I tried a lot of wines before I finally found the one for me, an Australian Merlot," the wife of a friend said to me recently. While I had some doubts about her final selection (one grape Australians don’t do well is Merlot), I understood her desire to be done with the search. Even though I’m constantly looking for new regions and new wines to taste, I know lots of people who seek only vinous monogamy—a wine that can be theirs for life.
That’s the promise and the success of every big name brand from Dom Pérignon on down: dependability from one year to the next. And yet times have been tough for big wine companies, with so much competition from all over the world and so many consolidations within their own ranks. For example, several of the top 30 wine companies were sold within recent years, including (and most famously) Robert Mondavi. Yet there is one big wine company that is doing quite well: Washington statebased Chateau Ste. Michelle. My question was, why?
After all, the chief wine that Ste. Michelle makes is Riesling, a grape that most people still don’t fully understand or appreciate. Chateau Ste. Michelle is actually the biggest Riesling producer in the world. It’s not even located anywhere fashionable—not Napa or Sonoma, but the Pacific Northwest. Its name isn’t trendy; its labels aren’t cute. In fact, they are a bit dull—not unlike those of Bordeaux. (Perhaps they took that "château" thing a bit too seriously?)