Quilceda Creek took time to hire new winemaker

by | Mar 21, 2022 | News, Washington wine | 0 comments

Quilceda Creek Winery in Snohomish, Wash., has hired winemaker Mark Kaigas, who spent more than decade at Napa Valley producer Colgin Cellars. (Photo courtesy of Jarvis Communications)

In a move that was measured, renowned Quilceda Creek Winery recently recruited Mark Kaigas from California’s Napa Valley to serve as Paul Golitzin’s winemaker in Snohomish, Wash.

Kaigas spent the previous dozen years with Colgin Cellars, a cult producer in St. Helena that’s attracted the admiration of NBA stars, inspired actor/vintner Kyle MacLachlan and made critics swoon, having received more than a dozen 100-point scores from publications such as Wine Advocate and JebDunnuck.com.

“We have always been a tight-knit group here at Quilceda Creek and Mark will be the perfect fit with his incredible expertise and similar dedication to precision in winemaking,” Golitzin said in a news release. “I have no doubt that he will thrive here at Quilceda Creek.”

Last fall, Golitzin, president and director of winemaking, returned to a more active role on the crush pad and the cellar. Just a few weeks prior to the start of the 2021 harvest, Matthews Winery in Woodinville made headlines when it hired three members of Golitzin’s winemaking team. Matthews owner Bryan Otis brought on Alex Stewart as his head winemaker, while Hal Iverson and Jesse Schmidt followed as assistants. The three friends worked at Quilceda Creek for more than a decade, with Stewart having spent 17 years in the employment of the Golitzin family.

In an interview with Wine Spectator’s Tim Fish, Golitzin praised the trio’s work for Quilceda Creek, adding, “They were ready for something new.”

Quilceda Creek GM Scott Lloyd referenced that turnover while welcoming Kaigas.

“With Paul in the cellar full-time over the last year, we were able to take our time finding the perfect person for the position,” Lloyd said. “Mark has a proven track record of working in an equally intense and focused cellar and has helped produce some of the best Cabernet Sauvignons in the Napa Valley. We’re looking forward to having him on our team.”

The Southern Oregon wine industry is familiar with the Kaigas name as Mark’s wife, Kathryn, served as the first winemaker at Belle Fiore Winery in Ashland. She worked four harvests in the Rogue Valley starting with the 2012 vintage before returning to California, where she’s been director of wine production at Brasswood Estate in the Napa Valley since the 2016 crush.

Both she and Mark studied enology at Fresno State from 2006 to 2008. Heading up the viticulture and enology department at that time was Robert Wample, an esteemed researcher at Washington State University. Among the Fresno State enology graduates in 2008 was Alex Stewart, and Stewart’s brother, Lawrence, is a 20-year employee at Quilceda Creek, now serving as director of member relations.

Napa influence at Quilceda began with Tchelistcheff

André Tchelistcheff was known as "The Maestro."
André Tchelistcheff was the head winemaker at Beaulieu Vineyard for more than 30 years and later consulted in Washington state for Ste. Michelle. (Photo courtesy of Beaulieu Vineyard)

Part of the lore surrounding Quilceda Creek involves the expertise of the late André Tchelistcheff, the storied Napa Valley winemaker. His work as a consultant in Washington state began in 1968, and the man known in California as “The Maestro” provided valuable insight to his nephew — Alex Golitzin — who founded Quilceda Creek in 1978. Alex and Paul formed a father/son winemaking team in 1992.

“It is an honor to join Quilceda Creek’s winemaking team,” Kaigas said. “I have admired the wines for many years and am eager to work in Washington state.”

Among the duties of Kaigas, associate winemaker at Colgin who reported to Allison Tauziet, will be managing the wines from last fall’s crush, which marked the 43rd vintage of Cabernet Sauvignon produced by Quilceda Creek.

