a change in direction

Monday, March 28, 2011

Taste Washington, arguably the biggest wine and food bash of the year here in Washington, came and went this weekend and I was not a part of the festivities. In years past I’ve done seminars, served on panels, signed books, and schmoozed my way through the Sunday tasting. I missed it all this year, and here’s why.

For a whole host of reasons, I am having to re-design my work life and particularly my approach to wine reviewing. This is due in large part to the sheer number of wineries that I am responsible for as part of my editorial/tasting panel duties for Wine Enthusiast. When I joined the magazine back in 1998, there were maybe 120 or 130 wineries in Washington and fewer in Oregon. Those numbers have ballooned to more than 1100 wineries in the two states.

My agreement is to taste and review every wine submitted from wineries located in, or using grapes from, either state. As I have written before, I am no fan of run and gun wine reviewing. I don’t like to line up 60 or 80 or 100 wines at once and slam through them. In fairness and out of respect to the wineries, I prefer to taste under controlled conditions, meaning at home, with the proper stemware, with no intrusive smells or sounds (yes – sound can be intrusive, in that it disrupts concentration), and most of all, with time to really study and revisit the wines, often over many hours or even days.

During the past five years, while orchestrating a number of renovations and a long distance move to wine country, I also wrote two editions of Washington Wines & Wineries: the Essential Guide. In order to make those books as comprehensive as possible, I set out to meet in person with as many vintners and growers as time would allow. That allowed me to gather a great deal of valuable material that was primarily used in the books. It required a huge investment of time, far beyond what would ordinarily be devoted simply to reviewing wines.

The books are done, and I am turning my attention to reviewing the ever-increasing numbers of wines crossing my path. And in order to place the Washington and Oregon wines in a proper context, I need to taste wines from around the world as well. These tastings feed my newspaper columns and this blog.

So this is why I can no longer do in-person tastings, private visits to wineries, and attend massive consumer events such as Taste Washington. There simply aren’t enough hours in the day, days in the week, weeks in the year to divvy up my time equitably. The fairest approach, and the one that best preserves my time for really concentrating on the individual wines, is to focus on tastings at home, and the bi-monthly tastings orchestrated for me by the Wine Commission.

I hope this makes good sense, and I want you all to know that I remain totally committed to doing a most thorough and professional job of reviewing your wines. Keep your eyes on this blog for the most immediate updates, on Wine Enthusiast for full reviews and scores, and on my newspaper columns for surveys of wines from around the world.

In vino veritas!



Anonymous said...


Thanks for the clarification. It is this level of professionalism that is one of the reasons I rely on your reviews. Keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

Paul, So many wines , so few days!. I am with you. I have been involved with Taste washington for many, many years, love the show casing of wines, people and our state. Yesterday, my perspective changed a bit "is it to much?' to overwhelming? I , as a seasoned professional? (lol) tend to spit, dump and taste new or selected wines, vintages I have not tasted in recent months. Upon leaving, it looked like Mardi Gras, Rock Festivals of old..not pretty seeing more than four different groups in various corners puking there guts out. to much of a good thing?

PaulG said...

Thank you Anon #1 for the kind words. Anon #2 – you said a mouthful. I wasn't there, but I am not surprised. An unfortunate part of the new era of consumer-oriented wine tastings is just this – people simply getting sloshed. It's dangerous, disrespectful, and ultimately pointless. But unless some meaningful security is installed on-site (not just checking to see if the drunks are driving) I think it will only get worse.

MagnumGourmet said...

I was hoping that the industry would be pushing moderation at Taste WA this year, but here are two examples where it didn't seem to be going that way.
#1 - Got a pour from Rotie Cellars that filled my glass more than half full.
#2 - I was spitting religiously (and it was nice that there were paper spit cups available) and was told by a staff member (don't remember which booth) as I poured out a full spit cup that "you sure are wasting alot of wine".
Although I didn't see anyone getting sick at the event, I puposefully left a half hour before the end as to not be on the road with the rest of the participants.

