The process of exchanging ideas between two professionals who share a passion for wine can be transformational.
Sometimes, the creation of a new wine begins with a new partnership between two winemakers who each bring something different to the table.
“I might look at a varietal of winemaking one way, and then another winemaker has a different perspective and gives me a fresh view,” says Bob Bertheau, head winemaker for Chateau Ste. Michelle. That’s exactly what happened when Washington’s oldest winery teamed up with acclaimed Rhône winemaker Michel Gassier.
In 2012, Bertheau and Gassier walked through the Ste. Michelle vineyards in the Columbia Valley, discussing the kind of syrah they wanted to make together and choosing grapes to combine in a new and interesting way. That process of exchanging ideas between two professionals who share a passion for wine was transformational for Bertheau.
“Michel reminded me that the whole cluster fermentation process used in the Rhône Valley of France gives a lighter style and structure to the wine than the process most syrah winemakers in our country use,” Bertheau says. “I had used whole-cluster fermentation in California years ago to bring out the bright, fresh flavor of pinot noir but hadn’t tried it with a richer syrah.”
At the same time, Bertheau’s experience with combining Washington grapes offered new insights to Gassier. Together, they tasted different lots of fermented grapes in various combinations. The result, The Pundit syrah, was first released from the 2013 vintage. This complex syrah successfully brings together the traditional Rhône style with all the attitude of great Columbia Valley wines. Ripe cherry and plum aromas are complemented by earthy undercurrents of smoky cocoa and cola, and highlighted by traces of citrus blossom and lemon.
The first partnership that Chateau Ste. Michelle forged was in 1995 with Marchese Piero Antinori, an Italian winemaker from Tuscany. The goal was to bring together the very best Washington fruit and 26 generations of Antinori family winemaking experience. The partners worked closely to forge their two distinct grape-growing and winemaking cultures. The result is Col Solare, a powerful yet silky cabernet sauvignon-based red wine.
“Piero Antinori was a true visionary in Tuscany, where he began blending cabernet sauvignon grapes with their local sangiovese grapes to create what we now call ‘Super Tuscan’ wines,” says Darel Allwine, winemaker for Col Solare Winery in Benton, Washington. “We wanted to come together to create the best Bordeaux-style wine using Washington-grown cabernet sauvignon grapes.”
Renzo Cotarella, the CEO and chief winemaker for Marchesi Antinori, and consulting winemaker Bob Betz MW, come to Col Solare several times a year and sit down with Allwine to make decisions about the wine. “We taste samples of wine from Chateau Ste. Michelle’s Col Solare estate vineyard on Red Mountain and also four other vineyards,” Allwine says. “We don’t always agree at first, but we have the same philosophies about what we’re looking for in a wine.”
Eroica is another wine that is the result of a labor of love between two winemakers. In 1999, winemaker Ernst Loosen, whose family has been producing rieslings in Germany’s rich Mosel Valley for more than 200 years, approached Chateau Ste. Michelle with the idea of joining forces to create an ultra-premium riesling from Washington grapes.
The result of this partnership is the award-winning Eroica. This is a New World riesling with white peach, mandarin orange and fresh apricot aromas characteristic of Washington state rieslings, melded with crisp apple, mineral, floral notes and lively acidity associated with German riesling.
Named after Beethoven’s “Third Symphony,” Eroica debuted with the 1999 vintage. Chateau Ste. Michelle’s winemaker Bob Bertheau collaborates with Ernst Loosen on everything from site selection, irrigation and canopy management in the vineyards, to determine the final blend.