A Brief History of Chateau Ste. Michelle, the Winery That Put Washington on the Map

Turns out, our booming wine industry owes a heck of a lot to the Woodinville winery.

Chateau Ste. Michelle was voted Best Winery in the 2015 Best of Seattle Reader Poll. To view the other winners, go here.

It’s fitting that Seattle Weekly’s readers chose Chateau Ste. Michelle as the region's Best Winery. Given Seattle’s influx of newcomers and the Woodinville winery’s prominence in the national and international marketplace, there’s no doubt that for many recent arrivals, it’s the only local winery they’ve heard of. Yet that doesn’t mean they’re wrong: Chateau Ste. Michelle continues to produce both large quantities of everyday wine as well as some of the absolute finest wines made in our state.

Also, while it might not be the new darling that somms and snobs are all clamoring to discover, the winery’s influence is vast and indisputable. Would we have the Rhône-focused wines of Cayuse Vineyards or Rotie Cellars if CSM hadn’t already proven that grenache could thrive here, or the explorations of sangiovese by Andrew Will Winery or Leonetti Cellar if not for their Col Solare collaboration? World-class vineyards like Canoe Ridge and Cold Creek and broader sites like the Wahluke Slope and Red Mountain might well be only sparsely planted if not for Chateau Ste. Michelle’s pioneering efforts. Here, a look at some of our winner’s most memorable moments.

1974 The “Judgment of Paris” of 1976 is considered a landmark moment in the history of Napa; it proved that California wine could equal great French wine. Yet Washington wine’s moment came two years earlier, when one of CSM’s rieslings took first prize in a Los Angeles Times blind tasting. That success thrust the winery into the national spotlight and helped create the market for what is now the world’s largest producer of riesling at over two million cases per year.

1976 In addition to putting Washington wine on the national and global stage, Chateau Ste. Michelle also helped create the entire Woodinville wine scene. Long before the days of wine tours and a producer tucked into every garage and strip mall, there was CSM, with its immaculately manicured grounds, spacious tasting room, and general epicness. Opened in 1976, the chateau itself has become an iconic part of the wine culture here.

1984 When CSM launched its now-entrenched concert series, it’s doubtful that anyone at the winery knew just how successful it would become. Having hosted Ringo Starr, Tony Bennett, Gladys Knight and the Pips, and dozens more, it’s become a Seattle summer staple and an example of another way in which CSM brings in visitors for much more than wine.

1999 Despite Chateau Ste. Michelle’s deep history with riesling, perhaps its most rewarding moment came in 2001, when the 1999 vintage Cold Creek Chardonnay was named Wine Spectator’s best white wine in the world. Given that the Cold Creek property was one of the earliest plantings under the CSM label, to receive that validation over 25 years later was no doubt a triumph. To date, it’s still the highest honor one of its wines has received in Wine Spectator.

2013 It’s no surprise that CSM wines make a regular appearance at White House dinners. In fact, the 2013 Chardonnay was just poured at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner in April. Yet the history of Chateau Ste. Michelle wines in the other Washington goes back quite a bit further: I found menus from Gerald Ford’s presidency in the mid-’70s that included wines from what was then just “Saint Michelle Vintners.” I for one would have loved to try the 1975 Chenin Blanc paired with a “Timbale of Sea Scallops.”

thebarcode@seattleweekly.com

 
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