WOODINVILLE, Wash. – Washington is running short of red wine grapes, so the state’s largest wine producer is turning to California.
Great Northwest Wine has learned that next month, Ste. Michelle Wine Estates will unveil Two Vines as a new stand-alone winery, separating the brand from Columbia Crest. And it will produce a quarter-million cases of wine using California grapes – in addition to wines using Washington fruit.
Kari Leitch, vice president of communications for Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, confirmed the move Tuesday.
Beginning in January, the Columbia Crest Two Vines tier will just be known as Two Vines and will not include any reference to Columbia Crest. Columbia Crest introduced the Two Vines wines with the 2004 vintage, replacing the bottom-tier “Columbia Valley” designation. The wines retail for around $8, sell for as low as $5-$6 per bottle and are priced to compete at the lower end of the premium wine tier.
Two Vines Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon to use California grapes
Two of the wines – Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon – will carry the “California” appellation on the label, while the Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah and Merlot-Cab blend all will use Washington grapes.
“Washington is the heart and soul of our operation,” Leitch said. “We’re looking to California as a shorter-term way to fuel demand for Two Vines.”
Juan Muñoz-Oca, head winemaker for Columbia Crest, will continue to oversee production and winemaking quality for Two Vines.
When released early next year, the Merlot will be 100,000 cases in production, and the Cabernet Sauvignon will top out at 150,000 cases. Both will be made using grapes from California’s Lodi region.
The decision to use grapes from California will be made on a vintage-by-vintage basis, depending on availability of enough fruit to slake demand for Ste. Michelle wines.
Leitch explained that making Two Vines into its own brand helps Muñoz-Oca and his team at Columbia Crest in Paterson focus on the winery’s other three tiers: Grand Estates, H3 and Reserve. And using California grapes for Two Vines will free up Washington fruit for the higher-priced tiers.
“All of our sourcing across the portfolio is tapped,” she said. “With the Grand Estates, H3 and Reserve wines, you’re talking about a different level of sourcing and winemaking. This allows Juan to focus on those three tiers.”
Red Diamond already an international label
The move is not unprecedented for Ste. Michelle. In fact, Red Diamond, a brand also overseen by Muñoz-Oca at Columbia Crest, uses grapes from Spain, Argentina and California, as well as Washington.
And in the mid-1990s, the company used grapes from France for both its Snoqualmie Vineyards winery as well as the now-retired Colour Volant label.
The decision to create Two Vines as a separate winery concludes a busy year for Ste. Michelle Wine Estates. Its other moves this year include:
- Opening a tasting room for 14 Hands in the Yakima Valley town of Prosser. 14 Hands is a million-case brand for Ste. Michelle that is now Washington’s third-largest winery. It was created at Columbia Crest a decade ago as a restaurant-only label. 14 Hands takes over the building formerly used by Snoqualmie Vineyards, whose production moves to Columbia Crest in Paterson.
- Launching Anew, a 70,000-case winery that focuses on Riesling and is marketed primarily to women.
- Turning O Wines into a 100,000-case national brand. O Wines, started in 2006, was purchased by Ste. Michelle in 2012. The wine raises money that goes to scholarships for low-income, high-potential young women.
- Rebranding longtime sparkling wine house Domaine Ste. Michelle simply to “Michelle.” This also included refreshing the label for the 300,000-case brand made at Columbia Crest and streamlining the product line.
- Launching Seven Falls, a 50,000-case line of wines using grapes from the Wahluke Slope. Production is overseen by Doug Gore, vice president of winemaking and viticulture and former Columbia Crest head winemaker. Seven Falls wines are sold primarily at restaurants, though they’re available direct to consumers via the winery website.
Leitch said the new Two Vines wines are being shipped to distributors this month and could be on the shelves as early as January.