Even though I have had a pre-publication copy of the book in my hands since early July I have waited this long to write my thoughts about the second edition of Washington Wines and Wineries-The Essential Guide by Paul Gregutt. I could claim that the delay is because I wanted to ruminate about the new book and let my thoughts age and integrate like a great Washington wine. While that is true, another reason is that I was curious about where my comments on the book would fit in with other early reviewers. Chalk it up to uncharacteristic shyness. I waited.
Now that a few reviews by other wine bloggers have appeared I know right where I fit in – on the personal, more emotional, slightly meandering end of the scale. Well, the release date for Gregutt’s new book draws near. Delay no longer.
I was one of the wine geeks who purchased the first edition while the ink was still wet and immediately drank in the pages. One of my goals in getting my hands on a pre-publication copy of the second edition was to make the inevitable comparison between the two editions. Specifically, to see if Paul changed one of the big things in the first edition, a THING that bothered me.
In the first edition, Paul stated early on that one of the reasons he was writing the book was to explain why Washington should be considered a world-class winemaking region. As much as I enjoyed the book and referred to it over and over as I learned about Washington wine, the opening premise always bothered me. It felt like self-doubt, an underpinning of an inferiority complex. It was as if Rodney Dangerfield was standing in the vineyard with upturned hands, grape-stained, rolling his eyes and claiming, “I get no respect!” Did Washington need a session with Dr. Phil? Would the advice be “fake it til you make it”? Washington wines are anything but fake.
No, all the Washington wine industry needed was three more years. For the new edition, the first thing Gregutt does is throw out the premise of the first edition and declare that Washington IS a world-class winemaking region. (WooHoo! Buh-bye Rodney!) With no need to argue the point any longer the author turns to the grapes, the AVA’s, the wineries, the vineyards and the wines once again. In only three years since the first edition a lot has happened and Gregutt wraps his pen, or possibly keyboard, around it all and shares it with us.
The second edition was as enjoyable as the first as I took the journey once again learning of new wines and wineries and continuing discussions that were started in the first edition. I took 4.5 pages of barely decipherable notes. Here are just a few :
- Gregutt does a great job summarizing the history of Washington wine in ten pages. This really is the only chapter that did not change very much. The one percpetible change was his wish for the wine industry over the next decade – to take a leadership role in being ecofriendly and ‘green’ from vineyard to shipping to retailing to consumption. (Here! Here!)
- I applaud the author’s attempt to explain the massively confusing legal requirements for a winery to be able to label a wine as “Washington” or from an AVA such as “Horse Heaven Hills”. Both the federal and state governments have weighed in on content requirements for wine labels. Is it sufficient for the wine to be 75, 85 or 95% sourced from Washington or a single AVA? I read those 5 paragraphs multiple times and even began sketching a visual to try to understand. Gregutt is correct, the situation is mud.
- In the Grapes section, Gregutt once again states that Washington does not have a signature grape. This time, however, he is upbeat. The fact Washington can grow a variety of grapes is a timely match to the growing demand for different varietals. Marketers just need to figure out how to sell this. In this section, the presentation of his choice of the major grapes followed by the minor grapes is an improvement over the first edition which simply listed all the varietals alphabetically. Identifying the major grapes provides an entry point to understand a wine region that has more than one signature grape. After all, the Declaration of Independence has several signatures, not just one. We like that document well enough. Variety is the spice of life!
- The 100 point system for rating wineries is gone! (Cheers!) The point system felt contrived and pandering to any reader needing a 100 point system to understand any part of the wine industry. Gregutt’s criteria for rating wineries is different than rating wines so the rating system should be different. The star system replacing the point system feels customized and unique to wineries. His criteria remain the same it is only his method of notation that changed.
- Gregutt explains the reasons he believes are the cause of the erroneous perception that Washington wines are pricey. But he does not leave the reader hanging. He then presents a solution I found extremely plausible. I will not give anything away here creating a need for a Spoiler Alert. The reasons and the solution are great fodder for dinner discussion no matter the price of the wine being poured.
- There is the one THING that will bother me and have me running for the third edition in the future. Gregutt claims that “(t)he criticism that most of the best small Washington wineries do not own vineyards is no longer relevant.” This is a familiar criticism implied in the question so frequently overheard in tasting rooms. The question uttered by visitors before even trying the first pour – “So do you grow your own grapes?” He declares this issue moot by claiming that more wineries are putting in their own vineyards. Unfortunately, this gives validity to the belief that to make a good wine you must own the vineyard. I believe that owning the vineyard greatly increases your chances of making good wine but it is not an absolute determinant of the end result. I would like the issue put to rest in a way that makes vineyard ownership the tenth question asked in the tasting room rather than the first.
No one but Paul Gregutt can write this book. He is uniquely qualified as a decades long Washington wine devotee. But it is not a blind devotion, he provides transparency and accountability by explaining his method of evaluating wines, evaluating wineries, his palate, and the reason some wineries and wines may not be included. This honesty made it easy for me to know when and why I disagreed. Albeit the times were few, but Gregutt is a critic and with any critic you will not always agree.
Anyone, anywhere in the world, desiring to understand Washington wine, terroir, grapes and wineries would be remiss not to read this book. If you are that person, this book should be on your reference shelf. If you are traveling to Washington as a wine tourist, shove this tome into your carry-on luggage. To borrow a line from the book and change it ever so slightly – This book is not just good for the wine lovers in the region; it is good for wine lovers all over the world.
For a less meandering, more overall review of the book see Sean Sullivan’s post.
Watch Gregutt’s blog for upcoming book signings.