Washington state’s pioneering winery, Chateau Ste. Michelle, is expanding and replanting its renowned estate vineyards of Cold Creek and Canoe Ridge Estate, employing the latest technology and sustainability standards. More than 38 acres of new vines were planted this year at Cold Creek’s original 691-acre vineyard – mostly to Cabernet Sauvignon. At Canoe Ridge Estate more than 30 acres were added in 2008 to the vineyard’s 531 existing acres, primarily to Merlot, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. Additionally, in 2009 nearly 45 original acres at Cold Creek will be replanted to different varieties, and 14 acres will be replanted at Canoe Ridge Estate. Both sites are famed for providing fruit for some of the state’s most acclaimed wines over the past several decades.
Kevin Corliss, Ste. Michelle Wine Estates’ director of vineyard operations, notes that the goal of the expansion project is to get the right variety in the right site and to better meet the needs of the winery’s high tier wine program.
“When these vineyards were established, we planted every grape variety we had,” says Corliss. “After more than thirty years of experience and research, we have a much better understanding about what grows well where. We now know that Cabernet thrives in the hot, stressed conditions at Cold Creek, while varieties like Sauvignon Blanc aren’t a fit for such a warm site. At Canoe Ridge Estate, the steep south facing slope and moderating influence of the Columbia River are ideal conditions for Merlot and Chardonnay. And we planted Syrah and Grenache in the more rocky sites at both vineyards, where those hearty Rhone varieties thrive. We’ve entered the second generation of our viticultural evolution in Washington and we’re putting that learning into practice.”
Chateau Ste. Michelle winemaker Bob Bertheau looks forward to having access to more quality fruit.
“We have been getting great fruit out of these two sites for years,” says Bertheau. “Being able to plant new vines in our icon vineyards and have even more great wines to work with at the blending table is an amazing opportunity. And we get to experiment with different aspects of new vineyard viticulture - such as trellising and clonal selection. Having new blocks that we can watch grow up and develop is extremely exciting for the Ste. Michelle winemaking team.”
Washington’s Venerable Cold Creek Vineyard Cold Creek Vineyard is located in a remote corner of central Washington 38 miles east of Yakima and south of the Columbia River and the Wahluke Slope. The site was planted in 1973 and is one of the oldest vineyards in the state. Following this year’s expansion, the vineyard is now comprised of 729 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot, Riesling, Syrah, Cabernet Franc and Grenache, which go into the winery’s single vineyard and Ethos tier wines. The vineyard lies on a gentle south-facing slope and enjoys one of the longest and warmest growing seasons in the Columbia Valley. The site gets a mere five inches of rain a year, which gives vineyard managers total control of vine growth.
Bertheau describes Cold Creek wines as “big-shouldered, concentrated and incredibly age worthy.”
Canoe Ridge Estate Reaches Maturity By contrast to Cold Creek’s 35-year history, Canoe Ridge Estate was planted in 1991 and is just entering its teen years. The vineyard lies on a steep south-facing, wind-swept slope on the north bank of the Columbia River near Paterson, Wash. in the Horse Heaven Hills AVA. The vineyard’s proximity to the river protects it from temperature extremes, allowing even ripening and excellent color development in the grapes. Strong winds reduce canopy size and density and contribute to the elegant character in the wines. The vineyard is now planted to 561 acres of Merlot, Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Syrah with Grenache being added in 2009.
Bertheau refers to the site as “Europe on the Columbia,” producing wines with bright fruit and elegant dusty tannins.
Vineyard manager Mimi Nye planted the site in 1991 and is overseeing the current expansion program. She lives at the site and passionately refers to the vines as “her babies.”
“This expansion is an opportunity to increase the “portfolio” of clones of Merlot and Cabernet,” says Nye. “We planted three clones of Merlot and four clones of Cabernet Sauvignon not previously grown at Canoe Ridge Estate. Each one has different fruit and tannin characteristics, giving the winemakers choices when blending. It will be exciting to see how these help us toward our goal of continuously improving our wine.”
Many of the new plantings came from the mother block at Canoe Ridge Estate and local nurseries.
Global positioning system technology was used to precisely mark the vineyard layout out and to map specific areas for varietal selections. Most of the new acreage was planted to a modified vertical shoot positioning trellising system.
A majority of the planting will be complete in Canoe Ridge Estate at the end of 2009 and the Cold Creek expansion will continue through 2011. The first crop from the new acres planted this year will be ready in 2010.
A Sustainable Future In addition to the new planting, Chateau Ste. Michelle is aggressively pursuing the goal of 100% sustainability in both vineyards. The winery has applied for third party certification for Cold Creek and Canoe Ridge Estate vineyards through LIVE. Both sites passed their first inspection and certification is anticipated for the 2010 season at the end of the two-year certification process. LIVE is a non-profit that offers third-party sustainable certification through the International Organization for Biological Control, which promotes the use of sustainable, environmentally safe, economically feasible and socially acceptable control methods.
Chateau Ste. Michelle is committed to using sustainable agricultural practices in all of the winery’s 3,500 vineyard acres in Washington state. Some of the winery’s current sustainable practices in the vineyards include reducing soil erosion through the planting of beneficial cover crops; safe, controlled spraying using soft pesticides (such as biodegradable oils, soaps, and plant extracts), and conducting and participating in ongoing research on environmentally-friendly methods of pest control.
“As good as the fruit and the wines have been over the years, all of the changes we are making in the vineyard will guarantee that the best is yet to come,” adds winemaker Bob Bertheau.
Founded in 1934, Chateau Ste. Michelle pioneered vinifera grape growing in Washington state and has been producing classic European varietal wines under the Chateau Ste. Michelle label since 1967. The winery combines an ongoing dedication to research with a commitment to classic winemaking traditions. The winery owns 3,500 acres of vineyards in the Columbia Valley of eastern Washington, including Canoe Ridge Estate and Cold Creek. Chateau Ste. Michelle enjoys winemaking partnerships with two of the world’s most distinguished vintners. Col Solare is an alliance with Tuscany’s Piero Antinori and Eroica Riesling is a partnership with the Mosel’s Ernst Loosen.
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