Once upon a time, Chateau Ste. Michelle Estates CEO Ted Baseler’s dream job had nothing to do with wine.
Ted was a young creative marketing executive who had already landed gigs with powerhouse advertising agencies and national brands. Growing up in Bellevue, he had imagined an advertising career on New York’s Madison Avenue since high school. But a small local account changed everything.
“One of my accounts was this little winery called Chateau Ste. Michelle,” he says. “I fell in love with the wine and got to understand all the nuances of winemaking.” The winery had an opening for a marketing director and, just like that, Ted exchanged the corporate ladder for a vine.
Named CEO of the Woodinville-based Ste. Michelle Wine Estates in 2001, Ted has grown the small winery into the seventh largest wine producer in the United States and a worldwide player in the wine industry. In 2009, he was awarded Wine Enthusiast’s “Man of the Year,” and honored with a black-tie awards ceremony at the New York Public Library’s historic Manhattan branch building. Wine Enthusiast cited Ted’s efforts in bringing Washington wines to forefront of the industry. Ted, however, is even more excited to savor another award from 2009.
Columbia Crest, one of the wineries in Ste. Michelle Wine Estates’ regional portfolio, won the enormous accolade of “Wine of the Year” from Wine Spectator with its 95-point rated 2005 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. The international award is a first for Washington’s wine country, and Ted is ecstatic.
“It is really special,” he says.
Ted didn’t simply go from advertising executive to wine guru overnight. He had a steep learning curve in the sciences surrounding winemaking.
“It has been a 25-year-long journey,” he says. Although working with wines seems like an idyllic existence to most, Ted says it’s a lot more than tasting fantastic wines—although he does do a lot of that, too.
“There’s probably more perspiration than inspiration. There’s always a wine event somewhere. It’s seven days a week,” he says. “It’s not for somebody that wants a 9-5 job—it’s a lifestyle.”
Ted’s lifestyle keeps him on the road for about half the year, visiting what he calls the “string of pearls,” also known as the collection of distinct wineries through Washington, Oregon and California that are part of the company’s portfolio. He also makes overseas trips to visit the winery’s European partners—the Antinori family of Italy, who have been making wine since 1385.
“It isn’t too difficult to go to Tuscany and taste wine,” he says.
What does Ted see as the future of Washington wines?
“I see Washington potentially doubling in size over the next 20 years. The great thing about Washington wines is that you can’t outsource it.”
When he’s not on the road, Ted’s a regular in the morning spin class at the Bellevue Club and enjoys skiing, fly-fishing and golf in his rare moments of spare time. On whether he made the right choice in trading the Big Apple for grapes, Ted is content.
“It’s a dream business,” he says. “It’s not just a job, it’s creating something historically significant for the state of Washington and the winery.”