Ste. Michelle Wine Estates launched 14 Hands as a restaurant-only brand. Ten years later it’s Washington’s second-largest winery and one of the fastest-growing wine brands in the country.
A DECADE AGO, 14 Hands Winery was little more than an experiment. Today, it is Washington’s second-largest winery and one of the fastest-growing wine brands in the United States.
In 2005, Ste. Michelle Wine Estates launched 14 Hands as a restaurant-only brand, meaning the wines were available only on wine lists. The company has a history of doing this: Red Diamond was a restaurant-only brand before 14 Hands, and Seven Falls (launched in late 2012) is available in restaurants or direct to consumers online.
The fact that 14 Hands became a phenomenon is remarkable, though not necessarily surprising.
Three to try
14 Hands Winery 2014 sauvignon blanc, Washington, $10: A vibrant white wine that is perfect with seafood or fowl, this shows off aromas and flavors of pink grapefruit, kiwi, honeydew melon and lime.
14 Hands Winery 2013 cabernet sauvignon, Columbia Valley, $12: This delicious and approachable red explodes with notes of cherry and just-out-of-the-oven brownies. It’s all backed by plush, round tannins.
14 Hands Winery 2012 reserve cabernet sauvignon, Horse Heaven Hills, $30: Richer, bolder and darker than 14 Hands’ regular cab, this is a big, dense wine with aromas and flavors of black pepper, cocoa powder, blackberry and vanilla cream.
The name comes from the height of wild mustangs that once roamed the Horse Heaven Hills south of Washington’s Yakima Valley — they were 14 hands tall, or less than 5 feet high.
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The 14 Hands wines are made primarily from fruit in the Horse Heaven Hills, though grapes from the greater Columbia Valley also make it into some of the wines. And they are nicely priced, with the whites retailing for $10 and the reds for $12.
It didn’t take long for wine lovers to gravitate toward these delicious, value-priced wines. One day a few years ago, Ste. Michelle CEO Ted Baseler was in a Seattle-area wine shop and overheard a customer asking the retailer if she could buy 14 Hands. This — along with a lot of sales and marketing metrics — convinced Baseler and his team that 14 Hands was ready for prime time.
Today, 14 Hands winemaker Keith Kenison oversees production of 18 wines, and he is closing in on 2 million cases a year in production. The most recent addition is a sauvignon blanc that was introduced in May. Kenison also has created a line of reserve wines that have been positively received by consumers and critics.
In 2013, Ste. Michelle announced it would close Snoqualmie Vineyards’ tasting room in the Yakima Valley town of Prosser and rebrand it as 14 Hands. In April 2014, it opened the new tasting room, which has an expanded space that has a western theme and also honors regional farmers and ranchers with photos.
Check out 14 Hands at your favorite wine merchant or restaurant, or head to the Yakima Valley and try the wines in person.