Three Pacific Northwest vintners recently received a pleasant start to their holidays when Vineyard & Winery Management magazine named Chateau Ste. Michelle’s Bob Bertheau and Wendy Stuckey as well as ROCO Winery’s Rollin Soles to this year’s list of 20 Most-Admired Winemakers in North America.
For a second straight year, the Sonoma County-based publication developed a nominating committee of winemakers, growers, writers, educators and trade across the continent. More than 50 candidates were pared to 20 for the November/December 2014 issue.
The trio from our corner of the globe appreciated the acclaim in different ways, but they uniformly seem humbled by the recognition.
“My first thought is that this is a team award, not one person — or two people if you include Wendy!” Bertheau told Great Northwest Wine. “The comment in the article leads to the discussion about how we can make so much wine of such good quality. That takes a lot of dedicated people.
“What we do has an amazing amount of layers to it – everybody passionate about what they do to make our wine as good as it can be,” Bertheau continued. “The winemakers might be the most public persona behind a brand, but we know what concerted effort it is. I also scanned across the article and saw a lot of talented, familiar faces that I was very honored to be included in.”
Stuckey stunned to be ‘Aussie’ on American list
Stuckey was hired by Bertheau in 2007 to join the Chateau Ste. Michelle white winemaking team after an illustrious career in her native Australia, where some viewed her as perhaps the country’s most talented white wine producer.
“I feel honored to be included and very humbled to be part of such an esteemed list of winemakers, especially as I am not a U.S. citizen,” Stuckey said. “I am an Aussie living here in Washington and enjoying making wine and never would have expected this at all, so it was a huge surprise.
“Thanks to Vineyard and Winery Management magazine,” she added, “but this recognition shouldn’t just stop with me. It also extends to the great team we have here at CSM making these amazing wines.”
Australia also played a significant role in Soles’ career. The iconic Willamette Valley winemaker with a Texan drawl and signature mustache spent three years Down Under at Petaluma Vineyards before he convinced the owner — Brian Croser — to create Argyle Winery in 1986 inside an old nut processing plant in Dundee, Ore.
They quickly put Oregon on the map for sparkling wine, and there may be no better ambassador in the Pacific Northwest for bubbles, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Riesling than Soles. His spot on the list of most-admired winemakers on the continent didn’t come as a shock to others in the industry, but it came out of left field for Soles.
Soles views recognition as ‘most amazing’ of his career
“I was completely taken by surprise,” Soles said. “I’ve gotten a lot of very nice attention for wines over the years, but this recognition was incredible! Being recognized by my peers, plus the list includes winemakers that I’ve looked up to for years, caused me to feel like this was the most amazing recognition in my 35-year winegrowing career. I also feel very humbled by my winemaking community here in the Willamette Valley and beyond. Without their influences, I wouldn’t be the winemaker I am today.”
The Texas A&M grad was quick to list many of the factors that lead to the quality that’s put in the bottle and help get the wine into homes and restaurants.
“Usually, we winemakers in receiving the high score or the wine book/magazine article put this recognition to work selling our wines,” Soles said. “This recognition is an opportunity to focus within our wine industry, which is a welcome respite from the usual drill. I also want to recognize the fantastic growers, assistant winemakers, and even the sales folks that bring my wines to wine drinkers’ attention! Without great fruit, attention to detail and stimulating co-workers, I certainly would have been a longer shot for this recognition!”
Vineyard & Winery Management list leads to some ribbing
There have been a few friendly jabs sent in the direction of Soles, too.
“My local peers have enjoyed poking fun with me,” Soles said. “My response has been, ‘Hey, I’m good-looking, too!’ ”
It’s been a matter of pride for Stuckey’s family.
“There have been many emails from colleagues and an especially proud father!” she said. “And my husband posted it on his Facebook page unbeknownst to me — something I would never do. I don’t have a Facebook page. So, my friends were especially congratulatory. They will be CSM fans forever!”
The recognition opened up some lines of communication for Bertheau, who worked for Hambrecht Vineyards and Wineries, Hanzell Vineyards, Chalk Hill and Gallo of Sonoma before returning in 2003 to his native hometown of Seattle and arriving at Ste. Michelle.
“Oh, my, people I hadn’t heard from since I was in California emailed to congratulate me,” Bertheau said. “One of my great friends from our U-C Davis days said, ‘I always admired you, Bobby, but it was for your karaoke in college, not your winemaking — you must be doing something right up there!’
“I would really like to thank Vineyard and Winery Management for the honor and allowing me to reconnect with California friends,” he added.