Last Updated on August 24, 2023 by nicole
Mike Metheny is the Owner and Winemaker at Three of Cups Winery. With a background in technology, Mike’s journey into the world of wine is as unique as the vintages he crafts. From Boeing Employees Wine and Beer Making Club to Napa trips, his passion for winemaking grew. Balancing tech and a newfound passion, he pursued enology education. With Lisa Swei, his partner and co-founder, Mike’s home-brewed wines paved the way for Three of Cups Winery. Their shared passion forged a new path, proving that diverse interests can yield rewarding ventures.
Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn:
- Discover the intricate web of wine connections in Woodinville
- Learn about Mike’s experience in transitioning from a tech background to the wine industry
- Uncover the inspiration behind the name “Three of Cups” and the symbolism it holds for the winery
- Gain insights into the challenges and strategies of launching a winery, and the transformative journey of scaling production
- Explore the advantages of flexibility as a small winery and how it contrasts with the challenges faced when scaling up
- Delve into Three of Cups’ connection with 11 vineyards and their philosophy of letting the fruit thrive where it’s best suited
- Take a trip down memory lane as Mike discusses winemaking evolution over a decade, embracing simplicity and the unique character of each vintage
- Discover the role of barrels and wood in shaping the flavors of Three of Cups’ wines
- Learn about the strategies behind growing Three of Cups’ wine club and explore the Artisan Hill landscape
- Pick up from Mike’s wisdom as he shares advice on maintaining healthy partnerships in the wine industry
- Insights into the balance between direct-to-consumer sales and distribution for a small boutique winery
In this episode with Mike Metheny
Explore the challenges and triumphs of launching and scaling a winery and gain valuable perspectives on embracing simplicity in winemaking while reflecting the uniqueness of each vintage.
In today’s episode of the Legends Behind the Craft podcast, Drew Thomas Hendricks is joined by Mike Metheny, Owner, and Winemaker of Three of Cups Winery. Mike takes us through the art of navigating partnerships in business and life and offers advice on staying motivated in the world of wine. Discover how Three of Cups Winery’s philosophy of supporting local wineries resonates through Mike’s journey, as he shares the joys of connecting with vineyards, growing wine clubs, and crafting wines that tell the story of Woodinville’s rich winemaking landscape.
Resources Mentioned in this episode
- Drew Thomas Hendricks on LinkedIn
- Barrels Ahead
- Mike Metheny on LinkedIn
- Three of Cups Winery
- Lisa Swei on LinkedIn
- Andrew Januik on LinkedIn
- Edward M. Kelly on LinkedIn
- Boeing Employees Wine and Beer Making Club
- 2019 L’Astre – Syrah
- Three of Cups “Le Croyant” Petite Sirah
- WSU Viticulture and Enology
- Hogue Cellars
- Chris Gorman
- Darby English – Darby Winery
- Mari Womack on LinkedIn
Sponsor for this episode…
This episode is brought to you by Barrels Ahead.
At Barrels Ahead, we know that your business is unique. That’s why we work with you to create a one-of-a-kind marketing strategy that highlights your authenticity, tells your story, and makes your business stand out from your competitors.
Our team at Barrels Ahead helps you leverage your knowledge so you can enjoy the results and revenue your business deserves.
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[00:00:00] Drew Thomas Hendricks: Drew Thomas Hendricks here. I’m the host of the Legends Behind the Craft podcast. On the show, I talk with leaders in the wine and craft beverage industry. Before we get on with a show, quick sponsor message. Today’s episode sponsored by Barrels Ahead. Barrels Ahead we help the wine and craft industry scale their business through authentic content. Go to barrelsahead.com today to learn more.
Today I’m super excited to talk with Mike Metheny. Mike’s the winemaker and co-founder of Three of Cups Winery in the Artisan Hill area, Woodinville, Washington. Welcome to the show, Mike.
[00:00:30] Mike Metheny: Thank you, Drew. Happy to be here.
[00:00:32] Drew Thomas Hendricks: Thank you so much for being on.
So in the, in the pre-show we were, we were talking about how we have a common friend. We had Mike Januik on this show a few months ago.
[00:00:42] Mike Metheny: Andrew. Yeah.
[00:00:43] Drew Thomas Hendricks: Andrew. Andrew. You’re, you’re my,
[00:00:45] Mike Metheny: That’s his dad. It’s okay. It’s all good. I know them all.
[00:00:48] Drew Thomas Hendricks: Yeah.
[00:00:49] Mike Metheny: Just so few Mikes out there. Yeah.
[00:00:51] Drew Thomas Hendricks: Yeah. How do you guys know each other?
[00:00:53] Mike Metheny: Andrew and I share a block up on Royal Slope in a vineyard called Stillwater Creek, which is managed by Ed Kelly, which is a former Napa vineyard manager that made his way up to Washington and has been managing Stillwater Creek for quite a few years now. And we both get Sauv Blanc out of there.
So, they get a lot of fruit out of there. And their, I think their wineries owner owns the entire or the owner’s, the family owns the vineyard up there that they get all their food from.
[00:01:24] Drew Thomas Hendricks: Oh, cool, cool.
[00:01:25] Mike Metheny: So during harvest, we’re constantly texting each other, “Hey, what numbers are you getting? What, how’s the fruit taste?”
You right. Because we both can’t be in two places at the same time. But the pairing up together, it helps a lot.
[00:01:37] Drew Thomas Hendricks: Yeah. That’s the part, the part about Washington being it’s, it’s such a small collaborative type of community up there.
[00:01:43] Mike Metheny: It is. It, it really is. And, you know, with the. A big number of us producing our wines over here on the west side versus the east side. If people aren’t familiar, we got that cascade range kind of separating the desert versus the, the rainforest. So you might say, so it’s a lot of driving and we spend a lot of time going back and forth between vineyards and here on the west side.
[00:02:05] Drew Thomas Hendricks: Yeah, then it’s vital to like kind of share the knowledge. ‘Cause you don’t wanna just hop over the range every, every time you wanna check the sugar levels.
[00:02:12] Mike Metheny: Yeah, no. So, we’re, we’re very fortunate to be able to work with other wineries and ask ’em what’s going on when they, and what do they see, what’s going on in the same vineyards that we work with.
