Laura and Mike Mrachek are crystal clear about the factors that have helped them become among the most successful agricultural entrepreneurs in the state – hard work, an element of risk-taking and their Washington State University educations.
Now living in Malaga, Wash., the couple grows cherries, apples and wine grapes at three different sites in the state; they were named Growers of the Year by Good Fruit Magazine in 2007. They own and operate Saint Laurent Winery and tasting room, a commercial laboratory and an irrigation scheduling service. And, in their spare time, they volunteer their time to lead community projects such as Wenatchee’s Feast of the Arts and the WSU Celebration of Washington Wines. Both are active in state organizations, too, including the Washington State Horticultural Association.
“If you love what you do, it’s not off putting,” said Laura Mrachek. “A lot of people don’t want to work hard enough to get it done.”
She and her husband began their careers working for others, “But we come from a family of entrepreneurs,” Laura said. “There is just not the same satisfaction working for someone else that we’ve found working for our own businesses.”
She earned her Bachelor of Science degree in horticulture from WSU in 1976. Mike earned his B.S. degree in soil science and environmental science in 1974.
The couple met at WSU; both were active members of the WSU Alpine Club, a student rock-climbing group. “My roommate said we should try sky-diving or rock climbing,” Laura remembered. “I chose rock climbing.”
Some of the fondest memories of their college years revolve around all-night trips with the club to reach different climbing destinations, scaling a volcano or two, and as Mike said, “Just being in a world with people all the same age and discussing everything.”
The Mracheks are staunch supporters of their alma mater. Their son earned his bachelor’s in viticulture and enology in May 2008.
“I’m proud when I say I graduated from Washington State University,” Mike said. “It’s a big institution. Being a graduate is part of the solidarity in Washington Agriculture. Nobody else can do what it does in this state.”
He and Laura agree that they learned the academics they needed to succeed from professors like Henry Smith, who taught soil morphology. The Mracheks note, though, that they also learned life lessons outside the classroom at WSU.
“I learned to never give up,” Mike said. “I learned that, ‘yes, you can do this,’ if you put your head down and work. That has followed me through my whole life.”
Laura and Mike recently donated much of the equipment in WSU’s student wine lab.
“We felt that students need to learn about winemaking the way we really do it,” Mike said. “They need to follow it through to the barrel if they’re going to work in a winery.”
Laura agrees. “The whole physicality of the process is important,” she said. “They need to experience the olfactory and tactile part. If you involve all of the senses, you learn much better.”
The Mracheks said beyond skill set, though, they look for some very specific characteristics when hiring a new employee.
“They have to have fire in the belly and a real work ethic,” Mike said. “And really want to contribute to the success of the organization,” Laura added. “Mediocrity doesn’t move the needle.”