Washington Wine History Interviews: Mike Januik, Novelty Hill Januik

  • By Ariana Heath
  • Posted 7/05/2024
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 23008
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After more than 40 years in the wine industry, Mike Januik (b. 1952) can safely say he has experienced most aspects of the business. His first exposure to fermentation was making homemade wine with roommates in college, and his passion took off from there. He co-owned a deli and wine shop in Ashland, Oregon, before returning to school to complete a Master’s in enology and viticulture. He worked at the now defunct Stewart Vineyards, as well as Snoqualmie, Langguth, Saddle Mountain, and as head winemaker for Chateau Ste. Michelle. In 1999, he founded Novelty Hill Januik winery, which opened a tasting room and winery in Woodinville in 2007.    

Early Life

Mike Januik was born in Artesia, California and has spent the majority of his life between California, Washington and Oregon. One of his first major jobs as a young adult was not related to wine in any way; instead he worked for the Forest Service and furthered his love of the outdoors.

Mike Januik: Yeah. So I did other things, but cumulatively I worked as a back country ranger more than anything, both in Oregon and Washington, and did a lot of firefighting also. In fact, I would go on more fires off the district and off that national forest than the people who were in firefighting for those districts, and that's because they really couldn't leave the district because that was their primary job. In most instances, I had at least as much experience as their most experienced people because I had gone to so many other fires in other states and things like that. That was fine. Fighting fires, it's an interesting thing to do. A lot of it is tedious because you can be in fire camp for a couple days before they realize that you're there and they send you off to do something. I once went on a fire in Yosemite, and I was part of a 20-person crew, and they just forgot about us for a couple days and nobody came and got us. 

While finishing up school in Oregon, Januik was able to spend time traveling in exchange for his last few college credits. He ended up meeting his wife Carolyn in South America and they were married in 1979. Together with their college roommate, they moved to Ashland and took over a small deli, adding a wine shop in the corner. Actors from Ashland's popular Oregon Shakespeare Festival were frequent visitors. 

MJ: We did a lot of wine tastings. We had a pretty loyal following ... we were the only wine shop in Ashland. There certainly were a lot of people who were interested. These actors were sometimes amazing. They'd come over in the afternoon on a Saturday, and they'd sit out on our patio and have lunch, and they'd drink wine all afternoon, and then they'd go perform. I was just so impressed that they could remember their lines.

After all three partners decided to go back to school, they sold the deli and Januik began thinking about a career in wine. He decided to apply for the graduate Food Science program at UC Davis, which was accepting only four or five students a year.

MJ: I made a point, and I've learned a lesson from this. I made a point of finding out which professor down there was in charge or oversaw that whole process of accepting graduate students. His name is Roger Baldwin. He's retired, but a very, very famous person in his field. He's a brainiac and he was an accomplished engineer, and he was just an amazing person. But I just kept calling him when I was taking classes and I told him what I'd be doing next. And I think that probably one day, when he saw my application, he said to everyone else, "If we don't let this guy in, he's going to hound me forever." 

Stewart Vineyards and Langguth/Snoqualmie/Saddle Mountain

Soon after graduating, Januik ran into George Stewart, a surgeon who owned Stewart Vineyards in Washington. He offered Januik a job on the spot, and so Januik and his family moved north.

MJ: I had never worked in a winery, so all I had was book learning and actually had no idea what I was doing in a lot of ways. But I'd made a lot of friends in California, and I kept calling them and asking them, "So what do I do next?"

His next job was at Langguth Winery. The Langguth family from Germany had planted mostly Riesling, Gewurztraminer, and Chardonnay on the Wahluke Slope. After realizing those weren’t the most popular wines at the time, they sold to a group from Bellevue, which included the owner of Snoqualmie Winery as well. They combined wineries for a time and Januik took on the role of GM of Langguth/Snoqualmie/Saddle Winery in 1986. Just three weeks after he started they were in Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

MJ: Whenever I needed money, which was all the time because we needed money to buy cartloads of glass and things like that, I'd call somebody and say, it was actually the guy who ended up being my boss at Ste. Michelle, eventually. His name was Pete Bachman. I'd call Pete and say, "Hey, Pete, do you need some more bulk wine?" And back then they were always looking for bulk wine because they had an insatiable need for more wine. And so he's said, "Sure." And so we'd send him a tanker full of wine. And somebody would run up to Columbia Crest, because it would always go up there. And we'd pick up this check for a bunch of money, and we go, "Wow, can you believe that anyone can write a check for that amount?"

Ste. Michelle and Beyond

Januik wanted Langguth/Snoqualmie/Saddle Mountain to work but at some point, he realized he needed to move on. He spoke with Pete Bachman and asked if Chateau Ste. Michelle still had a winemaker position open. In 1990, he became the head winemaker for Chateau Ste. Michelle and was responsible for all white and red wines. After nine years, he began toying with the idea of leaving Chateau Ste. Michelle and starting his own winery. In 1999, he made the move. Januik was proud of the work he had done at Ste. Michelle, but it was time for a new adventure.

MJ: I got to collaborate with the Antinoris. I'm the person who started the Col Solare thing, the wine making part of it at least. Others were involved with coming up with the relationship with Antinori. But I'm the person who worked on all of those early blends from '95, '96, '97, '98, with Antinori's winemaker Lorenzo Cartirello. And I also, I shouldn't go into this, but there was another collaboration for Pichon Lalande that actually didn't go anywhere, but I worked with the winemaker from Pichon Lalande.

Januik and his wife Carolyn had previously discussed starting their own winery before he officially left Chateau Ste. Michelle.