[00:02:22] Drew Thomas Hendricks: Oh, for sure. So, I gotta kind of start from the start. How did you get your start in the wine industry? You weren’t, it looks like you had a background in tech.
[00:02:32] Mike Metheny: I do. But it, it all kind of started when my wife became gluten-free. I was in Boeing Beer and Wine Club. Boeing hired me down in Southern California and moved me up to Washington State and I joined.
And I was brewing, doing home brewing and my wife became gluten-free and I had for a few years drug her up and down the west coast of beer festivals. And she, and then when she found out she had gluten issues, and she always drank wine. We, I drink beer with dinner, she would have a wine. And I decided I wanted to make some wine for her.
And back in 2004 we did a trip to Napa and I kind of got a little fascinated with the whole process and that what it takes two years to make a wine versus two weeks to make a beer. Right. So, that, that kind of intrigued me. And I’m an electro-mechanical engineer by training, so it’s kinda the, the whole process of it kinda fascinated me a little bit.
And then up here in Washington, that same year, there was a wine festival out what was called the Herbfarm in Fall City. And there’s an Herbfarm restaurant now here in Woodinville that’s really well known, but it used to actually just be a herb farm. And they had the first Washington Wine Festival out there and all 11 or 12 Woodville winemakers.
You know, there’s over a hundred wineries here in Woodville now, but back then they were all there and I got a talk with them and just got hooked on the passion that they had for it and what they were doing and the process as they explained it to me. And everybody was really friendly and helpful. And next thing I know, I’m volunteering for a local winery, helping them with their first harvest.
And I just got, I got hooked after that and stuck with the volunteering for a couple years and then decided to go back to school in 2009 and get my enology and viticulture degrees and then kept working in tech as a consultant for a few years. ‘Cause I was already accustomed to a certain income level.
It was hard to, it was hard to, you know, get paid 45,000 a year as an assistant winemaker at a boutique winery, you know? So, I did that. And then, Lisa, my partner, and she’s the majority owner. We’re a woman-owned winery. Lisa hired me for a job at Microsoft and I was giving her wine, I was making it in the garage, and she kept saying, “Hey, we need to do something. This is better than most of the wine I buy.”
And, and I kept trying to tell her, “No, it’s the worst business plan you’ve absolutely come up with. Didn’t they teach you that in business school?” And, and I, I stepped away from the wine for about a year because my mom was having some health issues.
And when I came back, she hired me again for another gig and that time and over a night of some brandy I made out of some Pinot that I had bought from down in the gorge. I didn’t like how it came out, so I made brandy out of it and we drank it and got a little, got a little shit face.
And next thing I know, we’re starting a winery together, so, which is probably how the best thing usually happens.
[00:05:46] Drew Thomas Hendricks: That’s amazing. That’s, that’s fantastic.
[00:05:48] Mike Metheny: Sorry for the long story, but that’s,
[00:05:50] Drew Thomas Hendricks: No, that’s, no, that’s what I’m,
[00:05:51] Mike Metheny: It was a bit of a journey.
[00:05:53] Drew Thomas Hendricks: No, that is fantastic.
[00:05:54] Mike Metheny: And I’m full-time wine now. I retired from tech in September of 20, right before harvest. And then my mom had some health issues again in 21. And ended up passing away, unfortunately. And I’ve been, I just decided to stick with wine ever since.
[00:06:12] Drew Thomas Hendricks: Sure. Many people have. How did, when you made the leap from beer to wine, you were a brewery, you were making beer at the, and you’re the, I think you’re the third person I’ve talked to in the course of the year that got their roots in the Boeing beer and wine club.
Boeing gives you good access. I mean, they bring in a big truck with a bunch of grapes on it. Everybody help yourself. It’s got a lot of different stuff on there. It’s really well coordinated. A bunch of volunteers that do the work and things and there’s a lot of shared equipment, but I wanted access to better equipment, wanted access to better grapes.
[00:06:45] Mike Metheny: I was really like in Red Mountain in a few other places, and they don’t. They done back then when I was doing that stuff, they didn’t necessarily have access to some of those grapes and or they weren’t off the vine, the stain within 24 hours, you know? So, it was a great start for me and gave me some basic skills and stuff, but what I really learned was volunteering at wineries to. And then transitioning to book knowledge as well.
[00:07:10] Drew Thomas Hendricks: Yeah. I wonder if they do, do they have an alumni list?
[00:07:14] Mike Metheny: I don’t know. I mean,
[00:07:16] Drew Thomas Hendricks: You almost seem like an incubator.
[00:07:17] Mike Metheny: Yeah. You know, it’s funny, in my building I share our, our production space here in Woodinville. We share it with Kevin White Winery and Avennia Winery.
Avennia is owned by ex-Microsoft. Kevin White works at Microsoft. You know, I worked at Microsoft as a full-time employee for nine years, and then as a contractor off and on for about seven years. So I, I’d say Microsoft is probably as big an incubator as anybody here for wine industry.
[00:07:50] Drew Thomas Hendricks: For sure. For sure.
[00:07:51] Mike Metheny: Yeah.
[00:07:52] Drew Thomas Hendricks: So talking about Three of Cups, how did you get that name?
[00:07:55] Mike Metheny: The podcast? Is there a video that goes with the podcast?
[00:07:57] Drew Thomas Hendricks: Oh, yeah. Yeah. There’s a, we have it on YouTube too, so.
[00:08:00] Mike Metheny: Oh, okay. Lemme grab that.
[00:08:01] Drew Thomas Hendricks: There’s definitely a visual component and for the audio listeners, you’ve got my keen description of what I’m looking at.
[00:08:07] Mike Metheny: So, I grabbed, I, I’m tasting our 19th Syrah this morning, Walla Walla Valley Le Collines Vineyard. I was just entering it in for some reviews. And so, oh, here, reason I got it. The logo. So that’s the wine stain from the business plan. On the cocktail napkin that night, it was a doodle turned into a logo.
So the circles represent all of us sitting around the table that night. And actually, there were four, and Lisa is half Chinese. And four is an unlucky number. So we smashed the partner, you know, our spouses into one circle and the other circle is us. And then the other represents our friends and family who helped us get this started.
And we liked the logo and we just started asking around for friends with names with three in it. And it was a friend that suggested the tarot card, hang-on card coming up.
