of the meal and Robin to make sure we don’t take ourselves too seriously, a problem in our industry.

4.    Is there one wine out there in the market that is so good, you wish you had made it?  Just had a glimpse of the 2008 Antica Cab (Antinori  project in California)………wow, was it the perfect balance of old world elegance and complexity with just enough Napa power. My kind of wine.

5.    Favorite varietal to work with?  Riesling. Incredibly transparent variety not hiding behind any oak, ML, tannins, etc. etc. Purity from the vineyard, minimal winemaking.

6.    Do you have any pets that help you in the vineyard? With a 4 hour drive to Eastern Washington to see our vineyards, not exactly conducive to having a dog in the back of my rig.  I am totally a dog person, however, and love it when one of our growers brings them out with us to check on the progress of their fruit. Their love of being outside in the vineyards mimics their owners.

7.    It’s the first date with the one person you’ve been after for months. What wine do you drink?  Eroica Riesling.  Perfect wine for almost any food. Sophisticated yet easy to drink.

8.    Do you have a nickname in the fermentation room?  I used to be “Dr. Bob” when I was the lab person back in California.  I do wonder what they might call me in the cellar when I am out in the vineyards now, however.

9.    When testing the aroma of a wine, do you take deep breaths or short sniffs?  I am a short, frequent sniffer. There is safety in numbers of sniffs and impressions.

10.    What is the magic of your terroir where you currently grow your grapes?  Washington state is the perfect blend of “old world” and “new world” in my estimation.  New World for our hot summer days where we can get very good ripeness. Old World for our cold Octobers to retain natural acidities and garner more complexities.

11.    Do you have a go-to winemaking outfit? How about a go-to wine tasting outfit? One in the same. Jeans and button down comfortable shirt.  Try to avoid ties as that is how you can tell one of our sales folks from us in production. Red fermentation days do make you not want to wear white however-not a good idea.

12.    What’s your favorite stemware?  Anything that is around but I do prefer a large “Bordeaux” shaped glass (taller than it is wide)  that I find appropriate for whites or reds. I don’t like too small (lose aromas) or too big (cumbersome and aromas are lost at times).  I also like glasses with some level of break-resistance as I am tired of breaking glasses while washing at the end of a long evening.

13.    What is the one wine accessory you can’t live without?  I do have a propensity to want to decant all my (especially young) reds before dinner. I have found ways to work around not having a decanter but do prefer to use when available. Fifteen-30 minute decant before dinner can be wonderful on opening the wine up.

14.    What is your favorite wine pairing?  I have two hats on that one.  I love to say “drink what you like with what you like” and don’t let anybody tell you otherwise.  Wine should be fun and a part of the meal not some mystical elixir that you are buying only to impress someone.  Having said that, it is fun to play around with wine/food combos.  Sometimes the synergy is just too much to ignore.  A few of my favorite with our wines from Ste. Michelle:  Eroica Riesling with Thai/spicy Asian cuisine, Ethos Syrah with lamb, Cold Creek Chardonnay with Risotto (specifically Lobster Risotto I had at a wine dinner one night).

15.    How do you recommend consumers serve your wine?  My biggest tip for serving wine is to try and get the temperature right.   Most Reds are served too warm (room temp) and most whites (especially Chardonnays) are served too cold (refer temp).  I recommend reds at about 62-64 and Chardonnays about 54-56.  Rieslings can be served colder as that can actually enhance their brisk acidity. Too warm reds make the alcohol stick out and the wine seems charmless at times.  Too cold Chardonnay buries the complexity and fruit.

16.    What is your favorite vintage and why?  Vintages are like kids, they are all enjoyed but each has idiosyncrasies, strengths and weaknesses.  A great Cab vintage might not be a great Riesling year.  I personally prefer slightly cooler vintages that show more finesse than the “big” years.  Those years in Washington I particularly enjoy are 2006 and 2008, although this 2012 vintage is showing signs to rival them all. If you are after riper, “big”  vintages, try  2005, 2007, 2009.

17.    Describe to me the perfect day weather-wise at your vineyard.  Depends on the month. In early September when ripening is coming to a crescendo I love to see (and frequently do) highs in the low to mid 90’s and lows in the high 40’s. Little afternoon breeze in the Horse Heaven Hills to be expected.  In late October, I like to see it just stay above freezing!  Good Riesling and Cabernet “hangtime” weather. No sugar being made, just some ripening of tannins and flavors.  Unless I want to make that ice wine (I have been able to make 3 in my 10 years here) then I need it in the low teens, which we can do as well.  The wonderful (and sometimes dangerous) part of Washington state viticulture are these temperature extremes. But it is what makes us unique and gives our wines their personality.

Chateau Ste. Michelle

14111 NE 145th Street
Woodinville, Washington 98072

phone: 425-415-3300

www.ste-michelle.com

 

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