Food & Drink

Spanish wine producer, Ste. Michelle team up

Spain's largest premium wine producer is teaming up with Washington's largest and oldest winery.

Miguel Torres S.A. announced this week that Ste. Michelle Wine Estates will be its exclusive U.S. importer and distributor for its Spanish and Chilean wines.

Torres is the largest winery in Spain, which is the world's largest wine-producing nation. Torres, which exports wine to 150 countries, began in 1870 and is run by Miguel Torres Maczassek, great-great-great-grandson of founder Jaime Torres.

Torres also produces Miguel Torres Chile, which Ste. Michelle also will import and distribute.

Ste. Michelle will officially take over the Torres portfolio beginning in May.

The Washington-based company with winery and vineyard holdings in Oregon and California has continued to broaden its international portfolio as a wine importer.

"Miguel Torres' distinguished portfolio is an ideal fit with our 'string of pearls' wineries, all of which represent an unwavering commitment to producing distinctive, high-quality wines from authentic estate vineyards," said Ted Baseler, president and CEO of Ste. Michelle.

In the past few years, Ste. Michelle has been building a national distribution system that relies more heavily on rail, rather than trucks. In addition to reducing transportation costs, the move also shrinks the company's carbon footprint and allows it to move wine more efficiently around the country -- and have it arrive in perfect condition.

Six years ago, Ste. Michelle began looking at viable alternatives to trucking and ultimately partnered with Railex, a company based in the Walla Walla County community of Wallula, about 45 minutes from Columbia Crest, where much of the company's case goods have been stored. Railex built a $20 million, 500,000-square-foot facility for Ste. Michelle and now warehouses much of the company's wine.

The wine is shipped cross-country in five days in climate-controlled train cars.

Ste. Michelle will continue to use trucks. Thirty percent of its production is sold in the Northwest, which is shipped by truck from Railex's Wallula warehouse.

"Any given month, we are shipping 600,000 to 800,000 cases of wine," said Rob McKinney, Ste. Michelle's vice president of operations.

With the addition of Torres, that number is likely to go up significantly.

Eric Degerman and Andy Perdue run Great Northwest Wine, a news and information company.