Ste. Michelle becomes U.S. importer for Spain’s top winery

By on March 19, 2014
Ste. Michelle Wine Estates will be distributing Torres wines from Spain.

Torres’ Mas La Plana estate is its high-end Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard, where its finest wines are made. (Photo courtesy of Torres)

WOODINVILLE, Wash. — Spain’s largest premium wine producer is teaming up with Washington’s largest and oldest winery.

Today, Miguel Torres S.A. is announcing that Ste. Michelle Wine Estates will be its exclusive U.S. importer and distributor for its Spanish and Chilean wines. Torres is the largest winery in Spain, which is the world’s largest wine-producing nation. Torres, which exports wine to 150 countries, began in 1870 and is run by Miguel Torres Maczassek, great-great-great-grandson of founder Jaime Torres.

Torres also produces Miguel Torres Chile, which Ste. Michelle also will import and distribute.

Ste. Michelle takes over for Dreyfus, Ashby & Co. of New York, which has been Torres’ importer until the companies decided to part ways. Ste. Michelle will officially take over the Torres portfolio beginning in May.

Ste. Michelle builds through partnerships

Chateau Ste. Michelle is Washington state's largest and oldest winery.

Chateau Ste. Michelle is Washington’s oldest winery. In the past few years, it has been building its national portfolio through distribution partnerships. (Photo courtesy of Chateau Ste. Michelle)

Ste. Michelle, a Washington-based company with winery and vineyard holdings in Oregon and California, has continued to broaden its international portfolio as a wine importer.

“Miguel Torres’ distinguished portfolio is an ideal fit with our ‘string of pearls’ wineries, all of which represent an unwavering commitment to producing distinctive, high-quality wines from authentic estate vineyards,” said Ted Baseler, president and CEO of Ste. Michelle. “We are excited about the opportunity to market Spanish wines, particularly the wines of Torres, in our home market.”

Ste. Michelle’s other international collaborations include:

Italy: Ste. Michelle co-owns Col Solare in Washington and Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars in California with the Antinori family, which has produced wine in Italy for more than 600 years. Ste. Michelle also is Antinori’s U.S. importer and distributor.

France: Nicolas Feuillatte is the No. 1 Champagne brand in France and No. 3 worldwide. Ste. Michelle is the exclusive U.S. importer and distributor.

Germany: Mosel winemaker Ernst Loosen produces Eroica Riesling with Ste. Michelle. It also imports a Loosen wine called Saint M, a Riesling from the Pfalz region of Germany.

New Zealand: Villa Maria, founded in 1961, is one of New Zealand’s top producers. Ste. Michelle is its exclusive U.S. importer and distributor.

Chile: Ste. Michelle imports and distributes Haras, a partnership between Antinori of Italy and the Matte family of Chile. It now will add Torres’ Chilean wines to its South American portfolio.

Kari Leitch, Ste. Michelle’s vice president of communications, said Torres fits into the company’s philosophy of working with the best wine companies in the world.

“Even though we’re based in Washington, it’s clear we’re emerging as a global wine company,” she told Great Northwest Wine.

Rail helps Ste. Michelle build national distribution network

Columbia Crest is one of Washington state's largest wineries.

Columbia Crest in Washington’s Horse Heaven Hills has been the distribution point for much of Ste. Michelle Wine Estates’ wines. Now most of the wines are being warehoused by Railex, a company in nearby Wallula, Wash., that has rail distribution throughout the United States. (Photo courtesy of Columbia Crest)

In the past few years, Ste. Michelle has been building a national distribution system that relies more heavily on rail, rather than trucks. In addition to reducing transportation costs, the move also shrinks the company’s carbon footprint and allows it to move wine more efficiently around the country – and have it arrive in perfect condition.

Six years ago, Ste. Michelle began looking at viable alternatives to trucking and ultimately partnered with Railex, a company based in the tiny Walla Walla County community of Wallula, Wash., just 45 minutes from Columbia Crest, where much of the company’s case goods have been stored. Railex built a 500,000-square-foot facility for Ste. Michelle at a cost of $20 million and now warehouses much of the company’s wine.

The wine is shipped cross-country in five days in climate-controlled train cars. Railex also has warehouses in Rotterdam, N.Y., for East Coast distribution and in Delano, Calif. It expects to open a facility this summer in Jacksonville, Fla., giving the company distribution points in each corner of the continental United States.

This doesn’t mean Ste. Michelle won’t use trucks. Fully 30 percent of its production is sold in the Pacific Northwest, which is shipped by truck from Railex’s Wallula warehouse.

“Any given month, we are shipping 600,000 to 800,000 cases of wine,” said Rob McKinney, Ste. Michelle’s vice president of operations.

With the addition of Torres, that number is likely to go up significantly.

“To ship our product by train is perfect: It’s heavy, it’s in square boxes, and it fills a car from end to end,” McKinney told Great Northwest Wine.

One interesting parallel with Ste. Michelle’s newest partner dates back to the 1979 Gault Millau Wine Olympiad, held in Paris. In it, Torres’ 1970 Gran Coronas Mas La Plana won first place in the Cabernet blend category, defeating the best from the rest of the world. Three years prior, Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars’ 1973 Cabernet Sauvignon won the famous “Judgment of Paris” blind tasting that put American wines on the world wine map.

Spanish wines are one of the hottest categories in the world right now. Last fall, Bloomberg reported that global wine production is forecast to increase 8.8 percent, primarily on the strength of Spain and Argentina

About Andy Perdue

Andy Perdue is founding partner of Great Northwest Wine LLC and a longtime wine columnist. He is a third-generation journalist who has worked at newspapers since the mid-1980s and has been writing about wine since 1998. He co-founded Wine Press Northwest magazine with Eric Degerman and served as its editor-in-chief for 15 years. He is the author of "The Northwest Wine Guide: A Buyer's Handbook" (Sasquatch, 2003) and has contributed to four other books.

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