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Wednesday, Apr. 28, 2010

Woehler on Wine: A fond farewell... and a new venture

KENNEWICK — All good things must come to an end.

So, after 32 years of watching the Northwest wine industry grow from fewer than a dozen wineries to well over 1,300, including more than 500 in Washington, this is my last Tri-City Herald wine column.

I won't be leaving the wine scene entirely, because I'll still be writing two columns, Vintage Musing and Bargain Bob, for Wine Press Northwest magazine, which the Herald owns.

The Herald is replacing my column with a weekly article that will draw from tastings conducted regularly by Wine Press Northwest. I'm part of that panel, so I won't have any wine withdrawal pains. The new column also will run in several other Northwest newspapers.

But my aging, smiling face won't greet you from the Wednesday food and wine section any more.

With 32 years of writing about wine for a daily newspaper, my column has outlasted any other, which sort of makes me the dean of Washington wine writers.

How does dean emeritus of Washington's wine writers sound?

I never dreamed when I started writing about the Washington wine industry in 1978 that it would be a lifetime joy for me.

It doesn't seem so long ago that my editor sent me out to the land along Highway 395, where a tractor dealer named Bill Preston was building a winery, the first near the Tri-Cities. Preston Premium Wine is still there today, run by Bill's children and grandchildren.

Back then it was something unique. Soon two Walla Walla area wineries, the now famous Leonetti and Woodward Canyon, would follow. And those 32 years ago, Prosser had but two wineries, Hinzerling and Yakima River, with Hogue still on the horizon.

Oregon had about six wineries; Idaho one, Ste. Chapelle; Woodinville one, Chateau Ste. Michelle; the entire Puget Sound area perhaps two or three, including AV (now Columbia), generally acknowledged as Washington's oldest modern-era winery. British Columbia had a handful.

The wine industry folks I met in those early years included many who became key to establishing the wine industry and building it into what it is today: Rob Griffin, Doug Gore, Kay Simon, David Lake, Mike Januik, Dick Erath, Mike Conway, Harry McWatters, Mike Wallace, Rick Casqueiro, Myron Redford, Walter Clore, Gary Figgins, Rick Small and dozens more.

John, Anne and Scott Williams of Kiona Winery proved you can be regular folks and succeed with a dream and a little vision. The late Stan Clarke was first a winemaker, then a fellow wine writer and lastly a wine educator. Bob Betz, a master of wine and now a winery owner, when he worked for Chateau Ste. Michelle schooled me in my wine education.

Only once did I feel my column might be in jeopardy. In about 1979 or 1980, when Glenn C. Lee was the Herald's owner and publisher, I photographed a bushy-bearded Gerry Bookwalter at a blind tasting, holding two paper bags each containing a bottle of wine.

Lee was no fan of beards, especially not on someone holding a brown paper bag with a wine bottle inside. My editors calmed down Lee, my column endured and I gave up on photos of wine in brown paper bags.

Some memorable wines from those 32 years: Preston's 1977 Chardonnay, Leonetti's 1978 Cabernet Sauvignon, my first Chenin Blanc ice wine from Kiona, Cayuse 1998 Syrah, Barnard Griffin's incredible run with its gold-medal-winning Sangiovese rosé, Chinook Cabernet Franc, Domaine Ste. Michelle's always-wonderful sparkling wines, Hogue Sauvignon Blanc, Chateau Ste. Michelle Rieslings, Columbia Gewürztraminer, Quilceda Creek and Columbia Crest Cabernet Sauvignons during the past decade, Woodward Canyon Charbonneau white blend and any Merlot made by Mike Januik.

I'll still be tasting 36 or more wines a week for Wine Press Northwest, so don't feel sorry for me. The good life goes on.

In closing, I'll raise my glass a last time ... Salut!

*Bob Woehler has been writing about Pacific Northwest wines since 1978. E-mail him at bwoehler@charter.net or check out his past columns at www.winepressnw.com.