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Ste. Michelle looks back on 50 years

One of Washington’s foremost estates, Chateau Ste. Michelle, is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, a landmark that speaks volumes about the on-going success of winemaking in the state believes its CEO.

Château Ste. Michelle in Washington

As Ted Baseler, president and CEO of Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, told the drinks business, Ste. Michelle has come a long way in winemaking terms in the past half century.

“Times have changed dramatically,” he said. “In our first vintage we made just 6,000 cases. Today we sell 3.5 million and are the second largest premium brand by volume in the US. We’ve come a long way.”

It’s not just Ste Michelle that has come a long way either but the whole winemaking industry of Washington state. In 1967, when Ste. Michelle was founded there were just 12 wineries in the state, today there are 1,000 backed up by an industry-backed research and development projects (towards which Ste. Michelle has contributed $3m through various fundraising programmes).

Ste. Michelle began with just one wine (a Cabernet Sauvignon from the Yakima Valley) and now produces over 25 single variety wines including Riesling, Merlot, Chardonnay, Syrah, Pinot Blanc and Barbera and seven other ranges such as an artist series, a single vineyard range and wines from Columbia Valley.

Its vineyard holdings have also grown to 3,500 acres, while across the state there are now 50,000 acres and 14 recognised American Viticultural Areas.

Foreign investors have also moved in, several at the suggestion of Ste Michelle including Piero Antinori (Col Solare), Ernst Loosen (Eroica) and Michel Gassier and Philippe Cambie (Tenet).

As production has grown, so Ste Michelle has sought to expand its exports both across the US and the world. Today it sells to 50 states and 150 countries.

Baseler told db that the growth of the Washington industry and improvements in winemaking meant growing exports was becoming ever simpler and was picking up substantial momentum.

He said: “Thirty-three years ago it wasn’t easy selling Washington wine but it’s improved dramatically. We have really seen a rise in the quality of Washington wines, supported the WA State oenology programme named after Ste. Michelle. We see Washington as really moving up.”

With the prices of land, grapes and wine in neighbouring California, especially Napa Valley, going up and up, Baseler sees yet further opportunities for Ste. Michelle and Washington, a “nice niche for highly rated wines that not nearly as expensive.”


Ste. Michelle has been celebrating its 50th anniversary with numerous events throughout the year, with many more still to come.

To begin with, back in April, it released a 50th anniversary special bottling of its Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and until 30 September inside each pack there is a chance to win one of 50 prizes. A total of four grand prize winners will be selected to win a trip for two to the estate.

In September the winery will release 4,800 numbered bottles of ‘Impetus’, a special blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Malbec, which are considered three of Washington’s signature grapes but are rarely bottled together.

Beginning last month and lasting through to September, Ste. Michelle is hosting its annual programme of summer concerts (now in its 34th year) and the estate is bringing out a coffee table book documenting its history so far.

Finally, this August Ste. Michelle will open its newly expanded visitor centre. The new building has been doubled in size to 22,731 square feet and will include a 70-seat theatre, an interactive blending room, private tasting rooms, a ‘Club’ room, a wine shop and outdoor terraces.

Baseler explained that being just outside Seattle the winery now handles around 300,000 tourists a year. “It’s probably one of the most toured wineries in the world,” he said.

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