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Ste. Michelle graduates launch Schlagel Santo micro-winery
Jeremy Santo and Jason Schlagel have followed similar paths in life and career. Both grew up in Eastern Washington farming communities. Both went to Washington State University. Both worked for Ste. Michelle Wine Estates and the Wahluke Wine Co. Jason even introduced Jeremy to his future wife.
So it makes perfect sense that they would now create a winery together.
The first vintage of Schlagel Santo 2013 GSM is in barrel, and these two young guns in Washington’s Wild West wine industry are ready to see what they can accomplish together.
“It seemed like the perfect idea for us,” Santo told Great Northwest Wine. “We have similar palates and similar interests. Jeremy can teach me about the vineyards, and I can teach him about winemaking.”
The two are focusing their early efforts on a Southern Rhône style blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre from Red Heaven Vineyard on the upper reaches of Washington’s Red Mountain. The 2013 wine – all of 48 cases – is a field blend of the three classic French varieties, meaning the grapes were harvested and fermented together rather than separately.
Their focus is on crafting a rich, bold red, a style that fits with the warm, ripe vineyard.
From WSU to the University of Ste. Michelle
How the pair arrived here is an eerily similar path. That they ended up in the same places and the same time is serendipitous.
Santo, 36, grew up in the Yakima Valley, the son of scientists who worked at WSU’s research station north of Prosser. His mom worked with hops, while his father studied nematodes. Schlagel, 32, grew up on his grandfather’s farm in the Columbia Basin town of Othello.
Both went to college in Pullman – though Santo was a few years ahead. After earning his bachelor of science in biology in 2003, Santo got a job working in the lab at Snoqualmie Vineyards, owned by Ste. Michelle Wine Estates. From there, he moved to Chateau Ste. Michelle’s Canoe Ridge Estate Winery in the southern Horse Heaven Hills, first as an enologist and later as assistant winemaker.
Schlagel studied horticulture at WSU with the plan of ultimately moving back to Othello and the family farm. But first, he needed an internship to graduate.
“I did my internship at Ste. Michelle, not knowing anything about the wine industry at the time,” he said. “I fell in love with it and stuck around. There was a position open right after my internship, so I just stayed.”
That was in 2006, and he spent most of his time with Ste. Michelle as a viticulturist based in the Horse Heaven Hills. That’s where the two got to know each other and became friends.
The pair look back on their time at Ste. Michelle with fond memories.
“That’s where I learned everything,” Santo said. “It’s a winemaker’s dream to learn there. It’s better than going to school. I graduated with a general biology degree, then learned everything at Ste. Michelle.”
He got to work with such industry giants as Doug Gore, Bob Bertheau and Joy Andersen.
Schlagel is similarly thankful.
“Ste. Michelle is top-notch,” he said. “I got to work with some of the best viticulturists in the world. I owe a ton to them.”
From Ste. Michelle to Wahluke Wine Co.
Chateau Ste. Michelle also is where they met Cornell grad Josh Maloney, who arrived from New York – via California – in 2005. Maloney quickly worked his way up through the Ste. Michelle system to the position of red winemaker at Canoe Ridge Estate. In 2011, he left to take over as director of winemaking of Wahluke Wine Co. in Mattawa, which is owned by the Milbrandts.
Within a year, Maloney had recruited Santo and Schlagel to join him, with Santo as winemaker and Schlagel as director of viticulture. The pair started on the same day in 2012.
“We thought it was a good opportunity and the right time to make a move,” Schlagel said. “I’d worked with Josh a lot when I was in the Horse Heaven Hills, so I knew what he was looking for.”
Schlagel left Milbrant in January to become chief agricultural officer for Taggares Fruit Co. in Burbank, a town in western Walla Walla County. He also does some vineyard consulting.
Launching Schlagel Santo
Their Schlagel Santo wines, which will be released next year, are made at Wahluke Wine Co. For Santo, that’s an ideal situation, as he can keep an eye on the wines while also overseeing the production of about 700,000 cases of wine during his day job.
The idea for Schlagel Santo has been a long time coming.
“It’s been in the making ever since our Ste. Michelle days,” Santo said.
In 2013, grapes became available, thanks to Damon LaLonde, who manages Red Heaven Vineyard and is a fellow Ste. Michelle alum.
Then another Ste. Michelle graduate, Jessica Munnell, helped with the intricacies of setting up a small winery. Munnell, a WSU product who was a mentor of Santo’s at Ste. Michelle, is now the head winemaker at Mercer Estates in Prosser and also co-owns Wautoma Wines, a small-production winery.
The pair spent about a year trying to come up with a name. Nothing seemed to work until they came back to the idea of using their last names. They have the same initials, so the only decision was who would come first – and that was easy.
“Schlagel is first because it all starts in the vineyard,” Santo said.
In 2014, they will increase their production by 50 percent, up to a whopping 75 cases. It will be the exact same blend as the 2013 GSM. They plan to sell everything direct to consumers, which will help them slowly expand into their next phase.
“Next up, we want to do a high-end Cab,” Santo said.
Keep an eye out for the first release of Schlagel Santo next spring. It is likely to become a highly coveted wine.