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Great Northwest Wine: Ste. Michelle rises to top of Washington State Wine Competition with cabernet, riesling

UPDATED: Tue., Oct. 6, 2020

By Eric Degerman Great Northwest Wine

Two years after it earned acclaim from the world’s most influential wine publication, the Columbia Crest 2016 H3 Cabernet Sauvignon finished atop the 2020 Washington State Wine Competition as the best of show.

Since there were 500,000 cases produced of that $15 cab, it should be easy for consumers to track down one or two of the 6 million bottles and judge for themselves. It earned a spot-on Wine Spectator’s 100 Top Values list in the Dec. 31, 2018, issue.

“The magic of scale is a powerful thing,” said Katie Nelson, senior director of winemaking for Columbia Crest and H3 Wines, the latter of which recently became its own brand within the Ste. Michelle Wine Estates family.

Nelson returned to the Paterson production facility in 2018 to replace Juan Muñoz-Oca, who was promoted to vice president of winemaking for Ste. Michelle Wine Estates. In her role, Nelson works with the same family-farmed vineyards in the Horse Heaven Hills that Muñoz-Oca and his team did in 2016.

She credited Cal Mercer of Austin Sharp Vineyards, Mike and Jeff Andrews of Coyote Canyon Vineyards, Rob Andrews of McKinley Springs Vineyards and Rob Mercer of Mercer Vineyards for the grapes that contributed to the H3 2016 Cab. Rob Mercer was selected as the Honorary Grower of the 2020 Auction of Washington Wines.

“The Horse Heaven Hills is known for its silky, elegant tannins, which make them very enjoyable and approachable in their youth, as well,” Nelson said.

Ste. Michelle Wine Estates brands stood out throughout the Washington State Wine Competition with three of its wines reaching the sweepstakes.

The Chateau Ste. Michelle & Dr. Loosen 2018 Eroica Riesling by Bob Bertheau, Ernst Loosen and David Rosenthal finished No. 1 in its category on its way to being selected as the judging’s best white wine.

Earlier this summer, the 2018 Eroica received a double gold medal and best of class at the Cascadia International Wine Competition.

The 14 Hands nonvintage Limited Release Unicorn Rosé Bubbles, which is sold in a $5.99 can, was the top sparkling wine of the judging.

Maryhill Winery’s 2019 Rosé of Sangiovese earned a double gold medal on its way to the sweepstakes as the judging’s top pink.

That and the 2019 Proprietor’s Reserve Rosé were among the five awards of gold or better Batchelor earned for owners Craig and Vicki Leuthold, who this fall will celebrate the first anniversary of the opening of their Woodinville tasting room, their fourth in Washington.

Woodinville winemaker Shane Howard achieved a fistful of gold medals for his family’s Pondera Winery, each of the five for red wine. The 2017 GSM, 2017 Syrah and 2017 Malbec were pulled off Stillwater Creek Vineyard in the new Royal Slope American Viticultural Area.

This spring, Tsillan Cellars in Chelan was named 2020 Washington Winery of the Year by Wine Press Northwest magazine and followed that up with five gold medals at the Washington State Wine Competition.

Ray Sandidge worked with fruit from Dr. Bob Jankelson’s Tuscan-inspired showpiece for all five winners, which included a best-of-class for the merlot-led Piccolo Rosso Red Wine and a double gold for the Dolcetto rosé.

Martinez & Martinez Winery in Prosser, led by winemaker Andrew Martinez and his family, impressed the judges with four gold medals across the past four vintages. Among those was a best-of-class award for the 2016 Dion Carlo Carménère from the Horse Heaven Hills, where he grew up, and best of class for the 2018 Tudor Hills Vineyard Roussanne.

A 2019 Albariño, also from Tudor Hills in the Yakima Valley, earned votes for the judging’s best white. Martinez’s wife, Monica, is a member of the Tudor family.

The Aquilini family sent shock waves through the Washington wine industry in 2013 when the Canadian entrepreneurs became the largest land owners on Red Mountain during a historic auction with a winning bid of $8.3 million for 670 acres.

Thanks to the winemaking of Cornell graduate Joshua Maloney, Aquilini Brands USA Inc. merited four gold medals at this year’s Washington State Wine Competition.

Maloney, who led the red wine program at Chateau Ste. Michelle before steering the ship at Wahluke Wine Co., earned golds with the Aquilini Wines 2019 Sauvignon Blanc, the Be Human 2018 Merlot, Roaming Dog 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon and the Roaming Dog 2019 Cabernet Sauvignon Rosé.

Earlier this summer, that same Roaming Dog pink received a double gold at the Cascadia International Wine Competition.

Jones of Washington continues to rank among the elite with its white and rosé program thanks to its estate vineyards in the Ancient Lakes of Columbia Valley and the magical touch of longtime winemaker Victor Palencia, earning double golds for the 2019 Sauvignon Blanc and 2019 Rosé of Syrah, as well as best of class with its 2018 Pinot Gris.

In all, Palencia was behind six gold medals as he achieved gold with suave red wines – a 2016 Petit Verdot and 2018 Red Mountain Syrah – under his namesake Palencia Wine Co. brand and the reserve El Viñador tier with which he honors his father. Gold also was placed on the 2018 Malbec under Palencia’s introductory Vino la Monarcha label.

Eric Degerman operates Great Northwest Wine. Learn more about wine at greatnorthwestwine.com.

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