Januik was in the midst of blending trials on the day of my visit. When asked how it was going he said simply, “Well, I’ve been doing this for twenty-seven years.” Far from a boast it was rather a simple statement of fact.
Of course, working such a long period of time is in and of itself not an accomplishment as much as a testament to longevity. However, few in the Washington wine industry can claim the extraordinary level of success that has followed Mike Januik throughout his career.
Januik first became interested in wine as an undergraduate in college. However, he didn’t get to drink very much wine at the time. “I never had any money!” he says with a trademark chuckle. Like many, Januik started off as a home winemaker. Looking back at it now he says, “I made some pretty disgusting stuff, but you have to start somewhere.”
Start somewhere he did, initially working as a backcountry ranger at Diamond Peak and the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. When his wife finished school, the couple moved to Ashland, Oregon and subsequently opened a deli and wine store. When his wife went back to school Januik decided to do the same, setting his sites on UC Davis.
Januik attributes his admission to the prestigious Davis enology and viticulture program as a “testament to being persistent.” He called the school continuously, both expressing his interest and inquiring about his application. Five people were admitted that year. One of them was Mike Januik. “I think the guy said, ‘If I don’t let this guy Januik in he’s going to hound me forever!’” Januik says.
Upon graduating he started working at the now defunct Stewart Vineyards. Of his first winemaking job Januik says, “We talked maybe about ten minutes, and the guy said, ‘You seem okay. You want a job?’ I really had no idea what I was doing.” Perhaps true but more likely is that Januik was then and remains now an extremely modest, down to earth person.
After working at Stewart, Januik went on to work at Langguth (also now defunct) and then Snoqualmie. Snoqualmie was then, and remains now, large by Washington standards, producing about 150,000 cases at the time. However, this would be just a small fraction of what he would go on to produce at Chateau Ste. Michelle.
Januik describes working as head winemaker at Ste. Michelle as a dream job. After ten years though, he decided to strike out and start his own winery. While he says the decision to leave was difficult, his wife was supportive. “She said, ‘When I first met you I never thought you’d have a job this long anywhere!’” Januik says with a chuckle.
Januik started out in 1999 crushing fruit at Waterbrook, where he made his first wines for his winery. That same year he also began consulting for Tom Alberg and Judi Beck on vineyard plantings at Stillwater Creek Vineyard – Novelty Hill’s estate vineyard. Januik made Novelty Hill’s first wines a year later and has continued to do so in the ensuing years.
For the first few years after he left Chateau Ste. Michelle, Januik continued to consult for the winery. “I think they thought I was going to end up in the poor house!” Januik says. The Januik/Novelty Hill facility was built in 2007, a stone’s throw from Chateau Ste. Michelle.
From the outside the building is austere, almost imposing. Inside it is spacious, beautiful, and above all highly functional. Januik was intimately involved in the design of the facility and the countless small details that facilitate top quality winemaking.
The facility is controlled by a computerized system that provides a graphical display of each of the winery rooms as well as each fermentation tank. Someone is automatically contacted if any of temperatures get above an acceptable level. Januik can check and adjust temperatures on-line from anywhere in the world. Each room also has its own CO2 sensor that pulls air in when need be to prevent mold from forming.
In addition to state-of-the-art winemaking equipment, the facility has a full kitchen and event staff, hosting about 50 weddings each year as well as numerous other events and functions.
The two wineries together make about 25,000 cases with one third of that Januik and two-thirds Novelty Hill. Remarkably, there are over 25 wines across the two wineries. While some might find this level of production and diversity intimidating, Januik enjoys working at scale. “Some people are better suited for making small amounts of wine. I like putting pieces of the puzzle together,” he says.
The results at both Januik and Novelty Hill speak for themselves. Januik has had more than a dozen wines featured in Wine Spectator’s Top 100 lists over the years, and the two wineries have built devoted followings. Of course, to coin a sports phrase, you’re only as good as your last vintage. The current releases below, however, only continue to build on Mike Januik’s long career of excellence.
Januik Chardonnay Cold Creek Vineyard Columbia Valley 2008 $25
Rating: +/* (Good/Excellent) Pale lemon yellow. Light aromas of spice, toast, and hay. A textured, lithe feel on a wine speckled with oak accents. 100% Chardonnay. Fermented and aged for 10 months in French oak. 751 cases produced. Sampled at 58 degrees.
