Hogue, Mike (b. 1944)

  • By Jim Kershner
  • Posted 5/31/2024
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 22997
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Mike Hogue (b. 1944) is a Prosser wine grower who started one of the Yakima Valley’s earliest and best-known labels, Hogue Cellars. He grew up on a Prosser hop farm and returned as a young man to help run the family business. In 1979, he planted a small Riesling vineyard on the farm, and in 1982 he launched Hogue Cellars in a vacant machine shop in Prosser. In 1983, Hogue Cellars made a Cabernet Sauvignon that won Best in Show at the 1985 Atlanta International Wine Festival. This launched Hogue Cellars on a spectacular era of growth and acclaim. By 2000, it was the second-largest wine operation in Washington. Hogue and his family sold Hogue Cellars to a Canadian company in 2001. Mike Hogue continued to own and manage several vineyards; he had always considered himself a farmer at heart, but he was also known for helping launch the careers of several of Washington’s best-known winemakers, including Rob Griffin, Wade Wolfe, and David Forsyth.

Hop Farmers

Mike Hogue was born Michael A. Hogue in Walla Walla on July 9, 1944, to Wayne and Shyla Hogue. When Mike was 6 months old, the family moved to a hop farm in Grandview. Soon after, Wayne Hogue entered into a half-partnership on an 80-acre hop farm in nearby Prosser. Mike spent most of his childhood on that Prosser hop farm. By 1954, Wayne and Shyla had bought the other half of the partnership and owned all 80 acres. "My dad had established quite a reputation in the hop industry as a guy that gets things done, a leader, and he knew machinery really well," said Mike. "And he ended up with the very first upright hop picking machine in 1954" (Hogue interview with author).

Hogue had a happy childhood amongst the hop bines in the fertile Yakima Valley. Later, his father added a cattle business to the farm. "My mom and dad both made my brother and I work on the farm and we understood what work was all about," said Hogue. "We understood how hard people worked for us, because we had to go out and do some of the same jobs they did" (Hogue interview). He said all of that hard work "turned out to be a blessing ... My mother led us every morning out into the fields. And she worked right alongside of us. And when we were playing baseball or whatever, we got some time off, but we worked in hop harvest and springtime work" (Hogue interview). He attended Grandview Elementary School and Prosser Junior High, and graduated from Prosser High School in 1962.

Wine was not a presence in the Hogue family life – in fact, wine was not yet a presence anywhere in the Yakima Valley. Plenty of vineyards were scattered around the valley, but they were almost exclusively Concord grapes, grown for juice and jam.

When Hogue graduated from high school and enrolled in Columbia Basin Junior College, he had no idea that wine would be in his future – but he assumed he would be doing some kind of farming. "I really didn't know, but farming was what I grew up with," he said. "And my dad loved the cattle business. So along with the hop business, we had a pretty large cattle operation" (Hogue interview). So he enrolled in agriculture classes at college. After a year, however, he found himself working a different kind of job, as a carpenter’s helper in Warden, a farm town in Central Washington, northeast of the Yakima Valley. Yet he was not finished with agriculture, not by any means. After about two years in Warden, Hogue’s dad asked him, "Would you like to come back to the farm and farm with me? If you learn this business this farm will be yours someday. But you have to learn it" (Hogue interview). Mike said yes, without hesitation.

"It was a great opportunity," he said. "I sensed it was. And with my dad, we had a good life. It was a small farm, but it was a good life. And he told me, he said, 'This is not a bad way to go. This is a good occupation and if you do it right, you'll have a future'" (Hogue interview). His father was correct, but he had no way of knowing that the future would be in fine wine grapes.

