Chateau Ste. Michelle Celebrates 50th Anniversary
From humble beginnings, Ste. Michelle has become the number two premium domestic wine brand sold in the U.S.
By Charles Leininger
It was a beautiful Friday evening in July of 1993 when my wife and I boarded the Spirit of Washington Dinner Train bound for Chateau Ste. Michelle.
We were looking forward to the trip because it included a five-course meal and a bottle of wine on the way to Ste. Michelle, a tour of the winery when we got there, and dessert on the way back. The train took off from downtown Renton, WA. at 6 p.m. and arrived at Chateau Ste Michelle in Woodinville, WA. at 6:45 p.m.
Since we had never been to Chateau Ste. Michelle, we didn’t know what to expect. But when we got off the train and saw this beautiful French Chateau surrounded by manicured lawns and stately trees, we knew we were experiencing something special.
“With more than 300,000 visitors annually, Chateau Ste. Michelle, is one of the most popular destination wineries in the country.”
The evening got even better when a Ste. Michelle employee took our group on a tour of the winery and gave us the opportunity of tasting several Ste. Michelle wines. At that point, I thought I had died and gone to heaven.
That evening was my introduction not only to Chateau Ste. Michelle, but my introduction to Washington wine. That evening, in fact, began an appreciation of Washington wine that has continued for me to this day. Unfortunately, the Spirit of Washington Dinner Train stopped running at the end of the 1993 season.
That was 24 years ago. This year (2017) Chateau Ste. Michelle is celebrating its 50th Anniversary as the number one premium wine brand in the U.S. by case volume.
The Year Was 1967
It all began in 1967 when a small winery called St. Michelle Vintners introduced its first vintage of a European-style premium wine, a Cabernet Sauvignon from the Yakima Valley. It was this release that marked the beginning of today’s thriving Washington wine industry. Washington is now the nation’s number two producer of premium wine with more than 50,000 planted acres, nearly 1,000 wineries and 14 American Viticultural Areas or AVAs.
In 1976. Ste. Michelle Vintners built a French-style Chateau in the Seattle suburb of Woodinville and changed its name to Chateau Ste. Michelle. Today Chateau Ste. Michelle’s wines are available in all 50 states and more than 100 countries. With more than 300,000 visitors annually, it is one of the most popular destination wineries in the country.
Many wine enthusiasts may not be aware of this, but Ste. Michelle’s Washington portfolio also includes Columbia Crest Winery and Red Diamond Wine in Paterson, WA., 14 Hands Winery in Prosser, WA., Northstar Winery and Spring Valley Vineyard in Walla Walla, WA., Col Solare Red Mountain Estate Vineyard & Winery in Benton City, WA., Snoqualmie Vineyards in Paterson, WA., and Domaine Ste. Michelle sparkling wines.
It’s portfolio also includes 3,900 acres of vineyards in the Columbia Valley of Eastern Washington, including Canoe Ridge Estate and Cold Creek.
And wine enthusiasts who follow Ste. Michelle closely know that the company also owns Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars (with Italy’s Antinori family), Conn Creek Winery in California’s Napa Valley, Patz & Hall Winery in Sonoma, California and Erath Winery in Dundee, Ore.
Special Anniversary Bottling
Ste. Michelle has been celebrating its 50th Anniversary with special events and projects all year long. Back In April, the winery released a 50th Anniversary Special Bottling of its Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, which pays tribute to the first 1967 vintage.
This past September, the winery also released 4,800 numbered bottles of IMPETUS (750ml, SRP $125) by Chateau Ste. Michelle, the brand’s visionary wine showcasing the three grape varieties that are stellar in the Washington region but are not traditionally blended together (Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Malbec).
Both the 50th Anniversary bottling of its Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and the .limited release of IMPETUS can be purchased directly from Ste. Michelle’s website at: www.ste-michelle.com.
Newly Renovated Visitors Center
Continuing its 50th Anniversary celebrations, Ste. Michelle unveiled its newly renovated, state-of-the-art Visitor Center over the Labor Day weekend. With a price tag of $7million, the 22,731 sq. ft. facility is double the size of the winery’s previous tasting room.
“The opening of the new visitor center represents the next chapter in Chateau Ste. Michelle’s growth and will dramatically enhance our ability to offer world-class wine experiences for decades to come,” said Ted Baseler, President and CEO of Ste. Michelle Wine Estates. “The center offers new wine experiences for visitors, whether they want to enjoy a flight in our private tasting salons, take a guided tour of the winery, blend their own bottle of wine or attend special programs in our theater.”
The new visitors center includes:
- Interactive Blending Room where guests can create their own red wine blend while discovering different varietals and their attributes!
- Tasting Room where guests can taste wines from Chateau Ste. Michelle’s vast portfolio, including wines only available at the winery.
- Col Solare Bottega where guests can taste the wines of Col Solare’s Red Mountain Winery. During each 45-minute appointment, guests will learn about the past, present, and future of Col Solare, featuring Chateau Ste. Michelle’s partnership with Tuscany’s Marchesi Antinori.
- Four private tasting salons, a modern 80-seat theater and a restaurant style kitchen. Within the newly designed private tasting salons and modern 80-seat theater, Chateau Ste Michelle staff members will host a variety of wine tastings, wine and culinary classes, and guest speakers – complete with a restaurant style kitchen for a fully immersive culinary and wine experience.
On an ongoing basis, guests can expect a full curriculum of fun and informative classes, designed by Chateau Ste. Michelle’s wine educator Linda Chauncey.
History of Giving Back
Chateau Ste. Michelle also has a long history of giving back to the industry and community. The net proceeds from its popular Summer Concert Series help fund its charitable giving program, which supports some 400 non-profit organizations annually, has provided more than $3 million for scholarships for high-achieving, low-income students at Washington universities, and supports the Viticulture & Enology Program at Washington State University’s campus in Richland WA.
Launched in 1984, the Summer Concert Series has featured top artists including Stevie Wonder, Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, John Legend, Harry Connick, Jr….and many more.
Speaking of charitable events, the biggest event of the year held at Ste. Michelle is the annual Auction of Washington Wine. The auction, which is held in mid-August of each year, benefits Seattle Children’s Hospital and the Viticulture & Enology Program at Washington State University. This year’s auction raised a record $4.1 million-plus and since the organization’s first auction in 1988, it has raised more than $37 million.
A story about Chateau Ste. Michelle can’t end without talking about the many varieties of wine the company produces. Under the watchful eye of Executive Winemaker Bob Bertheau, St. Michele produces 66 different wines using 34 varieties of grapes. Its brands include its Artist Series, Ethos Reserve, Eroica, Columbia Valley, and its Single Vineyard Series made with grapes from its Canoe Ridge, Cold Creek, Horse Heaven Hills, and Indian Wells vineyards in Eastern Washington.
The 66 wines that Ste. Michelle produces include everything from Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Malbec to Riesling, Chardonnay and Gewurztraminer… and everything in between. You can find a complete list of all St. Michelle wines on the company’s website: www.ste-michelle.com.
EDITOR’S NOTE: If you have ever had a bottle of Ste. Michelle wine, have visited the winery, have attended a summer concert, or were lucky enough to take the Spirit of Washington Dinner Train to Ste. Michelle, I would like to hear from you. Just send me an e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org. And let me know which Ste. Michelle wines are your favorites.