Fred Tasker: Ste. Michelle CEO prefers to give his winemakers free rein

When Ted Baseler took the reins at Ste. Michelle Wine Estates in 2001, he looked around at other big wine empires and decided not to follow their example.

“Frankly, they were growing big and mediocre,” says Baseler, the company’s president and CEO. “They would buy wineries and consolidate production into one huge wine factory. You lose the passion of the individual winemaker.”

Instead, Baseler created a “string of pearls” growth strategy as he acquired additional wineries, giving the individual winemakers almost total autonomy in making their wines. He turned his headquarters into a “back of the house” operation for the wineries, handling sales and marketing.

For that concept, for his multimillion-dollar investments in the wine industry and for his charitable works, Baseler will be honored Saturday with the Southern Wine & Spirits of America Lifetime Achievement Award in Miami Beach.

Today Ste. Michelle Wine Estates is the third-largest premium wine company in the U.S. It has 3,700 acres and 1,100 employees, shipping 7.9 million cases of wine a year, exporting to 75 countries.

Ste. Michelle Wine Estates’ portfolio includes Chateau Ste. Michelle, Columbia Crest, 14 Hands, Northstar, Spring Valley and Col Solare in Washington; Stags’ Leap Wine Cellars and Conn Creek in California and Erath Winery in Oregon. It is the exclusive North American importer of wines from the Antinori family of Tuscany, the Torres Family of Spain and Chile, Nicolas Feuillatte of Champagne and Villa Maria Estate of New Zealand.

“We don’t use focus groups. We don’t use surveys,” Baseler said. “There is no overall company style. Each winery has its own.”

Highly recommended:

▪  2010 Col Solare Red Wine, Columbia Valley (90 percent cabernet sauvignon, 4 percent merlot, 4 percent cabernet franc, 2 percent malbec): powerful and smooth, with aromas and flavors of black plums and espresso, long finish; $75.

▪ 2013 Chateau Ste. Michelle & Dr. Loosen “Eroica,” Columbia Valley (100 percent riesling): crisp, lightly sweet, intense citrus and apricot flavors, mineral-scented finish; $20.

▪ 2011 Chateau Ste. Michelle Cabernet Sauvignon, “Cold Creek Vineyard,” Columbia Valley (97 percent cabernet sauvignon, 3 percent merlot): hint of oak, aromas and flavors of black plums and bittersweet chocolate, heady and rich, long finish; $30.

▪ 2011 Chateau Ste. Michelle Artist Series Meritage Red Wine, Columbia Valley (72 percent cabernet sauvignon, 25 percent merlot, 2 percent cabernet franc, 1 percent malbec): hint of oak, medium body, aromas and flavors of black cherries and cloves, hearty, smooth, long finish; $57.


▪ 2013 Chateau Ste. Michelle Dry Riesling, Columbia Valley (100 percent riesling): light and dry, with citrus blossom aromas and ripe peach flavors; $10

▪ 2013 Chateau Ste. Michelle Sauvignon Blanc, “Horse Heaven Vineyard,” Horse Heaven Hills (100 percent sauvignon blanc): light and lively, crisp and steely, white grapefruit and lemon peel aromas and flavors; $15.

▪ 2011 Northstar Merlot, Columbia Valley (78 percent merlot, 20 percent cabernet sauvignon, 2 percent petit verdot): aromas and flavors of black raspberries, bittersweet chocolate and spice, concentrate fruit; $40.

▪ 2011 Stags’ Leap Wine Cellars “S.L.V.” Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley (100 percent cabernet sauvignon): toasty oak, aromas and flavors of red raspberries, cassis and cloves, big, ripe tannins, smooth finish; $125.

▪ 2012 Columbia Crest H3 Merlot, Horse Heaven Hills (96 percent merlot, 4 percent cabernet sauvignon): hint of oak, aromas and flavors of black raspberries and cinnamon, rich and smooth; $15.