Washington winemakers plan for Super weekend

By on January 27, 2015
Washington Pinot Gris

Bob Bertheau, head winemaker for Chateau Ste. Michelle, will be attending his second consecutive Super Bowl when he heads to Arizona this weekend. (Photo by Andy Perdue/Great Northwest Wine)

GLENDALE, Ariz. – When the Seattle Seahawks went to the Super Bowl a year ago in New Jersey, at least three Washington winemakers went and watched them win their first world championship.

This weekend, two of those winemakers are heading to this Phoenix suburb to watch Sunday’s game against the AFC Champion New England Patriots.

“I just picked up my tickets and am going,” said Bob Bertheau, head winemaker for Chateau Ste. Michelle in Woodinville. “Last year was really a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but now we’re going again.”

Bertheau, who grew up in Seattle and returned from California wine country in 2003 to work for Ste. Michelle, said he will be staying in Scottsdale in a hotel he booked six months ago. Talk about confidence in his team. Because the Phoenix Open, a PGA Tour event, is being played in the area this week, Bertheau also plans to take in an afternoon of watching some of the world’s best golfers.

A year ago, Bertheau went to the big game in New Jersey. He went to the NFC Championship game against the San Francisco 49ers and happened to be sitting by a man who once played for both the 49ers and the Kansas City Chiefs. The man’s daughter is married to Seahawks tight end Anthony McCoy, who played for Seahawks coach Pete Carroll at the University of Southern California before being drafted by the ‘Hawks. McCoy has had to sit out the past two seasons with injuries, and Bertheau was offered the family’s Super Bowl tickets.

Bertheau said his time in New York was fantastic.

“How can you not have fun in New York?” he said. “We went to a Broadway show every night. We had an absolutely incredible week.”

Super Bowl, then the world

Marcus Rafanelli is a Washington winemaker working in Australia.

After attending last year’s Super Bowl in New Jersey, Washington winemaker Marcus Rafanelli headed to Australia and Germany to work wine grape harvest. (Photo courtesy of Marcus Rafanelli)

Bertheau decided to go to a taping of the David Letterman TV show and ran into fellow Washington winemaker Marcus Rafanelli, who had just left his job at William Church Winery in Woodinville to begin a two-year global winemaking odyssey.

Rafanelli has been attending Seahawks games nearly his entire life with his parents, who have been season-ticket holders since the inaugural season in 1976. Rafanelli and his dad went to all the home games a year ago and managed to get tickets to the Super Bowl as well.

While his parents are heading to Phoenix for the big game this year, Rafanelli is going to stay in Seattle.

“My sister has an 80-inch TV,” he said with a grin. “That way, I can open some wine.”

He also is still recovering from the Seahawks’ stunning overtime victory against the Green Bay Packers in this year’s NFC Championship, in which the ‘Hawks scored 15 points in the last three minutes of the game, then won it on a touchdown pass in the overtime period.

“It was so nerve-wracking,” he said. “I’m still trying to get my voice back. It was just incredible. It’s one of the best games I’ve ever seen.”

After last year’s Super Bowl, Rafanelli left to work wine grape harvest in Australia, then spent this fall working harvest in Germany. He had hoped to go to South America this year for harvest but isn’t sure that is going to work out. If not, he plans to stick around Seattle and find an opportunity in the Washington wine industry.

A super year for Chris Upchurch

Washington winemaker Chris Upchurch and his wife, Thea.

Chris and Thea Upchurch, owners of Upchurch Vineyard on Red Mountain, went to last year’s Super Bowl and last summer’s World Cup. Now they are heading to Arizona for this weekend’s Super Bowl. (Photo by Andy Perdue/Great Northwest Wine)

Chris Upchurch, winemaker and partner at DeLille Cellars in Woodinville and owner of Upchurch Vineyard on Red Mountain, will be going to his third Super Bowl when he heads to Arizona this weekend.

He attended Super Bowl XXXVII in 2003 when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defeated the Oakland Raiders in San Diego. Upchurch said he isn’t a fan of either team and had no real reason to go until Greg Lill, co-owner of DeLille, won a Super Bowl package at an auction but couldn’t attend. Instead, Upchurch and Jay Soloff, also a DeLille partner, went in Lill’s place.

“Neither of us had a horse in the race,” Upchurch said.

Just hours before kickoff, ticket prices for the game reached $4,000, and Upchurch turned to Soloff and said if they sold their seats, “We could go watch this game in Paris.” But they went to the game and had a great time, he said.

A year ago, Upchurch said it took him all of two seconds to decide to go to the Super Bowl between the Seahawks and the Denver Broncos. Upchurch is from New Jersey, and New York is his favorite city in the world, so he and his wife, Thea, headed to the Big Apple.

“It was one of our great weekends,” Upchurch said. “We knew some people who got us into the Sports Illustrated party. That was a kick – and it went on until 4 a.m.”

He said that even though the Seahawks ended up winning handily, he had a great time.

“It was one of those lopsided games,” he said. “But if you were a Seahawks fan, you loved it.”

As if that wasn’t enough fun, the couple went to Brazil last summer and attended four World Cup matches. Thea, who is Dutch, especially enjoyed the game between Netherlands and Spain, a rematch of the finals from four years prior (which Spain won, 1-0, with a goal in extra time).

Upchurch is a big Seattle Sounders supporter and owns a suite. He and Thea planned to go to the Major League Soccer Cup, but Seattle fell a goal short of making the finals.

Instead, they will head to Glendale this weekend for the Super Bowl after cheering themselves hoarse during the NFC title game against Green Bay.

“It was amazing,” he said. “It was ridiculous. It was just amazing how nobody got down on the team, even after five turnovers. In Denver, they were booing Peyton Manning (the week before against the Indianapolis Colts). But here, everybody was cheering them when they were down.”

And by Monday, Upchurch, Bertheau and Rafanelli plan to have no voice left as they cheer the Seahawks to back-to-back championships.

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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