Wine Appellations

A Degree in Wine Architecture

Meridith May

“If there’s one word I’ve heard from the mouths of winemakers in my 27 years of viticulture, it’s the word structure. That’s the common thread that ties together the wines of Cold Creek Vineyard.”

Just short of the three decades of Cold Creek Vineyards existence, Rich Wheeler, v.p. of vineyards for Ste. Michelle Wine Estates has seen this premiere region develop into one of Washington State’s most sought-after wine acreage.


Celebrating its 30th harvest, Cold Creek Vineyards is one of the oldest vineyard sites in Washington State. It was discovered by Walter Clore, the man known as the father of the Columbia Valley. A university researcher back in the 1940s, Clore was ahead of his time. His tests and trials of European vinifera varietals grown in this northern region proved the terroir worthy, whereas others believed it to be too cold to produce wines of any caliber, much less succeed at survival itself.

Clore’s work revealed that Cold Creek Vineyards site would provide enough warmth to enable grapes to perform: and thus, the Cold Creek name is deceptive.

Not only is Cold Creek Vineyards situated in the state’s warmest area (akin to a low region 5: think Paso Robles, for instance) but it’s also frost-free and is situated on weak, silt loamy soil with low-water holding capacity. With age comes less vigor, smaller berries and smaller yields. And it gets better: the area sees about five inches of rain a year, which, Wheeler pointed out, “gives us total control of the vine.”


“Even the Chardonnay has Structure…”

“It takes experience to work with this fruit,” warned Wheeler, who explained that the reds are powerful and if not managed correctly, can have intensely high tannins. “Even the Chardonnay has structure: that’s unusual for a white.”

While the key is not to over-extract, mastering the vines from Cold Creek since its first designated vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon and Riesling were harvested 30 years ago has certainly been a challenge for the Winemakers of Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, but one that has been well rewarded. The Cold Creek Chardonnay has been named to Wine Spectator’s “Top 100” wines of the world for four vintages (’93, ’96, ’97, & ’99) and the reds remain highly acclaimed by critics and consumers.


Great Wines from “The Middle of Nowhere”

Photo: Cold Creek Vineyard (Photo ©Kevin Cruff)

The 660-acre Cold Creek Vineyard is 38 miles east of Yakima, in an area sometimes referred to as “the middle of nowhere.” Wheeler’s family homesteaded and farmed in the area for many years, and he still owns property adjacent to the well known, but also well hidden, old site.

“We’re entering the second generation of our viticultural revolution in Washington State,” Wheeler announced. At first, almost every varietal was planted at Cold Creek, but three decades of experience and research had led to replacing rootstock with varieties that thrive in the hot, stressed conditions of this remote area.

Cold Creek Vineyards will probably never be host to a wine bar or even a tasting room, isolated as it is from Washington’s more populated wine regions of Walla Walla or Red Mountain. But, what comes out of Cold Creek Vineyard are Ambassadors of structure, earning their enologists a degree in wine architecture.



Chateau Ste. Michelle Cold Creek Vineyards Presents…

2004 Cold Creek Vineyard Riesling: Juicy with attitude describes this aromatic, fruit-driven white. The sun shines in each sip, reminding us of the long, warm growing season it enjoyed in ’04.

2004 Cold Creek Vineyard Chardonnay: Crisp apple tartness mellows against the lush boldness of citrus and tropical harmony in this age-worthy white. Fruit and oak melt into one another, for a rich mouthfeel that concentrates flavors for a Chardonnay that is worthy of the term “big.”

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2003 Cold Creek Vineyard Merlot: There’s much to be said about the style of Merlot from Washington State. Black, inky fruit permeates throughout the layers of coffee, mocha and oak. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: this is no California Merlot.

INSERT IMAGE “CC1” or “CC2” – whichever looks better

2003 Cold Creek Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon: 69% new French, American and Hungarian oak woos the powerful red to succumb slightly: vanilla and tobacco weaves its way through concentrated black berries and plums.



“We’re entering the second generation of our viticultural revolution in Washington State.” – Rich Wheeler, V.P. of Vineyards, Ste. Michelle Wine Estates

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