Hey Decanter: Cover the Pacific Northwest Seriously or Don’t Cover It At All

Decanter is one of the world’s top wine publications. The Pacific Northwest is one of the world’s top emerging wine regions. You would never know either based on a recent article in the magazine.

On December 12th Decanter published a 327-word article on the Pacific Northwest titled “Washington yields down, Oregon up as harvest finishes.” Decanter’s readers would have been best served if the article stopped there. Unfortunately, it does not.

In terms of Washington, the brief article mentions the cool growing conditions and lower sugar levels of the grapes in 2011. The article quotes a single Washington winemaker, Paul Beveridge of Wilridge Winery, with grim thoughts on the growing season - “nasty” Beveridge calls it, mentioning “pink Nebbiolo” due to what the writer refers to as “severe dilution of the grapes.”

First things first. 2011 was no doubt as challenging a year as many Washington growers and winemakers had seen with some of the coolest growing conditions. How tough was it? Let’s go to the source for Decanter’s article to find out.

“The objective measurements of degree days and frost dates point to 2011 as the toughest year in Washington wine grape history,” Paul Beveridge says. “But of course that is not to say that wonderful wines will not be made from some 2011 fruit.” He goes on to add, “I noted that 2011 was a great year for warm sites, with lots of hang time and flavor development, but that comment did not make it into the Decanter summary.” Indeed, and this would seem to be at odds with the thrust of the article.

Pink Nebbiolo? “My reference to Nebbiolo Rose was due to the historically low heat units on Naches Heights, not to dilution. We got exceptional concentration on Naches Heights in 2011 in the grapes that ripened fully.” Given the differences between ripening and dilution, this is a significant error in the article, especially given the implications for the state as a whole.

Let me add that if you’re going to quote one single individual to sum up the entire growing season in the state, it may not be the best idea to quote a winemaker with a young vineyard in one of the state’s newest, coolest growing regions, not to mention a region that possesses a total of 40 out of Washington’s 43,000+ planted acres of grapes! (No offense intended, of course, to Paul Beveridge, who I should note also sources grapes from other areas and has been making wine for more than 20 years.)

The bottom line if you read this Decanter article? Washington had a very bad year in 2011. What is the implication for you overseas and stateside readers? Pass on the wines. This is a disservice to the state, its growers and winemakers, and Decanter’s many readers.

Interestingly, the coverage of Oregon is far rosier, with terms like “miracle” and “classic Indian Summer” and “excellent harvest.” Two miracles in a row for our neighbors to the south? Miraculous! Meanwhile, Idaho was given largely neutral language.

Wait, Decanter is writing about Idaho wines?

Indeed, while Decanter devoted a scant 327 words to the Pacific Northwest, 97 of them went to Idaho (Oregon, 75; Washington, 107 excluding the two, short lead-in paragraphs). The relatively equal coverage of these areas seems curious given that Washington has more than 740 wineries, Oregon 419 as of 2010, and Idaho currently 46. If you are a Decanter reader who is unfamiliar with these growing regions, would this article make you inclined to think of them all on equal footing? Yup.

Ultimately, this article is a disservice to Decanter’s readers, not because of how little it says but because so much of what it says is, at best, cursory, and at worst inaccurate. If Decanter considers itself a top-flight wine magazine that offers serious coverage of the world’s wine regions, it’s time to either cover the Pacific Northwest seriously or not cover it at all. What it’s doing now is considerably worse.

I know. I know. Not quite in the spirit of the holidays. Sorry. For perspective, this post is two times the length of the Decanter article.

Sean P. Sullivan


  1. You are spot on, Sean. Decanter briefly ran some of my articles a decade ago; then turned over their "coverage" of the Pacific NW to California-based writers with no knowledge of the region. It went downhill from there. If anyone at Decanter is paying attention they'll hire you to provide some accurate coverage. Good luck with that!

  2. Well put Sean, growing up on the east coast (south) I know a lot of people don't fully understand what is going on out here as far as wines are concerned and look at magazines to give them some insight into the region. This article (which I did not read) seems to give the reader the wrong idea of the vintage by not giving a fuller picture of what is going around the state. While the 2011 vintage had its difficulties there were some exceptional grapes to be found and I think we will see great wines from this vintage, and some mediocre ones as well. As journalists I think these publications owe it to their readers to do a better job at researching their topics and presenting more than one angle on a vintage when what they publish has the potential to damage the reputation of many based on the verdict of a few.
    Good article.
    Justin Michaud

  3. There's been plenty of bad pub for Oregon this vintage as well. Maybe not from these clowns but it's been fairly rampant. This, along with the over priced subscriptions is why the major magazines will probably continue to be irrelevant for NW wine fans.

  4. Amen, dude. Noone's paying attention to the PNW over there. Their loss.

  5. Decanter devoted the correct amount of space to a secondary market that very few people outside of the Pacific Northwest care about! Stop whining and start making better wines, and maybe the world will start to care about the area.

  6. Hey maybe this will be my year to get off the wait list for Cayuse and Quilceda! Keep that bad PR freight train rolling! LOL

  7. Anon 2:34am, yawn. I'm fine with a short article on the area - even one that is critical of the vintage - if it is well researched, well written, and accurate. This article is none of these things.