More About Novelty Hill Winery
Januik, whose feats as a winemaker have graced
the pages of this publication (Wine Advocate)
for years due to his tremendous work at Chateau
Ste. Michelle until 1999, is now master of
his own destiny . . . he
quickly catapulted this (Januik Winery) small operation
to the forefront of Washington State's
producers. . .winemaker Mike Januik is a magician
with Merlot." Robert Parker's The Wine
Novelty Hill Winery has it all
going in the right direction. Consider this:
-- A talented winemaker
in Mike Januik, who has more than a quarter-century
of Washington wine harvests under his belt.
-- Estate grapes from Stillwater Creek in the
Frenchman Hills. This is one of the state's
best new vineyards.
-- A great package and modest prices."
The only thing Novelty Hill lacks is a great
facility (the winery is in an industrial park
in Woodinville, Wash.). But wait! Novelty Hill
is building a destination winery with gardens
on a four-acre parcel next to Columbia Winery
(across the street from Ste. Michelle). Plans
are to have it finished by next summer."
- Wine Press
Moonlighting vintners let passion, not profit, drive their hobby
By Kristina Shevory,
Seattle Times Eastside business reporter
reprinted with permission
Tom Alberg, one of the early investors in Amazon.com and a managing partner
at Madrona Venture Group, is used to earning millions.
But at Novelty Hill Winery, which he founded in 2000, he's content with
losing money while he learns how to make wine.
"I've had a bunch of people ask me, 'Can you make money at it?' and
I tell them I project some day it will make money," Alberg, 63, said. "But
this is not a vanity winery where I'll have fun
and get rid of it after several years. This is
a good, family-owned business, and we'll see
what the next generation will do for it."
Alberg is among a growing number of business professionals who are starting
their own wineries and turning a hobby into a full-time job. Part-time
winemakers are fueling the growth of wineries in the state, which jumped
20 percent last year to 250 wineries. The exact number of hobbyist winemakers
in the state is not available.
In California, they are more likely to be venture capitalists and high-tech
business owners who operate with a hands-off approach to winemaking. In
Washington state, however, new winery owners are more likely to include
doctors, used-car dealers and ranchers who take a hands-on approach.
Hobbyists started Washington wineries that now are some of the most well-known
in the state: Leonetti Cellars, Woodward Canyon Winery and Quilceda Creek
Vintners were founded in the late 1970s and early '80s by amateurs who
later retired from their day jobs to work full time at their wineries.
The current generation of winery owners who
have other full-time jobs include Mark Newton
at DiStefano Winery, a product-development
manager at Microsoft; Denise and Brett Isenhower,
pharmacists who co-own Isenhower Cellars; and
Michael Manz, a child psychiatrist who makes
wine at Mountain Dome Winery.
"People like Tom Alberg are a little different from the tech investors
in California," said Steve Burns, executive director of the Washington
Wine Commission. "Many people in California
are hands-off about their wineries and only talk
about them at cocktail parties on the weekends,
but that's not the case with Washington."
Days jobs or no, the state's moonlight winemakers
give up lots of free time to be at their wineries.
"I don't think a day goes by that I don't talk to (Alberg) or someone
from his office about the winery," said Mike Januik, Novelty Hill's
consulting winemaker and owner of Januik Winery. "This
is a winery, but it's also a business operation."
Newton started DiStefano 20 years ago in a basement
under a Christian bookstore in Ballard. Since
then, he's hired five employees and upgraded
to an antique-filled winery with a dining room
lit with candle chandeliers, but he still spends
most of his leisure time there. He communicates
with his staff, four of whom have other jobs,
by e-mail and phone.
"I've worked full time the entire time I've had the winery," Newton
said. "When most people go home to watch
TV or go to a ballgame, I go to the winery.
"I have golf clubs and used to play a lot. But
if I have a choice between playing golf, sailing, or
making wine, I'd rather make wine."
Newton's devotion has earned his winery high
scores for its cabernet, syrah, merlot and cabernet
Alberg's wines also have gotten critics' attention.
His first wine, a sauvignon blanc released in
April 2002, landed high scores from wine critics
and quickly distinguished Novelty Hill from its
He followed that hit with a critically acclaimed
merlot, chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon and
plans to release a syrah next year. He's increased
production from 800 cases in 2000 to 5,000 cases
in 2002, a number Alberg wants to triple in five
years as he eyes national distribution of his
Behind that success is Januik, former head winemaker
at Chateau Ste. Michelle.
Novelty Hill winery grew out of a dinner-party
conversation between Alberg and Januik four years
ago. Alberg and his family had long suspected
that their 300 acres of Columbia Valley land
would make an excellent vineyard but they had
let it remain fallow for more than 30 years.
Januik offered to tour the site, found it suitable
for grape growing and started planting vines
The two, along with Alberg's wife, Judi Beck,
founded Novelty Hill that year and started making
wine using grapes from some of Washington's best
growing sites. Next year, Alberg will make his
first merlot and cabernet using grapes only from
his family vineyard, Stillwater Creek.
Alberg's winery, in a custom-designed warehouse
in Woodinville, is hardly noticeable. It has
no signs advertising its presence, is not open
to the public and doesn't mention Alberg's name
on its Web site. But Alberg shrugs off the low-key
"We'll get around to that later," Alberg
He has plenty of time. In 10 years, he hopes
to devote more time to Novelty Hill. By then,
he plans to have a new tasting room in Woodinville
that's open to the public or a new winery on
the outskirts of Duvall, where his family owns
200 acres. King County is considering a zoning
change that would allow Alberg and other winemakers
to build wineries on rural and agricultural land.
For now, though, Alberg is focused on making
wine, not money. He considers himself Januik's
apprentice and consults with him regularly about
label design, winemaking and vineyard composition.
"This has been a fun thing to be involved in and be a part of the
(wine) industry," Alberg said. "It's
completely different than other things I do,
and it's been a learning experience."