It’s been nearly five years since I visited the Seattle area. And this visit would be one of only a few times on my journey I had an appointment. I need to make a ferry in Alaska to take me from Haines to Prince Rupert in British Columbia. But today’s appointment is with the oldest continuously operating vineyard and winey in Washington State — Chateau St. Michelle.
As a guest of the winery, I would tour the vineyards, winery, meet the marketing team and attend a “Tears For Fears” concert on the grand lawn of the winery in the shadows of Mt. Rainier. And after 2,500 miles, campgrounds, laundry on the go and picking bugs out of my teeth and wiping them from my face shield, I have to admit I was ready for a good glass of wine.
I got much more than I’d hoped for.
Although only less than an hour from Seattle when standing on the grounds of Chateau St. Michelle I felt I was in the country far from the hectic pace of the largest city in the Pacific Northwest. While Seattle may have well earned its reputation for dreary wet climate and perennial grey skies, each of my visits here has been greeted with sunshine and mild temperatures. Today was no different, save for the fact that my riding suit tends to heat up under the sun when I’m not moving.
My GPS guided me to the winery where I was graciously shown the way to Mr. Keith Love’s office. A good friend and excellent wine educator Jonathan introduced me and my worldrider journey to Keith and after a few phone calls I was invited to attend the concert and a VIP reception for guests of the winery.
Over the past few years I have acquired an interest in Washington State wines. Many of the smaller producers have increasingly produced wines of better and better quality. Newly designated appellations and stricter labeling laws have paved the path for better wines. The boom in Rhone varietals has paved the way for investments in Syrah in Walla, Columbia River and other areas. Plus some of the cooler climate appellations makes for ideal Riesling grapes.j Top this off with maturing vineyards and ideal conditions for growing Bordeaux varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot in the Columbia Valley it’s no wonder that Washington State is producing world-class wines that compare and if not rival Washington’s more famous brethren in California (Napa) and France (Bordeaux).
And no one is taking better advantage of this than Chateau St. Michelle. In fact, Chateau St. Michelle has had more wines appear on the coveted Top 100 Wines of the Year published by The Wine Spectator than any other winery in the world. And this is no small feat for a winery producing nearly 10 million cases of wine annually. For it’s one thing to produce a wine of superior quality when making only several thousand cases. But to maintain quality, achieve high scores and produce consistently great tasting wine in the millions of cases requires dedication, passion and a commitment to quality.
Even more, every summer Chateau St. Michelle hosts the summer concert series. All the proceeds from the concerts are donated to charity. And unlike any other outdoor venue I’ve ever attended, save perhaps the Hollywood Bowl, can you bring in your own picnic, buy world class wines and relax in a family atmosphere as the setting sun sets Mount Rainier a fire in a blaze of red and orange light and listen to great music. What a treat.
As I entered the Chateau and brought the glass of Canoe Ridge chardonnay to my lips I was not disappointed. Later I tried the 2001 Syrah and paired with the excellent food prepared by Chateau St. Michelle’s culinary team I quickly forgot the cans of soup, noodles and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches that served me well as I meandered my way through the Cascade range over the last two weeks.
Keith and his wife Judy and I made our way through the gardens, past the terraced trout pond and onto the lawn where we joined several thousands fans of Chateau St. Michelle Winery and Tears for Fears for an evening of music and wine under the slowly dimming skies of the Pacific Northwest.
What a treat. And the next time you’re thinking of trying a new wine, look for the Chateau St. Michelle Riesling — at less than $10 a bottle it’s a perfect late afternoon, late summer treat. Looking for something bolder? The Chardonnay is fantastic. Or, if you have your own favorite, make a comment here.
Photos: (1) Keith Love and Sheridan Merriex, Chateau St. Michelle; (2) Wine glasses for guests to the winery’s VIP reception; (3) The lawn at the Chateau a family affair and relaxing Pacific Northwest evening enjoying great music and wine; (4) Chateau St. Michelle’s concert team, Keith Love, Dave Catrell and xxxx.