Schwartzman Vineyard

It all came about through family friend Mark Schwartzman, a Chicago lawyer and a wine connoisseur. Schwartzman had been stationed in Germany with the army and had fallen in love with the Riesling wines of the Mosel. "And so he introduced it to the family," said Hogue. "And about that time, Chateau Ste. Michelle was getting big awards with their Riesling" (Hogue interview). Dr. Walter Clore (1911-2003), the Washington State University wine grape researcher, had already shown that wine grapes could thrive in the Yakima Valley. Schwartzman also saw a future in Washington wine – and maybe even on the Hogue hop farm. "And he kept saying, on every vacation we'd go on for several years, 'Why don't you plant some wine grapes?'” said Hogue. "And I had been enjoying the wine, Riesling wine, had been going to wine events in Prosser, small events, and it was quite enjoyable. It was fun. He twisted my arm so many times, I said, 'I'm going to plant you a vineyard, Mark.' So in 1979, I planted a vineyard, Riesling, with no contract, small vineyard, seven acres, and planted it because Mark was insisting I do it" (Hogue interview). Little did Hogue know that this would change his life.

He had planted the vineyard on a patch of land unsuitable for hops. It was too steep, too barren – but it turned out to be "ideal ground for wine grapes" (Hogue interview). They named the fledgling vineyard Schwartzman Vineyard. By this time, Hogue had a bit of experience with growing grapes – he had already grown a plot of Concords, so he used that as a guide. "I planted them like I would plant Concord grapes and then learned the hard way and what not to do," he said (Hogue interview). Through trial and error, he soon realized that growing wine grapes was "almost the complete opposite" of growing Concord grapes. With Concords, he was striving for the most tons per acre. With wine grapes, he wanted low tonnage, which makes for a denser, higher-quality grape.

Riesling, however, is "a pretty easy grape to grow," he said. "You could make fewer mistakes with it and still come up with some nice wine" (Hogue interview). That was exactly what happened with that first Riesling vineyard. In 1980, Hogue hired Andrew Markin (d. 1987), who had an agriculture economy degree from Cornell University, to "get me into the twenty-first century" (Hogue interview). Markin looked at those second-year Riesling vines and noticed they already had a few grapes at their base. Markin told Hogue he wanted to make some wine out of those grapes, and Hogue replied, "Fine" (Hogue interview). Markin had a bit of experience making cherry wine in college. "He (Markin) said, 'Boss, it’s going to cost you some money,' and I said, 'What do you mean?'" recalled Hogue. "He said, 'Well, we’re going to need some glass carboys and we’re going to need a press'" (Hogue interview). When Markin quoted a number, Hogue was relieved because it was "a lot less than buying a tractor" (Hogue interview). At harvest time in 1981, Markin pressed those Riesling grapes and then converted an unlikely little outbuilding – his daughters’ dollhouse or playhouse – into a makeshift winery. Hogue’s daughters had outgrown the playhouse anyway.

When spring 1982 came, they uncorked those Riesling wines, and had a pleasant surprise. "They were beautiful wines. Not commercial wines though, but they were beautiful wines," said Hogue. "So I called up Mark Schwartzman. And I said, 'Hey, we're tasting wines from your vineyard, and they taste pretty good.' 'Well, send me some right away.' And so we did. And he was a man about the town and knew all the restaurants and whatnot. So he took that wine around – homemade wine – and got some real good reviews for it" (Hogue interview).

Starting a Winery or Two

Six months later, Schwartzman came out to the farm and made an announcement: "I think we ought to start a winery" (Hogue interview). The wine industry was beginning to take hold in Washington, but Hogue was wary, because he knew how risky and expensive the venture would be. Hogue asked Schwartzman, "Are you ready to sign banknotes and things like that? You can run out of money real easy in these projects if you’re not careful" (Hogue interview). Schwartzman replied that he was a bachelor with no kids, and was more than willing to take the risk. Markin was just as enthusiastic. So the three of them formed a partnership. They brought in Elizabeth Purser, a Seattle wine consultant. They ordered tanks and everything else necessary to start a small winery.

Purser asked them if they wanted to use the name Hogue in the winery name. "And we said, 'No, we don't want to use Hogue. Don't need to do that. We're not big on that.' So a month later she came back and she says, 'Well, I did some interviews up and down the valley with some people, and I tell you, maybe the best thing you've got going for you is your mom and dad, and their name.' She says, 'I think you should call yourselves the Hogue Cellars'" (Hogue interview). Hogue was moved by this tribute to his parents’ reputation and would later say, "I’m choking up over that" (Hogue interview). They all finally agreed; the winery would be named Hogue Cellars.

