ST. MICHAELS — WineFest at St. Michaels this year will present Raymon McKee, red winemaker of the acclaimed Chateau Ste. Michelle Winery. McKee will be at the Old Brick Inn VIP venue to share insights about the production of his award-winning wines.
McKee joined Chateau Ste. Michelle as its assistant red winemaker in 2008 and was promoted to red winemaker in August 2011. Based at Chateau Ste. Michelle’s Canoe Ridge Estate red winery near Paterson, Wash., McKee manages day-to-day operations and reports to head winemaker Bob Bertheau.
Prior to joining Chateau Ste. Michelle, McKee worked for the past 14 years as a winemaker in Washington state with wineries including Heaven’s Cave Cellars, Covey Run Winery and Claar Cellars.
McKee describes his winemaking philosophy as based on the belief that the best grapes yield the best wines.
“My goal is to bring out the grapes’ sense of place into the finished wine, especially from our distinctive Canoe Ridge Estate and Cold Creek vineyards,” he said. “I also believe there is no substitute for detailed, conscientious winemaking decisions throughout the whole winemaking process, from picking the grapes, to blending the wine to bottling. There are literally a hundred decisions to make when crafting a wine, and each one has an affect on the quality of the finished wine — so a good winemaker must pay very close attention to each wine.”
McKee has enjoyed being a part of the growing Washington wine industry for more than a decade and is equally as optimistic about the region’s future.
“Our growing conditions in Eastern Washington are unique, which is why the grapes are so good — from the long summer days and cool nights during harvest, to the arid climate and irrigation systems to the vines planted on their own roots,” he said. “Our fruit will only get better, as well. Remember that most of the wine in Washington is made from grapes that are barely 15 to 20 years old, and Washington’s wine quality is equal to and surpasses regions of the world with much older and established vineyards.”
McKee said the best part of his job is making a product people enjoy.
“It is very rewarding to make something that people get pleasure from and share with family and friends over a good meal,” he said.
“It’s also fun when I get feedback from consumers, trade and friends when they like a wine that I helped make. Probably the best example of that is when I met my wife Emily, and during our first conversation, I found out that her favorite wine was one that I made ... So needless to say, our relationship got off to a great start.”