Wine industry mourns Woodinville winemaker and family killed in plane crash

WOODINVILLE – When Ross Andrew Mickel opened his winery in Woodinville in 1999, Washington was still a purple dot on the world wine map.

Ross Andrew Winery was one of the few in the area: today, more than 130 wineries and tasting rooms line the four districts of Woodinville, often side by side.

“Ross has been instrumental in this growth and success,” wrote Sean Sullivan, founder of the Washington Wine Report. “He was really at the forefront of many trends in Woodinville.”

Last Sunday, Mickel, 47, along with his pregnant wife Lauren Hilty, 39, and their infant son, Remy Mickel, perished in a plane crash off Whidbey Island. He and his family were among 10 killed in the September 4 crash, when a seaplane abruptly disappeared from radar during a flight from the San Juan Islands to Renton. The small plane dived into Mutiny Bay. A body was found during a search by the US Coast Guard over Labor Day weekend.

“We are deeply saddened and beyond devastated by the loss of our beloved Ross Mickel, Lauren Hilty, Remy and their unborn baby boy, Luca,” the Mickel and Hilty families said in a statement. “Our collective grief is unimaginable. They were a bright, shining light in the lives of all who knew them.

The fatal accident sent shockwaves through Woodinville’s tight-knit winemaking community. The Washington State Wine Commission said in an email that Mickel had “an incredible impact on the Washington wine community” and will be greatly missed.

Winemakers, sommeliers, and grape growers have remembered Mickel as a viticulture pioneer who helped establish Washington as a wine destination.

Mickel got his start in the late 90s while working under master sommelier Rob Bigelow at the famed Canlis restaurant in Seattle. There he “quickly realized that wine was going to be the trip of a lifetime,” according to the Ross Andrew Winery website.

The Seattle native then traveled through South America, Europe, Australia and South Africa, absorbing as much knowledge as possible from the viticulture and winemaking corners of the world. Upon his return to Washington, he took a job at Betz Family Winery in Woodinville during harvest season.

Mickel wrote that Betz Family Winery is “arguably one of Washington’s most respected and allocated producers,” and for good reason: Owner Bob Betz holds the prestigious “Master of Wine” degree from the Institute of Masters. of Wine in London.

Mickel’s seasonal job at Betz Family Winery soon became permanent. He was hired as a cellar worker, then got a job as an assistant winemaker at the famed winery, though Betz viewed Mickel more as a winemaking associate, an equal. Mickel’s family also played a big role in the company’s early years. His father-in-law Ned Nelson was the architect of Betz Family Winery, having designed their basket press, which Betz called a “revolutionary approach to wine pressing”. He called Mickel’s mother, Sheila Nelson, a “fabulous chef” who often cooked for the cellar workers.

Even after a long day of cleaning basement floors and refilling barrel after barrel with stained and bruised hands, Mickel was the kind of guy who always found a way to make people around him laugh, Betz said. And even after receiving the same question from customers over and over again, he answered the 10th iteration with as much enthusiasm as the first.

“He brought a really feisty, fun attitude,” Betz recalled. “You just wanted to talk to him.”

Mickel began making his own wine in the Betz family cellars, under the guidance and support of Bob and his wife Cathy. After several years, Mickel ended up building his own winery.

By the late ’90s, Betz said a critical mass of wineries had begun to form, “but we still had a lot to discover and a lot to prove.”

Mickel sourced fruit from various Washington state wine regions, such as Walla Walla, Columbia, and Yakima Valley. These regions did not become federally approved U.S. wine growing areas until the 1980s. Big Bang” from the state winemakers. Michael was among them.

“He made a difference in the industry with the wines he produced, with his support for the industry and with the attitude he had,” Betz said.

Mickel has remained a lifelong student over the years, a constant contributor to the collective knowledge of Washington winemakers. He was eager to share the lessons, tips and skills he had learned over more than two decades in the industry. And he was ready for another busy Washington harvest season. The 2022 vintage kicked off in August, just weeks before the plane crashed.

“Making a living making wine is not at all easy, despite everyone’s romantic notions of it. So there’s a lot of shared gear and blood, sweat and tears among everyone there,” Sullivan wrote to the Herald. “It makes his loss all the more difficult, because he was integrated into the community. With any fabric, you can remove a piece and it will stay together, but it will never be quite the same.

Taylor Goebel: 425-339-3046; [email protected]; Twitter: @TaylorGoebel.

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