In fact, Mike Hogue was launching not just one, but two wineries in 1982. Mike Conway, a friend from Spokane, was working as a winemaking consultant at Worden Winery, one of Spokane’s early wineries. Conway took Hogue on a tour of Worden Winery and agreed to be a consultant for Hogue’s fledgling winery. A month or two later, Conway called Hogue and asked if he wanted to start a winery in Spokane, to be named Latah Creek Wine Cellars. "And I said, 'Sure,'" said Hogue. "In those days, you could start businesses on a dime. You could borrow money easy. And I had the ranch as a backing. So I said, 'I'll tell you what, let's form a partnership in Latah Creek and you can consult for Hogue Cellars.' And so it was actually that year, we started both wineries together at the same time" (Hogue interview).

Hogue Cellars started out modestly. The Port of Benton offered to lease the winery a vacant building – a former machine shop – in Prosser, but Mike thought it was too big. He needed only enough space to have a small tasting room and make at most 10,000 cases of wine. The Port of Benton offered to rent them half the building, and Mike took them up on that offer. During the winter of 1982-1983, Markin made 1,000 cases of Chenin Blanc and 1,000 cases of Johannisberg Riesling, reflecting the conventional wisdom at the time that Washington was best suited to cool-weather white varietals.

The Yakima Valley had only a handful of wineries at the time, and most were operating on a shoestring, and so was Hogue Cellars. During that first spring barrel-tasting event in 1983, Hogue and the team scrambled to make the vacant machine shop – and the wine bottles – presentable. The labels arrived the day before the event and were slapped on that night. "We set up a card table in the front, and my mother was the cashier," said Hogue. "She was using dad's cigar box as the till, I think ... That first weekend of Hogue Cellars, I think we saw 200 people" (Hogue interview). Yet they were happy with that turnout and they told people, "Come back next year and we'll have a tasting room, a bottling line, and tanks to show you" (Hogue interview).

Right Place, Right Time

At the next spring barrel tasting, 3,000 people jammed Hogue Cellars winery. Looking back, Hogue attributes this to "being in the right place at the right time ... What happened was the Washington wines were damn good wines, and the public was just getting warmed up about wine drinking" (Hogue interview). People were driving in from Portland and Seattle to sample Hogue Cellars wine, which was gaining a reputation in the region. Their first vintage of Chenin Blanc won Best in Show at the Tri-City Wine Festival, and the late-harvest Riesling and the regular Riesling won gold medals. They took the same wines to the Seattle Enological Society competition, the most prestigious in the region at the time, and won three gold medals there.

"We had the bull by the tail then," said Hogue (Hogue interview). So Hogue and Markin decided to rent the other half of the old machine shop and boost the production all the way to 12,000 cases. The building had its challenges, since it was not purpose-built as a winery, "but the wines were good," said Hogue (Hogue interview). Hogue also began planting more vines, some on the Hogue family ranch and some in other vineyards. Markin talked Hogue into buying some Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot grapes, investing in French barrels, and making red wine. This would prove to be a wise decision.

In the meantime, it was clear that Hogue Cellars needed a full-time winemaker, since Markin was trying to run the farm and make the wine. They ended up hiring not one, but two winemakers. The first was Rob Griffin (b. 1953), a young and acclaimed winemaker, who had been making wine for Preston Cellars in the Tri-Cities. Hogue had lunch with him and hired him on the spot. On the same day, Markin had unknowingly offered the job to David Forsyth, another winemaker based in Ellensburg. Hogue decided to bring them both on. Hogue was now planning to ramp up to 50,000 cases.