I volunteer in radio, so I’m sorry for the silence there. Tarot card Three of Cups tarot card, right? So it’s actually the wine drinking tarot card. At least our interpret, our loose interpretation. It means coming together, friends and family convent reality. And that is exactly what wine drinking is, and we really liked what it meant.
And more importantly, the .com was available on GoDaddy for $12 and 50 cents.
[00:09:28] Drew Thomas Hendricks: That’s fantastic. I love fantastic. I really,
[00:09:31] Mike Metheny: It was fantastic.
[00:09:32] Drew Thomas Hendricks: I really love when a, when a logo has a really good story behind it. I hear quite, quite a few farfetched explanations, but this one’s really right on. And then you got the tarot card to match with it.
[00:09:43] Mike Metheny: Yeah, we didn’t save the napkin though, so that’s a sad, you know, it’s not framed somewhere that had the original logo on it, but we worked with a, a graphic designer that kind of made it more perfect circle than what was originally there.
[00:09:59] Drew Thomas Hendricks: No, that’s, that’s cool. No, that’s a, that’s a great logo. So, talk to me about launching a winery.
[00:10:07] Mike Metheny: Yeah, it’s tough. I’d worked for quite a few small wineries. When I got out at WSU Vit School, I went to work for Constellation and they put me at Hogue Cellars over in eastern Washington, which is quite a large cellar winery doing. In about 400,000 cases at the time when I was there.
And I’ve done big and I’ve done small. And ex like, very small, like less than a thousand cases. And I spent most of my time here in town working for Chris Gorman of Gorman Winery. And a little bit of time at a few other wineries.
I, I told Lisa when we started that we didn’t really want any other investors. We wanted to do the money with our own. Which probably in hindsight was wrong thing to do, but we, I also didn’t wanna have to move stuff to do stuff. And what that means is you’re constantly playing Tetris inside of a smaller boutique winery because of you’re in the amount of space that you can afford to do the work.
And I wanted an area big enough like I wanted our bail room to be separated area entity from our other. Lisa kind of had the expectation that we were only gonna do maybe if you had 500, 600 cases we’re gonna sell to friends and family and maybe grow a little bit and go overseas. And then I came in with the idea that, oh, hey, let’s, let’s do 3000 cases and get going.
So we compromised and we started off that first year with just, I think about 550, 600 cases and then slowly, slowly grew it. We’re up to about. We were hitting 3000 right before Covid. That slowed us down a little bit for the last couple years. And then we just picked up the pace again with the 2022 harvest to back where we were basically looking at it right pre covid
[00:11:52] Drew Thomas Hendricks: About. 2,500, 3000 cases?
[00:11:55] Mike Metheny: Yeah. We will end up this year right around 2,700 cases probably is what we’ll, we’ll end up bottling.
[00:12:01] Drew Thomas Hendricks: Now all the people, and we have a lot of listeners that are, you know, they, they have dreams of opening up a winery and ramping it up is always difficult ’cause there’s certain, with the amount of case quantity and the amount of, you know, storage and barrels.
[00:12:13] Mike Metheny: Yep.
[00:12:13] Drew Thomas Hendricks: There’s certain like tiers where you reach over one level, suddenly you’re at another scale and profitability goes down. Talk to me about some of those, like as you scaled from 500 to 2,500.
[00:12:26] Mike Metheny: So, yeah, and you know, I bought my forklift essential tool from Boeing Surplus, right? So that was, that was, I wasn’t still working at Boeing, but I had friends who were uhhuh in the fleet management group.
So I knew when this, I knew when the forklifts were turned back into Pape. And you know, and there was just. And we always wanted our own equipment. So I bought used equipment. I have a bladder press that I bought from Barr Estates down on Paso Robles that I ended up having to rebuild shortly after purchasing it from ’em.
We bought our crusher to steamer, our auger from Mark Ryan Winery. And we always had the plan that we would buy equipment that could support and help us grow. It would work for a while, knowing that. Right? On the depreciation schedule as well, and we have about a four, we’re in about a 3,700 square foot facility.
And we knew that it could probably handle up to about 4,000 cases, right? So that gave us plenty of room when we first started in order to be able to expand over the years, still do what we want, have room for all our equipment and in Washington, be able to crush indoors.
Especially important over here on the west side ’cause it’s not always the greatest weather. Sometimes you get some weird stuff going on during harvest and things like that. So, it, it was, it was kind of important to have all that. So coming up with a business plan and we did a five-year business plan, and then we expanded that to eight years. And, you know, we’re on our 10-year anniversary now, so we’re pretty happy.
[00:14:01] Drew Thomas Hendricks: That’s pretty good.
[00:14:02] Mike Metheny: How it, how it’s turned out. But with that said, we’ve been kind of winging it for the last two years. ‘Cause we just didn’t know what the heck was gonna happen with Covid. So we, we, we kind of put a lot of growth and development on hold until we saw what was gonna happen. And you know, we are very fortunate.
We have a, we have a great wine club. And they kind of carried us through, you know, we have probably less than a 3% drop in our wine club overall year over year. Andi we’re recognized for quality fruit, good wines out, at very reasonable prices compared to what you’ll see from other producers here in the state.
So, you know, we work really hard to keep those numbers at that because, I mean, this is a passion for Lisa and I. We’re not, our long-term goal isn’t to, you know, make a million at this and grow to such a size that we have to have an entire staff. We’re a two-person operation. And that’s also kept in mind as far as our overhead.
My son helps out during harvest. Her stepson helps out once in a while. You know, our spouses work events with us. You know, we cover over 50 local wine events each year. And then we have sales. Independent and also distribution, that helped us as well. So, kind of going into it, I was fortunate in that, working for large wineries and working for already well-recognized wineries here in town, I had connections for grapes.
I knew what rows I wanted in the blocks that I wanted. So I was able to work with those growers, get those blocks that I, because I already had a relationship with a lot of ’em. Get the spots I wanted. And also work with some emerging vineyards that I knew about and get grapes at an affordable cost.
And we were able to keep our overhead really low over the last four or five years, or, you know, in our first initial years while we were growing. It, but it, it’s, it’s really expensive. It, you know, like they say in the wine business, and I, I’ve heard of 15 different versions of this, but, you know, show me $5 million and I’ll show, I’ll, you’ll make a million in the wine business.
