Washington state’s wine community is grappling with the loss of respected winemaker Ross Andrew Mickel. The 47-year-old, along with his wife and young son, were among 10 people who were lost Sept. 4 when a seaplane crashed near Whidbey Island in Washington state’s Puget Sound, just north of Seattle. The U.S. Coast Guard suspended its search for the missing plane on Sept. 5; all the passengers are missing and presumed dead.
Mickel’s wine career began in the restaurant industry, where he was a sommelier at Canlis, a Wine Spectator Grand Award winner in Seattle, beginning in 1996. There he studied wine under Master Sommelier Rob Bigelow. Mickel then began traveling to different wine regions in Australia, South America, Europe and South Africa. He landed a harvest internship at the well-known Washington winery DeLille Cellars in the fall of 1997, and went on to spend that winter working a harvest in Australia’s McLaren Vale appellation.
Around that time, Mickel met acclaimed Washington winemaker Bob Betz and began working at Betz Family Winery in 1998. Under Betz’s guidance, Mickel established the Ross Andrew Winery in 1999, making wine under his own name for the first time.
“Ross was one of those young stars who had a lot more to give,” Betz told Wine Spectator. “He had passion, inquisitiveness and a real love for his craft. He traveled, he visited wine regions. This summer he spent time in Tuscany visiting wineries. He brought his understanding of other wine regions back to Washington.”
The Ross Andrew Winery is based in Washington’s Woodinville wine region and focuses primarily on Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. Mickel put an emphasis on reasonably affordable wines, with many of his releases costing $30 or less. Wines from recent vintages have earned outstanding scores on Wine Spectator’s 100-point scale. Mickel was also well known as a winemaker for Force Majeure, then known as Grand Réve.
Mickel was close friends with winemaker Mark Ryan McNeilly of Mark Ryan Winery, and they would travel together frequently. “The outpouring of support and condolences from the Washington wine industry as well as local restaurant and retail shops has been overwhelming,” McNeilly told Wine Spectator. “I am currently working with his family and his surviving daughter Lila to continue the Ross Andrew Winery brand.”
Mickel will be remembered for striving for quality paired with affordability. As he wrote on his winery’s website, “Too many people try to make wine into much more than it is and it ends up coming across as an intimidating and elitist pursuit. Our goal is to go in the other direction: keep it simple and make it fun.”