Januik, Mike (b. 1952)

  • By Ariana Heath
  • Posted 6/16/2024
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 23006
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Mike Januik has experienced most every aspect of the wine industry, from making his own barely passable wine in college to working for failing wineries in Eastern Washington to selling wine in a sandwich shop in small-town Oregon to becoming head winemaker at Washington wine behemoth Chateau Ste. Michelle. In the latter part of his career, he has owned his own winery – Novelty Hill-Januik – for more than 20 years. Over his career, Januik lent his winemaking expertise to big names such as Ste. Michelle and Snoqualmie, but also to lesser-known wineries Stewart, Langguth, and Saddle Mountain. In 2007, along with business partner Tom Alberg, he opened a winemaking facility and tasting room in Woodinville. 

On the Move

Mike Januik was born on December 31, 1952 in Artesia, California. The third oldest of seven siblings, he grew up in rural San Diego County and moved around constantly with his family. By the time he graduated from high school he had attended 12 different schools. "We had our own little moving company, so to speak," he recalled (Januik interview with author). He earned money by working as a paperboy and later as a busboy at the Disneyland Hotel coffee shop. Because of his strong work ethic and flexibility, he was promoted or shuffled around to almost every position, including fountain boy, waiter, and even short-order cook. After high school he left the Disneyland Hotel to begin college at California State University in Fullerton and study anthropology. His work ethic never faltered, however; he worked in the library to avoid having to take out too many student loans.

During the winter of 1972, Januik traveled to rural Oregon to spend time with family. He had developed a love for the outdoors as a youth when his family of nine took camping trips as vacations to save money. Januik found Oregon irresistible. He had planned on transferring his credits from Fullerton to the University of California in Berkeley to finish his degree, but moved to Oregon instead. While waiting to establish residency to avoid paying out-of-state tuition at the University of Oregon, he found an ideal job: backcountry ranger and firefighter with the Forest Service. 

Januik enrolled at the University of Oregon in Eugene in the fall of 1973, played academic catch-up by taking 24 credits instead of the usual 15, and graduated in spring 1975. By the end of 1974, needing only six more credits, he convinced an anthropology professor to let him spend a quarter studying independently in Mexico. While there he met Carolyn McCroskey, who was traveling through Mexico and South America with a friend. Januik spent almost five weeks traveling with the women, and when he returned to the states, he looked Carolyn up and they began dating immediately.

Deli and Wine Shop

Januik’s first interest in wine came after college when he and McCroskey moved in with a roommate, a man who introduced them to wine. At one point, the three of them even attempted to make their own wine, and by all accounts it wasn’t very drinkable, but it sparked an interest in Januik. "So I became fascinated with the concept of fermentation," he said (Januik interview).

In the fall of 1978, the trio needed a change and decided they were going to move from Eugene to Bend or Ashland and open a bookstore or wine shop. While visiting Ashland, they found a rundown deli and their path became clear. Since McCroskey had grown up working in a Seattle deli called the Light Green Grocer with her mom and friends, she had experience in sandwich-making. They purchased the lease and all of the equipment with some financial help from family members. After they reopened the deli, they realized they had room to squeeze a wine shop into one side of the store. Januik’s brother John, a cabinet maker, let Mike use his shop to build wine shelves. "We did a lot of wine tastings. We had a pretty loyal following," Januik said (Januik interview). Since it was the only wine shop in Ashland, it became popular with locals and tourists alike. Actors from the nearby Shakespeare Festival would spend off time at the deli. "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" (Januik interview). Although the wine shop didn’t truly launch Januik’s wine career, he was happy he got to perfect "the art of making a good deli sandwich instead" (Januik interview). Cooking remains one of his favorite hobbies.

Januik and McCroskey married on December 29, 1979. After owning the deli for a few years, she decided to return to school at Southern Oregon University in Ashland for her MBA. Their business partner also went back to school. "And so I thought, 'Wait a second, this isn’t right. They get to go back to school and I’m stuck working everyday?'" said Januik. Luckily for Januik, a couple visiting from California fell in love with the business and offered to buy the shop, just as Januik and his partners had done a few years prior.  

