PROSSER — Given its prominence at grocery stores and wine shops in the last few years, I was surprised to learn that 14 Hands is nearly a decade old.
The relatively new wine brand from Washington wine giant Ste. Michelle Wine Estates had quiet beginnings as a restaurant wine in 2005.
Over time, the price point and the branding of the product as rustic Americana resonated with wine consumers, prompting Ste. Michelle to produce the wine for home consumption.
Today, Ste. Michelle Wine Estates produces more than a million cases of 14 Hands wines, including the popular Hot to Trot red blend.
Earlier this month, Ste. Michelle opened a tasting room for 14 Hands at the former facility of one of its other brands, Snoqualmie Vineyards.
“We got a lot of customers that told us they love the wine and they want to go to the winery,” said Ted Baseler, CEO of Ste. Michelle Wine Estates.
When you drive into the facility at 660 Frontier Road, just off Interstate 82, it’s clear the only thing the 14 Hands tasting room has in common with the Snoqualmie Vineyards tasting room that proceeded it is the location.
Horse art dominates the decor, complementing the label and the surrounding Horse Heaven Hills.
The area is named for the wild horses that traversed through the grassy hills, but these days it’s also known for continual growth as a wine grape region.
Along that theme, the 14 Hands tasting room has lots of rustic wood and stone.
As I spoke with guest services manager Jeriann LeBlanc and winemaker Keith Kenison, I noted the feeling they want 14 Hands to evoke.
The wine “is something you enjoy on the patio with your family at sunset,” said Kenison, who has been the winemaker for 14 Hands since the brand’s inception.
Using a theme to drive a wine brand is more common these days, said wine writer and author Paul Gregutt, who noted the numerous seminars and workshops on that topic for wineries.
But what makes the storyline work for 14 Hands is that it ties into a location and a certain image, which in this case is the Wild West.
“Ted (Baseler) is a very, very good marketing executive,” he said. “He knows his stuff.”
Baseler said the 14 Hands brand is so distinct from its older brands, including Chateau Ste. Michelle and Columbia Crest, that some don’t realize it’s from Ste. Michelle.
Baseler recalled a friend who brought a bottle of 14 Hands to a dinner party and asked if he minded that the wine was not made by Ste. Michelle.
There’s no mistaking, however, that Woodinville-based Ste. Michelle’s large distribution network and production capacity enabled 14 Hands’ rapid growth, Gregutt said.
As a result, 14 Hands may play a key role in tackling the ongoing challenges of introducing more consumers nationwide to Washington wine.
“I’ve said this for many years — Washington state over-delivers at every price point,” Gregutt said. “The limitation at the low end has to do with volume and distribution. There (are) only a couple, a handful of companies in the Northwest that have the volume and distribution to compete nationally, no matter how good the price and quality.”
The role of raising the flag for Washington wine is not lost on Baseler. And 14 Hands will likely be instrumental in carrying out that role — he anticipates that production could grow by another 50 percent in the years to come.
“I believe there is so much interest today in the quality and value of Washington wine — that is what has allowed 14 Hands to be a phenomenon,” he said. “It’s not only great wine and a good value, but people know it’s from Washington, which in the long run will be beneficial to all the wineries.”