Ste. Michelle’s Woodinville property. Areas 1-5 in rezoning request.

Ste. Michelle Wine Estates (SMWE) has requested the City of Woodinville rezone portions of its Woodinville property. The rezoning would allow for residential townhouse development in certain areas. The city will consider whether to consolidate Ste. Michelle’s request into its comprehensive plan at a January 16th council meeting.

“We are exploring exciting possibilities on how best to enhance the use of our expansive, historic property to create remarkable guest experiences and make Chateau Ste. Michelle an even greater destination for the local community and visitors alike,” says Lynda Eller, senior director of communications and corporate affairs at SMWE.

The request from SMWE came in a legislative action application dated December 19, 2024 (sic). It says that new components to the Chateau Ste. Michelle campus might include “restaurant and market operations, a boutique hotel, and residential townhouse units.” The redevelopment “would retain key features of the existing facility (e.g. the Chateau, offices, wine tasting, the Manor House, limited wine production, the music venue).”

All of the uses currently being considered by SMWE for the property are allowed under current zoning with the exception of residential townhouse development. The application states that “On-site residents would help to sustain full-day levels of activity on the property and would help to support the planned retail and restaurant uses in the development.” The application notes that the property’s current designation also supports “other alternative scenarios for large warehouse and distribution buildings.”

Ste. Michelle’s desire to rezone its property comes after the winery moved its white wine production from Woodinville to eastern Washington in 2022. This was done principally to save costs transporting juice from eastern Washington to western Washington to subsequently turn into wine. It also substantially lowered the environmental footprint from Ste. Michelle’s wine production. Red wine production has long taken place in eastern Washington.

The total area that would be affected by the rezoning includes approximately 48.7 acres of Ste. Michelle’s 118-acre property. The section included in the rezoning request currently has “warehouses, wine production area, offices, tasting rooms, conference rooms, and an outdoor entertainment facility.” Of note, the western section of Ste. Michelle’s property is already zoned for residential development.

Woodinville is currently conducting a periodic review of the city’s comprehensive plan. The City Council will determine January 16th only whether or not to consolidate Ste. Michelle’s request to rezone its property into that comprehensive plan.

If approved, Ste. Michelle’s rezoning request would be considered concurrently with other requests. If the City Council does not approve the request, the rezoning request may still be considered as a later amendment to the plan. Either way, a final determination on the rezoning request would be made at a later date.

With the request, SMWE appears to be looking for additional leeway as it determines what to do with its Woodinville property now that wine is no longer being produced on the premises. This appears to involve multiple possible scenarios, some of which include residential development. In 2023, Ste. Michelle stated the company’s intention to remain on the Woodinville property and improve the overall visitor experience.

SMWE is the largest winery in the Pacific Northwest. Sycamore Partners, a private equity firm, purchased SMWE in 2021 for $1.3B. SMWE listed its Woodinville property for sale in whole or in part in 2022 to assess its overall value.

Overall, SMWE has been undergoing a period of transition. In the last several years, the company has refocused its efforts on the Pacific Northwest. This has included purchasing Willamette Valley’s A to Z Wine Works and Rex Hill in 2022. The company divested from its ownership of Napa Valley’s Stag’s Leap the following year.

SMWE has also undergone leadership changes. CEO David Dearie abruptly resigned in October of 2022. Shawn Conway was subsequently hired as CEO in March of 2023. Toby Whitmoyer, who had been president of the company’s Washington business, left the company at the end of 2023.

SMWE told its growers in a July 2023 meeting that it would be reducing its fruit intake by 40% over the next five years. This will have profound effects across the Washington wine industry.

There have also been two, large staff reductions that impacted approximately 12% of SMWE’s employees. The first took place in February of 2023, the second in December of the same year.

This article has been updated to include additional information from SMWE. 

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