If you’ve been in the Washington wine industry for a while, then you know the name Paul Gregutt. Last week, we were lucky enough to sit down for a chat with Paul at his home in Waitsburg, where he lives and writes about wine full-time for the Seattle Times, Wine Enthusiast, and his personal blog. Easygoing, friendly, and modest, Paul and I talked about his journey as a wine writer, the ever-changing Walla Walla wine scene, and his tips on educating oneself about wine. While Paul is a great source of information about wine, he has other fun passions as well, like playing and composing music. In fact, Paul has played at the Walla Faces tasting room in the past!
When I walked into his yard on Friday, Paul and his friend Larry were playing guitar together out in the sunshine, and Paul explained that he first got into writing through music. Working at a radio station in western Washington for a couple of years opened up opportunities for Paul to write concert and music reviews in the area. From that point on, Paul worked as a writer and wrote about many different areas, from music to film to technology to travel. He didn’t really become interested in wine until a dinner party at a friend’s house where he had some great wine and decided to learn more about it. After years of reading, tasting, traveling, and talking to people about wine, Paul convinced his editor at the Seattle Weekly to let him write a wine column about 25 years ago – around the time wine in Washington started to take off. As of 12 years ago, Paul began writing about wine full-time with the Seattle Times (which he joined in 2002) and Wine Enthusiast. While Paul seems like the Washington wine authority now, he simply describes his career in wine writing as being the “right guy, at the right place, at the right time”. After traveling all over the world to study and gain experience in wine, Paul still claims that he has never stopped learning new and exciting things about wine, which is why he has been able to focus on it for so long.
The Washington wine industry, and Walla Walla specifically, has experienced phenomenal growth from the time it began, both in the sheer volume of wineries and the quality of wine made, according to Paul. The very first guidebook of wineries in the Pacific Northwest was only 25 wineries long! And that is including Washington, Oregon, and Idaho. He attributes the improvements in the quality of wine to the learning curve that comes with making wine for a many years; that is, year to year, winemakers experience new challenges and learn from them, which helps to create a better product down the road. The maturing of vineyards, and improvement in vineyard knowledge and management in the area hasn’t hurt either! Additionally, there are also more resources available to those opening wineries or pursuing wine making, especially in Washington. Paul mentioned that previously, those who had been trained in California-style wine making had come to Washington state and found a very different environment, where their wine making knowledge needed to be adapted. Now with great enology programs open to students at places like the Walla Walla Community College or Washington State University, those who wish to make wine in Washington can have solid education and training.
I asked Paul briefly about his book, Washington Wines and Wineries…a great read if you want to learn more about Washington wine! While Paul admits he was reluctant to write the book at first, years of being hounded by a publisher and a desire to write the book in his own style eventually prompted him to write the first edition of the book. The second and more recent edition was actually published not too long ago, and is almost a different book just because of the rapid growth of Washington wines.
So what can a wine beginner do to learn more about wines besides read Paul’s book? Paul recommends talking to people who are knowledgeable about wine, going to events at wineries and wine tasting, joining tasting groups, asking a lot of questions, and traveling. Additionally, trying to learn everything in the world about wine is frustrating, so focusing your energy in one area at a time and building your knowledge methodically is key! As for starting a business in wine or opening a winery…Paul notes that there are thousands of different business models for wineries, and that models that are successful for some are unsuccessful for others.
After our interview, Paul showed me his wine cellar! (Pictured previously in the article.) Let me tell you…there is a lot of wine in there. He even had these empty bottles of Chateau St. Michelle and Associated Vintners (now Columbia Winery) from the 1960s! I also got to hear him play a couple songs on the guitar with Larry, and they’re pretty good! Their band name is The Wicker Chair Rhinos, and they’re actually going to be playing at the Green Spoon this coming Saturday (5/26). To learn more about Paul Gregutt, be sure to read up on his articles in the Seattle Times or Wine Enthusiast, or visit his blog! Big thanks to Paul for taking time out of his day to chat with me, and for giving Walla Faces such a great shout-out in last month’s Wine Enthusiast!
Vive Washington wines!