MJ: We had created an LLC in the summer of 1999. I had known then we were leaving. And raised money from mostly family members to help us do it. When I was trying to decide whether I wanted to do this or not, because it's a struggle to say it was a great job a lot of ways, in many ways. So one day I was at home and I was going, "Should I do it? Shouldn't I do it? Should I do it? Shouldn't I do it?" My wife looked at me, and this will always be very clear in my mind. She looked at me and she said, "I don't know what the big deal is. When I first met you, I never thought you'd have a job this long anywhere."

Novelty Hill Januik Winery

In December 1999, Januik met Tom Alberg, who worked at Madrona Venture Group. Alberg's family owned Novelty Hill Winery, as well as additional property in Eastern Washington that they were interested in turning into a vineyard. Januik brought viticulturists from Chateau Ste. Michelle to look at the property and they turned it into Stillwater Creek Vineyard.

MJ: That was December of '99. We planted the first grapes in the spring of 2000. I was able to set Tom up with the people over there in Eastern Washington who could do the actual work and manage it. I said at some point, "Tom, maybe you should make a little wine for me." We made a small amount of wine in 2000 and some more in 2001. And then Tom said, "You sure are driving a long way to do this. Why don't we find the space [in Western Washington]?" We originally had talked about building a winery out the Snoqualmie Valley. The Albergs have an organic farm in the Snoqualmie Valley called Oxbow Farm. And it's actually a non-profit farm that is focused on elementary school education. It's a really cool concept.

Januik and Alberg found property in Woodinville that could house their winery and warehouse space. They purchased the site in 2003 and began meeting with architects to discuss design styles with some idea already of what they wanted.

MJ: I love the idea of concrete because it's inert, it's easy to clean. Because downstairs we're spraying water everywhere and it really is the best material that you can use in winery operation as far as winemaking goes. 

MJ: But the architects that did it as a group called Mithun. They're the ones who've done most of the REIs and done the store in downtown Seattle originally. Very forward-thinking set of architects. And when we finished in 2007, they started bringing in photographers to shoot everything, and they submitted it to the American Institute of Architects, because every year it recognizes certain projects for both interior and exterior architecture. This was one of the seven projects from around the country, not just wineries but everything, that was recognized for its interior architecture. 

Novelty Hill Januik was also recognized for best non-industrial tilt up concrete use at the Washington State Concrete Convention, even competing with projects such as the Tacoma Narrows Bridge and the third runway at SeaTac Airport.

The Winery and Industry Today

As of 2024, Januik still works at the winery every day, often picking up smaller tasks or consulting with both of the winemakers at Novelty Hill Januik. He said he feels good about the general direction the winery is going. Having a good distribution program was not only important during the COVID pandemic, but also during dips in sales, as occurred in 2024. Januik learned the value of employees during the shutdown.

MJ: I think it's the value of treating employees well. We were able to keep ... Everyone who was full-time, we were able to keep them employed. We were determined. We have a certain number of full-time employees who are benefited and everything. Then we have part-time people who work in the tasting room on the weekends, people who do events a few days a week, that sort of thing. We were able to keep everyone. We had one person who was part-time who didn't want to stay because she didn't want to be around everyone because she had a sister who was pregnant and she didn't want to be around her pregnant, which I understood. But it's important to do whatever you can for employees.

Januik approaches the future of his business with a realistic lens but believes that Novelty Hill Januik will do well.

MJ: I see it doing just fine. Although, I've seen other periods over those 40 years when wineries have come and gone, and I see that continuing. I think you have to approach it as a business and approach it in a realistic way. And I don't think you can just say, "Oh, I like the idea of making wine, so I'm going to make it." And not answering the next question, well, how are you going to sell it? Are you going to be able to sell it enough to cover the cost of your business? And it really is a business that people romanticize a lot more than a lot of other businesses. But the majority of people will figure it out, and they have to, because we have so many grapes growing in Eastern Washington.

The process has always been Januik's favorite part of the industry.

MJ: I like the process. Process has always been fascinating to me. I think of when I was up at Snoqualmie and I'd be up there all night long making wine with Charlie Hoppes, and we'd be pumping over reds at 3 in the morning because we didn't have anyone else to do it. And I was probably 31 or 32 years old and I could do it. I miss that. I miss having the vitality to be able to do all of that stuff. So that's the part that becomes hard as you get older. But I still like that part. I like the idea that we're providing work for people. 

Januik's advice for those looking to get into the wine industry: Combine passion with knowledge.

MJ: I guess you don't need to study it in college. I know that it's helpful. With somebody like [son] Andrew, he took a lot of chemistry in college, and so, even from the beginning I could talk to him about certain things that we were doing and what it meant in a chemical way, and he understood what I was talking about. So, he didn't have to go to Davis. But his family also owned a winery. It seems much less important up here, but also, the majority of these wineries that are opening are being started by people who want to make the wines themselves. So, I would say that, if you're not going to go study winemaking in a traditional way, at least learn something about wine chemistry and that sort of stuff. Because I've seen people do some silly things and not understand why they were doing them or not doing them and didn't make any sense at all. There's got to be a way that you can learn something about wine chemistry short of getting a degree in it. So, I would say, don't ignore the technical part of it.

MJ: But people should taste a lot of wine, too. And I'd say that one of the most important things that anyone can do who's starting a winery is make sure that they define the style of wine that they want to make. And that was an important lesson that I learned from a professor who, when I got to Davis, he was a professor emeritus. He was already long retired, but he was kind of like the father of the program at Davis, and his name was Maynard Amarine. He talked about how important it was to be able to define your style of wine making.

More: Ariana Heath's biography of Mike Januik

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