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Washington Wine Month Stop #2: Chateau Ste. Michelle

Stop number two is another prominent winery, not just in the U.S. but the world. Chateau Ste. Michelle is laced with rich history, outstanding winemaking skills and irresistible wine.

Plus head winemaker Bob Bertheau took time out of his busy winemaking schedule to answer our fun winemaker Q&A so we can’t help but have a crush on this Washington powerhouse.

Take your time to explore the history, vineyards, and of course wine of this acclaimed winery from the Columbia Valley.


Chateau Ste. Michelle is Washington’s Founding Winery, with some of the oldest and most acclaimed vineyards in the Columbia Valley. Situated on 105 wooded acres in Woodinville, Washington, 15 miles northeast of Seattle, Chateau Ste. Michelle is one of the top visitor and historic attractions in the Puget Sound area.

Built on the 1912 estate owned by Seattle lumber baron Frederick Stimson, the winery’s roots date back to the Repeal of Prohibition, when the Pommerelle Wine Company and the National Wine Company were formed.

In 1954, they merged to form American Wine Growers. In 1967, American Wine Growers began a new line of premium vinifera wines called “Ste. Michelle Vintners” under the direction of legendary California winemaker Andre Tchelistcheff.

Ste. Michelle Vintners planted its first vines at Cold Creek Vineyard in Eastern Washington in 1972. Cold Creek remains one of the oldest and most renowned vineyards in the state.

In 1976, Ste. Michelle Vintners built a French style Chateau in Woodinville, and changed its name to Chateau Ste. Michelle.

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). Ste. Michelle now owns more than 3,500 prime vineyard acres in the Columbia Valley.

Today, Chateau Ste. Michelle receives some of the highest accolades in the industry, including “Wine Brand of the Year 2008,“ by Market Watch Magazine, “American Winery of the Year 2004” from Wine Enthusiast and “2005 Winery of the Year” by Restaurant Wine.

All About the Wines and Production:

The winery combines Old World winemaking tradition with New World innovation and is best known for its award-winning Riesling, Chardonnay, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Ste. Michelle’s portfolio includes Columbia Valley wines styled to bring out the regions’ varietal character; Indian Wells wines celebrating the New World opulent style; Single Vineyard wines that epitomize the terroir of our estate vineyards; Ethos wines, our pinnacle tier that melds Old World complexity and elegance with concentrated Washington fruit; and the Artist Series, a Meritage blend crafted for power and longevity.

Chateau Ste. Michelle is one of the few premium wineries in the world with two state-of-the-art wineries, one devoted to whites and another to reds. This dedicated approach to winemaking allows winemaker, Bob Bertheau, to build programs to the unique specifications of red and white wines. While all of Chateau Ste. Michelle’s vineyards are located on the east side of the Cascade Mountains where the climate is dry and sunny, Bertheau makes the award winning white wines in Woodinville, near Seattle. The red wines are made at our Canoe Ridge Estate winery in Eastern Washington.

A Riesling Leader:

Chateau Ste. Michelle is perhaps best known as the leading North American Riesling producer. They have championed Riesling for more than 40 years, and were among the first to plant Riesling in Washington state.

Ste. Michelle catapulted into the national spotlight when the 1972 Johannisberg Riesling won the now-famous Riesling blind tasting sponsored by the Los Angeles Times in 1974.

Today, Chateau Ste. Michelle offers up to eight different Rieslings, each showcasing the versatility of Riesling and the regional styles within Washington’s Columbia Valley, which produces more Riesling than any other American wine region.

Their award-winning Riesling portfolio ranges from the number one selling American Riesling, the Columbia Valley Riesling, to the ultra-premium Eroica Riesling made in partnership with Ernst Loosen, owner of the Dr. Loosen Estate and their 200-year tradition of producing Riesling in Germany’s Mosel region.

“Eroica may well be the best dry Riesling made in the United States…This is truly a world-class wine, capable of holding its own with top renditions from Alsace and Germany.” The Washington Times

Although Riesling is synonymous with the growing regions of Germany, Alsace and Austria, it finds an idyllic home in Washington state. The success of Ste. Michelle’s Rieslings is credited to the quality of fruit from Columbia Valley vineyards. Riesling grapes benefit from the warm days and cool nights during the growing season in the Columbia Valley. Warm, sunny days fully ripen the grapes and bring out the variety’s incredible aromatics, while cool evenings preserve the crisp acids essential to quality Riesling fruit.

For new and experienced Riesling drinkers alike, Chateau Ste. Michelle Rieslings offer something for everyone.

Chateau Ste. Michelle’s Vineyards and Terrior:

Chateau Ste. Michelle’s vineyards are all located in Washington state’s renowned Columbia Valley.

The Columbia Valley American Viticulture Area (AVA) is a region separated from Seattle’s rainy, marine climate by the Cascade Mountains. The mountains shield the rain, limiting annual rainfall to 6-8 inches, allowing our vineyard managers to control vine vigor through irrigation. During the summer, daytime temperatures hover in the mid-80’s under sunny skies; cool nighttime temperatures in the fall protect the grapes’ natural acidity and provide perfect conditions for ripening. The resulting grapes develop intense aromas and flavors and create the distinctive sensibilities of Washington state wines.

Vineyard at Canoe Ridge Estate:

The ancient lava followed the Columbia River and left huge layers of basalt behind. Deep, free-draining soils sit on top of the basalt, deposited by great floods from the last Ice Age 13,000 years ago. Young vines in search of water and nutrients easily establish deep root systems here.

The vineyard at Canoe Ridge Estate was planted on the south face of the ridge that rises 950 feet above sea level. The steep slope and the vineyard’s proximity to the river, along with blusterywind patterns, combine to alleviate frost pockets and seasonal temperature extremes. Because winters are milder than other parts of the valley, spring bud break is earlier. In the summer, the river moderates temperatures again, giving us an extended growing season and adding character to the grapes.

Cold Creek Vineyard:

Planted in 1973, Cold Creek Vineyard remains one of the most exceptional vineyards in the Columbia Valley. The weak soil at Cold Creek – a silty loam – contributes significantly to the “old vine” intensity of the fruit. Grape vines grown in weak soils like Cold Creek tend to produce moderate crops and concentrated grapes.

Cold Creek’s soil is also lighter and drains easier than most other Columbia Valley vineyards. It is also one of the warmest and driest sites in the state. Not only does Cold Creek provide Ste. Michelle with fully mature fruit, the warm temperatures keep the berries small, adding intensity to the grapes at harvest.

Horse Heaven Vineyard:

As its name suggests, Horse Heaven Vineyard is located in the Horse Heaven Hills AVA, adjacent to the Columbia River. The vineyards quick draining soil is deposited on a rocky volcanic base of fractured basalt. Irrigation management is an important part of the quality of the fruit harvested here. The area’s low annual rainfall and the vineyards’ free draining soil allow Ste. Michelle to control water to the vine to keep the grapevines from becoming overly aggressive.

 Chateau Ste. Michelle

 14111 NE 145th Street
Woodinville, Washington 98072

phone: 425-415-3300

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    Theresa Dillon

    Theresa Dillon
    Theresa Dillon earned her bachelor’s degree in print journalism from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at ASU. In her spare time she enjoys reading, attending concerts, weekly trivia nights, watching movies (especially her favorite The Wizard of Oz), and of course wine.