Januik Riesling Bacchus Vineyard Columbia Valley 2009 $NA
Rating: + (Good) Very pretty aromas of mango, floral notes, peach, and spice. The palate is full of pineapple and other tropical fruit flavors. 250 cases produced.
Januik Merlot Columbia Valley 2007 $25
Rating: * (Excellent) Dark in color. Abundant red fruit-driven aromatics of bright raspberries, currant, and spice on a compellingly aromatic wine. Taste is plush and full of chewy fruit with soft tannins. 95% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 1% Cabernet Franc. Ciel du Cheval, Conner Lee, Klipsun and Weinbau vineyards. Aged 18 months in French oak. 1,251 cases produced.
Januik Merlot Klipsun Vineyard Red Mountain 2008 $30
Rating: */** (Excellent/Exceptional) Dark in color. Arresting aromatics of pure, high toned red fruit, earth, mineral, and floral notes. A hedonistically rich wine with dense, rich, silky fruit and fine grained, restrained tannins. A wine with an exceptionally long life ahead of it. 98% Merlot, 2% Cabernet Sauvignon. Aged 18 months in French oak. 199 cases produced.
Januik Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley 2008 $30
Rating: ** (Exceptional) A bit closed up and brooding at present but showing high toned herbal notes, spice, licorice, and black cherry. Rich and dense on the palate with abundant, penetrating dark cherry flavors and a long finish. 92% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5%Merlot, 1%Cabernet Franc, and 2% Malbec. Champoux, Klipsun, Ciel du Cheval, Red Mountain and Weinbau vineyards. Aged 20 months in French oak. 1,597 cases produced.
Januik Cabernet Sauvignon Champoux Vineyard Horse Heaven Hills 2008 $50
Rating: ** (Exceptional) Dark in color. Dark and brooding aromatically with plum, cherry, licorice, spice, mineral, and herbal notes. Dense with chewy fruit on a richly flavorful palate followed by an extended finish. Quite closed up at present. Give 2-3 years. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. Aged 20 months in French oak. 14.4% alcohol. 377 cases produced.
Januik Syrah Lewis Vineyard Columbia Valley 2008 $30
Rating: ** (Exceptional) Dark in color with purple at the rim. Richly aromatic with char, bacon fat, orange peel, mineral, and toast. A big, opulent, intensely flavorful wine with a persistent finish. Beyond hedonistic. 100% Syrah. Aged 18 months in French oak (50% new). 14.2% alcohol. 15 cases produced.
Novelty Hill Viognier Stillwater Creek Columbia Valley 2008 $22
Rating: + (Good) Just a tinge of color. An aromatic wine with white peaches, floral notes, and honeysuckle. Rich and opulent on the palate with a textured feel and pleasing spice flavors. 96% Viognier, 4% Roussanne. Barrel fermented and aged sur lie in French oak for 6 months. 13.5% alcohol. 378 cases produced. Sampled at 58 degrees.
Novelty Hill Chardonnay Stillwater Creek Vineyard Columbia Valley 2008 $22
Rating: +/* (Good/Excellent) Pale lemon yellow. Pleasing aromas of toast, mineral, buttery notes, and mango. A rich, spicy, silky texture. Barrel fermented and aged sur lie for 10 months. 100% malolactic fermentation. 13.5% alcohol. 1,222 cases produced. Sampled at 58 degrees.
Novelty Hill Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley 2008 $25
Rating: */** (Excellent/Exceptional) Pleasingly aromatic with toast, spice, butterscotch, herbal notes, and red and black fruit. The palate is big and intensely flavorful. A thoroughly delicious, rich wine with a lingering finish. 89% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Merlot, and 2% Cabernet Franc. Stillwater Creek, Alder Ridge, Weinbau and Chandler’s Reach vineyards. 14.4% alcohol. 4,846 cases produced.
Novelty Hill Merlot Columbia Valley 2007 $22
Rating: +/* (Good/Excellent) Toasty aromas of butterscotch, red currant, and blueberries. Rich and luscious on the palate with an exquisite balance of fruit and barrel providing a textured feel. A quality-to-price-ratio winner.
Photographs courtesy of Januik/Novelty Hill.