Ste. Michelle dominates riesling market

February 9, 2011 

Chateau Ste. Michelle gets much of the credit for the resurgence of American riesling - and properly so. The Woodinville winery makes more riesling than any other in the world. Riesling makes up 45 percent of all Ste. Michelle wines, and two-thirds of the production at the state's oldest winery is white wines.

Bob Bertheau arrived in 2003 from California as Ste. Michelle’s white winemaker and a year later was promoted to head winemaker. In 2007, Wendy Stuckey arrived from Australia and now oversees white wine production. Bertheau’s focus was on chardonnay when he arrived because he hadn’t made much riesling in California, and Stuckey’s global reputation on riesling made her a perfect fit with Ste. Michelle.

Bertheau takes the lead in setting the style for each wine, and Stuckey is the on-the-ground winemaker and manages the staff. The white wines are made in Woodinville, while the red wines are made at Ste. Michelle’s Canoe Ridge facility in Eastern Washington.

While the focus certainly is on the million cases of Riesling the winery produces, Bertheau and Stuckey also craft a lot of different whites, including chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, gewrztraminer and pinot gris. Here are some we’ve tasted recently:

Chateau Ste. Michelle 2009 Chardonnay, Columbia Valley, $13: Toasted pine nuts, marshmallow, banana, lemon, grapefruit peel, pear, vanilla and a dab of butter help describe the aromas. Pineapple, light banana and Golden Delicious apple flavors swirl with lovely brightness, keyed by citrusy acidity. Oak notes are tucked off to the side, making this suitable to serve with seafood, shellfish and poultry dishes accented by herbs.

Chateau Ste. Michelle 2008 Canoe Ridge Estate Chardonnay, Horse Heaven Hills, $22: This carries a heftier oak profile than the Columbia Valley offering, but the barrel notes (50 percent new French) are restrained on the palate. Aromas open with buttered popcorn, grilled pineapple, apricot and lemon yogurt, and there’s a nice follow-through on the palate. It’s seated comfortably in the mouth, backed by apples and lemon pith in the finish.

Chateau Ste. Michelle 2008 Indian Wells Chardonnay, Columbia Valley, $18: The bulk of this crop comes from the Wahluke Slope, and the production shows a tasty balance of orchard fruit and time well spent in barrel. Golden Delicious apple and pear aromas include notes of vanilla, toffee and lemon zest. It’s juicy with flavors of apricot and sweet pineapple, backed by lingering acidity and wrapped up by a piece of Werther’s Original.

Chateau Ste. Michelle 2009 Gewurztraminer, Columbia Valley, $10: Sugared Texas pink grapefruit gets most of the face time here. Lychee, ambrosia salad and peach tones twist in the background, along with talcum powder, slate and poached pineapple. Suggested fare includes crab and Asian dishes with cilantro.

Chateau Ste. Michelle 2009 Horse Heaven Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc, Horse Heaven Hills, $10: There’s a whiff of barrel smoke over the tropical hints of orange and banana. The palate screams with lime and grapefruit from start to finish, interrupted at the midpalate by creamy banana from the 22 percent of the lot that’s barrel-fermented on the lees. Serve up a bowl of mussels and bring bread for the broth.

Chateau Ste. Michelle 2009 Sauvignon Blanc, Columbia Valley, $10: Widely available, it’s a solid introduction to the variety without any extremes, showing off lime, starfruit, Granny Smith apple and yellow grapefruit accents. Hints of kitchen herbs will lend it easily to seafood dishes that call for rosemary or chives.

Chateau Ste. Michelle 2009 Pinot Gris, Columbia Valley, $13: Night-time harvesting retains natural acidity and the inclusion of viognier (6 percent) helped to make for a sassy drink of starfruit, pear, peach, green banana and pear, backed by some grassiness, minerality and citrus pith. Pair with poached halibut.

Andy Perdue and Eric Degerman are the editors of Wine Press Northwest magazine. For more information, go to www.winepressnw.com.

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