Alex Golitzin

Quilceda Creek

By Leslie Kelly

It’s difficult to imagine in an era awash in wine, but in the 1970s, it was nearly impossible to find a decent bottle to buy in the Seattle area. That’s what initially prompted Alex Golitzin to DIY.

Golitzin, the patriarch of Quilceda Creek Winery, was working as a chemical engineer for Scott Paper in Everett at the time. But he had a special connection in Napa Valley, who offered to help get him started.

“Uncle André offered to send me an oak barrel from BV, and help me source some fruit,” said Golitzin, warmly recalling his mother’s brother, the legendary winemaker André Tchelistcheff.

Only a few years later, Golitzin’s wines were receiving rave reviews, and Quilceda Creek was on its way to becoming one of Washington State’s brightest stars. His very first vintage of Quilceda Creek’s powerhouse Cabernet won the Enological Society of the Northwest’s Grand Prize in 1983.

“We got lucky,” he said. “Angelo Gaja was one of the judges. It really launched us.”

If that early recognition helped launch Quilceda Creek, the two 100-point scores from Robert Parker in The Wine Advocate in April 2006 for the 2002 and 2003 vintages pushed the winery to astronomical heights achieved by very few producers. Since then, Parker has also rated the 2005 and 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon 100 points each, with 99s to the 2004, 2006 and 2008 vintages, a track record of consistently exceptional quality that makes Golitzin very proud, especially because his son, Paul, played a key role making those wines.

The shining success story isn’t exactly surprising, considering Golitzin’s backstory.

The native of France – he was born in the Loire Valley – moved to the U.S. when he was 6. He remembers visiting Uncle André in Napa Valley, first at his home in St. Helena, and later at his ranch on Sulphur Springs Road, but Golitzin conceded, at that time “I was a lot more interested in chasing rabbits in the vineyards than in wine.”

While studying at the University of California at Berkeley, Golitzin spent one summer working in a lab in Central California for Gallo. “It was a small taste of the wine industry,” he said.

When he graduated, he fulfilled an ROTC commitment by enlisting in the army for a couple of years, during which time he served at Fort Lewis. During that time he married his wife, Jeannette, and they fell in love with the Northwest, eventually moving back to Washington in 1967.

He kept his day job at Scott Paper for a number of years after launching the winery in 1978, the 12th winery bonded in the state in the post-Prohibition era. In those early years, his Uncle André, whose consulting work brought him to Washington frequently in the ‘70s and ‘80s, was a mentor. During that period, Golitzin also made important connections that remain strong to this day.

“I bought grapes from Otis Vineyards in Yakima for my first commercial vintage, in 1979, and met Ciel du Cheval Vineyard’s Jim Holmes in 1980,” he said. “I bought a lot of grapes from Kiona back then, and continue to buy from Klipsun.”

In 1997, Quilceda Creek formed a partnership with Paul Champoux and a few other marquee wineries, including Andrew Will, to purchase Mercer Ranch Vineyard (renamed Champoux Vineyard) in the Horse Heaven Hills.  Then in 2001, the family planted the 17-acre Galitzine Vineyard estate adjacent to Ciel du Cheval on Red Mountain in partnership with Jim Holmes. In 2006, the winery expanded its estate vineyard holdings again with the purchase of a five acre site adjacent to Champoux Vineyard that included a long-term lease for 3.5 additional acres next to the property.

The addition of son Paul to the winemaking team in 1992 has been deeply rewarding, Golitzin said. “It’s been such a joy. He’s got tremendous talent,” he said. “He has taken us from good to great.”

Golitzin recounted the day in 1985 when Paul first became interested in the business.

“We were in Bordeaux when he was 16, and went to lunch at a friend of my Uncle’s. We tasted a bunch of wines before lunch and I thought Paul might fall asleep during the meal, but he was a trooper. Afterwards, he said ‘I could get used to this lifestyle.’ ”

While these days, Paul takes the lead role, Alex is still very much involved in many stages of the winemaking process. Blending remains his favorite part of being a producer. “It separates the men from the boys,” he quipped. “It takes a tremendous amount of work to get it right.”

This family operation extends to a couple of son-in-laws, one who runs sales and the other is the production manager.

“We never had to suffer the empty nest syndrome. We get to see all them all the time. It’s the best thing about the business,” Golitzin said.