Ste. Michelle Wine Estates continues to lead the state’s dramatic growth in the wine industry.
IN 2007, WASHINGTON winemakers crushed 127,000 tons of grapes. When it’s all said and done, they will have crushed more than a quarter-million tons this fall.
In other words, the Washington wine industry has doubled in size in just a decade. Ste. Michelle CEO Ted Baseler predicts it will double again soon; if the 9 percent annual growth continues, that could happen in about eight years.
That is remarkable. And it’s all driven by Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, based in Woodinville, which is pushing the industry forward with new brands and new vineyard plantings throughout the arid Columbia Valley.
Three to try
These three wines from Ste. Michelle Wine Estates are responsible for a lot of the Washington wine industry’s growth:
14 Hands Winery 2014 merlot, Columbia Valley, $12: A superb, affordable and widely available example of a delicious Washington merlot, thanks to fragrant aromas and flavors of red cherry, cocoa powder and ripe dark fruit.
Chateau Ste. Michelle 2014 riesling, Columbia Valley, $9: More than a million cases of this wine are produced, making it the largest-production riesling in the world, and it is delicious, with luscious flavors of orchard fruit backed by a kiss of sweetness.
Columbia Crest 2013 Grand Estates cabernet sauvignon, Columbia Valley, $12: Nearly a half-million cases of this affordable cab are produced each year, making a great example of Washington’s most important grape easily accessible. Aromas and flavors of black cherry, plum and a hint of smoky coffee are backed by round, smooth tannins.
Most of Washington’s wine growth comes from Ste. Michelle. Of the state’s top 10 wineries (by case production), Baseler is in charge of eight — with the other two owned by Seattle-based Precept Wine.
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As always, where Ste. Michelle goes, so goes the rest of the Washington wine industry. Ste. Michelle contracts growers to plant hundreds of new acres of grapes each year — mostly red varieties such as cabernet sauvignon — and it keeps building new brands. The most interesting has been 14 Hands, which began in 2005 as a restaurant-only label that today is one of the fastest-growing wineries in the United States.
Washington has nearly 60,000 acres of wine grapes. Baseler thinks that could become 200,000 without too much of a problem.
In the meantime, California is pulling out vineyards, particularly in the Central Valley. A decade from now, there could be an interesting shift in West Coast wine powers.
And where will all this wine be sold? That’s the question so often asked, but the answer is in front of us. Currently, 1 out of every 4 bottles of wine sold in Washington is made in Washington. The other three come from California, Europe and the Southern Hemisphere. If we all shift our thinking to buying wine from the home team, it’s pretty easy to see the industry double again without much trouble.