Five years ago, Texas native Ann Colgin agreed to sell controlling interest in her eponymous winery to French-based LVMH Group, whose holdings include Louis Vuitton and Moët Hennessy. In 1992, Colgin used iconic winemaker Helen Turley to launch her brand. Production at Colgin Cellars reportedly doesn’t reach 4,000 cases. Retail prices per bottle range from $340 to $650, and the waiting list — which is managed by Paul Roberts, a Master Sommelier — runs 8,000 names deep. Neither Colgin Cellars nor Quilceda Creek are open to the public.

“I’m very grateful for the experience and mentorship from Ann Colgin, Paul Roberts and Allison Tauziet over my many years at Colgin and looking forward to my next chapter collaborating with Paul Golitzin,” Kaigas said.

Responsibilities ramp up with Quilceda Creek

Quilceda Creek Winery increased its holdings in Champoux Vineyard by acquiring 22 acres from the family at Woodward Canyon Winery in Walla Walla. Quilceda Creek began purchasing fruit from Champoux Vineyard in 1986. (Photo courtesy of Quilceda Creek Winery)

Kaigas won’t be working with Syrah or sourcing from three vineyards within a short drive of the winery as he did in the Napa Valley, and the production levels he will be responsible for at Quilceda Creek more than triple those of Colgin Cellars.

His two most important bottlings will be the Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and the Bordeaux-inspired CVR Red Wine. The Cab from the 2018 vintage was a 5,300-case production that earned 95 points from Wine Spectator and fetched $200, while the 2018 CVR carried a retail price of $70 with a production of 5,800 cases and received 95 points. Quilceda Creek also produces three other wines — the Palengat Cabernet Sauvignon, the Galitzine Cabernet Sauvignon and the recently added Tchelistcheff Cabernet Sauvignon.

Prior to returning to college to learn winemaking, Kaigas, a native of the Bay Area, served as financial analyst after graduating from University of California-Davis with an economics degree. Soon after receiving his enology degree from Fresno State, he worked the 2009 harvest in New Zealand at Oyster Bay. That same year, he landed a full-time job in the Colgin cellar as a production assistant.

At Quilceda Creek, Kaigas also will work closely with Dan Nickolaus, who oversees the Golitzin family’s three estate vineyards in Eastern Washington — Champoux and Mach One in the Horse Heaven Hills and Galitzine on Red Mountain. Champoux has been a critical piece in the story of Quilceda Creek, which boasts seven 100-point scores from the Wine Advocate, a trio of 100-point scores from Decanter, three top-10 wines of the year in Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast’s best Cabernet of the Year. Mach One was planted by Quilceda Creek in 2010 and is the lowest block below the Den Hoed family’s Wallula Vineyard. It features own-rooted Cabernet Sauvignon clones 412 and 685, and Golitzins claim to be the first to plant those clones in Washington state.

Perhaps the most famous is the 2005 Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. It was proved to be the Golitzin family’s third 100-point wine and went on to being served at the White House during the 2011 state dinner of the Obama Administration with China President Hu Jintao as the guest of honor. (It was paired with Dry-Aged Rib Eye with Buttermilk Crisp Onions, Double Stuffed Potatoes and Creamed Spinach by White House chefs Cristeta Comerford and Bill Yosses.)

Last year, the Golitzins gained more control over famed Champoux Vineyards in the Horse Heaven Hills by acquiring the majority of the shares belonging to Rick Small and Darcey Fugman-Small, founders of family-owned Woodward Canyon Winery in the Walla Walla Valley.

The hiring of Kaigas by Quilceda Creek comes on the heels of another Washington state producer bringing in a winemaker from California’s Napa Valley. Earlier this year, Rocky Pond Estate Winery near Chelan hired Elizabeth Keyser, a winemaker at HALL, to take over its cellar and production. She is working with Steve Leveque, a consultant based in the Napa Valley.

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About Eric Degerman

Eric Degerman is the President and CEO of Great Northwest Wine. He is a journalist with more than 30 years of daily newspaper experience and has been writing about wine since 1998. He co-founded Wine Press Northwest magazine with Andy Perdue and served as its managing editor for a decade. He is a frequent wine judge at international wine competitions throughout North America and orchestrates 10 Northwest competitions each year.

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