In 1999, Mike Januik left a comfortable, well-paying job as chief winemaker for Ste. Michelle to set up on his own. After three years—most of the time spent less on making wine than mastering intricate regulations, filling out endless state and federal forms, trying to set up distribution deals in other states, and hauling his products round to wineshops in the trunk of his family car—how's independence looking? "Put it this way," Januik said over iced coffee last week, "somebody from one of the big operations called me up a little while back to feel me out about becoming their manager of vineyard operations. 'Tired of what you're doing yet?' he asked me; 'Not that tired,' I said." The pressure of running his one-man operation abated in one area recently: With his latest release, a 2000 syrah, Januik officially moved winery operations from Walla Walla to a new facility near Woodinville. Avoiding a frequent 275-mile commute gives him more time to work on getting his wines on the lists at top restaurants (they're currently found at Flying Fish, Metropolitan Grill, Waterfront, El Gaucho, and Rover's, among others) and opening new export markets (Colorado recently joined the list, New York's on the launch pad). An output topping out at about 3,000 cases annually doesn't provide lavish support for a family of four, even when the contents retail for $30 a bottle and up. So Januik also takes on some consulting gigs. One of them led in a direction he never anticipated when he struck out on his own. "Back in '99, my brother-in-law introduced me to a guy named Tom Alberg, whose family owned a piece of property in Eastern Washington; they'd had it 45 years and never farmed it. Tom liked wine and suspected the property might be suitable for grapes. I went over to look at it and agreed completely." Alberg, a venture capitalist by trade, spared no expense creating his new 150-acre Stillwater Creek vineyard. The site in the remote Frenchman Hills is planted in multiple clones of the most promising vine varieties, including all five classic Bordeaux strains, chardonnay, and five acres of Washington's latest contender for stardom, the white viognier of the Rh� The heat-loving Proven硬 variety mourv褲e is slated to be planted next year. Januik is saving the steepest, warmest spot of all for grenache, a wonderful grape for hot summers but first to freeze in cold winters. Stillwater Creek will produce its first grapes this fall, but Alberg and Januik weren't willing to wait until 2004 or '05 to show their stuff. This spring Alberg's Novelty Hill label debuted with a lively sauvignon blanc made from grapes from the celebrated Klipsun Vineyard on the west slopes of Red Mountain near Richland. More are in the pipeline. Keep your palate honed.

comments powered by Disqus

Friends to Follow