They say timing is everything. When we launched Wine Press Northwest in April 1998, there were 250 wineries in the Pacific Northwest. Today, there are more than 500.
Does that make us visionaries? Doubtful. We just happened to come up with a good idea at the right time.
Five years ago, we started this magazine because we wanted to celebrate the wines of the Pacific Northwest. We didn't feel like our region was getting much respect from the national and international wine publications and thought there was a niche to fill.
Since then, the profile of Northwest wines -- primarily Washington -- has risen considerably. It's actually difficult to go anywhere in the country without seeing a newspaper or magazine article on Northwest wines.
In 1998, we published two issues, printed 20,000 copies of each and gave them away at wineries throughout the Northwest. It was a test to see if the time was right for a Northwest magazine. When readers started sending in money -- even before we began offering subscriptions -- we knew we were on to something.
We moved to a quarterly schedule in 1999 and have stuck with that since -- with the biggest complaint being that we don't come out more often.
When I look back on the first several issues, I laugh -- and I cringe. Our production wasn't too hot, and the printer we used did a mediocre job at best. But readers responded because they were hungry for information. Once I left the feature page design to our freelance photographer Jackie Johnston and switched to a printer in Portland, the quality of the magazine started to take off.
We've adjusted the content of Wine Press Northwest through the first five years, though we've stuck to our guns that everything we cover has to do with Northwest wine. We started out with several standing features that still remain, including a Q&A column by Ken Robertson and the Match Makers series by Eric Degerman (he sends a bottle of wine to two different Northwest chefs and sees what they come up with for a matching recipe). In 2000, we welcomed two new columnists: Braiden Rex-Johnson, who pairs wines with fresh regional ingredients; and Mike Lee, who covered viticulture from a consumer standpoint. Sadly, the Winter 2002 issue contained Mike's last column, as he has since moved to Sacramento, Calif.
In 2001, longtime Northwest wine writer Bob Woehler began his column, "Vintage Musings," in which he reviews older Northwest wines, a job for which he is uniquely qualified: This year, Bob celebrates his 25th year as a newspaper wine columnist.
Beginning with this issue, we welcome Dan Berger as a columnist. Dan is a globally renowned wine writer and author who lives in Santa Rosa, Calif., and is smitten with Northwest wines. His column, "A Distant Perspective," contains his no-holds-barred approach to the world of wine -- with a special emphasis on the Pacific Northwest.
As I look back on our first half-decade, I'm most pleased with how we've developed our systems and standards for reviewing wines. Wine Press Northwest has had the privilege of working with Coke Roth, an international wine judge who lives in the Tri-Cities. Thanks to Coke's coaxing, we've modified the way we judge wines since we started, and now we evaluate everything with total blindness: We don't know the producer or even the variety or style of the wine until after we've judged and reviewed it. Two more volunteers, Hank Sauer and Paul Sinclair, ensure the judgings' integrity. This is the most honest way we can think of to fairly judge wines.
And judge wines we have. As of this issue, we've reviewed 2,811 wines in Wine Press Northwest. That's an average of nearly 150 Northwest wines reviewed per issue -- and we didn't really review that many wines the first two years. We've seen a lot of Merlot (433 so far), Chardonnay (310), Cabernet Sauvignon (298) and Pinot Noir (294). We've had front-row seats to the emergence of Syrah (158), and the renaissance of Riesling (147). We've earned a few cavities on late-harvest wines (79) and ice wines (56), and we've come to appreciate some varieties that are, well, out of the mainstream, including Auxerrois (2), Mueller-Thurgau (5) and Mourvedre (1).
I would be remiss if I didn't give credit to my wife, Melissa, who gets dragged around the Northwest to wine festivals and wineries, as well as my mother, Mona Perdue, who sells our ads. Early on, we struggled to find someone who wanted to sell advertising, and she'd recently retired after 30 years as a teacher. So I put her to work. It was supposed to be temporary, but she's done such a great job, now she's stuck with it.
Now it's on to the next five years.