The movie Bottle Shock tells the story of a 1976 wine competition in which California wine was victorious over French wine. Known as the “Judgement of Paris”, it’s a tale that many are familiar with. It seems, however, that few are aware of an important historic moment in Washington State wine. The hero in this story is the pioneer of vinifera grape growing in Washington State that has been producing classic European varietal wines since 1967, Chateau Ste. Michelle.
At a blind Riesling tasting sponsored by the Los Angeles Times in 1974, Chateau Ste. Michelle’s 1972 vintage of Johannisberg Riesling won top honors. Moreover, although Ste. Michelle Johannisburg Riesling was the least expensive wine in the tasting, it beat out German, Australian, and California Rieslings. It is significant to note that producers included P.J. Valckenberg in Worms, the oldest family-run wine export company of Germany, as well as Liebfraumilch Madonna, the oldest brand of German wine. Domestic producers included a who’s who of California stalwarts such as Beaulieu Vineyards, Heitz Cellar, and Freemark Abbey.
The Real Johannisberg Riesling
A visit I made to Schloss Johannisberg in 2019 was in many ways like a return to my childhood. Not that I grew up in a castle, mind you! It has more to do with memories of that Chateau Ste. Michelle Johannisberg Riesling. For years, Liebfraumilch was my parent’s adult beverage of choice for holiday dinners. It was a banner moment when Chateau Ste. Michelle Johannisberg Riesling made its way to our table in the 80’s and became synonymous with celebratory meals at our house.
They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. However, imitation in the wine industry often results in a cease and desist letter. Or something like that. Chateau Ste. Michelle’s first Riesling, the 1972 vintage, was named Johannisberg Riesling as the term was often used in the United States at the time. It was a reference to the German city of Johannisberg, in the Rheingau wine-growing region of Germany which is famous for Riesling. The moniker was also an indicator of an off-dry style of Riesling. However, it is no longer considered an appropriate designation according to federal alcohol regulations. All wineries were required to phase out the use of the term Johannisberg Riesling by January, 2006. Chateau Ste. Michelle took the term off their labels after the 2003 vintage.
Chateau Ste. Michelle Riesling Today
This wine is now labeled as Chateau Ste. Michelle Columbia Valley Riesling. Priced at just $9 a bottle at the winery, it is a great value. Not only that, through a partnership with the Mosel’s Ernst Loosen, Chateau Ste. Michelle produces Eroica Riesling. These wines portray excellent quality in a wide array of styles from bone dry to decadently sweet dessert wines.
The next time you want to taste a bit of history, pour yourself a glass of Chateau Ste. Michelle Riesling.
If you’re thirsty for more Washington State Wine historical moments, read about Washington State’s more than 1,000 wineries.