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Great Northwest Wine: Ste. Michelle Wine Estates pledges $125,000 for restaurant workers, food banks

Cold Creek Vineyard, a historic planting that overlooks the Columbia River and the Wahluke Slope, is one of Washington’s premier sources for cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay and riesling. The late Walter Clore recommended the site to Ste. Michelle in 1973. (Photo courtesy of Ste. Michelle Wine Estates)
Cold Creek Vineyard, a historic planting that overlooks the Columbia River and the Wahluke Slope, is one of Washington’s premier sources for cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay and riesling. The late Walter Clore recommended the site to Ste. Michelle in 1973. (Photo courtesy of Ste. Michelle Wine Estates)
By Eric Degerman Great Northwest Wine

Ste. Michelle Wine Estates recently announced plans to donate $125,000 to help restaurant workers, food banks and recovery efforts in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak.

The largest wine company headquartered in Washington state took the lead for the Pacific Northwest wine industry on March 14 when it closed all its tasting rooms in response to the global pandemic. The next day, Gov. Jay Inslee announced his statewide emergency proclamation for residents to shelter in place.

On the calendar, that was only last month. It seems much longer ago right now.

“This crisis has been devastating for our restaurant community,” Jim Mortensen, president and CEO of Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, said in his April 15 news release. “Just as food and wine are inextricably linked, restaurants and wineries share a common bond. We felt a duty to serve those who have served us so graciously over the years.”

The third-largest premium wine company in the country has pledged $50,000 to the Plate Fund, an effort to provide immediate assistance to restaurant workers in the greater Seattle area. Ste. Michelle also will contribute $50,000 to the WA Food Fund, which supports food banks across the state.

And SMWE’s parent company, Altria Group, Inc., will donate $25,000 to the Seattle Foundation to assist with COVID-19 relief. Altria announced last week that Howard Willard, 56, who is recovering from COVID-19, stepped down as CEO and has been replaced by CFO Billy Gifford.

Ste. Michelle’s charitable response is not unusual. Each year, the company provides support to approximately 400 nonprofits, and there are many in the wine industry and beyond who have benefited from the more than $3 million it has provided in scholarships to colleges across the state. Washington State University’s viticulture and enology research facility in Richland is named the Ste. Michelle Wine Estates Wine Science Center.

Meanwhile, the Washington wine industry has its fingers crossed for Aug. 13-15 when the Auction of Washington Wines is scheduled to return to the Chateau Ste. Michelle campus in Woodinville. Last year, the auction raised nearly $2.5 million for Seattle Children’s Hospital and wine research at WSU.

Here are five award-winning wines, produced under the Ste. Michelle Wine Estates umbrella, that received a gold medal or better from our panels or competitions we have staged in recent months. These wines are available at grocers and retailers as well as online via the winery website.

Chateau Ste. Michelle 2018 Harvest Select Sweet Riesling, Columbia Valley $9: Head winemaker Bob Bertheau created the Harvest Select program a decade ago to slot in just a bit sweeter than his flagship Columbia Valley Riesling. On the International Riesling Foundation’s Taste Profile scale, this is listed as “medium-sweet.”

And yet it comes across as far from cloying and not necessarily indicative of the 5% residual sugar because of the lingering lemon/lime acidity to balance the theme of ambrosia fruit salad. Enjoy with a plate of fruit and mild cheeses, crab or Asian dishes.

14 Hands Winery 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, $12: One of the Northwest’s largest wineries produced an example of cab that was the most widely available winner at last fall’s Platinum Judging by Wine Press Northwest magazine.

It is also a flavorful, quaffable red that is easy on the wallet. Dark berries and vanilla on the nose open to blackberries, raspberries and chocolate-covered cherries in the mouth. Notes of cedar and spice cake pop on the smooth finish.

Domaine Ste. Michelle NV Brut, Columbia Valley $13: This sparkling wine made with chardonnay and pinot noir shines in judging across the country, and it is a bargain year after year.

Floral notes of orange peel and lime zest come with a sense of toastiness as the creamy mousse leads out with a touch of tropical fruit. It is an expertly crafted wine that checks in with 1.5% residual sugar and will pair with virtually any type of food.

Intrinsic Wine Co. 2017 Red Blend, Columbia Valley, $22: Malbec is a Bordeaux grape that grows well in the Northwest, and it narrowly leads this blend designed by Argentine product Juan Muñoz-Oca, who now oversees all the winemaking for Ste. Michelle Wine Estates.

He weaves aromas and flavors of dark plum and black cherry compote, spice box accents, raspberry jam and crushed herbs from the influence of cabernet franc (49%). It is round and full of supple tannins and balancing acidity. A drop of vanilla extract shows through on the finishing sip. It is a wine as striking as its label.

Northstar Winery 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley $41: Ste. Michelle launched Northstar three decades ago to produce some of the world’s best examples of merlot. Along the way, winemaker David “Merf” Merfeld also has earned acclaim for his cab program.

This Columbia Valley cab could be labeled as “Cold Creek Vineyard Old Vine Cabernet Sauvignon” because Merfeld pulled all the fruit from plantings dating to either 1973 or 1985 at the historic site overlooking the Hanford Reach.

A 20-month French oak program, 44% new barrels, helped the WSU graduate to craft a dark, deep wine with aromas of spice, purple and blue fruit with flavors of black cherry and late-summer blackberries that finish in a flourish of smooth blueberry-skin tannins.

Eric Degerman and Andy Perdue operate Great Northwest Wine. Learn more about wine at greatnorthwestwine.com.

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