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Ancient Lava Flows to World Class Vines: Chateau Ste. Michelle’s Vineyard at Canoe Ridge Estate Turns 20!

Jun 13, 2011

From a powerful river of lava 12 million years ago to massive floods during the last Ice Age 13,000 years ago, great forces have been at work to carve up the dramatic landscape that is the site of Chateau Ste. Michelle's vineyard at Canoe Ridge Estate, which turns 20-years-old this year. What was once home only to sagebrush and coyotes on this remote, rugged, wind-swept slope overlooking the Columbia River near Paterson, Washington is now considered one of the top vineyards in the state. As part of the 20th anniversary celebration, Chateau Ste. Michelle will open its Canoe Ridge Estate red winery to the public for the first time this summer, offering a rare opportunity to taste the winery’s Single Vineyard and Ethos wines while taking in some of the most spectacular views in eastern Washington.

Planted in 1991, the vineyard at Canoe Ridge Estate lies on a steep south-facing slope on the north bank of the Columbia River 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 planted to 561 acres of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Syrah, Malbec, Petit Verdot, Grenache, Mourvedre and Viognier.

Vineyard manger Mimi Nye was responsible for planting the vineyard two decades ago and she still resides on the site today. In 2008 she oversaw a significant expansion of 30 new acres at the site using Global Positioning System technology to precisely mark the vineyard layout and map specific areas for varietal selections. Nye was also instrumental in achieving LIVE and Salmon Safe certification for the vineyard in 2009 after a rigorous three-year, third-party certification process.

“20 years ago everyone was saying it would be a world class vineyard,” says Nye. “It was a lot of pressure, especially since I had never grown grapes before. I had a degree in horticulture and had grown other crops but never grapes. They told me not to worry, that I would grow with the vineyard. Two decades and 561 acres later, the site has surpassed my expectations and I am so proud of what we have accomplished. I can’t believe my babies are turning 20 this year. I can’t wait to see what they will do next!”

Nye works closely with winemaker Bob Bertheau to make sure the vineyard is producing the highest quality fruit for the winery.

“As the vineyard has matured over the years, it’s been fascinating to see the gradual increase in concentration and weight in the wines as well as a level of refinement and softness at the same time,” says Bertheau. “This vineyard still leans towards old world elegance in style, but it’s now embracing its Washington state power. The evolution of the vineyard has coincided with the evolution of our winemaking at Chateau Ste. Michelle. The intimate relationship our winemaking team has with Mimi has allowed us to advance the vineyard practices and the winemaking at the same time.”

Chateau Ste. Michelle’s Canoe Ridge Estate wines have earned impressive industry honors over the years, including receiving more than 43 90+ scores from national wine publications and numerous gold medals in wine competitions. Chateau Ste. Michelle’s 2006 Canoe Ridge Estate Chardonnay won “Best American Chardonnay” in the Decanter Magazine 2008 World Wine Awards. In addition, the 2006 Canoe Ridge Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, 2004 Canoe Ridge Estate Chardonnay and the 1999 Canoe Ridge Estate Merlot were all named to Wine Spectator’s “Top 100” list.

“As good as the fruit and the wines have been over the last two decades, the continued investment we’re making in the vineyard and at the Canoe Ridge Estate winery will guarantee that the best is yet to come,” adds winemaker Bob Bertheau.

Chateau Ste. Michelle Canoe Ridge Estate Winery Offers Public Tastings June 26-Oct. 15

As part of the vineyard’s 20th anniversary celebration, Chateau Ste. Michelle Canoe Ridge Estate red winery will offer special public tastings for the first time from June 26 through October 15, 2011, Thursdays through Sundays from 11 am to 4 pm. Guests are invited to an intimate tasting of Chateau Ste. Michelle's Single Vineyard and Ethos wines while enjoying spectacular views overlooking the Columbia River. Visitors will experience how this special site and state-of-the art facility are dedicated to producing the highest quality red wines from Washington state.

Chateau Ste. Michelle is one of the few premium wineries in the world with two state-of-the-art winemaking facilities, one devoted to whites and another to reds. This dedicated approach to winemaking allows head winemaker Bob Bertheau to customize each winery to the unique specifications of red and white wines. Bob and white winemaker Wendy Stuckey make the white wines at the winery’s popular Woodinville Chateau, 15 miles northeast of Seattle, while he and red winemaker Joshua Maloney craft the winery’s red wines at Chateau Ste. Michelle's Canoe Ridge Estate winery in Eastern Washington. Chateau Ste. Michelle built its red wine facility in 1993 as a result of an extensive Total Quality Management process to design a state-of-the-art winery dedicated to making the very best Washington red wine. The winery has not been previously open to the public. The winery is located at 239653 Canoe Ridge Road, Paterson, WA 99345, off of Highway 14 at milepost 157.

For more information about the Chateau Ste. Michelle Canoe Ridge Estate Tasting Gallery, visit, call 800-267-6793 or email at

Founded in 1934, Chateau Ste. Michelle pioneered vinifera grape growing in Washington state and has been producing classic European varietal wines under the 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, which are LIVE and Salmon Safe Certified. 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.

Indian Wells label on bottle