Right? Yeah. And it, it is absolutely true that it takes a lot of capital to run a winery. We, Lisa and I like to joke that we started a business so we could write checks to other people. And that’s what it feels like on some days. But you know it, when we’re meeting with customers and selling wine and at events and talking to, you know, people just about wine in general, it’s all worth it.
[00:16:35] Drew Thomas Hendricks: I completely,
[00:16:36] Mike Metheny: Lisa has a day job still. She still works. And then I have a sugar mama being, being semi-retired. My wife –
[00:16:43] Drew Thomas Hendricks: Yeah, I saw on your LinkedIn.
[00:16:46] Mike Metheny: Yeah.
[00:16:46] Drew Thomas Hendricks: So that, that really helps. I mean if you’re to those people looking at that 3000 case winery, unless you’re gonna be DIYing it and really, really running streamlined. It’s, there’s, there’s not a lot of, profit for employees.
[00:17:00] Mike Metheny: No. And it’s getting harder and harder, you know, everything is going up. Glass, the glass industry seems to be stabilizing a little bit.
[00:17:07] Drew Thomas Hendricks: Thankfully. Gosh.
[00:17:09] Mike Metheny: Yes.
[00:17:09] Drew Thomas Hendricks: That’s been the story of the last year, of just people not even being able to bottle.
[00:17:13] Mike Metheny: Yes. We, you know, and just even paper shortages for labels and, you know, just all kinds of things that we’ve had to, and being small, we’re flexible. Being large, you’re not so flexible. So we’ve got a, those kind of advantages, but absolutely. You know?
And we also have the during this last harvest, I don’t wanna segue into any if you wanna talk about harvest, but like,
[00:17:35] Drew Thomas Hendricks: Yeah.
[00:17:36] Mike Metheny: The 22 harvest was a very difficult harvest for a lot of people because we had that, that spring freeze and then, and a late, a wet bud break and it was just, everything was pushed back over a month in some cases. Right?
And if we went and had a really warm October, which is kind of unusual for us up here. I’d say there probably been a huge crop loss in a lot of areas. And absolutely in some of the cooler vineyards, a lot of reds did not make it across the line to for finish.
We were fortunate enough being small in that we had enough capacity, we didn’t have to turn our tanks over in order to meet capacity of a 20,000 or plus winery. Whereas a lot of winemakers that I was talking to during harvest were like, I gotta get the fruit in. I’m gonna have to pick it early. I’m gonna have to ferment it. I’m gonna have to get it out of my tank and then so I can make room for the next next step coming in.
So, I mean, just kind of planning for that and not buying everything new. And you know, I think the only thing we have bought new in our winery are a few tanks and a few ferment bins. Everything else has been used. Well, I take it back. We bought a few new, pick bins as well, but predominantly used equipment out there on the market and I’m fortunate in that I have the kind of background where I can tear stuff apart and put it back together pretty well, so.
[00:19:04] Drew Thomas Hendricks: That’s super helpful.
[00:19:07] Mike Metheny: Yeah, and you know, I even, I had to go learn to weld, so I wanted to learn welding anyway, so it was kind of like, hey. I haven’t used it because I ended up welding stainless steel is, is a craft and I don’t get enough experience doing it. But fixing a barrel rack or something like that, I don’t, I’m not worried about it.
Steel. I’m all I’m good with. But stainless steel, no. I let the guys who know what they’re doing fix that stuff.
[00:19:31] Drew Thomas Hendricks: Oh, for sure. Let’s talk about your, so as you’re growing and you’re now you’re, how many vineyards do you have contracts with? And
[00:19:39] Mike Metheny: We work with 11 vineyards.
[00:19:41] Drew Thomas Hendricks: 11 vineyards right now.
[00:19:42] Mike Metheny: Yeah. For a small winery. Right. We like to say, we go where we think the fruit does best. So we’re as far north as Brewster, which is about 40 minutes north of Lake Chelan. And then we also work in the Lake Chelan AVA, and then we go all the way south into Milton-Freewater of Oregon into the what they call the Rocks District.
But predominantly our fruit is Red Mountain AVA and Walla Walla Valley.
[00:20:07] Drew Thomas Hendricks: Oh yeah. Now, how would you describe your house style?
[00:20:10] Mike Metheny: Old-world French, I prefer the Rons. My own personal tastes or drink a lot of champagne and Pinot.
But I haven’t f I don’t wanna get in trouble and say anything bad about Washington Pinots. So, we’ll just skip right over that. But I’m still, I’m still looking. I’m still looking and I know it’s out there. I’m gonna find it. But I prefer, you know, St. Lucia pinots and Oregon Pinots are my, are my go-to’s and besides French.
And our style characteristics are somewhat that lower in alcohol, higher acid. We want our wines to lay down for and be as enjoyable 10 years from now as they are right now. Lisa is a foodie and she holds me accountable when we’re doing our blending and our fermenting.
In order to bring out fruit so that those wines are very approachable when they’re young. Because we’re a small winery, we don’t make a huge amount of cases, so we have to be able to turn those cases pretty quickly as well. So, you have to be able to make it drink now, but also, like I say, just. I wanted to, you know, I want our Cab to be as good 10 years from now as it is today.
[00:21:27] Drew Thomas Hendricks: Oh, for sure. Now as far as vintages, so you’ve got what, 10 vintages under your belt?
[00:21:32] Mike Metheny: Yeah, we started in 2013, and our first crush was inside Darby Winery, just over on the other side of the main road from us.
[00:21:40] Drew Thomas Hendricks: I visited a friend a few years ago and we went to Darby Winery.
[00:21:43] Mike Metheny: Nice. Yeah. Yeah. He is Darby English.
He’s a super nice guy. And I was working for Chris and Chris didn’t have room for us for a crush. And Darby took us in but said, “Hey, you got about a year ’cause you’re, I’m gonna run outta space for you.” And then, and his assistant winemaker was Mari Womack from Damsel Cellars, and we worked over there for a year.
Found our current spot where we’ve been since 2014. Mari actually ran outta space over there and moved in with us in 2015, and then we gave her the same deal, said, “Hey, you gotta be out in about a year. We’re gonna run outta room” And then she found a, she’s right across the alley from us in her own space. And she’s just is expanding to a new tasting room as well.
