2017 Wine Issue: Wine-industry luminaries uncork the 50-year-old wine that was the first to bear the Ste. Michelle label.
I RECENTLY HAD the opportunity to taste the Ste. Michelle Vineyards 1967 cabernet sauvignon, a 50-year-old wine that was the first to bear the Ste. Michelle label.
The bottle was a gift from Ron Irvine, author of “The Wine Project,” published 20 years ago and still the definitive history of Washington wine.
I joined industry luminaries Doug Gore, executive vice-president of winemaking, vineyards and operations for Ste. Michelle Wine Estates; Bob Bertheau, head winemaker for Chateau Ste. Michelle; Wade Wolfe, owner/winemaker for Thurston Wolfe Winery in Prosser, and former vineyard operations manager for Ste. Michelle in the late 1970s; and Mike Hogue, founder of Hogue Cellars.
Not much cabernet sauvignon was planted in Washington in 1967. The fruit for this wine came from Hahn Hill Vineyard north of Grandview, and a vineyard known as “Vineyard 7” near the town of Benton City. Ste. Michelle no longer owns either vineyard, and the vines that produced these grapes have long been pulled out and replanted with other varieties.
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The 50-year-old wine was made by Howard Somers, whose family owned St. Charles Winery — the first post-Prohibition winery in Washington — and Andre Tchelistcheff, who had just left Beaulieu Vineyards in Napa Valley, considered America’s best winery.
The cork was mushy, with a bit of mold on the outside, but relatively intact (as in, the cork didn’t crumble into sawdust). Instead, it came out in three pieces. We decanted the wine and poured it into Riedel glasses. The 1967 smelled of black olives, dried cherries and old leather, like a well-aged Bordeaux.
This wine didn’t go through malolactic fermentation — that technique was introduced years later in Washington — which left it with more structure on the acidity. A bit of tannin was still hanging on. All in all, the group was pleased with how the wine held up, a tribute to Tchelistcheff’s winemaking, the quality of Washington grapes and the vision and foresight of Walter Clore.
We staged the tasting in Prosser at the Walter Clore Wine and Culinary Center with wine program director April Reddout and guests who had won seats in the Clore Center’s annual auction.
As happens with such events, other wines were added. Wolfe contributed a 1969 Ste. Michelle cab that had been in his late father’s collection. Gore showed up with a 1979 cab from Ste. Michelle that was made in such small quantities, it was never released. The Clore Center contributed a 1969 experimental cab made by Clore. And Chateau Ste. Michelle kicked in cabs from 1977, 1987, 1997, 2007 and 2013, so we ended up with a half-century retrospective of Ste. Michelle winemaking.