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Going Solo
A new generation of winemakers takes off
By Anne Sampson

     Mike Januik laughs when he tells the story of his son’s dream to someday run the family business.  “Dad,” the 16-year-old told his father one day, “when the wineryMike Januik, Washington Winemaker and Consultant is mine, I’m going to make a million cases.”

    “That’s fine,” Januik smiles, recalling the scene, “just be sure to send me a check once a month.”

      Januik's smile lingers, as the memory of his own winemaking path that led to the 1999-launch of his small Woodinville winery, Januik Winery.  He had just ended his nine-year stint as head winemaker at Chateau Ste. Michelle, overseeing the production of hundreds of thousands of cases of wine each year.  Today, he finds happiness bottling just 3,000 cases of premium wines annually. 

     When Januik left Ste. Michelle, he also left behind an industry-leading facility, the marketing support of a large corporation, and many less tangible “perks” like the chance to work side-by-side with some of the best winemakers in the world, including Renzo Cotarella of Italy’s Piero Antinori.

     “I thought I had one of the best winemaking jobs in the country,” Januik reflects. “But part of me just wanted to go out on my own.”


"Being my own boss, in every sense of the word,
means more to me now than it did then..."


      Januik falls into an ever-increasing category of independent winemakers who choose to go solo in their quest for excellence.  Some bring a veteran’s experience to their barrels, while others bring fresh, young dreams of making world-class wines.  Some crush and bottle their wines under someone else’s roof.  Some have been tutored by winemakers at larger facilities.  But almost universally, these entrepreneurial winemakers treasure the chance to personally oversee the making of their wines... from the vineyard, to the bottle, to the consumer.

     Januik says one of the most satisfying benefits of independence, albeit one he didn’t anticipate, is the close tie the rest of his family now feels to the business.   

  “My two sons are 16 and 18, and they’re really connected to it in a way they never have been before.  They really think of the winery as being their business one day.”

     But Januik doesn’t share his sons' dreams of grandeur.

      “I don’t have that need anymore,” he says.  “I don’t want to make so much wine that it becomes a chore to go out and sell it.  I don’t see us making more than five to ten thousand cases.”  More importantly, he admits, is the chance to run his own show.


Featured winemakers
in this article

Bryce Bagnall
Marty Clubb
Eric Dunham
Mike Januik
Lynn Penner-Ash
Jay Somers
Joe Wright

      Januik ran his own show in his 20s when he owned a wine shop and deli, before pursuing the degrees and training that brought him to Januik Cellars.  He's happy to be on his own again.

     “Being my own boss, in every sense of the word, means more to me now than it did then,” he admits.

      The desire for independence is what also drives most of the winemakers at the Carlton Winemakers Studio, located southwest of Portland in Carlton, Oregon.  The brainchild of winemaker Eric Hamacher, the Studio provides equipment and space for a small group of wineries who can’t, or don’t want to, invest the money to build their own facilities.

     Tenants currently producing wine at the Carlton Winemakers Studio include Hamacher Wines, Soter Vineyards, Andrew Rich Wines, Bryce Vineyards, Domain Meriwether, Dominio, and Penner-Ash Wine Cellars. 

     Lynn Penner-Ash turned to Carlton when she took her extensive winemaking experience independent, after 14 years at Rex Hill in Newberg, Oregon.  Like Januik, she first learned her craft formally at the University of California-Davis, then through on-the-job training in Napa Valley, and then in Oregon's Willamette Valley at Rex Hill Vineyards.

     “In 1997, I went to the owner of Rex Hill and asked to produce my own label, and he agreed,” she recalls. 

     By 2000, she was bottling more than 500 cases of Penner-Ash wines at her employer’s facility, while her duties at Rex Hill simultaneously were drifting more toward marketing and away from winemaking.  She decided it was time to make a change, and the Carlton Studio became Penner-Ash’s new home.  Today she bottles 1,500 cases of Pinot Noir and Syrah under her own label.