Back to School

It was at this point that Januik decided he wanted to pursue a career in the wine industry. He began taking classes in Ashland and applied for the graduate wine program at UC Davis. He made a point of finding out which professor was in charge of the program, who at the time was Roger Baldwin, an accomplished engineer. Januik peppered Baldwin with phone calls, telling him what classes he was taking in Oregon and what he was learning about. "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'" (Januik interview). Januik got in, he and Carolyn took out student loans, and they moved to California. Januik pursued a master's degree in food science with a focus on enology and viticulture, and took on a job as a teacher's assistant. He was paired with Ann Noble, the professor who helped create the Aroma Wheel. After working with Noble, Januik focused his thesis on a gas chromatographic procedure to identify sulfur volatiles in the headspace of wine.

Shortly after graduating in 1984, he ran into George Stewart, a surgeon from the Yakima Valley who had been at a conference on campus. Stewart owned a small wine operation called Stewart Vineyards and had recently lost his contract with Chateau Ste. Michelle. “We talked for about 10 or 15 minutes," Januik recalled. "And I walked him out to his car and he looked at me and said, 'You seem like an okay guy. Do you want a job?'" (Januik interview). Carolyn quit her job at IBM and they moved to Sunnyside to work for Stewart and raise their first son, Donald, who was born in 1984. A second son, Andrew, followed in 1987. 

Stewart Vineyards  

Januik was excited to work for a winery that grew its own grapes, some of which came from the first vines planted on Wahluke Slope. Stewart Vineyards produced about 100 tons per year, a good first step for Januik so soon after graduation. "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?'" (Januik interview). 

He worked for Stewart until 1987, and then showed a brief interest in a job in Idaho. However, after seeing a few checks bounce, he turned down the Idaho offer and moved his family back to Washington. Around this time he got a call from a friend who was working for F. W. Langguth, a German wine company. Langguth had invested heavily in vineyards on Wahluke Slope, planting mostly Riesling, Gewurztraminer, and Chardonnay, and built an expensive new winery near Mattawa in Grant County. But Langguth's wines had failed to catch on in the marketplace, and in November 1986, Langguth sold out to fast-growing Snoqualmie Winery. When Januik joined their team as general manager in 1987, the Mattawa facility was producing three brands at the same time: Langguth, Snoqualmie, and Saddle Mountain. 

Januik remembers helping to make a late-harvest wine at Langguth in 1987 and possibly 1988, but the Langguth brand didn’t survive. "And three weeks after I started, we were in Chapter 11 bankruptcy," Januik recalled. "I’ve had so many great learning opportunities over the years" (Januik interview). In fact, Langguth was in bankruptcy almost the entire time Januik worked there. As general manager, he would sell bulk wine to other wineries just to get cash to pay for things for the business like bottles or labels. He would call Pete Bachman at Chateau Ste. Michelle and ask if Bachman needed any wine. "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?'" (Januik interview). 

The Mattawa facility was processing about 5,000 tons of grapes (compared to Stewart’s 100) and Januik was one of the few people in the cellar who had worked in a winery before. He worked long hours and often found himself eating dinner alone in a pub, away from his family in Sunnyside. "I'd be up late at night until midnight or so. I'd be crushing grapes all by myself and not the safest situation, but did survive it" (Januik interview). In 1988 Januik hired Charlie Hoppes, who had just finished his undergraduate degree at UC Davis. Hoppes had been tenacious in contacting Januik, which reminded Januik of how he got into UC Davis himself. Januik was determined to give Hoppes a chance. "It's funny, when he got there, the first day of work ever, he wanted to go do something great. Wanted me to know who he is. And he said, 'I'll do anything. What do you want me to do, Mike?' And I remember to this day looking at him and saying, 'Probably the most important thing you could do right now is to go start the barbecue'" (Januik interview).

Chateau Ste. Michelle

Throughout 1989, Januik continued to call Bachman to offer bulk wine for cash. In return, Bachman would pester Januik about the head winemaker position at Chateau Ste. Michelle. By the summer of 1990, Januik sensed an uncertain future with the Snoqualmie group and reached out to Bachman to see if the position had been filled. Hired by Ste. Michelle shortly thereafter, Januik brought on Hoppes as the resident winemaker at Ste. Michelle's Canoe Ridge facility. Januik oversaw all whites and reds for all of Chateau Ste. Michelle. The majority of reds were made in Eastern Washington, and Januik was again forced to spend time away from his family. They had recently purchased a house in Kirkland.

