Venturing into wine
Mike and Laura Mrachek saw opportunities in Washington's wine industry.
Mike Mrachek says their recent lease of a winery in Quincy, with 35 acres of wine grapes, is a perfect fit because it's located halfway between their Mattawa vineyards and their Malaga orchards and tasting room.
Their jump into the wine industry is an example of how Mike and Laura Mrachek turn opportunity and risk into profitable enterprises. "In the mid-1990s, the wine industry in Washington was hot, really, really hot," Mike said, adding that he began following the industry closer after participating in trade shows of statewide wine grape conventions for several years with his irrigation scheduling company.
"Laura and I always enjoyed wine, so we began pursuing the idea of growing grapes," Mike said. He attended a Washington State University short course on wine grape growing and learned about the Wahluke Slope near --Mattawa, a prime viticultural area.
They identified two blocks of open ground on the Wahluke Slope in their search to purchase vineyard ground. The owner of the land they really wanted, Dalton Thomas, wasn't ready to sell, so they put down earnest money on the other parcel. A short time later, Thomas changed his mind and offered his land for sale to the Mracheks.
Answering the knock of opportunity, they ended up buying both parcels—245 acres instead of 120.
They planted their first vineyard in 1999. About half of the Wahluke estate vineyard is in Cabernet Sauvignon, with the remaining 120 acres divided between Merlot and Syrah.
Mike views the progression from wine grape grower to winemaker as a way to increase the value of their wine grape acreage. While working for Stemilt Growers, he said that he learned that the real money in agriculture is in --processing and getting closer to the consumer.
"The real emphasis on having a winery was in returning more money to that acre producing the grapes," Mike said, adding that a winery can be "quite lucrative" but also helps them diversify and minimize risk.
From the beginning, they made sure they had a winery contract before planting. They plan always to have an outside contract for some of their grapes.
In 2003, they converted an old house and barn in Malaga into a quaint, charming tasting room for their wines and developed picture-perfect gardens and a gazebo that have scenic views of the Columbia River. The garden and rooms are rented for weddings and events, and outdoor concerts are held there in the summer.
Saint Laurent Winery was named for Laura's family (Laurent is her maiden name). But they learned when researching the name that there was a St. Laurent who was martyred in the early church days.
Before their recent winery acquisition, they made their wines in space leased from Ryan Patrick Winery in Rock Island. Earlier in the fall, they expanded wine production capacity by leasing what used to be Sunset Vineyards, a winery facility owned by the Stetner family in Quincy. The Mracheks bought the winery equipment and lease the 20,000-square-foot building and an adjoining 35 acres of seven different wine grape varieties. Ryan Patrick is using their facility and storage tanks to make its wine.
The new facility, with total capacity at 70,000 gallons, gives them optimal space for their own production, better control over wine quality and storage, and room to grow to reduce overhead costs.
The new facility—an unobtrusive, metal building—is a production winery, not a picturesque building intended to attract visitors. Mike explained that the focus is wine production. "We make wine here—it's not a show. This is not a hobby for us, it's a business."
Mike has plans to expand their wine business by producing bulk wines from their vineyards and also custom crush and cellar wines for other wineries. "We know we can't sell all of our wines out of the tasting room," he said. "We want to be a force within the Washington State wine industry, but we can't do that with 2,000 to 3,000 cases of wine a year."
He noted that they will make 40,000 gallons of wine from the 2007 crush, and expect to produce around 6,000 cases. They have set a goal of doubling their production to 12,000 cases by 2010.