So it’s kinda, it’s very, everybody’s very accommodating. Here in here, here in the park. But we knew back then that We wanted to grow, but like I said, that was another way to save money that first year. But we’ve been, we didn’t start selling wine until January of 2016 because I asked Lisa if she wanted to cheat and buy bulk wine or do something like that and put our label on it, and she wanted to do everything from scratch.
And as the majority owner, I conceded and said that that sounds good to me. You know, so that’s what we did. And then we made our first white wine to go with that first release in 20, in the year before in 2015 Vintage, we released a riesling as our first white to go with our first few reds, and we did really well.
I mean, we, we did okay. You know, I think I got a 90 for my Cab from Wine Spectator. So I was pretty happy out the gate. We were, we were, we were doing okay.
[00:23:26] Drew Thomas Hendricks: Oh, that’s great. Now, over the last 10 years, how, how has your winemaking style evolved?
[00:23:31] Mike Metheny: It hasn’t changed hardly at all, other than to be able to scale it to a larger volume.
I try and keep it as close as possible. I have a, I don’t have a recipe. I want our fruit and our wines to reflect the, the values of the year. Right? So I want it to be very recognizable that, yeah, 2020, you know, you know, depending on the year, I want it to be. If so it was a hot year. This was a cool year.
This was a, a normal year. I haven’t said normal in three years, but we want it to be respective and not, you know, our G S M is probably what we make the most of what we’re most known for. And every year the blend changes. Currently, it’s moved edger dominant. Last year it was grenache dominant.
We just bottled last week. The next vintage, it’ll be Mourvedre dominant again. It just, you know, we try and be reflective of the, of the vintage.
[00:24:28] Drew Thomas Hendricks: Sure. Yeah. I always,
[00:24:29] Mike Metheny: And we’re low impact, we don’t do anything. We try and keep it as simple as possible. Our rose is naturally fermented. So yeah.
[00:24:37] Drew Thomas Hendricks: Non interventionalists. Yeah. I talked to a lot of winemakers and I think the, I always, it, it varies on how they, their wine style has changed or how their winemaking style. Usually it, I hear common theme is that they become a little less heavy handed in what they try to do with the wines.
[00:24:52] Mike Metheny: Yes.
[00:24:54] Drew Thomas Hendricks: Letting the wines make themselves and putting that subtle touch on versus when they first started there.
[00:24:59] Mike Metheny: Well, I think you learn over the years because you, you get more comfortable with your own winemaking style. You feel more confident in your wines and your processes that you have in place in order to make the wines. And you feel more confident with your equipment and things like that.
So it’s just kinda, I think that that hands-off kind of comes natural over time.
[00:25:20] Drew Thomas Hendricks: Yeah, I compare it, I was have a photography background. And if you look at like Ansel Adams and the way he treated his, in his darkroom, even the same prints from his early in his career to the later part of his career is they became a lot less, a lot less burning and dodging as he grew older.
[00:25:36] Mike Metheny: Yeah. I, I totally could see that. You know, and I think about his portraits. Yeah. Yeah.
[00:25:41] Drew Thomas Hendricks: Yeah. So how, what role, talk to me about your barrels and what role wood plays in your own.
[00:25:47] Mike Metheny: All French. All Central France. I’m down to four cooperages now. Is that right? 1, 2, 3, 4? Yeah, I’m down to four cooperages now.
I’ve been very fortunate being able to volunteer and work for a lot of wineries. And taste a lot of oak. And over the years, kind of my palate of the style of barrel that I like. And what my net styles and it’s funny, like some of, there’s a, there’s a couple barrels that we use that from a certain cooperage that I hate the flavor of them when they’re new.
But yet every time we use them as a neutral barrel, our favorite wine is coming out of those barrels that is neutral. Right. So you just never really know when you have a green barrel of sometimes what’s the long-term outcome. How that barrel is going to, you know, settle and change the flavor profile of your wine over time.
And, and we’ve, we’ve found it very fascinating with some of those. And like, I will never sell those barrels, right? I’m gonna keep ’em as a neutral barrel as long as I can keep them in good shape over time. But we work with four cooperages from three coopers. Year over year. And I tend to do anywhere from as low as 28% up to 55% like with the Cab, new oak.
Year over year. Yeah. So we, we do a lot of blending, but you know, for a small winery, again, back in the overhead and things like that, barrels are the most efficient way for us to store wine long-term in, inefficient, in a small amount of space. So it just, it just really works really well for us.
At least for our, the way we’re set up that I am fortunate in that I have about a 1100, 1200 square foot barrel room with 22-foot ceilings. And we’re able to stack ’em up in there and I’m able to still scramble around and top ’em. So pretty easily. So, it’s yeah.
[00:27:46] Drew Thomas Hendricks: Well, that’s handy.
[00:27:47] Mike Metheny: Yeah. Yeah. I don’t wanna give away all the company jewels, but if
[00:27:50] Drew Thomas Hendricks: No.
[00:27:50] Mike Metheny: You know Cooper just throwing me things like that.
[00:27:53] Drew Thomas Hendricks: No, it’s just kind of curious on, you know, everybody’s got their own opinion on what wood should play in it, whether, and it sounds like a kind of a modest amount of new oak and
[00:28:02] Mike Metheny: Yeah.
Yeah. I don’t want it to be over. You know, like, I love, you know, -. I don’t wanna drop too many names, the Chardonnays. But Lisa and my wife drink a lot of -. So like our Chardonnay is a compromise, right? Because the, they’re my chief testers, taste testers, you know. And have a lot of say in the, the end result of our wines. And, you know, so we, I want you to be able to pick up the nuances of that oak on the Chardonnay a little bit, but I from a taste profile, I want it to be as, as stainless as possible on the taste. You know, we just want that oak to give it a little bit of that refined mouth feel to go with it. So you just, it’s a, a lot of experimenting year over year with different, different ratios, but we’ve pretty much got like Syrahs, petite Syrahs, our Cab. We’ve, we’ve got that nailed exactly how we like it and what coopers to use and how long we keep our wine or in our barrel.
And for instance, like our Cab. Lisa and I said from the very beginning, Red Mountain, it’s, you know, it’s big old Cabs with a, with a good amount of minerality and tannin here in Washington state. And, we age ours for three years just to soften ’em up and make ’em very approachable so that when you’re drinking a fresh vintage, you know, it’s you can drink it now.
