Early next month the second edition of Washington Wine & Wineries: The Essential Guide hits the shelves. Coming almost three years after the first edition, the book has been completely revised and updated. The need for a new edition, which includes greatly expanded winery listings, is indicative of the fast pace the Washington wine industry is growing. It also reflects the additional vintages numerous wineries now have under their belt.
Author Paul Gregutt writes in the introduction, “Reading this book should feel like a tour through a state with an old friend who happens to be a local and who knows it well. I am that friend.” He more than succeeds. Washington Wines & Wineries is written in the crisp, engaging style that has made Gregutt such a compelling writer over the years. It is a book the novice can understand and enjoy but still contains enough detail to engage and inform people already familiar with the state and its wines.
Gregutt, whom I consider a personal friend as well as a professional friend in arms, serves as contributing editor for Wine Enthusiast and as a columnist for the Seattle Times. He also writes a must-read wine blog.
Gregutt moved to Washington in 1972 – the same year the first vines at Champoux, Celilo, and Sagemoor vineyards were planted. Much like there is no substitute for vine age, Gregutt brings to Washington Wines & Wineries a perspective that can only come from being on the ground in Washington for almost forty years. During this time the industry has grown from a handful of wineries to almost seven hundred.
Like the first edition, the second edition of The Essential Guide provides information about Washington’s history, grapes, viticultural areas, essential vineyards, and most important wineries. While the first edition of the book was intended to make the case for Washington as a world-class wine region, Gregutt now takes this as a given. Though there is still work to be done bringing this message to the masses, the case is now clear.
Washington Wines & Wineries begins with individual chapters on the state’s history, its viticultural areas, and grapes. Gregutt then follows with the state’s top twenty vineyards – an expansion from the ten vineyards listed in the first edition. Vineyards in this chapter are divided into ‘Grand Cru’ and ‘Premier Cru’ sites.
The meat of the book, however, is the four chapters and almost two hundred pages devoted to the state’s wineries. While the first edition included about one quarter of the state’s wineries in its chapters, the new edition has been expanded to include one third. The number of entries has approximately doubled.
Gregutt uses the same standards to evaluate wineries he used in the first edition. However, he replaces the controversial 100-point system he used previously with a star-based system. Chapters are devoted to five star wineries, four star wineries, three star wineries, and ‘rising stars.’ Each of these chapters begins with an explanation of the criteria used for including a winery.
While the list of wineries in the book has nearly doubled, any such list is bound to stir discussion and dissent about which wineries are included, which are not, and where they are ranked. Gregutt acknowledges this, writing, “Like any list, it can be challenged, argued over, or picked apart.” Reading an opinionated list is, of course, part of the fun and part of the point. Gregutt is bringing his extensive experience to bear in writing about these wineries. The introduction of the book provides a summary of the methodology Gregutt uses to evaluate wines. It also contains the disclaimer that some wineries do not submit wines for reviews and thus cannot be evaluated.
Overall, the second edition is much like a new book in many respects. Numerous aspects have been revised, added, or subtracted. Gone are most of the sidebars that were in the first edition, which, while interesting, distracted from the overall flow. Also gone are the chapters on the future of the industry, which are now condensed into the epilogue or removed entirely. The result is a considerably more fluid and compelling book.
In addition to these numerous expansions and improvements, there are a couple of hiccups in the second edition leftover from the first. The chapter on the state’s grapes, which provides a fairly exhaustive listing, gets bogged down at times. Ordering the more important grapes and the lesser players might make for easier reading for those unfamiliar with Washington. Additionally, the ‘best varietally labeled bottles’ lists get long for certain grapes. Picking the top twenty or so, while no doubt controversial, might provide higher value to consumers. Still, these distractions are minor.
Ultimately, Washington Wines & Wineries is indeed an essential guide. It more than amply accomplishes its intention of providing the reader with background on Washington State, its wines, and many of the best wineries. For anyone interested in the subject, it is, quite simply, the indispensable and authoritative book on the subject.
Gregutt concludes the second edition by writing, “Those of us fortunate enough to live and work here invite the rest of you to come visit and see what all the excitement is about.” Hear hear.
Book received as promotional copy.