Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, one of the world’s leading premium wine companies with estates in Washington, Oregon and California, today announced that it has completed its 2012 harvest, one of the most highly-regarded vintages in recent years for the West Coast.
“For each of our estates, this harvest has been one of the best in recent memory,” said Doug Gore, executive vice president of winemaking, vineyards and operations for Ste. Michelle Wine Estates. “After a couple of vintages – 2010 and 2011 – that really tested our mettle, the 2012 vintage has been about as close to ideal as you can get.”
Where the West Coast as a whole saw cooler temperatures and greater and more frequent precipitation in 2010 and 2011, the entire region enjoyed much warmer and dryer weather this year.
“Mother Nature gave us everything we had hoped for this year,” said Kevin Corliss, vice president of vineyards for Ste. Michelle Wine Estates. “It’s a very special year when each region, with its own unique weather patterns and growing conditions, delivers equally exceptional quality.”
With the weather having reduced crop levels for the past two years, Washington, Oregon and California are all expected to report record or near-record crops for 2012, though final numbers will not be tallied until early next year.
In Washington, the company’s 2012 harvest began on Sept. 7 with Sauvignon Blanc from Upland Vineyard on Snipes Mountain, and ended on Nov. 9 with Petit Verdot from Spring Valley Vineyard in the Walla Walla Valley.
Spring temperatures in Eastern Washington started off relatively cool but rose quickly, and the region soon settled in to a more typical weather pattern. Summer was predictably warm though without any prolonged excessive heat events, with temperatures rarely breaking 100° F (38° C). Late summer and early fall brought on slightly cooler daytime highs and a significant diurnal shift, a pattern that continued well into October. A few sporadic rain showers in mid-to-late October were quickly dissipated by persistent winds and had no effect on the harvest.
“The 2012 harvest has been outstanding in almost every way,” said Bob Bertheau, head winemaker for Chateau Ste. Michelle in Woodinville, Washington. “The young white whites, particularly the Rieslings, are very flavorful and have plenty of beautiful natural acidity, and the young reds are very full and rich but still with a nice seamless elegance.”
Chateau Ste. Michelle, Washington’s founding winery, has roots dating to the Repeal of Prohibition and farms many of the state’s oldest and most prized vineyards, including its Cold Creek and Canoe Ridge Estate Vineyards. Today the winery is among the most critically-acclaimed premium wineries in the world and is the single largest producer of Riesling.
In Oregon, the company’s harvest was bookended by Pinot Noir, beginning on Oct. 3 with clone 777 from Bishop Creek Vineyard in the Yamhill-Carlton District, and finishing on Oct. 18 with several clones from Tuenge Vineyard in the Chehalem Mountains.
The Willamette Valley started the vintage with delayed spring weather and a cooler than usual June. Yet, once temperatures rose, the region enjoyed a long, warm summer that ultimately led to excellent quality, particularly for Pinot Noir. The cooler start to the season reduced berry size and quantity per cluster, but provided a great skin-to-juice ratio, resulting in greater color and flavor concentration. Record-setting dry conditions, coupled with warm days and cool nights during the fall, preserved balanced acidity in the fruit.
“The advantageous weather during harvest allowed us to pick when the grapes were truly ready,” said Gary Horner, winemaker for Erath Winery in Dundee, Oregon. “This year's fruit set characteristics varied widely from site to site, and we can look forward to Pinots ranging in focus and intensity from elegant and refined to rich and opulent,” he added.
Erath Winery, one of the pioneers of winemaking in the Willamette Valley, has driven global recognition for Oregon Pinot Noir since its inaugural 1972 vintage. This year all of the winery’s single-vineyard Pinot Noirs received ratings of 90 points or higher from the nation’s leading wine publications.
In California, the company began harvest on Sept. 7 with Sauvignon Musqué from Rancho Chimiles Vineyard in the Napa Valley, and finished on Oct. 30, when the last Cabernet Sauvignon was picked from several cool sites in Carneros and the Chiles Valley.
From start to finish, the Napa Valley’s 2012 vintage can be summed up in a word: textbook. With no frost and minimal disease pressure, a mild winter ended with enough rainfall to ensure a full soil moisture profile. Bloom was then uninterrupted by rain, allowing for good fruit set with little shatter, which set the table for a robust crop. The mild spring transitioned into a mild summer. Summer temperatures were near perfect, with daytime highs consistently approaching 90° F (32° C) and nighttime lows of around 50° F (10° C).
“The 2012 harvest is a bounty of both quality and quantity,” said Nicki Pruss, winemaker for Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars in Napa, California. “Our yields are up significantly, yet already there is a remarkable complexity to these young wines,” she added. “Across the board the colors, flavors and tannins are outstanding.”
Considered one of the “first growths” of the Napa Valley, Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars produces renowned Cabernet Sauvignon from its historic Stags Leap District estate vineyards. Founded in 1970, the winery brought international recognition to California winemaking and the Napa Valley when the 1973 S.L.V. Cabernet Sauvignon won the now famous 1976 Paris tasting, also known as the Judgment of Paris.
The 2012 harvest caps a remarkable year for Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, now the seventh-largest wine producer in the United States.
In September, the company acquired O Wines, a Washington-based winery currently focused on Chardonnay that donates a portion of its sales to fund scholarships for disadvantaged young women.
Later that month, the company launched a new venture of its own, Seven Falls, to on-premise channels nationally. Seven Falls sources Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay from Washington’s Wahluke Slope region.
In March, the company expanded its partnership with Italy’s Marchesi Antinori to become the exclusive U.S. importer for their renowned Prunotto Estate in Piedmont, best known for its ultra-premium Barolos and Barbarescos.
“We’ve had an incredible year,” said Ted Baseler, President and Chief Executive Officer for Ste. Michelle Wine Estates. “Consumers continue to move to higher quality premium wines, and we have continued our relentless focus on quality at every level to meet that demand.”
For more information on Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, its estates and its partnerships, please visit smwe.com.
About Ste. Michelle Wine Estates
Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, located in Woodinville, Washington, just outside of Seattle, has a long and distinguished history that dates back to 1934. Wines under the Ste. Michelle label were first introduced in 1967, and since that time the company has expanded its vineyard holdings to more than 3,700 acres (1,500 hectares) in Washington, Oregon and California. Today their Washington portfolio includes Chateau Ste. Michelle, Columbia Crest, Domaine Ste. Michelle, Northstar, O Wines, Red Diamond, Seven Falls, Snoqualmie, Spring Valley Vineyard and 14 Hands. The company also owns Col Solare (with Italy’s Antinori family) on Washington’s Red Mountain; Erath in Oregon’s Dundee Hills; and Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars (also with the Antinori family), Conn Creek and Villa Mt. Eden in California’s Napa Valley. Ste. Michelle Wine Estates became the exclusive U.S. importer for the acclaimed Marchesi Antinori wine company of Italy and Chile’s Haras de Pirque in 2006, Champagne Nicolas Feuillatte of France in 2009 and New Zealand’s Villa Maria Estate in 2010.