We first met Andrew Januik last year when we were interviewing Mike Januik of Novelty Hill Januik Wines in Woodinville, Washington. Mike is Andrew’s father and is one of the pioneers of the Washington wine industry. From 1988 to 1999, Mike was the winemaker at Chateau Ste. Michelle where he excelled and made some terrific wines during a formative period that helped to put Washington State on the vinous map. Talking briefly with Andrew at that time, we knew we had to come back to Woodinville and interview him directly.
Andrew is just thirty years of age but don’t let that cause you to think he is any sort of rookie. He first started working in his father’s cellars when he was just 13 and made his own first wine when he was 16! He took us (and his rescue dog Colbie) down to the lab and pulled out his last bottle of that wine he made when he was 16. It was a rosé of Syrah. “I made 5 or 10 cases of it. It was a great way to make friends!” he tells us with a grin, a feature that seldom seems to leave his face. “My parents actually found this and another bottle about 6 months ago.” Making a face he says “rosé is not really made to age.” Today his winemaking plate is full: he juggles making his own label with assisting his father with the winemaking duties at Novelty Hill and Januik Wines. And when he gets a spare minute, he jets down to the southern hemisphere and helps in harvests in Argentina and South Africa.
As we sat down to taste with him, we asked about what differences there are in the making of his Andrew Januik wines versus the making of his father’s wines. “I get a lot less fruit (smaller winery) so I can do my macerations in much smaller batches. I tend to do more punch-downs than pump-overs whereas Mike tends to be the other way around.” We wanted to know how that affects the finished wine and how a consumer might notice the difference in technique. “You tend to get a little bit more extraction and weightiness in mouthfeel from a punch-down, which I enjoy as long as it’s held in check” he tells us. “Sometimes my issue with how punch-downs are done is that people can overdo it by too vigorously punching down, or for too many days. We’re making wine, we don’t need to mash it. I usually do 3-5 days, cold soaks and then punch-downs, once or twice a day to keep the cap wet. The nice thing with punch-downs is that we have a lot of control over how much extraction we’re getting. Those wines are a little more expressive of the fruit rather than what you’re doing to it which means less manipulation whereas pump-overs generally give a bit more softness/gentleness to the wine.”
When Andrew was working at a winery in South Africa he learned an interesting fermentation technique that utilizes both wild and commercial yeasts. “I do a lot of my fermentation with yeasts that act like wild ones but ones you can control when the fermentation starts. I usually start off fermentations with wild yeasts, letting that go anywhere from 48 hours to 4 days. Then, part way though we inoculate with commercial yeast. The hope is you get the benefits of the wild yeast without some of the risks like volatile acidity buildup or stuck fermentations.” The Januiks share a lot of techniques in common as well. One that Mike & Andrew are absolutely the same on in winemaking is when to pick – “we’re both early pickers and really want to get that fruit before things get out of balance; catching it at that true brightness of fruit time because certain things can’t be ‘fixed’ in the cellar.”
It was quite amazing to talk through these processes with Andrew. For a man at a young age, he’s very experienced and certainly very knowledgeable about all winemaking techniques. He imparts that knowledge in his easy going way: relaxed, his big grin always present, describing the intricacies of oenology in understandable terms, all while scratching his dog Colby behind the ears.
We finished off our interview with a discussion of the fruit that he buys for his wines. “Being Mike’s son was certainly a help in getting to contract fruit. These growers have known me since I was a kid and that was a big help when it came time to ask if I could buy fruit.” Andrew Januik has two wines in his stable with a third to debut this year. Both of his wines are Cabernet Sauvignon dominant blends. His Stone Cairn draws from three vineyards, all within the Red Mountain AVA. Red Mountain is one of the top sites in the State, located between Benton City and Richland within the borders of the larger Yakima Valley AVA. Red Mountain is a southwest facing slope and is the smallest (just 4,040 acres) and warmest AVA in the state. The windblown loess soils that sit on top of glacial deposits produce wines of great structure, depth and concentration, attracting much critical acclaim. Andrew sources his fruit from three of the best vineyards in the AVA: Quintessence, Ciel du Cheval and Obelisco.
