Decanter is one of the world’s top wine publications. The Pacific Northwest is one of the world’s top emerging wine regions. You would never know either based on a recent article in the magazine.
On December 12th Decanter published a 327-word article on the Pacific Northwest titled “Washington yields down, Oregon up as harvest finishes.” Decanter’s readers would have been best served if the article stopped there. Unfortunately, it does not.
In terms of Washington, the brief article mentions the cool growing conditions and lower sugar levels of the grapes in 2011. The article quotes a single Washington winemaker, Paul Beveridge of Wilridge Winery, with grim thoughts on the growing season – “nasty” Beveridge calls it, mentioning “pink Nebbiolo” due to what the writer refers to as “severe dilution of the grapes.”
First things first. 2011 was no doubt as challenging a year as many Washington growers and winemakers had seen with some of the coolest growing conditions. How tough was it? Let’s go to the source for Decanter’s article to find out.
“The objective measurements of degree days and frost dates point to 2011 as the toughest year in Washington wine grape history,” Paul Beveridge says. “But of course that is not to say that wonderful wines will not be made from some 2011 fruit.” He goes on to add, “I noted that 2011 was a great year for warm sites, with lots of hang time and flavor development, but that comment did not make it into the Decanter summary.” Indeed, and this would seem to be at odds with the thrust of the article.
Pink Nebbiolo? “My reference to Nebbiolo Rose was due to the historically low heat units on Naches Heights, not to dilution. We got exceptional concentration on Naches Heights in 2011 in the grapes that ripened fully.” Given the differences between ripening and dilution, this is a significant error in the article, especially given the implications for the state as a whole.
Let me add that if you’re going to quote one single individual to sum up the entire growing season in the state, it may not be the best idea to quote a winemaker with a young vineyard in one of the state’s newest, coolest growing regions, not to mention a region that possesses a total of 40 out of Washington’s 43,000+ planted acres of grapes! (No offense intended, of course, to Paul Beveridge, who I should note also sources grapes from other areas and has been making wine for more than 20 years.)
The bottom line if you read this Decanter article? Washington had a very bad year in 2011. What is the implication for you overseas and stateside readers? Pass on the wines. This is a disservice to the state, its growers and winemakers, and Decanter’s many readers.
Interestingly, the coverage of Oregon is far rosier, with terms like “miracle” and “classic Indian Summer” and “excellent harvest.” Two miracles in a row for our neighbors to the south? Miraculous! Meanwhile, Idaho was given largely neutral language.
Wait, Decanter is writing about Idaho wines?
Indeed, while Decanter devoted a scant 327 words to the Pacific Northwest, 97 of them went to Idaho (Oregon, 75; Washington, 107 excluding the two, short lead-in paragraphs). The relatively equal coverage of these areas seems curious given that Washington has more than 740 wineries, Oregon 419 as of 2010, and Idaho currently 46. If you are a Decanter reader who is unfamiliar with these growing regions, would this article make you inclined to think of them all on equal footing? Yup.
Ultimately, this article is a disservice to Decanter’s readers, not because of how little it says but because so much of what it says is, at best, cursory, and at worst inaccurate. If Decanter considers itself a top-flight wine magazine that offers serious coverage of the world’s wine regions, it’s time to either cover the Pacific Northwest seriously or not cover it at all. What it’s doing now is considerably worse.
I know. I know. Not quite in the spirit of the holidays. Sorry. For perspective, this post is two times the length of the Decanter article.