Steve Roberts never expected to be known as "the WineTrails guy." But the Mercer Island man just might be the best-selling wine author in Northwest history.
Roberts, who grew up in Spokane, has written four books on wine, starting with WineTrails of Washington in 2007 and most recently WineTrails of Walla Walla, which came out in November.
His inspiration began in a Seattle Barnes & Noble.
"In November 2005, I went looking for a guidebook on Washington wineries," he said. "I saw a number of books on Washington wine but couldn't find a guidebook."
Roberts wanted something similar to what Rick Steves writes for Europe, with information on where the wineries are, where to stay and eat and other nearby activities.
"So that evening, it hit me that a guidebook was needed and I was the guy to do it."
Roberts wasn't an author, however. He'd spent much of his professional life on the East Coast working in public health.
"I didn't know the first thing about publishing. I didn't realize what I had bitten off in terms of the sheer size of the Washington wine industry," he said. "Later, I would look back and realize that sometimes it's good to be incredibly naive. Had I known I would be racking up thousands of miles on my poor car and staying in less-than-one-star motels for many nights and emptying my bank account, I'm sure I wouldn't have embarked on such an endeavor."
Fortunately for fans of Northwest wine, he moved forward with his vision.
WineTrails of Washington includes profiles on nearly 240 wineries in its 600 pages. Roberts did all the writing and photography, then decided to take on publishing it himself, too.
"By self-publishing, we have more control over the design of the book and its distribution," he said. "For example, I felt the books needed to be full color throughout. Who wants a book on wine country travel that is black and white?"
In 2009, Roberts followed up his successful first effort with WineTrails of Oregon, a 538-page guide to more than 200 wineries. In 2010, he came out with WineTrails of Idaho, a guide exclusively focused on the Gem State's burgeoning wine regions. And last fall, he released WineTrails of Walla Walla, a 264-page book on Washington's most concentrated and, arguably, most famous wine region. Roberts logged 20,000 miles doing the research for that book.
To date, Roberts has sold more than 35,000 copies through wineries, wine shops, Amazon, bookstores and other retailers, which likely makes him the most successful wine author in the Northwest.
Not the type of guy to slow down, Roberts also created WineTrailsNW.com, a website that includes information on the wineries, as well as events, travel tips and other activities. He's also in the midst of developing apps for the iPhone and iPad.
"Although the guidebooks are used by wine tourists of all ages, it is this digitally savvy group of echo-boomers who are comfortable with smartphones and iPads for navigating the tasting rooms of wine country," he said. "The WineTrails Northwest website and soon-to-be-released app will aid these travelers, as well."
Once he is done with the iPhone app, he will dive into a completely revised edition of the Washington book. He also has thoughts of going north of the border to tackle British Columbia's exploding wine region. All of this is balanced with a full-time job in the health insurance industry.
"If I were to win the lottery, I would devote full time to Wine Trails Northwest," he said. "That's where my heart lies. That's where I get my creative juices going because it combines all the things I love to do -- visit wine country, meet people, snap pictures, write, eat great food and, of course, drink terrific wine."
*Andy Perdue and Eric Degerman run Great Northwest Wine, a website that provides news and information about the wines of Washington, Oregon, British Columbia and Idaho.