Last Labor Day weekend, winemaker Ross Mickel of Woodinville’s Ross Andrew Winery died in a seaplane crash near Whidbey Island. His pregnant wife, Lauren Hilty, and the couple’s 22-month old son, Remy, were also killed in the crash along with seven other people. Now, Mickel’s friends in the wine industry are working to help his surviving daughter and to potentially carry on some of the work he started.
After Mickel’s passing, the most immediate need in terms of Ross Andrew Winery was selling the remaining inventory, estimated to be two thousand cases. Mark McNeilly, founder of Mark Ryan Winery, has been helping lead the charge. McNeilly was close friends with Mickel and was traveling with the family the day of the crash. However, McNeilly took a separate flight.
Few in Washington have been more successful selling wine in the last two decades than McNeilly. However, state laws provide obstacles in this particular case.
“I can advise, I can direct, but I can’t physically handle anything at Mark Ryan Winery,” McNeilly says. “We can only do that for wines that we produce ourselves.”
Guy Harris, owner of Cru Selections, a Woodinville-based importer and distributor, was also friends with Mickel and has known McNeilly for more than 30 years. He has worked to connect local retailers with the Ross Andrew wines.
“Ross was a buddy,” Harris says. “I’m honored to be helping the family any way I can.”
All of the winery’s portion of the proceeds from wine sales will go to Mickel’s 13-year old daughter from his first marriage. Long-time Seattle-area retailer Esquin Wine & Spirits is doing one better, donating 100% of its profits from the wines.
“Ross was a really good friend of our family at the store,” says Alisha Gosline, marketing manager at Esquin. “We really wanted to be able to do something to help. We came up with the idea to just buy what we could and donate everything to his daughter.”
At Esquin, all of the wines are line priced at $16.99 to help them move briskly. This includes the Ross Andrew Glaze Cabernet Sauvignon, a Pinot Gris, a rosé, and a Chardonnay. For employees at Esquin, McNeilly, Harris, and others in the Washington wine industry, their assistance is deeply personal.
“I was very close with [Ross],” Gosline says. “He was a really incredible human being. We all were just trying to figure out what we could do to help.”
The larger question remains what will happen to the winery once the current inventory is sold. The winery’s license is set to expire this summer. McNeilly, for one, is hoping that the Ross Andrew name might continue in some fashion.
“It’s important to try to keep a piece of this going to at least give his daughter an opportunity to see what she may want to do with it in the future,” McNeilly says.
At minimum, McNeilly plans to add a wine to his lineup named after Mickel’s daughter, who is between the ages of McNeilly’s own daughters and is close friends with them. Fruit for this Merlot-based wine will come from vines that Mickel and his daughter planted nine years ago at Quintessence Vineyard on Red Mountain. (Mark Ryan already has two wines named after McNeilly’s own daughters.)
McNeilly also hopes to produce small amounts of some of the wines that Mickel originally made when he started the winery. “I’m still working through it all with the family,” McNeilly says.
The remaining Ross Andrew wines are being sold at Esquin, Whole Foods, Leschi Market, and other Seattle-area retailers.