His other wine is Lady Hawk, named after the vineyard in the Horse Heaven Hills where all the grapes for that blend are grown. The Horse Heaven Hills AVA sits just below the Yakima Valley AVA to the north and is bounded by the Columbia River to the south. This is a unique terroir of sandy loam soils on top of basalt. The proximity to the Columbia River helps to moderate temperatures but more importantly, and adding to the AVA’s uniqueness, are the very high winds coming off the river and running through the vineyards. These winds help keep the vineyards disease free but also result in smaller berry sizes with thick skins that impart more flavour. The region is known to produce rich, bold reds with noticeable but sweet tannins. A trove of great vineyards exist in the AVA but the one with the greatest reputation is surely Champoux. Until recently it was owned by vineyard manager Paul Champoux and his wife Judy together with several wineries that were among their biggest customers (notably Woodward Canyon, Quilceda Creek, Andrew Will and Powers). This is the vineyard that produced Washington’s first 100 point wine (the 2002 Quilceda Creek rated 100 points by the Wine Advocate). Recently Paul and Judy sold their interest to their winery partners and retired to a small site adjacent to the Champoux vineyard which they call Lady Hawk. Just 5 acres were planted in 2002, mostly to Cabernet Sauvignon, and Andrew gets to buy it all. This allows him to make a truly unique, one of a kind wine.
Los Molinos (Spanish for “the windmills”) is the 3rd wine he now produces under his own label and its inaugural vintage is set to be released this spring. It’s a Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre blend that is primarily Grenache. He was inspired to make this type of wine from his experience living in Spain several years ago. He had lived on a street called Calle Molinos and fell in love with Grenache as that was primarily what the locals were drinking. We were lucky enough to taste it (see notes below) but the project is so new, neither the labels nor the price have been finalized. As our notes below can attest, we were thoroughly impressed with all of his wines and this brand new release is another exciting offering we expect will see much critical acclaim.
Andrew Januik is a talented winemaker and a charming individual. We dare say his wines will charm you just as much, and we are confident to go on record and say this is a winery and winemaker to watch. The fruit that he sources and the training that he has received from his father, combined with his own unique passion for wine and willingness to learn and experiment, we see this talented young man soon to be recognized as being among the very top wine persons in Washington State.
2015 Andrew Januik Stone Cairn
A stone cairn is a trail marker and is a hat tip to Andrew’s fondness for back country hiking. The colour of this wine is a very dark red/purple. Dense and concentrated, this is a Cabernet-lovers Cabernet! Rich blackfruit flavours of blackberry, black cherry and raspberry are joined by woodsy notes with a hint of spice. There is a slightly rough-hewn aspect to the wine, in a good way, that conjures up smoothness without being polished and made us think of a garagiste approach to the winemaking, allowing the wine to show itself naturally, without any finishing touches being put on it (the effect of punch-downs versus pump-overs?). Ripe tannins offer loads of structure which bode well for long ageing ability. 94% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Merlot, 2% Cabernet Franc and 1% Malbec.
Excellent+ (US$50 at the Novelty-Hill Januik Winery Tasting Room)
2015 Andrew Januik Lady Hawk
Here the blend is 93% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Merlot and 3% Malbec. Almost as dark as the Stone Cairn but here we see more elegance. This is a beautiful, supple wine that has a great balance of fruit and structure that results in a powerful wine that is smooth at the same time. Black currant flavours gain complexity from notes of mocha and hints of vanilla. The finish is long and punctuated with hints of baking spice.
Excellent (US$50 at the Novelty-Hill Januik Winery Tasting Room)
2015 Andrew Januik Los Molinos GSM
This is the third wine in his line up, the one that has not yet been released. A blend of 75% Grenache, 15% Mouvedre and 10% Syrah, the concept for this wine is to be a Washington interpretation of the Grenache based wines Andrew enjoyed when he was living in Spain. Grapes are sourced from Weinbau, Gamache and Stillwater Creek, all pedigreed names within the Southern Washington vineyard scene. Full bodied bright red fruit is backed up with good acidity and black pepper notes on the finish. The slightly candied black cherry notes show the influence of the Priorat style.
Excellent (Not yet released)