Col Solare goes into a higher gear

Back in the 1990s, Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, the oldest wine company in Washington state and the largest in the Pacific Northwest, joined forces with the Antinori family which has been making wine in Italy since 1385.

The plan: to produce a red wine blend that brought the flavor of Tuscany to Washington. The first vintage of that product, Col Solare, came in 1995. Now, the partners have opened a new $8 million winery on Red Mountain in southeastern Washington. It is the largest international investment in the state's wine industry ever.

"This symbolizes the fact that the Washington wine region has made its mark on the international scene," said Robin Pollard, executive director of the Washington Wine Commission, a promotional agency financed by member wineries and growers.

"We have always had a dream to find a home for Col Solare, and finally the dream has become a reality," said Piero Antinori, owner and CEO of his family's company.

Marcus Notaro (left in accompanying photo) oversees the winemaking operations at Col Solare under the guidance of Renzo Cotarella (center), head enologist for Marchesi Antinori, and Doug Gore (right), senior vice president of winemaking and vineyard operations for Ste. Michelle Wine Estates.

Red Mountain is a rural sagebrush-covered hill in the lower Yakima Valley, an area that is home to an increasing number of wine grape vineyards. In 2001, it became the state's fifth federally recognized wine appellation. There now are nine such wine grape-growing region designations in Washington. (Click here to go to a guide to Washington's, and other states', wine trails.)

"What's remarkable is what it will be. I think five years from now, this area will be green with vineyards, and hopefully, have many bistros and inns," said Ted Baseler, president and CEO of Ste. Michelle, whose labels include Chateau Ste. Michelle, Columbia Crest, Northstar and Spring Valley Vineyards. "Five or six years ago, we both believed that Col Solare had good potential, but if we had an estate winery, it had great potential. We now have that on Red Mountain."

Washington state's wine industry has grown from fewer than 20 wineries to nearly 500 in the past 25 years. The state has in excess of 30,000 acres of wine grapes. Antinor also has vineyards in California and Europe.

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