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Chateau Ste. Michelle’s Cold Creek Vineyard Marks 40th Anniversary

Oct 03, 2013

This harvest marks the 40th anniversary of Chateau Ste. Michelle’s Cold Creek Vineyard, one of the oldest and most iconic vineyards in Washington state. When the vineyard was planted in 1973, it helped establish Washington as a major American grape growing region and remains one of the highest quality vineyard sites in the state.

“The vineyard started out as a big hayfield,” says Kevin Corliss, VP of Vineyards for Ste. Michelle Wine Estates. “When Ste. Michelle Vintners planted the original 500 acres in 1973, it doubled the size of wine grapes in Washington.”

The 811-acre vineyard is located in a remote, arid and desolate area of Eastern Washington, 38 miles east of Yakima and south of the Columbia River and the Wahluke Slope. The site is one of the warmest and driest in Washington’s Columbia Valley, receiving just five inches of rain a year. The heat, gravely soils and old vines result in wines known for their concentration and intense flavors.

History of Cold Creek Vineyard Land

Until the Homestead Act of 1862, the land we know as Cold Creek Vineyard was virgin ground. Public land grants in the early 1900s brought a wave of settlers to eastern Washington and required them to maintain a residence on the land and improve and cultivate it for at least five consecutive years. The few homesteaders that resided in this small valley established a nursery and grew a few crops using dry land farming and water from artesian wells. Even today, Cold Creek Vineyard remains surrounded primarily by publically held lands.

The site was selected by Walter Clore, the man known as “The Father of Washington Wine.” A university researcher back in the 1940s, Clore’s vineyard experiments revealed that the Cold Creek valley would provide enough warmth to enable grapes to thrive.

“At first, almost every varietal was planted at Cold Creek,” says Corlisss. “However, four decades of experience and research has led to replacing rootstock with varieties that thrive in the hot, stressed conditions of this remote area.”

The Wines of Cold Creek

“Wines from Cold Creek are all about concentration and power,” says Chateau Ste. Michelle Winemaker Bob Bertheau. “I call them ‘big shouldered’ wines. It takes experience to work with Cold Creek fruit and I have been learning for the past 10 years. The reds are powerful and if not managed correctly, can have intensely high tannins. Even the Chardonnay has structure -- and that’s unusual for a white.”

“We make Cold Creek Vineyard Chardonnay, Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah and they are all intense, concentrated expressions of the varietals.” adds Bertheau. “Cold Creek wines have great aging potential. Our Cold Creek Cabernet can age for decades. But if you can’t wait that long, we make the wine so you can enjoy it now too.”

The Sustainability of Cold Creek

The vineyard’s 811 acres are farmed sustainably, making it the largest LIVE and Salmon Safe certified site in Washington. “That means we use sustainable, environmentally safe and socially acceptable control methods in managing the vineyard,” explains Corliss. “Some of our sustainable practices include reducing soil erosion through the planting of beneficial cover crops and using environmentally-friendly methods of pest control. Our goal is to make sure this vineyard will thrive for decades to come.”

“Cold Creek has been a personal journey for me during the 30 years that I have been with the winery,” adds Corliss. “I have watched this site blossom into a world-class vineyard and I think the best is yet to come.”

Cold Creek Facts:

Location: 38 miles east of Yakima, Washington, south of the

Columbia River and the Wahluke Slope

AVA: Columbia Valley

Planted: 1973, partially replanted in 1979 after ‘The Big Freeze’

Total Planted Acres: 811

Acres by Variety (Approx.): Cabernet Franc 18, Chardonnay 92, Cabernet Sauvignon 344, Grenache 11, Malbec 12, Merlot 83, Mourvèdre 6, Muscat Canelli 37, Petit Verdot 6, Sauvignon Blanc 16, Syrah 17, Riesling 161, experimental red varietals 8

Soil: Loamy sand and gravel, caliche vein; low fertility Elevation: 600 – 1000 feet

Orientation: Gentle south-facing slope (3% - 5%) away from the Columbia River

Heat: Warm to very warm with no cooling effect from the Columbia River

Vine Vigor: Low; small berries, thick skins

Trellising: Fan, single and double trunk cordon

Water: Drip irrigation

Growing Season: Moderate bud break, relatively early harvest

Listen to Winemaker Bob Bertheau, Vice President of Vineyards Kevin Corliss and Vineyard Manager Joe Cotta talking about what makes Cold Creek such a special site. View Video.

About Chateau Ste. Michelle

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.

©2013 Chateau Ste. Michelle, Woodinville, WA 98072

Lynda Eller

Indian Wells label on bottle