PROSSER, Wash. – Coyote Canyon Winery, which relies on estate fruit from one of Washington state’s largest vineyards in the Horse Heaven Hills, has hired a new winemaker.
Longtime rancher Mike Andrews named Justin Michaud to replace John Gabriel on a full-time basis at his winery in Prosser and produce wines under his Canyon Canyon and H/H Estates brands.
“We’re just really excited about Justin,” Andrews told Great Northwest Wine. “He brings a lot of expertise plus experience, and he wants to do a lot of the other things and be more involved than just the winemaking.”
Michaud, 36, will be the fourth winemaker for Coyote Canyon since Andrews purchased Yakima Cellars in 2006. Gabriel, who plans to focus his attention on making wine in California, has handled the production for Andrews since they moved from downtown Yakima to Prosser’s Winemaker’s Loft in 2008.
“John, he did a really good job for us, which is why we’ve been waiting a long time to do anything while he made up his mind,” Andrews said.
Both Andrews and Michaud applauded Gabriel for his past work and spending this week with Michaud to help with the transition.
“John did a nice job with the wines, and everything that I’ve tasted has been good, so I want to keep them as close to this style,” Michaud said. “I’m looking at past years’ numbers and seeing where they’ve been picking (the grapes) because I want to emulate that style. And this is looking like it’s going to be a great vintage.”
Michaud’s résumé includes several years working in Walla Walla at Canoe Ridge Vineyard, Bergevin Lane and Ash Hollow prior to spending the past four years at Goose Ridge Vineyards in Richland, where he headed up the winery’s consumer-priced StoneCap brand.
Before he left Walla Walla, he and his winemaking wife, Kate Michaud, spent a harvest in New Zealand with icons Kim Crawford and Saint Clair.
“I think this will be pretty cool,” Michaud said. “There’s a lot of upside to this and good opportunities. Mike has great stories to tell and is passionate about it. His son, Jeff, is overseeing the vineyard side of things, and they are spending money in the vineyard.”
Michaud transitions from large production to small lots
Michaud said he’s enjoyed riding through one of the state’s largest vineyards on an ATV, learning when the individual blocks were planted and admiring the size of trunks on the vines. He’s also started to learn the history of the Horse Heaven Hills property, which Andrews’ grandfather worked before it was used as World War II bombing range prior and grazed cattle there after.
“Mike’s a cow guy, and he’s been in the area for so long,” Michaud said. “This is definitely different than any other operation I’ve been with before.”
While this move allows him to continue his trend of working with estate vineyards, another transition for Michaud will be moving from one of the state’s largest wineries that produced not only for its own brands but also did custom-crush work.
“It will be different making wine in a place like the Winemaker’s Loft, which is a shared crush facility,” Michaud said.
Andrews first planted his vineyard in 1994. Cabernet Sauvignon makes up more than half of the acreage, and about 95 percent of his fruit is contracted to Ste. Michelle Wine Estates. Andrews sells to about 20 wineries, keeping about 1 percent of his crop for his 4,500-case winery, which includes his H/H Estates reserve tier – a tribute to his family’s cattle-ranching heritage.
“The vineyard is beautiful,” Michaud said. “The crop level is down. They keep things exposed and do their thinning early.”
There are no plans to expand production in 2013, said Andrews, who produces 15 wines under the Coyote Canyon brand and five reds under the H/H tier.
“As we go along, Justin will be representing us at different places and showing our wines,” said Andrews, a Washington State University graduate. “We plan to do some exciting things in the tasting room with him where the public can come in and meet the winemaker, and we’ll use him for speaking opportunities in the public because he has experience doing that. We’d also want his help in getting our wines into Wine Spectator.”
Michaud said, “The wine industry is more expensive than more people think. It takes a while to start making money, and in the meantime you need to keep pumping money into barrels, so one of the things I’ll be working with them on is to help them with their barrel program.”
The wines Gabriel created for both of Andrews’ labels have been well-received by judges in recent years.
The H/H Estates 2009 G.W. Smith Reserve Malbec earned a Platinum in Wine Press Northwest’s Platinum Judging last fall, the 13th annual competition that gathers gold-medal wines from the Pacific Northwest. It earned its way into the judging via gold medals at the Seattle Wine Awards and the Denver International Wine Competition, just two of the 42 gold medals received at competitions in 2012.
In 2013, Coyote Canyon received a double gold for its Primitivo and seven golds at the Seattle Wine Awards. Coyote Canyon Winery’s 2010 Albariño earned a Double Platinum in 2011 competition after winning a gold at the Washington State Wine Competition.
“I’m excited to work with all these varieties, stuff like Graciano that I’ve never worked with before, and working with a vineyard with a good reputation for high-quality fruit and doing it on a small scale,” Michaud said. “It will be nice to be able to take my time and be an integral part in the winemaking style of it. I’m also looking to get more integrated in the marketing for them and start getting better recognition for them.”