"So Rob was the winemaker, and Dave was the winemaker," said Hogue. "And as it turned out, David stayed home and made the wines in the beginning, and Rob and I, and with other people, circulated around selling the wine. It was a perfect match, perfect fit" (Hogue interview). Griffin was also pleased that Hogue allowed him to make his own wine, under the Barnard Griffin label, on the side at the Hogue facility. Meanwhile, change had occurred in Hogue’s personal life. In June 1983 he married Dora Christie, whom he had met on the 19th hole at the Lower Valley Golf Course in Sunnyside, where her dad Bill was the golf pro and her mother Lucille ran the pro shop. Dora became Mike’s partner in the winery and played a supporting role at Hogue Cellars from the beginning.

Markin and Conway pressed and prepared those Cabernet and Merlot grapes and Griffin and Forsyth came along to blend them and bottle them. In the summer of 1985, Hogue took Seattle Times wine writer Tom Stockley on an aerial excursion in the family’s twin-engine Cessna, where he showed Stockley the ever-expanding vineyards in the Yakima Valley, including Hogue’s own. After the flight, they went to "the cool confines of the spotlessly clean winery and sampled a glass of the newly bottled Hogue Cellars’ 1983 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve" ("A Wine Country’s Coming of Age"). Stockley pronounced it "truly magnificent" ("A Wine Country’s Coming of Age"). Another taster said it "could really set the rest of the wine world on its earsd" ("A Wine Country’s Coming of Age").

A Turning Point

This was prophetic, because in October 1985, Hogue and Schwartzman took that Hogue Cellars 1983 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon to the Atlanta International Wine Festival "on a whim" (Hogue interview). This was one of the biggest competitions in the U.S., attracting 1,667 entries.

What happened in Atlanta, on October 5, 1985, was a turning point in Mike Hogue’s life. Their Cabernet won Best in Show for the entire competition. Hogue and Schwartzman were shocked and thrilled. Within a week, Bon Appetit magazine sent a writer to the winery in Prosser to interview Hogue. Stockley trumpeted the news by writing, "There is no doubt that it is one of the finest reds ever made in the Northwest" ("Red Wines Surprise"). From that point on wine was no longer a promising sideline in the Hogue farm’s portfolio – it was the future. Hogue even noticed a difference in his parents’ attitude. "For the first couple of years, they were very ... well, I would say somewhat critical," said Hogue. "And when we started winning awards and selling wine, they became the best ambassadors for Hogue Cellars. They loved to barbecue and entertain, and they started drinking wine" (Hogue interview).

This success created new challenges, especially in production and marketing. "So then, we have to sell it," is how Hogue put it (Hogue interview). Changes were necessary at the top, because Markin had died in 1987 in a tragic car-train collision, shortly after leaving the winery. Schwartzman died of cancer the same year. Gary Hogue, Mike’s older brother, left his job as CEO of a cabinet company in Seattle, and offered to come and help with the family business. Gary came on as president of Hogue Cellars, with Mike as chairman of the board. Mike hired Dave Copeland as cellar master. Griffin and Forsyth were still the dual winemakers, but they "had their hands full," jumping to 50,000 cases a year (Hogue interview). Hogue was buying grapes from outside growers, because their own vineyards were not yet big enough. He was planting more vines – Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet, Merlot, Chardonnay – but it takes three years for new vineyards to produce.

By 1989, Hogue Cellars had outgrown that old machine shop, so Hogue built a 30,000-square-foot winery next to the old building. Within a decade, it was making "about 10 percent of all Washington wines and was the state's second-largest winery operation" (HistoryLink, "Hogue Cellars 1983 Reserve"). In 1991, Griffin left to devote full-time to his own Barnard Griffin label, which was thriving. Hogue then hired Wade Wolfe (b. 1949), a winemaker and grape-growing expert, to become a full-time consultant and later general manager. Hogue also allowed Wolfe to make his own wines, similar to his agreement with Griffin. "I thought: small concession," said Hogue. "It wasn't even a concession for me" (Hogue interview). Forsyth, meanwhile, remained on as the Hogue Cellars winemaker. Both Forsyth and Wolfe would eventually go on to start their own acclaimed wineries in Prosser – Forsyth Brio and Thurston Wolfe.

