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Great Northwest Destinations: Chateau Ste. Michelle
Editor’s note: This is the third in an occasional series on destination wineries of the Pacific Northwest.
WOODINVILLE, Wash. – Washington’s original destination winery also is its oldest.
Chateau Ste. Michelle‘s history goes back to just after repeal of Prohibition, but its destination status began in 1976 when the French-style manor opened to the public in the suburbs of Seattle.
Today, Chateau Ste. Michelle is Washington state’s most-visited winery, with more than 300,000 people arriving for wine tastings, events, dinners and concerts. Chateau Ste. Michelle also has the distinction of being the world’s largest producer of Riesling at more than 1.2 million cases (no single winery on Earth makes more), and it’s also Washington largest winery, crafting 2.7 million cases annually.
The winery’s roots go back to 1934, when two wineries emerged from the fog of national Prohibition. Pommerelle and National Wine Co. (Nawico) both launched that year and were fiercely competitive until they merged 20 years later to become American Wine Growers (AWG). In 1967, AWG launched a new label called Ste. Michelle Vintners.
In 1973, an investment group purchased the winery and changed its name to Ste. Michelle Vineyards. In 1974, Ste. Michelle’s 1972 Riesling topped a blind tasting held by the prestigious Los Angeles Times newspaper, which drew national attention. That same year, U.S. Tobacco of Connecticut purchased the winery. By 1976, it had built the new winery in the unincorporated community of Woodinville, northeast of Seattle across Lake Washington. When those doors opened, the winery got its current name.
One winery becomes many
Through the years, the company has expanded, creating such wineries as Columbia Crest, 14 Hands, Northstar, Red Diamond, Col Solare (with the Antinori family of Italy), Eroica (with Dr. Loosen of Germany), Seven Falls, Domaine Ste. Michelle and Anew. It’s also purchased such wineries as Snoqualmie Vineyards and Spring Valley Vineyards in Washington and Erath in Oregon. In California, it owns Conn Creek, Villa Mt. Eden and historic Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars (with Antinori).
And now it is an importer and distributor for Antinori, Champagne Nicolas Feuillatte and Villa Maria, among others.
Today, all the wineries are under the umbrella of Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, based at the chateau in Woodinville. The company uses two out of every three grapes grown in Washington.
In the early 1990s, Ste. Michelle built a winemaking facility in the Horse Heaven Hills of eastern Washington called Canoe Ridge Estate, where it also owns several hundred acres of vineyards. Ste. Michelle also has vineyards at Columbia Crest, Cold Creek, Northstar and Col Solare.
Just a few vines grow at the winery in Woodinville, which is for visitors – and birds.
Many great winemakers have come and gone at Chateau Ste. Michelle. Today, Bob Bertheau is the head winemaker at CSM. Wendy Stuckey is the white winemaker, and Ray McKee is the red winemaker.
300,000 visit Chateau Ste. Michelle each year
Thanks directly to Chateau Ste. Michelle and its ability to draw visitors from the more than 3 million people who live in the greater Seattle area, Woodinville has become the most bustling wine scene in Washington with more than 100 wineries and tasting rooms. The restaurant options have matured around Ste. Michelle, thanks to the added visitor draw.
The historic chateau grounds feature the Manor House and gardens, part of the original Stimson estate. The Manor House was built in 1912 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Chateau Ste. Michelle concert series
Ste. Michelle began bringing live concerts to Woodinville in 1984 – long before it became vogue for wineries to do so. Every year, the winery brings top musicians to perform rock, jazz, blues and spoken-word performances.
The concert lineups are announced each spring, and tickets go quickly.
Auction of Washington Wines
Chateau Ste. Michelle plays host each August to the Auction of Washington Wines, one of the largest wine auctions in the world. In 2013, the auction raised $2 million to assist Children’s Hospital in Seattle and Washington State University’s viticulture and enology program.
Chateau Ste. Michelle amenities
- Gift shop
- Picnic area
- Concert venue
- Special area for wine club members
- Live music
- Conference facilities
- Food for sale
- RV parking/camping
- Handicap accessible
- Banquet facilities
- Special events
Nearby restaurants recommended by Chateau Ste. Michelle
- Forecaster’s Pub at Redhook Brewery
- The Purple Café
- The Barking Frog
- The Herbfarm
- The Station Pizzeria
Nearby coffee places recommended by Chateau Ste. Michelle
Nearby overnight accommodations recommended by Chateau Ste. Michelle
Other activities to enjoy while visiting Chateau Ste. Michelle
- More than 100 wineries and tasting rooms within a 10-minute drive.
- Downtown Woodinville has shopping, movie theaters and restaurants.
- Molbak’s Garden Center.
- The Sammamish River Trail is a paved trail for biking, running and walking.
- Peacocks live on the grounds of Chateau Ste. Michelle.
- Art and sculptures that are featured on several vintages of the Ste. Michelle Artist Series Meritage can be viewed at the chateau.
- There also are several trout and duck ponds on the property.