Chef in the Hat, Thierry Rautureau

SEATTLE – When Seattle’s renowned “Chef in the Hat” was approached by Chateau Ste. Michelle Winery about participating in a program to raise funds for WSU’s viticulture and enology program he not only agreed, he offered to make his own contribution.  Chef Thierry Rautureau, owner of the highly acclaimed Rover’s Restaurant, says he contributed out of a sense of community.

Last fall Chateau Ste. Michelle Winery in Woodinville launched its Viticulture and Enology Program through which a portion of their wines sales through participating restaurants would be contributed to the WSU Viticulture and Enology Program. A total of 123 restaurants joined the effort raising $40,000 to fund scholarships, research, and equipment.
The program is the brainchild of Ste. Michelle’s director of global accounts N.W. region Joe Aschbacher (’87, School of Hospitality). Aschbacher says when he approached Ste. Michelle Wine Estates president and CEO Ted Baseler (’76, Communications) with the idea, “he really sunk his teeth into it.”
The concept is simple.  Ste. Michelle provided marketing materials and information to generate awareness of the WSU program that provides research and is training the next generation of grape growers and winemakers. The winery offered training and materials for participating restaurants and donated a portion of the sale of each bottle or glass of their wines to the V & E program.

Raising awareness

Aschbacher says the restaurants were very responsive.

Display card from annual event

“Raising funds for scholarships really hit home with them because they see that as an important community benefit,” he says. “We have so many price points among our Chateau Ste. Michelle wines that it was possible to get restaurants at every level involved.”

Aschbacher says the program involved a lot of staff training so that hosts, servers and sommeliers in the restaurants could talk knowledgably to customers about the WSU program. The winery also provided menu cards, fresh sheets and other marketing materials to educate consumers about the V & E program.
“It’s nice to raise funding but it’s really great to increase awareness of the WSU program and its role in supporting the Washington wine industry,” says Aschbacher.

Giving back
For Rover’s owner and chef Thierry Rautureau joining the effort was a no-brainer.
“When I heard about it I felt it was an easy one for us as well,” Rautureau says. “They offered me a discount on their premium wine, Col Solare, so I decided to discount it for my customers and donate $5 a bottle from my proceeds. They gave me a deal and I simply passed it around. It was a win-win.”
When asked about his motivation the internationally acclaimed chef simply replies, “community.”
“I feel very much a part of the wine equation in Washington state,” says Rautureau. “It’s a circle.  Someone in Eastern Washington grows the grapes. Someone buys them and makes wine. Someone distributes it and I sell it.  We’re all involved in the community.”
Aschbacher says the fundraising effort will be an annual event every fall and he hopes to significantly expand restaurant participation. Rautureau says he’ll definitely participate and he encourages other restaurants not only to join in but also to donate a share of their proceeds to the WSU program.
“Chateau Ste. Michelle stepped forward so I stepped forward,” Rautureau says. “I have a sense of community and I’m hoping to instill that in others.  More people need to give back, and all I’m doing is giving back.”