Every winemaker eventually learns by doing. Some choose to attend viticulture or enology programs, others learn from work clubs (Boeing’s winemaking club is known for producing some outstanding wines), others choose to spend over a decade working in different sides of the wine industry – restaurants, domestic wineries, international wineries, etc. to learning as much as one can before launching their own project. Ross Andrew Mickel falls in the latter of these categories, but his shadowing opportunities wouldn’t necessarily be described as “standard”, no better words to describe the places he worked include Seattle’s finest dining establishment, an Aussie cult winery and one of Washington’s only Masters of Wine (yeah – a Master Sommelier) who is regarded as one of Washington’s best winemakers. Sounds like the confluence of some amazing training, right?
Ross Andrew Mickel is a Washington native through and through. He grew up in Seattle, WA and attended the University of Washington where he happened to become acquainted with some folks that he probably knew would be extremely formative in his future career with wine – Mark Canlis and Carmen Betz.
As the story is told on the Ross Andrew website, following graduation, Ross was on a fishing trip with Mark Canlis (Which if you are located in Washington – yes, that is Canlis as in the Canlis Restaurant. For those that aren’t familiar, Canlis is one of Seattle’s premier restaurants, did I say, Seattle’s? I meant the West Coast. Yes, it is that amazing of a meal and dining experience). Mark inquired if Ross would be interested in learning about wine from the Restaurant angle. Ross jumped at the opportunity and his introduction to the amazing world of wine was underway. During his tenure at Canlis, Ross absorbed as much wine knowledge as he could, studying under Canlis Master Sommelier, Rob Bigelow. Not a bad person from which to receive your introduction to wine.
I’ll call this time spent in the restaurant side of wine Phase I of Ross’ wine training. Not many winemakers spend time on the service side of wine, but it is insanely applicable knowledge to possess. Learning how to properly pair wines with meals is what fine dining establishments are all about, and possessing the knowledge of what flavor profiles are going to go well with different meals allows you as a winemaker to produce wines perfectly crafted for food pairing. You aren’t just thinking about making a wine. You are thinking about making an experience, or a memory. There is no doubt that Ross Andrew is doing just this with the wines he makes.
So if the restaurant and service side of wine was Phase I, what was Phase II of Ross Mickel’s wine training? Travel.
While the general concept of winemaking is the same around the world, there are different approaches and techniques used in the different regions around the world that impact a wine – this is a big part of what is known as “terroir”. Terroir doesn’t really have a good definition or translation in English – the best I’ve heard is Terroir meaning a sense of place. It is the uniqueness of a wine that is defined by where it comes from. This is most frequently used in reference to the land and geography and how they impact the flavors of the grapes and thus the wine. But you can also argue that the winemaking style has just as much to do with creating a definitive wine style.
For Ross Mickel, seeing the different approaches to winemaking around the world must have been an impactful experience. When you get to see how the Australians, Europeans, South Americans, South Africans and Domestic winemakers each make wine, you’re building quite the background and knowledge base from which to reference when you are making your own wines.
For many winemakers, the knowledge that you gain from working in the wine service industry coupled with traveling the world to learn about the nuances of producing wine within different regions of the world may be enough to start your own winemaking endeavor. Not so for Ross Mickel. More education was what he wanted. So more education is what he got. Enter Phase III – Cellar Rat.
Being a cellar rat is about as real as it can get in learning how to make wine. And spending time as a cellar rat for Delille Cellars (one of the original Washington wineries) located in Woodinville, WA, and then immediately flying to the other side of the world to be a cellar rat for Rosemount Estate (an iconic Australian winery) is about as ideal a pair of cellar rat experiences you can ask for to learn how to make wine from the best.
Again, taking everything he’d learned up to this point would likely have been enough to break out and start his own winery. But again, he wanted to learn more. Ross’ final stop would be a longer one, but for good reason. He worked for one of Washington’s most iconic wineries – Betz Family Winery. Bob Betz is one of only a couple hundred Masters of Wine in the world – seriously, the WORLD. And Betz Family Winery produces some of the most stunning wines you can find from Washington. Because of this cult status, many of their wines can be hard to find due to small productions and list allocations. It goes without saying that getting to spend nearly ten years making wine with Bob Betz was amazing training for Ross Mickel. And it was apparently enough to finally give him the confidence and skills he desired to start his own operation.
In 1999, Ross Andrew winery launched. So what did all of those years training produce? One extremely talented winemaker with access to amazing fruit. While many of the Ross Andrew wines now demand large sticker prices (and rightfully so, when a wine is of the quality that they are producing, earning points like they are earning, and being made on such a small scale that they are hard to find), they also produce wines that are very friendly on the budget and are a wonderful introduction to the Ross Andrew wine portfolio. Believe me, after you taste a few of their $15-$20 bottles of wine, your curiosity will be piqued. You’ll want to know if $20 wine can taste that good, what could their $40 bottle taste like? And let me be the first to say, their wines do not disappoint, no matter the price point.
WHERE TO FIND THEM – TASTING ROOM LOCATION(S)
WINES WORTH CHECKING OUT
Glaze Cabernet Sauvignon ($15)
“Cabernet (80%) and Merlot (20%) share the stage nicely with tell-tale Cabernet aromatics blending nicely with a touch of chocolate and orange peel. Just enough structure to let you know this is Cabernet Sauvignon, but not so much that it needs time in the cellar. Wonderful flavor and spice.” – 2012 Vintage, Winery Description
Boushey Vineyard Syrah ($38)
“2010 represents the 5th vintage working with this particular block of Syrah from the Boushey Vineyard – a block that Dick Boushey calls Goldenview. We are now the only winery that is sourcing this particular acreage of three very unique syrah clones. While there are other Syrah blocks that Dick Boushey farms, they are all shared by other wineries. We are thrilled to be able to source all the Syrah from this particular site.
Floran and finesse driven Syrah. Really cool hints of orange peel and lavender. Bright energy and focus; finishes with incredibly silky texture.” – 2010 Vintage, Winery Description