Ste Michelle Wine Estates and the Antinori family of Tuscany are set to build a winery and plant vineyards on Red Mountain in eastern Washington State to produce Col Solare, their jointly made high-end wine.

The US$6m venture is believed to involve the largest European investment in Washington’s wine industry. Chateau Ste. Michelle and Marchese Piero Antinori began making Col Solare, a US$75 cabernet-based blend, with the 1995 vintage.

Red Mountain, Washington’s smallest American Viticultural Area, ‘has to be one of the great vineyard sites in America,’ said Bob Betz, a Master of Wine and owner-winemaker of the Betz Family Winery, in Woodinville, north of Seattle.

Ted Baseler, president and chief executive officer of Ste. Michelle Wine Estates – owner of Chateau Ste. Michelle, Northstar and Columbia Crest – announced the joint undertaking at Taste Washington, a three-day program in Seattle.

The team has signed an agreement to buy 20 acres on Red Mountain, at the Yakima Valley’s eastern tip in southeastern Washington. Ground-breaking is planned for summertime. The winery is expected to be ready for the 2006 harvest. Vines would be planted the next year. The goal is 15,000 cases a year.

Red Mountain has been a source of grapes for Col Solare and for some of Washington’s principal wineries, including Hedges, which is on Red Mountain, Leonetti, Quilceda Creek and DeLille Cellars.

Chateau Ste. Michelle and Ernst Loosen, Decanter magazine’s 2005 Man of the Year, began jointly making Eroica, a riesling, with grapes from the Columbia Valley in eastern Washington after the 1999 vintage.

Written by Howard G Goldberg in New York