Mike Miller, at Airfield Estates Winery tasting room in Prosser, Washington on March 30, 2009. (Melissa Hansen/Good Fruit Grower)
Mike Miller, 67, known for his infectious grin, had deep roots in Washington’s Yakima Valley agriculture.
His grandfather helped to bring irrigation water to land northeast of the Yakima River and his father was one of the first to plant wine grapes in Yakima Valley in 1968. Miller, who founded Airfield Estates winery, died October 5 at his home in Sunnyside after losing a short battle to cancer.
Miller, like his uncle and father, continued the family tradition of attending Washington State University and graduated with an agronomy degree in 1974.
After graduating, he returned to Airfield Ranch, the family farm named after the WWII airbase built on the land in 1941. Miller’s grandfather had leased out open land for an airbase as a training ground for military pilots.
After the war, the unwanted buildings were auctioned off. His grandfather bought the buildings (barracks, water tower, hangers, and such) and used them for storage farm buildings.
Miller got into wine grapes in a big way in the late 1970s after sugar beet processing plants in the state closed. The timing coincided with Washington’s largest winery, Chateau Ste. Michelle’s need for wine grapes, and he ramped up his wine grape acreage. Today, about 900 acres of grapes are planted at Airfield Ranch.
In 1995 he was recognized by industry peers for his grape growing abilities and named Erik Hanson Memorial Grower of the Year.
Miller founded Airfield Estates winery in 2007 and opened a tasting room that same year in Prosser. A second tasting room was opened in 2010 in Woodinville.
The winery is a family affair—son Marcus is winemaker and daughter Lori Stevens is the marketing director. Production at the winery, which uses 100 percent estate grapes, is now around 35,000 cases annually.
Melissa Hansen is the research program director for the Washington Wine Commission. Hansen previously was an associate editor at Good Fruit Grower from 1996 through 2015. Read her stories: Author Index