But like I said, we also want that acid to be able to be strong enough in there. And the tannins, soft enough so that we can lay it down for a long time as well.
[00:29:31] Drew Thomas Hendricks: Sure. So you’ve got you’re, I wanna go back to your wine club. You have a really low, low attrition rate. How did you go about growing the wine club?
[00:29:39] Mike Metheny: It started with friends and family. And then us, we, we have probably our original tasting room was 200 square feet maybe. Tiny. Right. And then over time, we started tasting people as we grew over the floor drain, which is our wash-down area out in the main production area.
So it became a real pain in the butt because every, we couldn’t, I couldn’t harvest on weekends or do production items because we were open for tasting. But word of mouth. Here in Artisan Hill is one of the older production areas in Woodinville. There’s some absolutely fabulous wines coming out of Artisan Hill.
And, and a lot of people don’t know it.
[00:30:22] Drew Thomas Hendricks: Explain Artisan Hill to me. ‘Cause I, I’m visually I can, I remember where Darby English was and I remember,
[00:30:27] Mike Metheny: So where Darby is, is warehouse, right? And warehouse is North Woodinville, as is Artisan Hill. And there’s a Woodinville Duvall Road kind of separates the two.
So you have, I’ll try and visualize. You have warehouse up here, you have what’s called the gateway right in front of the warehouse. And then you’ve got a road, right, that runs like this, that’s Woodinville Duvall Road. And then over here is Artisan Hill, and it’s a series of warehouses very similar to the warehouse district.
But a little bit taller roofs. Roofs. So, more conducive to large manufacturing areas. So for instance, like we, you know, our place used to be a wall bed manufacturing company. So a lot of sawdust when we first moved in. There was a lot of, a lot of cleanup in here. But no, no yeast, so that was a good thing, right?
So we’re not, we’re not fighting with anything, and we put it in our own floor drains. So it’s all, it’s all good. But and, and then there’s other districts of Woodville and then south of Woodville and what is, what’s called Hollywood. There’s that district. what they call the schoolhouse district, which is now there’s a little bit of contention.
There’s two schoolhouse districts, I guess, in Woodville, which is a newer area. There’s a wine alley. I mean, Woodville is just blowing up with tasting rooms.
[00:31:47] Drew Thomas Hendricks: Yeah.
[00:31:47] Mike Metheny: And they’re building a new hotel, that’s gonna have mixed-use tasting rooms underneath of it. – which is a famous nursery here in Woodville, is building a new retail and mixed-use space, which will have wineries in it.
So it’s, it’s getting crazy. We have I think one California and maybe three or four Oregon tasting ribs here in Woodville as well.
[00:32:09] Drew Thomas Hendricks: Oh really? Wow.
[00:32:10] Mike Metheny: Yeah.
[00:32:11] Drew Thomas Hendricks: 20 wineries are an Artisan Hill complex.
[00:32:14] Mike Metheny: Oh, I don’t know. I’m gonna get, I hope no one from Artisan Hill is listening. Lisa, my partner, she is the treasury for the Artisan Bill Association.
So, but I don’t attend the meetings. I think there’s probably 20 of us here.
[00:32:29] Drew Thomas Hendricks: There’s a good amount so people can kind of go on their own little wine trail through.
[00:32:33] Mike Metheny: Yeah, I mean, right next we’re between two distilleries. BroVo Spirits which does fabulous vermouth, amaros, you know, carousel. And they do a ton of stuff that is shipped all over the country.
It’s a biggest little secret in town and with a massive production space. And then, and then we have another place next door to us that does gin, absinthe, and vodka, which are really all really good. And so, I mean, Artisan Hill and Métier Brewing is across the street. So it’s kind of a very, it’s a mixed-use area.
The problem with it, we only have one restaurant here on the Hill. So like the, the north or yeah, the southern part of Woodville, is better for wine tasting for out-of-towners. Because you have Chateau Ste. Michelle, right? The big beautiful grounds of it. Plus the concerts that they do and all the winery, a lot of tasting rooms, but not so many production spaces, right?
So tasting rooms and places to eat, whereas here, up here in the warehouse district and Artisan Hill, that’s mostly production and tasty.
[00:33:41] Drew Thomas Hendricks: Very good. Yeah. I’ve gotta, I’ve gotta get up there and check that out again. Going through like over the last like 12 years making wine and thing. In hindsight, what would you have done differently?
[00:33:53] Mike Metheny: Probably let somebody else pay for the winery. It’s always, you know, as I say, the key of investing is always spend someone else’s money, right? So, probably would’ve looked for additional investment or something like that, to so that it wasn’t such a, a burden on us, or we felt so.
I don’t know. It’s hard to describe. I mean, you have, you wanna be, it definitely motivates us more to be successful, but at the same time, we wanna have complete control, right? I mean, and Lisa and I have been friends for over 20 years, you know, via work where we first met, and you know, and that’s.
You don’t wanna go in business with family sometimes.
[00:34:37] Drew Thomas Hendricks: No.
[00:34:38] Mike Metheny: You don’t want to go in business with friends sometimes.
[00:34:40] Drew Thomas Hendricks: Yeah.
[00:34:40] Mike Metheny: But you know, Lisa and I, a lot of people think we’re married. And because we talk to each other like we are and we do it in front of everybody. We, it’s just, you know, it’s just how it is.
And we, you know, we we’re very fortunate in that we both get it. We both have the passion for it, and we’re, we’re willing to spend the money that it takes to make a quality product. And we don’t, we don’t like shortcuts. So it, it’s just, I don’t know. It’s, we’ve been very fortunate that way. As far as, as far as partnership goes, but
[00:35:12] Drew Thomas Hendricks: What advice do you have for people in partnerships trying to keep it together and keeping it healthy?
[00:35:16] Mike Metheny: Keep it, keep it, you know. Set, set goals for yourself. So that, you know, open communication. Don’t hide feelings. Don’t, you know, talk about everything that’s going on. Don’t try, you know, it, it’s. You know, it’s the same, it’s the same rules for a marriage, I guess too, right? If you wanna be successful.
