An introduction to wine inspired the Yakima Valley native to go back to school and get into the industry. After starting at Ste. Michelle, she now manages the vineyard at esteemed Canoe Ridge.

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A QUARTER-CENTURY AGO, Ste. Michelle Wine Estates planted a vineyard that sweeps down from the Horse Heaven Hills to the Columbia River.

Pacific NW Magazine: Oct. 2 Edition

Artist Cory Ench created this mural of the Kalakala along North Laurel Street in Port Angeles as a tribute to the steel, art-deco ferry that served the Puget Sound from 1935 to 1967. It’s one of many murals adorning the walls in the town’s historic central downtown area. (Mike Siegel/The Seattle Times)
Artist Cory Ench created this mural of the Kalakala along North Laurel Street in Port Angeles as a tribute to the steel, art-deco ferry that served the Puget Sound from 1935 to 1967. It’s one of many murals adorning the walls in the town’s historic central downtown area. (Mike Siegel/The Seattle Times)

It is called Canoe Ridge Estate, named for the ridge upon which it sits. The story goes that Lewis and Clark named it as they floated past in 1805, believing the hill looked like an upside-down canoe. While no mention of this is found in the Corps of Discovery’s journals, there is no doubt the intrepid explorers were fully aware of what an overturned canoe looked like by that point.

One person, Mimi Nye, managed those 593 acres of vines since 1991. But when she decided to retire this spring, she handed her pruning shears over to the next generation of Washington viticulturists.

Three to try

Chateau Ste. Michelle 2014 Canoe Ridge Estate chardonnay, Horse Heaven Hills, $30: Aromas and flavors of pineapple, pear, apple butter, vanilla and spice are backed by round viscosity and rich acidity. This reveals a light touch with oak aging.

Chateau Ste. Michelle 2012 Canoe Ridge Estate merlot, Horse Heaven Hills, $36: A classic Washington merlot with aromas of black cherry, vanilla and warm spices that give way to flavors of black raspberry and blackberry, all backed by bright acidity and mild tannins.

Chateau Ste. Michelle 2012 Canoe Ridge Estate cabernet sauvignon, Horse Heaven Hills, $36: This delicious example is a dark, focused red with notes of black olive, dark chocolate, French press coffee and boysenberry. Elegant yet firm tannins provide beautiful balance.

Kari Smasne, 40, grew up in the Yakima Valley town of Grandview. And while this is the heart of the region’s vineyards and hop yards, Smasne’s parents were not in agriculture (she married into the Smasne clan, which is practically farming royalty in the Yakima Valley). She learned a love for growing plants while attending Washington State University in Pullman, where she earned a degree in agricultural economics.

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She had planned a career in grocery store produce management. Friends introduced her to wine, and sips turned into tastes, tastes turned into passion and that passion ultimately turned into career-altering decisions.

Entranced, Smasne decided to go into the wine industry. Not knowing exactly how to get there, she looked up the phone number for Chateau Ste. Michelle in Woodinville and asked for directions. It was suggested she return to WSU to learn about viticulture, which she did, earning another degree in 2006.

Starting a dozen years ago, Smasne used three internships with Ste. Michelle to work her way into a full-time position with Washington’s largest wine producer.

And in January, she landed at one of Ste. Michelle’s crown jewels, Canoe Ridge Estate. Three times, Canoe Ridge Estate-designated wines have landed on Wine Spectator’s annual top 100 list.

This spring, she oversaw the planting of 8.3 new acres of malbec. There’s a lot of history here, and Smasne already is leaving her fingerprints on Canoe Ridge Estate.