As I think about about the past decade, I find myself shaking my head - not about how quickly the time has passed or what has happened in the Northwest wine scene, but about just how young and naive we were when we started Wine Press Northwest in the spring of 1998.
I was 33 years old, by my own accounting a grizzled journalist who'd been in the newspaper business for 13 years and knew it all. Frankly, my knowledge of wine was frighteningly limited. Looking back, it took a certain level of hubris for me to think I could be the editor of a wine magazine. Looking back on those first two issues, I cringe and chuckle simultaneously at what we published.
Managing Editor Eric Degerman and I hatched the idea of launching a wine magazine while sitting around late one night in the Tri-City Herald newsroom. We'd both been traveling down the road of wine appreciation and enjoyment for a few years and often talked about the local discoveries we'd made. That particular night, we were waiting for the newspaper's big presses to roll and were complaining about the general lack of coverage and respect the big wine magazines gave our little corner of the wine universe.
We were hungry for information, and we weren't being fed.
The next day, I strode into the publisher's office and told him I had an idea: I wanted to start a wine magazine - and I wanted him to pay for it. A decade ago, newspapers were fat and happy. Advertising and circulation goals were being met with relative ease. These days? Not so much. I'm reasonably certain I could walk into any newspaper publisher's office today and be laughed back into the foyer. Even with business plans, profit-and-loss statements and lists of potential advertisers, it would be extremely difficult to launch a niche publication such as Wine Press Northwest.
Fortunately, this was a decade ago. That particular publisher said, "Why not?" and the first issue rolled off the presses four months later.
Our initial plan was to publish it on newsprint and focus entirely on Washington. Wine Spectator started out on newsprint, and it's done pretty well for itself through the decades. Fortunately, we decided to put it on glossy magazine stock. My father-in-law, who lives near Portland, said we'd be foolish to not include Oregon, which had a healthy wine industry. I quickly concurred. I then looked north and realized British Columbia was a fascinating and emerging wine region, so we included it, too. Idaho, which had a dozen wineries, was added to the package because it is part of the region defined as "Pacific Northwest."
In the ensuing years, we've changed a lot about Wine Press Northwest. We are better at seeing and understanding trends. We do a better job at balancing coverage throughout the region (every region complains we don't do enough for them, which I think validates this point). And we know a lot more about wine than we did. I think we even qualify as experts.
I'm 43 now, still considered fairly young in the wine writing game. I became a father last fall. I have a lot more gray in my hair and beard. I am more grizzled than I was a decade ago. I think 33-year-olds are know-it-alls who actually know very little. I apologize to all you 53-year-olds who thought of me the same way in 1998.
I am not quite sure what I expected to happen a decade ago. I suspect I saw this as a fun departure from the sometimes-dreary job of editing stories and writing headlines on a newspaper copy desk. I never anticipated writing a book about wine, being asked to speak on the subject or becoming a wine judge. I didn't think I'd become quite so picky about things like cheeses and olive oils. My wife sometimes thinks we've become snobs about food (to which I reply that I still work at a newspaper and cannot afford to be too snobby about such things).
What has not changed in the past decade is our laser focus on the wines of the Pacific Northwest.
We started this magazine with the idea that we would never waver from our goal of covering Northwest wine. If we wrote about travel, it would be where to go in Northwest wine country. If we wrote about food, it would be about regional food-and-wine pairings or chefs who support Northwest wine. We are regularly approached by writers who want to cover microbrews, spirits or other products that are not Northwest wine. Sorry, that's not our gig. If you think it's a winning idea, go start your own magazine.
The best thing that has come out of running this magazine is not the wine samples. Trust me: Tasting wine for a living sounds like fun until you get to your 40th Chardonnay of the morning. Rather, it's been the people we've met and friendships we've made along the way. Most of the folks in the wine business are not in it for the money. They have a passion for wine, a burning desire they're trying to fulfill. Shared passions tend to make for long and wonderful friendships. I love walking through vineyards or barrel rooms with people in the wine industry. No matter their age, they never seem to quell the enthusiasm they have for fermented grape juice.
As we put issue No. 39 to bed, I can't help but wonder where we'll be in another decade. I'll be 53. My daughter will be a teenager. I'll be a lot more gray - and a lot more grizzled. I'll probably look back at what we're publishing today, shake my head and wonder what I was thinking.