Januik spent almost nine years working for Ste. Michelle and helped foster several high-profile relationships. He supported the winemaking portion of their relationship with Italian winemaker Marchesi Antinori, known as Col Solare, and toward the end of his career, worked with German winemaker Ernst Loosen.

By the spring of 1999, Hoppes had decided to leave and join Three Rivers Winery in Walla Walla. Fortunately for Januik, he had Erick Olsen and Kendall Mix on his team; both had worked with Hoppes and could take over his responsibilities. But Januik began thinking about his own future with Ste. Michelle and toyed with the idea of opening his own winery. "I was in Allen Shoup's office one day, and he looked at me and he said, 'You're leaving, aren't you, Mike?' Which is kind of funny, because he had probably a year or two before said, 'I think you're always going to be here'" (Januik interview). 

After consulting with his family, Januik did decide to strike out on his own, though he agreed to stay on as a consultant for two years to help pass on his knowledge to the next generation of Chateau Ste. Michelle winemakers. After creating an LLC and borrowing money from friends and family, Mike and Carolyn felt ready to start the next chapter of their wine journey. "She encouraged me," Januik recalled. "And she said, 'I'll even help out some.' Much to her regret. She's here full time. She's been here for full time for years" (Januik interview). 

Launching Novelty Hill-Januik

The first Januik Winery wines were made in the fall of 1999 at Waterbrook Winery, just outside Walla Walla. The following year Januik moved production to nearby Three Rivers Winery, where Hoppes had been working. But the first three years of Januik's wine operation were hectic, and once again he was commuting across the state. He would spend weeks monitoring the winemaking in Walla Walla while keeping an eye out for grapes he might want to purchase.

At some point he met Tom Alberg, whose family owned 235 acres in the Frenchman Hills of the Columbia Valley and was interested in planting a vineyard. Januik offered to look at the property, bringing Chateau Ste. Michelle viticulturists and contacts with him. Once they determined it could be a lucrative site for wine grapes, they began planting Stillwater Creek Vineyard in 2000. The Alberg family eventually started a winery, Novelty Hill, with Januik as their winemaker. "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 over here (in Western Washington)?'" (Januik interview). 

Januik embraced the idea of opening a winery west of the Cascades so he could quit commuting. He and Alberg looked at a space in the Snoqualmie Valley called Oxbow Farm before choosing Woodinville, which had fewer building restrictions and allowed Januik and Alberg to build not only a winery but also a vast warehouse on the same site. They found a well-situated property in 2003, completed the sale in 2004, and hired Mithun, an architecture firm known for its work on REI stores. Januik and Alberg insisted on newer construction styles to avoid looking like Chateau Ste. Michelle up the street. Keeping up winery technology was important, too, so the design called for more concrete and less wood. Shortly after the 2007 grand opening of Novelty Hill-Januik – two distinct wineries under one roof – Mithun received an award from the American Institute of Architects for the winery building's interior architecture. The firm won another award at the Washington State Concrete Convention for best non-industrial tilt-up concrete construction. "I love the idea of concrete because it's inert, it's easy to clean," Januik said. "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" (Januik interview).

Januik left the winery's big backyard relatively untouched until recent years. It wasn’t until 2021 that he decided that the overgrown plants and his personal garden would have to make way for the public. A spacious patio was installed. "The most important thing happening down here were my tomato plants," he said. "I had six very large raised beds, mostly grew tomatoes, and I sacrificed my tomatoes for all of this" (Januik interview).

The Wines

The Novelty Hill portion of Novelty Hill-Januik uses estate-grown grapes from the original Stillwater Creek Vineyard, where more than a dozen varieties thrive. For the Januik side of things, Januik focuses on varying and distinct vineyards in the Columbia Valley. He often works with longtime colleagues and talented friends who grow quality grapes. When he decided to leave Ste. Michelle, Januik had an idea of where he would source his grapes: He spent several years purchasing grapes from Weinbau, where he had worked during the Langguth years. Today, Sagemoor owns Weinbau Vineyard, and a few of the original Langguth Riesling vines are still intact.

