You can bet Craig Mitrakul, one of the region’s most prolific and awarded winemakers, celebrated the New Year with some bubbly from Karma Vineyards.
Mitrakul, of Wenatchee, was hired as head winemaker for Karma Vineyards at Lake Chelan and scheduled to start at the first of the year.
Mitrakul was formerly winemaker for Ryan Patrick Vineyards in Cashmere and Saint Laurent Estate Winery in Malaga. He’s also winemaker and owner of his own small winery, Crayelle Cellars, which has a tasting room in Cashmere.
Ryan Patrick was recently sold to Wahluke Wine Co. in Mattawa. Joshua Maloney, Wahluke’s head winemaker, will take control of Ryan Patrick’s wines. Bryan Mrachek will take over winemaking for Saint Laurent. Mitrakul said he’s been involved the last few months with moving Ryan Patrick’s winery and training Mrachek to take over at Saint Laurent, which is owned by Bryan’s parents, Mike and Laura Mrachek.
“It’s been a great experience working for two good companies and helping set up two wine facilities,” said Mitrakul, 39.
Mitrakul said he’s excited at the opportunity to work at Karma, one of few wineries in the state that makes sparkling wines. Karma is owned by Julie and Bret Pittsinger. Karma’s wines have previously been made under the direction of consulting winemaker Ray Sandidge. Sandidge will continue as winemaker for Lake Chelan Winery and his own C.R. Sandidge Wines.
Karma makes a dozen wine varieties of premium red and white wines, including its Methode Champenoise sparkling wine made from chardonnay and pinot noir. Grapes come from Karma’s own vineyards on Lake Chelan as well as vineyards in the Wahluke Slope and Snipes Mountain growing areas.
“I’m looking forward to working at one location and having a little more focus. It’s been awhile since I’ve had a chance to work with sparkling wines. I think it’s a great niche for the Lake Chelan area,” he said. Mitrakul said he will also have a chance to do more work in Karma’s 14-acre vineyard, which will allow him more control of the wine from beginning to end.
The last time he worked with champagne-style wines was during his first head winemaking job in the Finger Lakes region of upper New York state. Mitrakul, who earned his master’s degree in food science at Cornell University, has also worked for Rosemount Estates in Australia, Ponzi Vineyard in Oregon and Chateau Ste. Michelle Winery in Patterson, Wash.
He was working with acclaimed winemaker Holly Turner at Three Rivers Winery in Walla Walla when he was offered the winemaker position at Ryan Patrick in 2004. Famed winemaker Charlie Hoppes was consulting for Ryan Patrick at the time and recommended Mitrakul be hired for the job.
The Seattle-based wine blog Winefoot named Mitrakul as one of the top 10 Washington winemakers to watch in the coming years. “Craig’s philosophy of making food-friendly, age-worth wines have really gone under the radar for the most part,” wrote bloggers Duane Pemberton and Sarah Bagdon (who used to work with Mitrakul at Saint Laurent) in a Dec. 6 entry.
Also on Winefoot’s top 10 list were Shane Collins at Tsillan Cellars and Dean and Heather Neff, owner-winemakers of Nefarious Cellars, two other Lake Chelan wineries.
Washington wines continue to make a good impression on the world’s wine critics.
Wine Enthusiast, one of the nation’s leading wine magazines, released its list of the worlds top 100 wines last month. Number three on their list was a 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon from Leonetti Cellar in Walla Walla. WE’s reviews of more than 16,000 world wines also gave the Leonetti cab the highest point score of any wine on its top shelf list, 98.
Another Walla Walla wine, a 2008 Cayuse Cailoux Syrah, was number 16 on the list and had an impressive 97 point score.
Perhaps most impressive to local readers will be the DeLille Cellars 2009 Estate Blanc Bordeaux Style White Blend at number 16, and the 2009 Chateau Ste. Michelle & Dr. Loosen Eroica Riesling at number 42 on the list. Both were made from Columbia Valley grapes. Jones of Washington and Tsillan Cellars are among local vineyards contributing to the long-lauded Eroica Riesling, which reviewers said gets better and better with every vintage.
This is the time of year all those fat wine magazines post their lists of favorite wines. Wine Spectator also included several Washington wines on its list of the world’s top 100, including a 2007 Baer Ursa at number 6. The Woodinville winery uses Columbia Valley-grown merlot and cabernet franc grapes for the wine.
Wine Enthusiast’s Top 100 Best Buys and Top 100 Cellar Selections also featured some great Washington wines. No NCW wineries on these lists yet, but it’s just a matter of time.
Tsillan Cellars, the classy Italian winery and vineyard overlooking Lake Chelan, is adding an enclosed special events pavilion to its Tuscan-tiled attractions.
Dr. Bob Jankelson, the winery’s owner, said the facility features glass walls that will let in the sun yet keep out wind and cold. It will add more comfort and reliability for large events like weddings, concerts and large dinners. The folding glass walls can be opened during warmer months to take in the clean lake air.
“The unique Italian structure is designed to let the glory of a beautiful Chelan day fill the entire room, which can be quickly transformed to an elegant enclosed venue when desired,” according to the winery’s fall newsletter. The indoor-outdoor pavilion will have radiant floor heating and a huge Italian fireplace.
The building will have a tile roof and large clock tower to match the bell tower on the existing tasting room and gift shop, he said.
“I describe it as an elegant glass house surrounded by the Italian gift box the house came in,” Jankelson said about the new building.
Construction began in October and should be completed next summer. Harkey Construction & Development, Inc. of Chelan is the general contractor.
The addition is a bold vote of confidence in the valley’s wine-fueled future, he admitted.
“One of the secrets of success here, besides growing good grapes, is that we provide an experience. It’s the full package here,” Jankelson said, noting that several Lake Chelan wineries do a great job of hosting events and dinners that offer a whole day or evening of fun.
“You have to have conviction that if you build it they will come,” he said. “I have good faith in the future of Chelan. There’s a huge future here, and it’s just starting.”
Lake Chelan Winery took Best of Show at the Okanogan-Omak Rotary’s 13th Annual Wine and Cheese Tasting and Auction Nov. 12 at the Okanogan County Fairgrounds Agriplex.
The winery’s 2008 Merlot was the top prize winner out of 66 wines that were judged during the event. The Best of Show is a people’s choice award and was determined by ballot during the event, said Ralph Malone, Rotary spokesman.
The award was presented to Lake Chelan Winery owner Steve Kludt by Eugenie Cottu, a Rotary exchange student from Brittany, France. The Rotary Club sponsors the youth exchange program. Funds from the annual wine and cheese event are used for several community and international projects.