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Higher education advocate and architect of state’s wine prominence selected as 2015 Seattle-King County First Citizen

Posted by | March 17, 2015

At a civic banquet later this year, Theodor “Ted” Baseler, president and CEO of Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, will be saluted as the 77th Seattle-King County First Citizen. Although widely recognized for propelling the state’s wine industry to prominence on the world wine stage, he is also known to be a strong advocate for higher education and a champion for underserved students.

Ted Baseler, president and CEO of Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, is the 77th Seattle-King County First Citizen. Widely recognized for propelling the state’s wine industry to prominence on the world wine stage, he is also known to be a strong advocate for higher education and a champion for underserved students.
Ted Baseler, president and CEO of Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, is the 77th Seattle-King County First Citizen. Widely recognized for propelling the state’s wine industry to prominence on the world wine stage, he is also known to be a strong advocate for higher education and a champion for underserved students.

For the past 76 years recipients of the prestigious Seattle-King County First Citizen award have been toasted at a civic banquet. That custom continues this year, but guests will be saluting the honoree with premium wine that helped distinguish the award winner and the state’s industry. From academia to vineyards (and many other initiatives), the newly-announced 2015 First Citizen is credited with crafting world-class results.

“We look forward to raising our glasses for this savvy businessman and compassionate individual. His vision and generosity have benefited our region in countless ways,” said Tyler McKenzie, the 2015 president of SEATTLE KingCounty REALTORS®, which established the award in 1939.

Baseler joins an elite group of honorees who have been singled out for the annual award and celebration of community leadership, volunteerism and civic engagement that enhance the region’s quality of life. The banquet is a not-for-profit event presented by SEATTLE KingCounty REALTORS® and partners from the real estate brokerage community.

“Ted Baseler has served Washington State University and the entire state of Washington with distinction for many years,” said WSU President Elson S. Floyd. “He has been recognized with the Alumni Achievement Award and the WSU Foundation Outstanding Service Award. He led the efforts to develop a world-class Enology and Viticulture program at WSU, working with legislators for funding. He has also been the driving force behind Chateau Ste. Michelle events that have raised more than $2 million for diversity scholarships. He does his alma mater proud every single day.”

Baseler joined Ste. Michelle in 1984 as director of marketing and was offered ever-increasing levels of responsibility before being named president and CEO in 2001.

In addition to being the architect of the company’s expansion, he is a respected leader in the U.S. wine industry, known for his dedication to building the State of Washington into one of the top wine-producing regions in the world. The industry, now comprising more than 850 wineries, is valued at more than $10 billion.

Among recent achievements, Baseler led fundraising efforts for the WSU Wine Science Center, a 40,000-square foot, high-tech research and education facility that will open in a few months. The Center, located on the WSU Tri-Cities campus, was developed as a public-private partnership. In a recent report about the $23 million project, wine journalist Andy Perdue wrote, “That it all happened in the midst of an intense economic downturn is miraculous. . . It took creativity and flexibility to get this done.”

Baseler has served as chairman of the Washington Wine Commission, chairman of the Napa-based Wine Market Council, and director of the Washington Wine Institute. Outside the wine industry, he has served on the Washington Business Roundtable and board for Seattle Children’s Hospital.

The Bellevue resident and 1976 graduate of Washington State University was appointed to the WSU Board of Regents by Governor Chris Gregoire in 2006, and was reappointed to full terms in 2009 (serving as chair from 2011-2012) and 2014. Since his appointments, he has had a particular focus on expanding access to higher education. In announcing the latest reappointment, Governor Jay Inslee said, “Ted serves Washington State University, his industry, his community and the state with distinction and foresight.”

This year’s recipient of the First Citizen Award is also being recognized for his philanthropy. Last year, he and his wife JoAnne were honored as Silver Laureate donors by the WSU Foundation. They have one daughter; his wife and daughter are also graduates of WSU.

In 2002, the Baselers and Chateau Ste. Michelle established a scholarship fund to support high-achieving, under-represented minority undergraduates at WSU and the University of Washington. The program expanded in 2009 to include students attending any college or university in the state. Since inception, more than 100 scholarships totaling more than $3 million have been awarded. Students in the program, which is administered by the College Success Foundation, have a graduation rate of 85-to-90 percent.

“Ted Baseler has been a long-time supporter of the College Success Foundation helping to provide opportunities for students in need,” said Dr. Yolanda Watson Spiva, president and CEO of College Success Foundation. “For over a decade he has hosted various events at the winery to raise scholarship funds for low-income, underserved students in Washington state, many of whom are children of agricultural workers who otherwise would not be able to realize the dream of pursuing and completing a college education. His Chateau Ste. Michelle Scholarship is an inspirational model of private philanthropy at work helping young people achieve a college education. Over 100 young men, women and their families have benefitted from the generosity of the Baselers and Chateau Ste. Michelle.”

Since taking the helm of Ste. Michelle, Baseler has focused on building a high quality portfolio. One notable initiative is his “String of Pearls” business strategy, where each winery ‘pearl’ is granted authority to make qualitative decisions in the vineyard and winery. That approach has garnered critical acclaim, including Wine Spectator magazine’s coveted No. 1 Wine in the World title for 2009.

Ste. Michelle is currently the third largest premium wine company in the U.S. Its portfolio includes Chateau Ste. Michelle, Columbia Crest, 14 Hands, Northstar, Spring Valley, and Col Solare in Washington state, plus wineries in California and Oregon, and development of an import portfolio that includes prestige wineries from five countries.

Baseler holds a bachelor’s degree from The Edward R. Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University and a Master of Science degree in advertising from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. He was inducted into the WSU Murrow College Hall of Achievement in 2007. He led the efforts to develop a world class Enology and Viticulture program at WSU, working with the State Legislature for funding.

Baseler has earned several other awards. Earlier this year Southern Wine & Spirits of America presented him with its Lifetime Achievement Award for his “visionary guidance, creative innovation and strong leadership skills…(which) have been key drivers in solidifying Washington state’s position as the second largest wine region in the U.S.”

Prior to working at the winery, he had a successful career as a creative marketer of consumer packaged goods at ad agencies J. Walter Thompson, Chiat Day and Cole & Weber. He was named one of the top marketing professionals in the country by Advertising Age and “Man of the Year” by the Wine Enthusiast. In 2013, he was named by his peers to Vineyard Winery Management’s list of “20 Most Admired People in the North American Wine Industry.

Learn more about the First Citizen Award and Banquet.


  • Val Towler, Director of Membership & Communications, (425) 974-1015
  • Roni Strupat, Event Chair, (206) 999-8108