In July, 1983 the Society of Wine Educators held its annual conference in Seattle, Washington. My late husband, Ken Bartlett, was serving as vice president of the association at the time and we were fortunate to attend. The highlight of the meeting was the reception and dinner at Chateau Ste. Michelle. That visit is a special memory. When we arrived at the 87-acre estate it felt as if we had been transported to a wooded section of rural France. The evening started in the grassy grounds where we were served cool glasses of a delicate yet elegant white wine. While we talked we ate sumptuous hors-d’oeuvres from trays passed by waiters. From there we were taken to an ornate room inside a stately building resembling a French Château. There we saw tables covered with linen, and each place was surrounded by a myriad of glasses and silverware. A dinner of Northwest cuisine complemented by Chateau Ste. Michelle wines made that evening complete.
My second visit to the Chateau in June, 2011, with the International Food Wine and Travel Writer’s Association (IFW&TWA) brought a new perspective. Back in the same beautiful building, which was just as I remembered, we were introduced to John Sarich, Culinary Director of the winery. Here is a man that brings the story of Ste. Michelle to life by teaching a whole new slant on the pairing of wine and food – and, in fact, Sarich wrote a book, Chef in the Vineyard, on the subject. This book is a treasure filled with innovative yet uncomplicated recipes from great wine estates.
When Chateau Ste. Michelle opened in September, 1976, Sarich was a visitor. Needing money for graduate school and knowing that his background suited him for the job he became a guide. For several years after that he wore many hats: as wine salesman, head chef and restaurant owner, but Chateau Ste. Michelle had a special spot in his heart. In 1990 he returned and took the position he holds today.
This second visit I was with a group of very knowledgeable and talented veteran writers. We had seen it all. Ho hum, another food and wine pairing. Then Sarich strolled into that room and lit it up! The 10 of us were seated at a long table, facing each other. In front of us was a place mat with six glasses of wine and a plate of yummy looking food. On the plate, arranged in a circle, were six courses starting with two glistening prawns curled around each other, then a slice of pizza smeared with goat cheese and topped with bright green and red vegetables. Next came a skewer red and green peppers and a hearty chunk of beef, looking like something right out of Bon Appétit. Beside the beef was an oval of bread topped by perfectly-cooked pink lamb. The dessert course was a square with three layers: soft cookie bottom, lemon cream middle, and a bright orange apricot topping. It wasn’t more than two by three inches, but it looked like a tantalizing combination. Completing the circle, at the bottom on the plate was a blue-veined cheese. Normally I would opt to skip a fragrant cheese, but I decided to wait and see what Sarich had in mind for a pairing.
We eyed the wine glasses. First sat three goblets with white wine, then two containing red vintages, and another pale liquid at the far right. Our taste master had us begin, and not in first glass, first food order. Sarich seemed to be all over the place, giving us the feeling of being at a private tasting with him. His enthusiasm was catching. We were directed to try a food, then a wine. We skipped from red to white and back again, with Sarich having us note the difference and understanding through our taste buds what food truly matched the wine. We discussed bold with bold and delicate with delicate. In addition, Sarich advised us to be adventurous, to try some new combination so we might make a great discovery. Ken Bartlett’s motto was, “If you like it, drink it” which this fits in with what Sarich advises: “If Merlot is the wine you like, by all means enjoy it with any meal.” Turns out I ate everything on my plate, even that stinky cheese! Sarich paired it with a 2008 Ethos late harvest white Riesling that was like a honey and citrus cocktail. My discovery was the cheese provided an excellent salty contrast. No wonder the winery gushes that “John’s innovative approach to pairing food and wine has delighted discriminating palates across the country.”
Ted Baselar, president and CEO of Château Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, believes the winery has grown and prospered because it followed the edict of all great wine estates: it knows which grapes flourish, its leaders strive to be pioneers, and it has a memorable story to tell. Baselar asserts the story is Pacific Northwest cuisine’s magical pairing with the vintages it produces. Further, he notes that the winery has pushed research but at the same time respected traditional methods. The winery was a pioneer in vinifera grape growing in Washington state.
Chateau Ste. Michelle Woodinville Winery is one of the most visited attractions in the Seattle area. It is located in Woodinville, 15 miles northeast of Seattle. The winery is open daily and there is no charge for the tour and tasting, something no longer found in California. There is a small fee for a tasting of reserve and library wines. The great thing abut this experience is that it works for both novice and Oenophiles. A good thing to do if planning a visit is to go to the web site, www.ste-michelle.com for further information.
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