2021 Business Icons: Harold and Marcia Mielke, of Arbor Crest Wine Cellars
Before starting iconic winery, couple brought research expertise to Spokane medical communityMay 6th, 2021
Dr. Harold and Marcia Mielke have spent their lives with feet planted in both the medical and winery worlds. The couple have contributed indispensable medical research, and they co-founded of one of Spokane’s oldest wineries, Arbor Crest Wine Cellars.
They met at San Francisco General Hospital in 1963, where Harold, now 84, was interning, and Marcia, now 80, was working as a nurse in pediatrics. The two will celebrate their 57th wedding anniversary this July.
Throughout their careers, Harold and Marcia contributed groundbreaking medical research that changed industries. Harold published 65 different studies over the course of his career, including research on the effects of aspirin on bleeding time, bleeding and hemorrhagic complications of cardiac surgery, using laser technology to count blood cells, and the Spokane Heart Study, which he worked on with Marcia.
The pair have lived all over the country working at different universities and medical centers, including in California, Kentucky, New England, and Massachusetts, before finding their way back to California, where they lived in San Francisco for nearly 30 years.
They moved to Spokane in 1990 to be with family, Marcia says. They retired in 2006.
“We had three children by the time we moved (to Spokane), and we wanted them to be around their grandparents,” she says.
In 1993, the Spokane Heart Study was launched at Washington State University, with Harold as the director.
The research team also included Marcia, Sylvia Oliver, who is currently the director of STEM education outreach at WSU, and Diane Davis, a research coordinator with the WSU Health Research and Education Center.
The study, a near decade long endeavor involving over 1,100 volunteers, examined calcification of plaque in the coronary arteries as a predictor of who will develop coronary-artery disease.
Marcia says the study used CT scans, which “went faster than the blood flowed so that you could actually see when there were areas that were involved with plaque.”
Harold, a doctor who specializes in hematology, or the study of blood, spent much of his career at universities around the country heading up hematology departments and studies.
His research helped develop testing for AIDS and discovered the uses of acetaminophen as an anti-inflammatory, pain-reducing medicine that would be safe for hemophiliacs. That discovery led to the creation of Tylenol.
“Harry’s main thing in medicine was platelets, so he did a lot of work on that and the use of aspirin,” says Marcia. “He worked for Miles Laboratories as a consultant for a long time and they had the drug Alka-Seltzer.”
Each original Alka-Seltzer dose contained at least two aspirin, which is known to increase bleeding time in hemophiliacs, who bleed into their joints, she explains.
“He was looking at a lot of different things, and he came up with acetaminophen,” she says. “It was not being used. It was not on the market or on the shelf.”
Marcia worked with apheresis, or the separation of blood platelets, says Harold.
“They’re still using it at the blood center, only now they’re using it strictly for making cells, making platelets,” she says.
Prior to the use of apheresis, blood would be drawn from donors, and the platelets would be separated from the other blood components, which would typically be used for a single patient and would increase the chance of the patient having a reaction, she says. To get the proper amount of platelets from a single donor would require an unsafe amount of whole blood to be drawn.
Apheresis allows blood centers to draw whole bags of platelets without harming the donors, Marcia says, by drawing out a particular component in blood, such as plasma or leukocytes, and returning the remaining blood components to the donor.
Marcia served on the board for the Spokane Blood Center, now Vitalant, for nine years. She is still actively involved with Vitalant, she says.
Harold and Marcia both agree that their work with AIDS was among the most impactful.
“We were meeting with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Bruce Everett was the (associate) director, and he gave me a slide and you could see cells on the slide,” says Harold. “These funny little cells were in there and those were all AIDS virus. No one knew about HIV.”
The couple were working in San Francisco in the 1980s when the AIDS epidemic began.
“Because it was San Francisco, and because it was a large gay community, everybody in the gay community was so scared to death,” Marcia says. “Everybody was calling (Harold), trying to be discreet. … Nobody knew anything about anybody, and these people were very worried and scared.”
Their work led to the development of tests for AIDS, they say.
Harold, who was born and raised in Veradale, graduated with a bachelor’s in science in zoology from Washington State University before attending the University of Louisville School of Medicine. Marcia was born in Sacramento, California, and moved to Reno, Nevada, when she was young. She attended the University of Nevada and graduated with a degree in nursing.
At the time, Reno consisted of only 25,000 people, she says.
“It’s certainly significantly different than it was,” she says. “But it was great growing up in Reno. I loved it because we had all the access to the ice skating and skiing right in our backyard,” she says.
Harold grew up on a valley cherry orchard that he and Marcia, along with his brother David, would convert into a winery, he says. At the time, the valley also was a large apple orchard, and plowing machines were still pulled by horses.
His family ran a cannery that processed pie cherries. His father sold the cans along the West Coast, he adds.
That same site now is Arbor Crest’s production site. It also accommodates the Square Wheel Brewing Co., which was founded by their son, John Mielke.
In 1982, the couple, in partnership with Harold’s brother David, founded Arbor Crest Wine Cellars, which was the 29th winery established in Washington state. There are currently over 1,000 wineries in the state.
Until 1985, the tasting room was located at the production site, which is located on East Buckeye Avenue across the river from the Upriver Dam and Felts Field, says Marcia.
That year, on New Year’s Eve day, they purchased the 75-acre Riblet Estate, now known as the Cliff House, at 4705 N. Fruithill Road.
“On New Year’s Eve night, we had a party upstairs, and it was freezing,” she says with a laugh.
The winery saw some challenges, the Mielkes say.
In 1978, they planted 7 acres for a vineyard across from Upriver Dam.
“The only thing that took was the lemberger grape,” Marcia says. “And it’s never been popular here in Washington, basically because of its name,” which she contends sounds like a cheese.
The vineyard lasted there four years.
“We decided then that we were not going to plant a vineyard here. But vineyards were doing really well along the Columbia River, and (other winemakers) had started a couple of them, so we got in in the beginning with the major one,” she contends.
In 1999, they turned over operations to their daughter, Kristina Mielke-van Loben Sels, and her husband, Jim van Loben Sels.
Looking back, the Mielkes say they never envisioned when they were first starting out that this is where their lives would take them.
Marcia says she wanted to be a concert pianist when she was younger. Her teacher eventually talked her out of that career path, and she explored journalism and French in college before heading to nursing school.
Harold studied to be a zoologist before his family doctor talked him into medical school and studying hematology.
“We’ve had an awful lot of fun. We’ve had a lot of traveling and good friends,” says Marcia. “We’ve been in both communities, the medical world and the winery world.”