Former University of Washington English major Ross Mickel’s path to wine production began a year before his graduation on a 1996 fly-fishing trip with Seattle restaurant heir, Mark Canlis. It was during an afternoon on the Middle Fork of the Snoqualmie River when Canlis asked Mickel if he had any interest in learning about wine from the restaurant side. Mickel says he jumped at the opportunity to learn from the best in the Northwest. While working under Canlis Sommelier Rob Bigelow, MS Master Sommelier, Mickel realized that wine was going to be his life’s journey. With that knowledge, he launched himself into traveling the globe (Australia, South America, Europe, and South Africa) to learn all he could about food and wine.
Talking with Mickel is an adventure in storytelling and discovery. He is passionate about his work in the wine industry and the fact that it requires him to be continually learning and researching. He is grateful for the time he gets to be outdoors walking the vineyards with his Burnese Mountain Dog, Galena, and over the moon about the world of words that his major opened up to him. He says, without prompting,
My English major taught me to think, read, write, and problem solve. Writing is incredibly important to me. I want the language to be right when I compose a letter, a wine note, or an ad for the winery. I write the content for our website, and I write our wine descriptions. I know that I am vying for people’s discretionary income, so I need to create an experience with words that makes people excited to experience my wine. A recent article in Forbes1 cites Time magazine that “English majors turn up almost anywhere.” It is their “clear thinking, clear writing and a lifelong engagement with literature,” that gives them the “word consciousness” that makes copy sing. “Business is all about . . . the ability to capture the essence of information quickly, assess its strategic value and communicate the story with the right message.”
Mickel was driven from an early age. For example, he didn’t take the initial rejection for admission to UW as the end of his higher education story; instead, he appealed that decision and won. And he has taken advantage of every opportunity. He talks in detail about how Professor Stan Chernicoff’s Geology of the Northwest course helped him understand how the soils in the Northwest are near ideal for wine grape growing and how a chemistry class or two was critical to his understanding of the science side of wines.
Out of curiosity, Mickel interviewed many of the interesting people in his life about their careers, from his dentist to his professors, and through their stories, he learned about their successes. With the connections he forged, he met arguably some of Washington’s most highly respected wine producers. At Betz Family Winery, he spent nearly a decade helping craft some of Washington State’s most sought-after wines under Master of Wine Bob Betz. This introduced him to the state’s most reputable and attentive growers from whose grapes Northwest wines are crafted.
Though clearly possessing great personal strength, Mickel is quick to acknowledge the mentors in his life.
These people recognized that I had passion and saw I had something unique to bring to the table. They helped me with my marketing, taught me when to let go and that I can’t do it all. The key is surrounding yourself with an incredible team because their strengths will complement each other’s.
It was under the guidance and support of Bob Betz MW and his wife Cathy Betz that Mickel and his family started Ross Andrew Winery in 1999. Mickel credits his ability to lead a team to the qualities that Business Insider attributes to English majors: “there’s a thoughtfulness” in literature and arts majors; “an understanding of people will affect how you connect to others, and that plays a role in your influence and leadership skills. That’s the secret: connecting and communicating. That’s what English majors acquire after years of critiquing and discussing their thoughts in group settings.”² Mickel recently forged a sales and marketing partnership with Seattle-based Precept Wine (Dan Baty ’67, Andrew Browne ’90), the parent company to Waterbrook and Canoe Ridge wineries; this arrangement enables him to focus on winemaking, sales, and vineyard relationships while his wines gain broader distribution and recognition.
As Ross Andrew Winery enters its 15th year of business, the wines continue to excite and impress consumers and national critics alike. Their production ranges from incredible everyday drinkers like Glaze Cabernet Sauvignon ($15) to a single vineyard Old Block Boushey Syrah ($80).
¹“The Difference Humanities Makes In Business.”
Forbes 3 Jul. 2013.
²“Logitech CEO: ‘I Love Hiring English Majors’.”
Business Insider 20 Jun. 2013.