Januik also purchased grapes from Champoux Vineyards, home to some of the oldest Cabernet vines and most coveted grapes in Washington, from owners Paul and Judy Champoux before they retired. Although Januik no longer purchases from Champoux, his son Andrew buys grapes from Paul and Judy’s small personal vineyard to support his brand, Andrew Januik Wines. Andrew calls the wine Lady Hawk, named for the Champoux’s vineyard in Horse Heaven Hills near Prosser. Other supporting vineyards include Klipsun, Ciel du Cheval, and Quintessence, Obelisco, and Shaw Ridge, all part of Shaw Vineyards in Red Mountain.

By 2024, Januik had taken a winemaking backseat to his son Andrew and Novelty Hill-Januik's other winemaker, Scott Moeller, who started with the winery in 2002. Moeller studied winemaking in Fresno at California State University, and his dad was an engineer. Januik believes this makes him an excellent, well-rounded addition to their family. "Partly because he's a great combination of great at winemaking, but also he can make everything work" (Januik interview). Januik also has high praise for sales director Andrea Slichter, who came onboard in 2009 and deftly steered Novelty Hill-Januik through the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Into the Future

As new wineries and tasting rooms flood into Woodinville, Januik said Novelty Hill-Januik is built to carry on through future generations. "I think you have to approach it as a business and approach it in a realistic way," Januik said. "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" (Januik interview). Januik has seen a lot over the years; he can remember how different Sauvignon Blanc was when he first started, and when the big red wine was Merlot instead of Cabernet Sauvignon. Washington vineyards have zeroed in on which grapes and wine trends people enjoy most. "I think there's a reason why some of those varieties continue to do well, it's because they're innately great varieties. People's tastes change, but I don't know if they're going to change that much. You can change the style more of something like Cabernet than you can its underlying characteristics. You can make it in a lot of different ways, but it still has those underlying characteristics that makes it Cabernet" (Januik interview).

When he was younger, Januik was excited to travel to other wineries and learn from them. At Chateau Ste. Michelle, he was able to take trips to Bordeaux and Italy to learn from some of the best. He remembers those times fondly, but today you won’t find Januik in any winery except his own. Even on vacation, he prefers to visit museums and leave work at home. "I understand why people like to go visit wineries a lot, and I fully encourage them to, part of it because it's good for us, but when you spend all of your life in a winery, that's not top of my list for the weekend," said Januik. "For me, the reason to go to a winery, more than anything, is to go look at a piece of equipment. So, if we're considering buying a new piece of equipment, like we think we're going to replace our bottling line in the next year. And probably, three or four of us, we'll go to California and we'll look at different bottling lines" (Januik interview).

Januik is fascinated by the big picture and how he presents Novelty Hill-Januik as a whole. "I like the process. Process has always been fascinating to me," he said. "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 interview).

Januik encourages others to enter the wine industry, but cautions them. His best advice is: You don’t have to go to school for it, but you need to understand the science behind it. He’s watched over the years as winemakers do things that could have been avoided with a few chemistry classes. He passes along advice from Maynard Amarine, a professor at UC Davis. "He talked about how important it was to be able to define your style of winemaking. And the importance of that is that, if I make a Januik Columbia Valley Cabernet blend of different vineyards one year, the next year should taste as much like that year as possible. And they shouldn't be wildly different, because consumers want to feel confident, when they buy a wine, that it's going to be like the previous versions that they bought vintage-wise. And you can't do that unless you define your style, and by defining I mean really articulating what you're trying to do. And that's something that we've spent a lot of time on over the years" (Januik interview).


Mike Januik interview with Ariana Heath, Woodinville, April 19, 2024, recording and transcript available through HistoryLink; “About” JM Cellars website accessed May 29, 2024 (https://www.jmcellars.com/about); “Mike Januik” Novelty Hill Januik website accessed May 29, 2024 (https://www.noveltyhilljanuik.com/team/mike-januik/); “Wine” Novelty Hill Januik website accessed May 29, 2024 (https://www.noveltyhilljanuik.com/wines/); “Shaw Vineyards” Shaw Vineyards website accessed May 29, 2024 (https://shawvineyards.com/our-vineyards/red-mountain-ava/); Paul Gregutt, Washington Wines and Wineries (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2010), 34, 88, 131-132; “2008 Washington Aggregates and Concrete Association award winners” Daily Journal of Commerce website accessed May 30, 2024 (https://www.djc.com/special/concrete08/awardfirms.html).

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