Coming from a highly impressive pedigree, Andrew Januik is the son of Mike Januik, owner and head winemaker at Novelty Hill-Januik winery and former head winemaker at Chateau St. Michelle. Andrew has been working at Novelty Hill-Januik Winery since 2000 and slowly has been becoming a larger part of the winemaking at Januik and Novelty Hill. Andrew launched his first wine, the Stone Cairn, in 2011. Despite coming from a highly challenging vintage, the wine was a gorgeous expression of Red Mountain Cabernet.
One thing I have noticed in Andrew’s wine is the strong mineral backbone, yet intense fruit set that is almost Bordelaise from a warm vintage – think 2003 or 2009 Left Bank Bordeaux. For those who desire a more balanced, yet rich approach to Cabernet, look to these wines. His 2012 ‘Stone Cairn’ (WWB, 93) was an impressive wine that will have a long life in the cellar. Similarly, his 2013 ‘Stone Cairn’ (WWB, 93) and 2013 ‘Lady Hawk’ (WWB, 93), were intense and gorgeous bottlings that will cellar beautifully. Andrew is very excited about the future of Washington wine. Last weekend I had a chance to sit down with him and talk wine. He knows the Washington wine industry incredibly well and he has a very bright future as a winemaker. Andrew is incredible humble. He is a really great guy to talk wine with and his passion for the industry really shows. Here is my interview with superstar winemaker Andrew Januik.
WWB: What are some of the advantages and challenges with being the son of Mike Januik?
AJ: Honestly, it is a huge advantage. There are a few things that I wouldn’t say a disadvantage but make it harder. But overall it is an advantage being Mike’s son. It is an advantage because I have been able to learn from him. I started working at 12 or 13 and growing up working in the cellar and so close to him I was always taught at least what we think is the way to make wine the right way. As I have gotten older, our styles have gone in slightly varying directions but still the fundamentals of making the good wines, we both possess those fundamentals. Getting the fundamentals from him has been an invaluable opportunity. Even now starting my own labels and having my first wine come out and having the fruit from Ciel du Cheval, Qunitessence and Shaw [vineyards], has been incredible. I am excited about my wine from Lady Hawk [vineyard]. Even that is a huge advantage because I was just born into those relationships. You try to nurse them and I now have relationships with them but getting into the industry, you can’t fall into excellent fruit like that. The small disadvantage is we do drive each other a little crazy from time to time. We are still a father and son working together and luckily we have a great relationship but that can be challenging because of all the time we spend together. We can get on each others’ nerves. We will always tell each other if we think they are wrong. I think that works to our advantage, to have a degree of conflict, and we are open about that. It is not something we have to tip toe around. If we disagree we are not going to hold that against each other. This is whether we are working on blends or fermentation, or whether a wine is ready. Usually we can find a way that appeases each of us and it ends up being better than what both of us thought.
WWB: Your 2012 ‘Stone Cairn’ was a gorgeous effort that showed the richness and balance of this great vintage. Can you talk about the winemaking behind this wine and the 2012 vintage?
AJ: I was really happy with how this wine turned out. The 2012 wines were really nice. We had a bunch of strange vintages where the heat in 2009 and then the cool in 2010 and the early freeze. We had everything picked before it froze. 2011 was strange and it was cool with the acid levels. 2012 we had normalcy. Everything was even. We had a few cool weeks in September and for Red Mountain fruit this was a really big advantage there. You are getting more heat on Red Mountain and if you have a few weeks for the sugars and the phenolic maturation can catch up, you get great wines. That is what happened in 2012. Right during fermentation we knew that we are going to have a lot of complexity and the tannins are going to be in check. Right away we were clear that this wine was going to drink well and this is a wine that will have nice agability. It is nice to be picking Cabernet at that time, a bit later on Red Mountain. That makes a big difference, doing that in the end of September. 2014 and 2015 it turned out really good but it was picking a lot earlier and the heat was something that we couldn’t have the fruit sit too long. But 2012 and 2013 we didn’t see that as much.
