Monday, February 03, 2014

Washington Old Vines: 40 Years of Cold Creek Vineyard

Everybody in the Northwest knows about the important role that Chateau Ste Michelle has played in the growth and development of the Washington wine industry. As the oldest winery in the state dating to a 1934 CSM founded the industry in Washington. They've since grown to such a size, and are so well distributed that they are often the first, and in many cases only Washington wine that folks from other parts of the country will come into contact with. True story, I was at an occasion in my hometown of Pittsburgh and this woman shared that she was going to Napa and was excited to visit Chateau Ste Michelle. I told her that would be difficult since it was located outside of Seattle, she simply refused to believe me. No way! was her reply.

Ste Michelle has helped in the explosion of the state's talent pool as well. Giving winemakers like Bob Betz, Kay Simon and Brennan Leighton, just to name a few, a place to start in Washington. In addition, CSM has also been at the forefront of a lot of the vineyard planting and cultivation and so it should probably come as no surprise that the winery recently marked the 40th anniversary of the planting of one of their signature sites, Cold Creek Vineyard. Planted in 1973.

The site was selected for the winery by Walter Clore, the father of Washington wine, in what was and still remains a remote location. Planted originally to 500 acres, at the time doubling the state's vineyard acreage it was originally a little bit of everything. Today the vineyard specializes a bit more, with a focus on Cabernet Sauvignon, Riesling, Chardonnay and Merlot. The vineyard has since grown to 811 acres and there remains quite a bit of variety, include Muscat.

Clore chose the site because it had sufficient heat to ripen wine grapes, and at the time they just planted it with everything. It is indeed one of the warmest sites in the entire state, resulting in concentrated, intensely flavored wines. CSM's Bob Bertheau appreciates the site for it's consistency, based on that reliable warm weather, but also it's concentration. I showcase the warmer, more continental site of Cold Creek  as one of "power and concentration" due to the older vines and more diurnal temperature fluctuations during the growing season which I believe adds to the intensity of color and tannins." 

In addition to the heat units, the vineyard's gravely soils and older vines lend to that signature intensity. The concentration of the site and the intensity of the flavor has given it a longevity and a sort of youthful character in Bob's experience. "We have longer history of the ageability of Cold Creek, and I have had Cold Creek Cabs from the late 70's that are still holding up beautifully and taste 10 years younger than they are.  At a dinner in Boston where a Cold Creek Cab from '78 was presented blindly to a table of winemakers and bottle shop owners.  Most thought it an Old World Cab about 20 years old...........when it was Cold Creek and 30 years old."

Bob uses the fruit from Cold Creek certainly in the single vineyard bottlings, but also in the winery's highest tiered wines Cold Creek, along with the winery's other signature vineyard, Canoe Ridge make up the preponderance of the Ethos and Artist's Series labels.  As an ambassador for Washington wine, Ste Michelle also has in these single vineyard bottlings an opportunity to potentially expose relatively new wine drinkers to the idea of the importance of site, and perhaps terroir. "Even though we make great blends from the larger Columbia Valley appellation, the high tier wines I get to make from (these) vineyards are the most intense and stylized and are a great educational tool to show what different sites can mean to different varietals in different vintages."

2010 Ste. Michelle Cold Creek Merlot- While Washington Merlot can sometimes be diminutive, particularly in a cool vintage that is anything but the case when it comes to Cold Creek. The wine is certainly concentrated and influenced by the use of new oak. Aromatics of mocha and black plums, and a palate loaded with ripe blueberry and generous dusting of cocoa powder. $30 approx.

2010 Ste. Michelle Cold Creek Cabernet- A cool vintage Cabernet from one of Washington's warmest sites results in a balance of power and restraint. Aromatics are very fruit forward, dark fruits with hints of coffee and barrel spice evident from the use of new oak.  The wine is comprised of layers of blackberry and the darkest of ripe cherry, finishes to chocolate and dusty herbal notes. $35 approx.

2012 Ste. Michelle Cold Creek Riesling-Outstanding in a word. Ripe and aromatic Riesling with great acidity that balances a fantastic wine. Aromas of late season peach, apricot and lemon skin. On the palate there's a balance between rounded fruit flavors and a clean crisp finish. Outstanding with food, or frankly, without. $20 approx.

These wines were provided as samples.


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