Hogue Cellars was growing fast, so Hogue recruited his friend Norm McKibben (b. 1936), who had retired to Walla Walla from a construction and engineering career, to sign on as a partner. The winery continued to win major awards, including a spot on Wine Spectator’s Top 100 list for its Merlot, and a 1994 spot on Wine & Spirit’s Wineries of the Year list. Hogue Cellars introduced a new label, Genesis, in 1998 and announced plans to jump to 500,000 cases by 2000. The winery had turned into a major agricultural and industrial operation. "It kind of ran without me, because we had Wade Wolfe as the general manager … and David Forsyth as the winemaker," said Hogue. "We had our own marketing company and we just continued to grow" (Hogue interview).

Change of Ownership

In 2001, large outside buyers hinted that they would be interested in purchasing Hogue Cellars. Hogue consulted with his family, who thought it might be a good time to sell. The winery needed more capital if it was to grow even bigger. Hogue also consulted his partner, McKibben, who informed Hogue that, "I’d already retired once and I'd like to again" (HistoryLink, "Norm McKibben"). According to McKibben, Hogue replied, ""If you’re getting out, I am too'" (HistoryLink, "Norm McKibben"). They hired a firm to look for a buyer.

In August 2001, Hogue Cellars announced it had been sold to Vincor International, a Canadian wine corporation, for $36.4 million. The Seattle Times noted that "a need for additional resources and marketing clout drove Hogue to find a well-funded buyer" (Dunphy). Hogue had always considered himself as, foremost, a farmer and grape-grower, and was content to focus on running his vineyards and the rest of the family’s farming operation, Hogue Ranches Management. He was no longer directly connected to Hogue Cellars or Latah Creek Wine Cellars, but he was gratified that Vincor wanted to keep the name Hogue Cellars, which had plenty of clout and prestige. The winery went through several more ownership changes over the next decades, but the name Hogue Cellars was always retained. For Mike Hogue, this is a tribute not only to the Hogue family wine legacy, but to the Hogue farming legacy stretching all the way back to Wayne and Shyla Hogue’s hop farm.

As of 2024, Hogue was mostly retired, but he still had an office at the Hogue Ranches headquarters outside of Prosser, only about a mile from the hop farm where he grew up. They had gotten out of the hops business and were growing wine grapes at several holdings in the Yakima Valley, as well as apples, cherries, and Concord grapes. Hogue Ranches was now run by a new generation of Hogues and their spouses. Mike has three children from a previous marriage – Jeff, Barbara, and Leslie – and one child, Riley, with Dora.

In retirement, Hogue has collected most of the accolades possible in the Washington wine industry. He and his brother Gary were jointly named as Honorary Growers at the industry’s biggest event, the Annual Auction of Washington Wine. Later, they earned the event’s other top recognition, as Honorary Vintners. In 2013 he was inducted into the Washington Wine Hall of Fame at the Walter Clore Wine & Culinary Center in Prosser. Yet perhaps the biggest tributes to Hogue have come from the winemakers he hired and nourished along the way. Decades later, both Wade Wolfe and Rob Griffin were still expressing gratitude to Hogue for letting him build their own wine brands while working for Hogue. Griffin would later say that Mike Hogue had "better judgment than most people I’ve known in my life" (Kershner interview with Rob Griffin).


Jim Kershner interview with Mike Hogue, Prosser, May 6, 2024, recording and transcript in possession of HistoryLink.org; Tom Stockley, "A Wine Country's Coming of Age -- These Vignettes Point to the People Behind the Wine," The Seattle Times, November 10, 1985, Pacific Magazine, p. 13; Tom Stockley, "Reds Wines Surprise and Delight," Ibid., October 30, 1985, p. E-4; HistoryLink.org Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, "Hogue Cellars 1983 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon is named Best in Show at the Atlanta International Wine Festival on October 5, 1985 (by Nick Rousso), “Norm McKibben” (by Peter Blecha), www.historylink.org (accessed May 16, 2024); Stephen Dunphy, “State Winery Gets Canadian Owner,” The Seattle Times, August 17, 2001, p. E-2; Rob Griffin interview with Jim Kershner, Richland, Washington, March 1, 2023, recording and transcript available through HistoryLink.

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