Ste. Michelle Wine Estates is by far Washington's largest wine producer. This fall, it will use two-thirds of the 200,000 tons of grapes that will be harvested in the state.
And while most of its grapes come from throughout the 11 million acre Columbia Valley, it's often forgotten the company has estate vineyards in the Horse Heaven Hills, Red Mountain and the Columbia and Walla Walla valleys.
Chateau Ste. Michelle is the state's oldest winery with roots that stretch back to 1934. Head winemaker Bob Bertheau is particularly fond of two estate vineyards: Canoe Ridge Estate and Cold Creek, and this week, we take a closer look at them.
Both vineyard sites were suggested to Ste. Michelle by Walter Clore, the Washington State University researcher primarily responsible for the early development of the Washington wine industry. Clore died in 2003.
Cold Creek Vineyard is north of the Yakima Valley and south of the Wahluke Slope. It was first planted in the early 1970s and was decimated by a deep winter freeze in the late '70s. It was replanted and now is one of Ste. Michelle's gems. Additional plantings in recent years have expanded Cold Creek to nearly 700 acres.
Almost all of the grapes go to Chateau Ste. Michelle and its sister wineries. With other successful vineyards nearby, the Cold Creek area is an excellent candidate for its own federally designated viticultural area.
Canoe Ridge is in the southern Horse Heaven Hills overlooking the Columbia River. According to legend, the Lewis & Clark expedition was floating past, and one of the explorers looked up and thought the ridge looked like an upside-down canoe.
In 1991, Ste. Michelle began planting wine grapes there. Three years later, the company built a winemaking facility there, which now is where all of its red wine is made. The vineyard now has more than 500 acres of grapes.
Here are some wines from Cold Creek and Canoe Ridge that we have tasted recently.
Chateau Ste. Michelle 2009 Cold Creek Vineyard Chardonnay, Columbia Valley, $25: This Chardonnay opens with aromas of pear, Gala apple, dried pineapple and Meyer Lemon stand out just above background notes of toasted coconut, butterscotch, oatmeal cookie and hominy. The drink shows remarkable contrast, opening with creamy butterscotch and tropical notes, followed by succulent flavors of lemon/lime that provide length and balance.
Chateau Ste. Michelle 2009 Cold Creek Vineyard Cabernet Franc, Columbia Valley, $30: This Cab Franc opens with aromas of cherries, liquid smoke and mountains of chocolate, followed by flavors of black licorice, black currants, dark chocolate and tell-tale herbaciousness. Pair this wine with lasagna, grilled flank steak or prime rib.
Chateau Ste. Michelle 2009 Canoe Ridge Vineyard Chardonnay, Columbia Valley, $22: Aromas of apricot, dried pear, lemon/lime, candy corn and orange oil give way to a palate that shows off full malolactic fermentation and nine months of sur lie aging, making for a rounded mouth feel along with dry notes of starfruit, more pear and yellow grapefruit. Enjoy with crab cakes, pork loin influenced by tarragon or salmon.
Chateau Ste. Michelle 2009 Canoe Ridge Estate Merlot, Horse Heaven Hills, $22: This tasty Merlot offers aromas of coffee, peppercorns, black tea and spices, followed by rich flavors of black currants, boysenberries and Baker's chocolate. This is a big wine that is built for the long haul.
Chateau Ste. Michelle 2009 Canoe Ridge Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Horse Heaven Hills, $28: This brings a nose of smoky cherry wood, root beer and shredded wheat along with ripe Bing cherry, blackberry, black olive and tobacco leaf. Inside, it's a fruit bomb that explodes with more cherries and blackberries, trailed by cranberry juice, cherry cola and black olive. There's supreme balance and a remarkable farewell of anise and chocolate.
* Andy Perdue and Eric Degerman are the editors of Wine Press Northwest magazine. For more information, go to www.winepressnw.com.