You know, Lisa and I, we get it and we understand. We both know the work that it takes. We’re, and we’re willing to do the work. We’re not, you know, a lot of peoples think that winemaking is sitting around and with French patriarchs and caves drinking wine all day, and it is probably, you know, 25% paperwork. 60% cleaning. Right. I’ll clean a tank three times before, you know, I use it sometimes, and it’s, it, that’s the, and it’s like Chris told me a long time ago, you know, he is like making wines easy. Selling it’s the hard part. Right. So, and that is true.
It’s a saturated market and you have to do things that distinguish you. And you know, and again, back to that. Advice to people wanting to start a winery. You have to do something that distinguishes you from the other players in the field in order to get your name out there. And because there’s, there’s plenty of really good Cabs, there’s plenty of really good Syrahs. Yet,
[00:36:35] Drew Thomas Hendricks: How do you distinguish yourself?
[00:36:37] Mike Metheny: We feel obligated to make some of those wines because they’re so good from our state. Right. But to distinguish ourselves, we make some varietals that aren’t so familiar with the state. We do Petite Sirah.
We do Carménère. We, we do Sensi rose. We do a stainless Chardonnay. Right. I mean, we do, we do those kind of things that other people don’t. You know, we do, when you come in to tasting at our tasting room, it’s a $15 tasting fee and you get eight wines. We, we don’t, you know, we’re, we want you to taste everything.
We want you to have a full experience. We don’t want you to go, well, I tried four, I’m gonna pay another $15 to try another four, right? Again, but you know, like I said, Lisa and I are fortunate in that, you know, our money goes back into the winery. We’re both not looking to do anything else with this winery.
So we just wanted, we’re kind of making it for people in the vision that we have for it, and, and hopefully, we can sustain that a few more years. Or either we’ll come crashing down, we’ll see what happens.
[00:37:42] Drew Thomas Hendricks: Yeah.
[00:37:42] Mike Metheny: Right? You never know.
[00:37:44] Drew Thomas Hendricks: It’s nice that you have the luxury to kind of, to let the winery evolve and to, you know, remain complete control of it.
A lot of people that aren’t as, that don’t have the funding, they may have to make decisions outta desperation.
[00:37:56] Mike Metheny: Yes.
[00:37:56] Drew Thomas Hendricks: Which suddenly then, you get a little more of that me too aspect of the winery.
[00:38:01] Mike Metheny: Yeah.
[00:38:02] Drew Thomas Hendricks: Trying to monetize it.
[00:38:03] Mike Metheny: And we’ve had other friends that want to buy in or help out or do other things, and we always invite them to come here and we, we say that you know, sweat equity has to go with it.
We appreciate the offer, but we want you to realize what we’re doing in order. In order, before you do that, and so far out of the two or three that have tried it, like, “Hey, that was great. Thank you. I really appreciate it. That’s a lot of work. I’m gonna pass on that. “So
[00:38:34] Drew Thomas Hendricks: Yeah, volunteer help is it’s spotty at best.
[00:38:38] Mike Metheny: Yeah. Well, you know, hey, we love our volunteers. For bottling
[00:38:40] Drew Thomas Hendricks: Well, you’re, yeah. In general though.
[00:38:43] Mike Metheny: Yeah, yeah, yeah. For bottling, we use our volunteers, but we, we, we work family pretty hard during harvest, and then we cut ’em slack and let ’em go and don’t try and bug ’em again for another eight months.
[00:38:54] Drew Thomas Hendricks: I think that’s the one thing, overworking the volunteers is kind of where it starts to break down when you depend on it too much.
[00:39:01] Mike Metheny: Yeah.
[00:39:01] Drew Thomas Hendricks: Or you have too few.
[00:39:03] Mike Metheny: Yeah. Yeah.
[00:39:05] Drew Thomas Hendricks: Now, and you’re clearly passionate. The other question is, how do you stay motivated?
[00:39:10] Mike Metheny: By making new stuff. You know, we we’re, you know, we tried.
Petite Sirah was our first club wine. We, like, we named it Le Croyant The Believer because we liked it so much, made a believer out of us. Cause it just smelled amazing and I had no intention of making it. The Williams family who manages Heart of the Hill Vineyard up on Red Mountain, where we get our Petite Sirah from. I was just looking for, I wanted to make a, we wanted to do a Bordeaux blend.
We wanted something different from everybody else in town. Scott suggested, “Hey, I’ve got Petite Sirah coming on.” You know, we took it the first year that he harvested it and he is like, you should try it. I love the flavor of it, you know, and I drank Stags’ Leap and Concannon and other California Petite Sirahs and, you know, I liked them, but I never really thought about ’em too much.
And I, I think Washington Petite Sirah will stand up with anybody and you know, it worked its way out of our club into our, our natural lineup. Right. We do a lot of club testing. So we just bottled our first Cab Franc. We have our last year we did our first Merlot with our club. So we do a lot of test wines with our clubs, see how it goes, see what the uptake is, and decide whether maybe that should move into the lineup.
And then we gotta take something outta the lineup ’cause we don’t wanna have so many wines that we can’t sell ’em all. We like to stay somewhat focused. Right now we have probably two more wines than I’d like to have. But at the same time, you know, we’re, we’re growing, we just got into the state of Pennsylvania.
[00:40:39] Drew Thomas Hendricks: Oh, wow.
[00:40:40] Mike Metheny: So we’re distributed in three states now. We’re working on our fourth state. So it, you know, we’re, we’re doing wines that are only for distribution as well, and that helps pay the bills, you know.
[00:40:53] Drew Thomas Hendricks: Oh, for sure. For sure. So on the, on your percentage of sales is what percent direct to consumer versus distributed?
[00:41:00] Mike Metheny: Oh six, probably 60, 65% direct to consumer.
[00:41:03] Drew Thomas Hendricks: Oh wow. That’s good though. That’s 30, 35% to. In what states are you available in?
[00:41:09] Mike Metheny: Washington, Oregon, and Pennsylvania. We’re in Texas and distributor went under right before Covid and never paid us, unfortunately. Sad story, but we still participate – every year.
‘Cause we, we do pretty well with awards outta -. And thenso we’re looking if anybody in Texas is listening. And thenCalifornia, our distributors also in California, but they’re just kind of getting going down there, so they don’t really have much sales. So we’re listed for the state and we’re licensed for the state, but we haven’t done anything down there yet.
