Walla Walla Wordsmith Paul Gregutt Chats Wine with Joseph & Curtis
My love of Walla Walla has lead me to the introduction of Paul Gregutt. Paul has been a pioneer in the Washington State/Oregon wine world for years. Gregutt writes a column for the Seattle Times called “Wine Adviser” as well as The Walla Walla Union-Bulletin, and the Spokane Spokesman Review. Paul is also the Northwest Editor for Wine Enthusiast Magazine, as well as written articles for Decanter and Wine Spectator. Paul was kind enough to share some of his pleasures, knowledge, and of course love of Jazz – so let’s get right to it!
How did you get into wine?
My interest in fine wine was simply due to the generosity of friends, who knew something about it and shared some good bottles. I knew I was tasting something special, but I didn’t have a clue what! So I set about to learn more.
What is your background?
Journalism. I worked in radio from college (Brown University) on; then switched to television. All in Seattle. At the same time I began writing for the Seattle Weekly, covering lifestyle, film, popular music, theater and other pop culture topics.
What’s the connection between music and wine?
There are an awful lot of excellent musicians in the wine world. I think music uses a different part of your brain, and people who make wine tend to have creative minds that need constant stimulation.
I, like yourself, came from a music/broadcasting background of which I used to become a trader then cellar building company…how did you go to wine?
My wine writing evolved slowly out of my full time work as a journalist. I also spent a decade working for a company that did corporate communications for high tech and travel clients, and in the mid-90s I was a partner in a dot com start-up in Seattle. And no, we didn’t get rich. Very few people did. But all through the late ’80s and ’90s I had a regular wine column at some publication in Seattle, and also did a couple of wine books (now out of print) on the wineries of the Pacific NW. About 12 years ago a rather large, life-changing meltdown occurred and after that I just said the hell with it and turned to wine writing full time. And magically, opportunities opened up, most importantly the Wine Adviser column in the Seattle Times and the NW Editor position with Wine Enthusiast.
Favorite 3 jazz albums (ouch that’s a tough one) (I love sun goddess)
I prefer vocal jazz to instrumental jazz. So my favorites would be anything by Steve Tyrell, Susie Arioli, and Billy Holiday.
Your obvious favorite wine region and why?
Covering the growth and maturing of both Washington and Oregon wineries has been my professional calling card. As for wines of other regions, I am fascinated with the wines of the Okanagan in British Columbia; and in love with the wines of Tuscany and the Loire Valley. I would also have to add Chablis, Champagne, Priorat and Friuli to the “short list” of favorites.
How has Walla Walla and Oregon changed over the last few years?
Walla Walla has been hugely impacted by the explosive growth of wineries. When I first visited (in 1986) there were 4 wineries in the valley. Today there are over 130. They have brought in tourism, which brings in restaurants, lodging, and overall revitalization of the economy. How has Oregon changed? That’s a broad question. But I see much more variety and exploration of winemaking outside the core Willamette Valley. I see dramatically improved quality across the board. And lately I have been drinking older Oregon Pinots from my cellar and find that the best ones age beautifully.
Thoughts on the wine industry – both as winemaker and consumer?
It’s a golden age for consumers, at least here on the West Coast. Superb selection of both local and global brands, and with the Internet consumers have more information at their fingertips than they can possibly use. For winemakers I think it is still a time of exploration, and in some respects bringing the pendulum back a bit from the excesses (over-ripe grapes, too much new oak, etc.) of earlier years.
New up-coming winemakers and winery?
Of course this is the question I get asked by everyone. I have to confess that there are probably 200 new wineries right here in the Northwest that I’ve never even heard of! I would urge your readers to check my blog (www.paulgregutt.com) and the websites of the publications I write for on a regular basis. That’s where exciting new discoveries are first written up.
Please tell me about the blog?
I started the blog in 2008, intrigued with the opportunity to write about anything without regard to the needs of a particular publication. And I like the instantaneous aspect of it, the feedback from readers, the feeling of being right in the thick of breaking news.
Craziest wine story (that you can tell)?
My all-time worst moment in wine was on a press trip to Bordeaux many years ago. After a full morning of tasting, a huge lunch, and a massive post-lunch tasting, our group was set loose in the quaint little town of St. Emilion to work off the food and wine and were told to meet back at the restaurant in about 20 minutes. Well, I got completely turned around and lost. This was long before cellphones, GPS, etc. I mean, I was lost. It was like being 5 years old and losing your mom in the mall. I wandered that town for 3 hours, and finally went out to the perimeter and sat on the curb, looking around for a white van. Well, the white van finally found me, full of a lot of unhappy faces. We were three hours late to our next appointment, and the French hosts were ready to shoot someone.
Sancerre and crottin. Salmon and OR Pinot Noir. Chianti and pizza.