     “The winemaking is all handled in 120 barrels,” she notes happily, “and I can tell you exactly what’s going on in every one.” 

Where they make their wines

Marty Clubb
L'Ecole N
o41

41 Lowden School Rd.
Lowden, WA  99360
509-525-0940

Eric Hamacher
C
arlton Winemakers’ Studio
801 North Scott Street
Carlton, OR
503-852-7200

Mike Januik
Januik Winery
19730 144th Avenue NE
Woodinville, WA  98072
425-481-5502

Jay Somers
Holloran Vineyard Wines
2636 SW Shaeffer Rd.
West Linn, OR 97321
503-638-3676

Joe Wright

Belle Vallee Cellars
Corvallis, OR
 
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      For Penner-Ash, Carlton is an incubator;  she recently planted six acres of grapes, and the new vineyard will someday become her winery’s permanent home. The facility is scheduled to open by 2005 and will be for winemaking only (tastings by appointment).  The new facility will emulate that of the Carlton Studio, and will be as “green” as possible, built with recyclable and sustainable products.

      Many independent and start-up winemakers rely on rented space and equipment, because it’s the most efficient way to get started, both from a financial and a legal standpoint.  The requirements to be bonded as a winemaker make it far easier to use another winemaker’s space, if the two can manage their operations together under the same bond. 

      Januik, for example, crushed his first vintage at Waterbrook Cellars in Walla Walla, then three more at Three Rivers Cellars.  One of the few drawbacks is that all equipment must be idle for 24 hours before a different winemaker can use it.  Next, Januik began consulting for a vineyard project in Easton, Washington, and then with that group’s Novelty Hill Wines.  When he became Novelty Hill’s winemaker -- as he continues to be today, it was a natural decision for Januik to move his own label into Novelty Hill's Woodinville facility.

     Jay Somers of  J Christopher wines speaks of the invaluable trade mentoring he received by the side of Cameron Winery winemaker John Paul.  Somers was still collecting a paycheck as assistant winemaker when he made his own first J Christopher vintages. 

     “It’s really great making your wines with someone who’s been doing it a long time,” says Somers.  “While I was making my wine at Cameron, I had John Paul around to taste it, to help solve problems.  Little things come up, and he was able to say ‘oh, yeah, this is how we handled that when it happened in 1983.’ You learn more” (than you would on your own).

      Somers bottled three vintages at Cameron.  Then, in 1999, he joined forces with Bill Holloran, who was opening a new winery.  Somers oversees both labels, bottling 2,700 cases of J Christopher and about 1,000 cases for Holloran Vineyards Winery.

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      Another independent Carlton Studio tenant, Bryce Bagnall, also dreams of owning a facility.  Bagnall’s career echoes Penner-Ash’s in several ways;  both are UC-Davis graduates, and both learned a great deal about making wines first at Napa Valley wineries, then at Oregon wineries.

      After working at Edna Valley Vineyards in California for nine years, Bagnall spent a year in Europe studying the wines of France.  When he returned to the U.S. in 1995, he settled in Oregon. 

     “My wife and I wanted to start building a little something for our future,” Bagnall explains.  In 1999, the couple planted four acres of pinot noir at Ribbon Ridge, a sub-region of the Chehelem area (currently being considered for American Viticultural Area status) located in the North Willamette Valley.  Unlike Penner-Ash, Bagnall has kept his day job as winemaker and vineyard manager at Witness Tree Vineyard, working on his own Bryce Vineyard wines after hours. (Bryce Vineyard was closed after Bryce's death.)  He’ll release his first vintage, 225 cases of 2002 Pinot Noir, crushed and bottled at the Carlton studio, in November 2003.

      Bagnall opted to go directly into his own space at Carlton, jokingly referred to as his “single-car garage,” because “our goal was to establish an identity through retail sales, and Witness Tree didn’t want to be a part of that.”  Bryce Vineyards has the potential to produce 500 cases, all of which will be sold from his tasting room.

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Last revised: 01/07/2014