So we’re hoping that we’re hoping that happens for us this year sometime, that maybe, either they get it together or we’ve got a guy that’s kind of a small independent that I’m hoping he does something down there as well.
[00:41:55] Drew Thomas Hendricks: Oh, that’d be great. Can’t wait to see him here. So, Mike,
[00:41:58] Mike Metheny: Where are you at, Drew? Sorry.
[00:41:59] Drew Thomas Hendricks: I’m down in, I’m down in Carlsbad.
[00:42:01] Mike Metheny: Oh, okay.
[00:42:02] Drew Thomas Hendricks: Southern California.
[00:42:03] Mike Metheny: Yeah. I, I spent nine years in South Pasadena, so.
[00:42:07] Drew Thomas Hendricks: Oh, did you? Yeah it’s, we’re freezing right now. We’re recording this in the middle of February and for us it’s about 48 degrees out, which is for us it’s freezing.
[00:42:17] Mike Metheny: My sister lives in Laguna Niguel. And she, when she comes home up here to visit and stay with us, she is I think she never takes the parka off even indoors, so, you know. Yeah.
[00:42:29] Drew Thomas Hendricks: It was funny. The people that came, took us to the visit the Darby Winery. She was visiting us last weekend and she lives in Tacoma area.
[00:42:37] Mike Metheny: Oh, okay.
[00:42:37] Drew Thomas Hendricks: She came down deliberately without a jacket, without any heavy clothes. ‘Cause she’s from Washington. It never got above 52. I think it was the coldest she’s ever been.
[00:42:47] Mike Metheny: We, we were in Vegas a couple weeks ago and it was, you know, low fifties, you know, we’re, we’re walking around in t-shirts.We’re seeing a lot of people wearing coats, it was pretty funny. We were like, wow, this weather is just fabulous.
[00:43:00] Drew Thomas Hendricks: Yeah, absolutely. So, Mike, Mike, as we’re wrapping down, is there anything we haven’t talked about that you wanna bring up?
[00:43:07] Mike Metheny: Support your local small boutique winery. You know, you have so many choices out there on the shelf. There’s so many big wineries and those wineries are getting bigger every day and nothing against them.
They are making some great wines and have some fabulous labels underneath of ’em. But, you know, if people have the opportunity to choose a wine, try and look for the smaller boutiques. Talk to your psalms, talk to your wine store representatives, whoever is helping you with select a wine. Pay attention to those shelf talkers, you know, if they’re there.
That give you a little explanation. And, you know, of course, buy Three of Cups if you see it. But, you know, we. I, I can’t stress, you know, there’s, it’s getting harder and harder to be a small boutique winery, and I think as time goes by you’re gonna see fewer and fewer of ’em, unfortunately.
And if you wanna taste true reflection, you know, interesting wines that are a really good representation of the vintage years that they were made in and things like that by some, I think people should do it because it’s important to do and support from a lot of the labels that are out there. And, and hey, you know, when you go to that party and you want that go-to Rose from your favorite French house or California winery, go for it, right?
But when you’re sitting at home having a meal with friends and family, try something, try something from a small boutique winery.
[00:44:30] Drew Thomas Hendricks: That is excellent advice. And to everyone who is kind of annoyed at the consolidation in the industry and the bigger guys swallowing up the smaller guys, you gotta support the smaller wineries.
That’s the only way they’re gonna stay afloat.
[00:44:41] Mike Metheny: Yeah. Yes, absolutely. ‘Cause those, those labels get eaten up. So yeah, I’ve lost a couple friends here in town, you know, that are either closing or calling it. And you know, we’re sorry to see them go because they were making like, one of my favorite Albarino was here in town.
And besides my own, we make an Albarino too. But we don’t, we typically can’t get enough of it. We end up blending it with something else and, and I’m still trying to convince, oh, so here’s my other thing. I’d love someone in the state of Washington to plant some chocolate that’s probably my go.
That’s my go-to white. And I think it would thrive really well here in Washington. So if you do plant it, gimme a call. I’ll, I’ll take an acre.
[00:45:19] Drew Thomas Hendricks: That would be great. I do think it would thrive and it would probably actually thrive more on the west side too.
[00:45:24] Mike Metheny: Yeah. Well
[00:45:26] Drew Thomas Hendricks: Most of the good chocolate I had was -, which is right on the coast.
[00:45:30] Mike Metheny: Yep.
[00:45:31] Drew Thomas Hendricks: Very similar.
[00:45:31] Mike Metheny: But, but they, they’ve got some good, they’ve got some good weather there, so, yeah. You know, my wife and I really enjoy – region, and, so, and, but it’s, it’s funny. That’s one of the few varietals, you know, I’d like to see here in the state that I just, I have not seen yet, now, haven’t seen it anywhere in what, in United States. So
[00:45:50] Drew Thomas Hendricks: I don’t, I don’t think I have either.
[00:45:52] Mike Metheny: Yeah. Yeah. I need to, next time I’m over there, I need to. I shouldn’t say stick some vines in the suitcase. Probably shouldn’t say
[00:46:01] Drew Thomas Hendricks: That’ve been the first time that’s happened.
[00:46:04] Mike Metheny: I promise to go through agricultural.
[00:46:06] Drew Thomas Hendricks: Yes. Well, Mike, where can people find out more about you and Three of Cups?
[00:46:12] Mike Metheny: You can hit our website, www.threeofcups all spelled out. Threeofcups.com. And we, we ship to just about every state that it’s legal to ship to. Some direct, some indirect.
And then, you know, ask for us at your local retailer, you wanna get, you wanna get new wines into a local retailer, constantly ask ’em for it, because they have ways of doing it, so.
[00:46:36] Drew Thomas Hendricks: Sure. That’s, that’s great advice. Well, Mike, thank you so much for joining us today,
[00:46:40] Mike Metheny: Drew, this has been a real pleasure.
Thank you very much for having me on. I really appreciate it and I’m glad to be a legend of the industry.
[00:46:48] Drew Thomas Hendricks: True Legend Behind the Craft. I can’t wait to visit next time I’m in town.
[00:46:52] Mike Metheny: Awesome. No, please do. And yeah, make sure and shoot us a heads up and we’d love to host you guys.
[00:46:57] Drew Thomas Hendricks: Will do. Thank you all. Have a great day.
[00:46:59] Mike Metheny: Thank you. You as well.