The art of winemaking at SodoVino Winery
An interview with Jim Musielewicz, co-owner and winemaker | Interview by Jessica Bright
With a finely-tuned palate and love of bringing joy to others, SODO winemaker Jim Musielewicz crafts sensual artisan wines with a flavor that is uniquely Washington. Personally inspecting the promising Eastern Washington vines that many believe will soon turn Washington State into one of the world’s premier winemaking regions, Musielewicz utilizes each of his five senses to select only the finest grapes to be pressed, yeasted, and aged into varietals perfect for any occasion.
Jessica Bright: How did you get started in winemaking?
Jim Musielewicz: We yeasted our first grapes when we were living in New England on September 11, 2001. Since then, it was a hobby that got bigger and bigger and grew out of the basement…when we moved [to Washington], my wife met Alex in a chatroom online looking for grapes. Just from that association we started buying grapes at the same location. In the process, we met Judy and Jody and all together started to explore the idea of what it takes to sell it. A really fun thing about the wine business is that people are really helpful; if you need something, or something broke, you’ll always find someone who will help you out.
JB: How many employees does Sodovino have?
JM: Mostly just me and my wife. I do most of the actual winemaking and she does a lot of the graphics, website, and communication stuff.
JB: What is unusual or unique about your approach to winemaking?
JM: I choose literally when they’re going to pick the grapes. You need to come up with your criteria. As you learn, you’ll get better at it. It’s a thoughtful approach and how to make it better. Try to be open and learn.
JB: How does the terroir of Washington affect the wine?
JM: Most of the grapes in Washington are grown in Eastern Washington. Eastern Washington is a desert at forty-five degree latitude in the North. It’s very different from California, Mexico, Argentina, or Chile…the general rule of thumb is that wine grapes don’t want to be too warm. With lots of photosynthesis you get lots of sugar. All of wine is a balance between the bitters and the sweets. Bitters are tannins and acids, and sweets are the sugar. The cool nights in Eastern Washington are good for the grapes because they keep the acids high. We have the cool evenings of the desert in the summertime. A lot of the acid is retained. Grapes do really well in Eastern Washington. Twenty years from now, I’ll bet there’ll be incredible wines coming out of Washington State. It’s so place and time dependent. Great wine comes from great grapes. It’s different every year, it’s this ever changing little thing. Washington State is the place to be in terms of winemaking.
JM: Within the last twenty years, Washington State has proven that it can produce wines as fine as anywhere in the world. When the four of us started [The Vineyard Table], we had less than 200 wineries in the state. This year, there are over 700.
JB: What are some of the greatest challenges in your business?
JM: Greatest challenges? The financial challenges. It’s really expensive. But I’ve run into all kinds of challenges. I’d never made wine on a commercial scale before. Never done the accounting and book managing side. Two things that I do a lot of: plain old work, and the sort of event, the people side of it. Those are two things that have been very helpful. A broad understanding of science and chemistry is good.
JB: How do work and art combine in what you do?
JM: Through passion and joy. Sometimes you do work and it’s work, but sometimes you do work and you feel you played all day. It’s the lucky person that gets to feel that they played all the time. It’s really the joy you feel. How do you be successful in this business? You can be an engineer, chemist…the level of investment in the wine world of all those things is huge…being a winemaker is definitely being on the romantic side of this. We don’t really make money at this. But it’s also one of the more joyful as you get to create, and then you get to share. You get a lot of affirmation when people like it. There’s a reason why there is a Roman god Bacchus and a Greek god Dionysus. There is a spiritual aspect of it. Weddings, funerals, bar mitzvahs…all of those things happen and you share in all that…It feels like you’re part of something bigger than yourself; you feel like you’re in a business you love and it’s really not just about wine.
JB: Is there any wine you’ve ever made that you feel exceptionally proud of?
JM: All the wine that tastes good when you’re sitting down with family and friends and someone says “Aw, that’s good!” or “This is great!”, that’s definitely one of the reasons I do it. I feel it’s one of the things that makes people happy.
SODOVINO is located on 85 South Atlantic Street in Seattle and holds regular tastings every second Saturday and by appointment. For more information, please contact Jim Musielewicz at (206)794-0966 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photography. Dean Forbes
Writer. Jessica Bright
Design. Sam Angell