Yakima County Development Association - Ted Baseler Provides Insights Into Wine Industry Growth in Washington State

Jonathan Smith

The President’s Pen is a weekly blog written by Jonathan Smith, New Vision’s President and CEO about local economic development projects and initiatives. It also covers economic trends, workforce issues, business climate policies, and manufacturing news. 



Ted Baseler Provides Insights Into Wine Industry Growth in Washington State

March 16, 2010

Attendees at New Vision's annual meeting last week were treated to an outstanding presentation by Ted Baseler, CEO of Ste. Michelle Wine Estates.  During his keynote address Baseler described how Washington state has gone from nowhere to number one in terms of its reputation for wine.



At the start of his presentation Ted gave credit to early pioneers like Walter Clore whose research efforts showed that Washington could grow high quality wine grapes.  He then moved on to chronicle the industry's humble beginnings.
During the 1930s several Washington companies made fortified wine.  A couple of these companies ultimately banded together and were eventually sold to an investment group that changed the company name to Ste. Michelle.

High quality vinafera grapes were reestablished in the Yakima and Columbia River Valleys during the 1970s and an industry took off.  Washington's wine industry growth was slow at first as wineries struggled to gain notoriety.  Baseler noted that there were only 19 wineries in 1981 compared to over 600 today.

Ste. Michelle has grown to become Washington State's largest winery and it is now one of the ten largest wine companies in the nation.  It recently received worldwide acclaim when it received Wine Spectator magazine's #1 rank and Wine of the Year designation for its 2005 Columbia Crest Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon.

Baseler attributed his company's success to the fact that while Ste Michelle owns nine wineries each of them has large autonomy over its own operations.  Ted refers to the wineries as a string of pearls.  As opposed to operating huge industrial scale wineries, Ste Michelle's vintners focus on quality and fill unique niches in the marketplace. This strategy seems to be working for Ste Michelle.  The company has grown into an industry leader and Baseler was recently named Man of the Year by Wine Enthusiast magazine.

At the end of his talk Baseler suggested that the industry will continue to grow and that the Yakima region can benefit by focusing on tourism development.  According to Baseler amenities like spas, restaurants, and attractions are underdeveloped compared to other wine regions around the world.

Our thanks go to Ted Baseler.  He did a great job at our annual meeting.  More importantly though his leadership has tangibly helped Washington's wine industry become a world class enterprise.

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