WWB: You were recently in South Africa working at a harvest and also did a harvest in Argentina. Can you talk about what these experiences were like and some of the winemaking or viticulture concepts that you learned from the other regions?
AJ: I worked a harvest in South Africa this year and then last year I did a harvest in Argentina. I think that both atmospheres were laid back. I was at La-Motte winery in South Africa and was at Finca Agostino in Argentina. In South America people are drinking wine at lunch. It is cultural but you have a lot of a relaxed attitude there. Working harvest in Washington it is very high tempo. I personally love that style where you are going high tempo. The nice thing about the laid back tempo is that you have more time off and you are learning about the culture of the people. That is a great reason to go somewhere else for a harvest. The wines in South Africa are different for harvest and they are picking berries a lot more green. You are picking the berries with a lot more acid still in the wine. This is true for the reds but especially with the white wines. These wines are coming in low 3 PH and sometimes in the high 2s. These are very high acid white varietals. The wines from South Africa are typically made in a more reductive style. That is nice and there are some things that I saw there that I would like to start incorporating more. I think having a nice level of reduction in your whites can be a big positive. That means seeing a lot of stainless age. The average cost down there is considerably lower than what you see in Washington for those specific varietals, like Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay.
WWB: Your father, Mike Januik, talked about how you both are constantly tasting in the vineyard, especially during harvest. How does the time in the vineyard make you a better winemaker? How essential was that in 2015?
AJ: I think it prepares you really well for what is coming in and allows you to be picking at the right time. We try to tell people how important to pick when you want the grapes to be picked. If you aren’t in the vineyards constantly then it is a problem. We make it out a few times a week, particularly during harvest. If you aren’t tasting constantly then as a wine can go too far. It only takes a few hot days and then the sugar is at 26 brix when you want it at 24. There can be no tannic structure and lack of acid, so that is essential. Every time I go out I am taking representative samples of the blocks that we use. I bring the grapes back and try to re-create the winemaking process. It is nice to do that and truly see where the grapes are at, even though it takes more work. That is nice to have that structure for making decisions but in the end it is paramount to trust your palate. In the end it is about where the flavors are. If you taste something and are projecting out five or six days without going back out here and tasting then you can’t do that. You don’t know how things are going to change. The one thing with 2015, one of the positives of working with my dad, is that even you have never seen something like 2015. My dad has seen so many harvests that it wasn’t that strange to be picking so early. Sometimes people have notions of never doing something but my dad has already done so many harvests. That was a big advantage for us. If the fruit is ready, it is ready and even if that is inconvenient to your summer plans. It has to come off when it is ready. We picked Chardonnay on August 20th and that was just wild because that was the soonest ever. But to us that wasn’t a big shock because we were always out in the vineyard picking and we knew when the right time was to bring the Chardonnay in.
WWB: What are some of your favorite wines of the world and favorite Washington wines when you are not enjoying your wines?
AJ: With Washington wine I am very loyal to Washington. I drink from a lot of work regions but I really enjoy supporting the local brands. I really love the wines from JM. My aunt and uncle does own them and they make really nice wines across the board. Partly because of how my palate was developed, I stray towards wineries who are sourcing from similar vineyards like Fidelitas and Baer. I think that there is a lot of great Washington wines. EFESTE is another great winery. The thing that I think is most interesting about Washington is the willingness to try different things. People have openness to making and trying new varieties and I think that is one of the great things about our state. Trying Grenache Blanc or something like that is really cool and Washington grows this varietal very well. I love great Champagne and that is one of my great weaknesses in life. I probably drink more Deutz than anything else. For Argentina, I would love to go back there and possibly Chile and go make wine there. I would love to do that and bring it back. I have been trying to figure out where I want to do that and I think that the Uco Valley is ideal. That location is a lot cooler but you get really great concentration and structure out of the wines with bright acidity. For South Africa, it kind of depends on what kind of wines. For whites, I prefer some of the cooler regions, the coastal places. Same thing, you are getting nice acidity and lots of really nice tropical aromas and nice Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc. For reds, there I tend to prefer warmer sites. The Stellenbosch Cabernets like Ernie Els can be really nice.