The story behind: Chateau Ste. Michelle

How a dairy farm became a modern wine company.

Bestseller: Chateau Ste. Michelle's Chardonnay
Bestseller: Chateau Ste. Michelle's Chardonnay

The oldest winery in Washington State looks back on an eventful history. In 1912, the lumber mogul Frederick Stimson bought the land in the small town of Woodinville, almost 30 kilometres northeast of Seattle, and thus laid the foundation for today's winery. It was here that Stimson would holiday and relax from the strenuous timber business by hunting on his "Hollywood Farm", named after the holly trees that lined the driveway. Instead of wine, Stimson focused on milk and created a modern production farm with almost 250 hectares of land.

In 1934, a year after the end of Prohibition, the winery's entrepreneurial origins emerged with the National Wine Company. The company merged with the Pomerelle Wine Company in 1954, resulting in the country's largest wine company, American Wine Company. However, the company was better known for fermented fruit juice made from blueberries or the American loganberry. In the 1960s, a quality offensive began in Washington's viticulture. With the Vitis Vinifera vines imported from Europe, it was now possible to vinify higher-quality products.

In 1967, the Russian immigrant and winegrowing pioneer André Tchelistcheff came on the scene. As an oenological consultant, he created the "Ste. Michelle Vintners" series with Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Grenache Rosé and Sémillon for the American Wine Company. Without further ado, the company was renamed and Chateau Ste. Michelle was born.

 

 Juan Muñoz-Oca has been the new Chief Winemaker since the beginning of the year. The Argentinean replaced Bob Bertheau after 18 years. Muñoz-Oca himself brings 18 years of experience to the company.

 

Today, the winery belongs to the Ste. Michelle Wine Estates group, which in turn was bought by the tobacco multinational Altria, formerly known as Philip Morris, in 2006. Around 42 million bottles of wine are produced annually on about 1,000 hectares of the estate's own vineyards plus additional purchases – 12 million bottles each of Riesling and Chardonnay. The latter has enjoyed growing international popularity for years. The grape variety portfolio is complemented above all by Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah. 

Ste. Michelle was quick to take advantage of its German Riesling expertise. As early as 1999, the partnership with the enterprising Ernie Loosen from the Dr. Loosen winery on the Mosel was formed. Together they produce the Riesling "Eroica".

There are also joint ventures with other big names in the wine world: the "Col Solare" Cabernet Sauvignon is produced with Marchese Antinori. "The Pundit" is a homage to the Rhone together with winemaker Michel Gassier. The cuvée is based on Syrah (90 percent), plus some Grenache, Mourvedre and Viognier.

Alexandra Wrann

 

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