Anonymous said...

As a follower of your, Paul, I have noticed lately the overwhelming amount of opportunities that you are subjected to. My answer-clone yourself. While the reproduction may not be as capable of handling the more developed aspects of your career, just think how much more time you'll have without dealing with the governmental bureaucracy, traffic, and reality television. Wow!

Anonymous said...

The faster the pour, the earlier they get to leave, they only have to bring 3 cases! many wineries were gone early!

Anonymous said...

Bravo Paul! Being a local WA distributor rep I have been talking a lot recently about how people taste and evaluate in the oddest of conditions. Out on the street I see it all. I have been concerned about how people throw out comments on web about wine they are tasting in a not so professional setting. It effects many. Good to see you get it.

Bob Neel said...

PG - (sorry in advance for the long post)
#1: I fully understand that Taste WA (TW) isn't a good venue for you to evaluate wines. And I REALLY appreciate the manner in which you give wines a full-on opportunity to show themselves in a controlled, relaxed environment.
#2: That said, this TW was better than many recent ones I've attended. (We've participated since the days of the Paramount Theater.) The "Trade" segment was sparsely populated and afforded me a great opportunity to get around to most of the wineries in a fairly efficient manner. I wish there had been more members of the trade in attendance, since I think it would have been well worth their time.
#3: Regarding the "to [sic] much of a good thing" comment, I felt it was MUCH more moderate than years past. We poured ten different wines over six hours and only went through ONE CASE of wine. (Amazing!) Thanks, "MagnumGourmet," for calling out wineries that were pouring egregiously large samples. Shameful! Flow restrictors and 1/2-oz. pours were the order of the day. And the comment about "wasting" wine is SO inappropriate -- better for wine to be wasted than for people to be wasted.
#4: This was a far more safe and sane TW than any in recent memory. I admit that I didn't witness anyone driving the porcelain bus, and there weren't any sloppy drunks at our table. Nobody asking for "free" bottles. Or super-sized pours in the last ten minutes. At no time were we were more than three people deep, compared with six-deep in years past.

All in all, kudos to the WWC for a higher quality event than any in the last five-or-more years.

@mattvel said...

Thank you for all you do for WA and OR wine. As a relatively newcomer to the wine world (spent 30 years in the military, tasted a lot of wine but was never in one place long enough to really learn about the wine)I've found your book, blog and column/articles in the Wine Enthusiast and Spokesman Review to be quite helpful to me in learning more than any other source. So please keep up the great work. I for one really appreciate it. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

As a food "vendor" at Taste Washington this year the requirements were insane! Unlike years past I was required to buy a $50+ temporary food service permit and asked to bring 3000 bites. I ended up making about 1200 and went through about 800 of them. I believe the additional requirements for the restaurants discouraged a lot of the smaller food venues from attending, and overall reduced the amount of food being offered. This could have been a factor in the amount of wine being consumed. While at my booth I only saw a few (perhaps 5 or 6) people who were truly sloshed and witnessed only one verbal altercation at the very end of the event.

The one thing that did concern me, however, was that in the midst of all of the wine-tasting they had Maseratis on display and for sale. I know it may seem like an unlikely buy at a wine event, but I thought the association of wine and cars was slightly distasteful.

I did, however, enjoy the wine-barrel furniture and the "sensory experience" area where wine newbies (like myself) could see/smell the difference the correct glassware makes in tasting a wine.

This was a fun event and I look forward to attending next year; I hope by then that the health department will once again allow the event to purchase "blanket permit" to cover all of the food being served. Thanks for reading my slightly off-topic comment! ;-)

Anonymous said...

Vendor- welcome to the new health department. The need money, of course they will charge per vendor. You must not do many events as this has been the case for some time now. Just go with the flow if you want to play. Thanks Paul for the info.

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