Celebrating 18 years of Washington Wine Report

Over the years, I have often told the story of the inception of Washington Wine Report. It turns out that the story I was telling was wrong.


The story that I have told innumerable times goes like this.

In 2005, a friend and I travelled out to Yakima Valley and visited a series of wineries. After this trip, my friend asked me to write up my notes and scores of the wines we tasted. I did so and emailed the notes to him. He subsequently distributed those notes and reviews to his friends. These friends shared them with their friends and so on and so on.

Washington Wine Report was born. I called it that at the top of the emails because that was what it was – a report on Washington wines. It began the year of that trip as an email distribution list. 15 years ago today, June 17th 2007, I launched Washington Wine Report as an on-line site. Over the next several years, I transitioned from the long-form PDF reports I distributed via email to being fully on-line.

As I approached today’s on-line anniversary, I started to wonder, what was the date when my friend and I first went out to Yakima Valley? When exactly did all this really start?

I did some digging into my historical records. In the 2000s, I kept weekly planners detailing what I did each day. I looked through 2005. I found no record of a trip to Yakima Valley. To say I was surprised would be an understatement. I looked through 2006. I also found no record of a trip to Yakima Valley. How could I have not written down such a momentous turning point in my life?

I reached out to my friend who accompanied me to Yakima Valley that year to see if he had any remembrances or any pictures. He had both.

It turns out the year he and I travelled to Yakima Valley was 2004 according to his pictures. I subsequently looked at my planner for that year and confirmed the same. It was April 25th 2004. We went out to the valley for Spring Barrel Weekend.

I recall visiting Apex Cellars and talking with Brian Carter (now Brian Carter Cellars). I also recall going to Goose Ridge and being impressed by their Sol Duc. My friend recalled, which I had initially forgotten, a trip to Hightower on Red Mountain. Hightower poured two wines made from the same fruit, one aged in Hungarian oak and one aged in French oak. The comparison was an early wine revelation for me.

The next weekend, another friend and I travelled out to Walla Walla for Spring Release. This was my first time visiting the valley, and I was hooked on the area’s wines and other charms. I have been ever since.

I very much remember that trip to Walla Walla, including a dinner at now defunct Grapefields. But what I had forgotten is that on the way back home, we met up with my friend I had been to Yakima Valley with the weekend before.

We went to Red Mountain to visit more wineries. I remember tasting wine in the basement at Kiona and visiting Terra Blanca. I bought a magnum of Terra Blanca’s Merlot, which was a wine I used to buy frequently from the wine shop up the street from where I lived then and now. Other places we visited that day are sadly lost to the sands of time. I used to have many of my original paper notes. However, I discarded them a few years back when my wife and I moved (yes, it was her idea that I divest of my large stash of handwritten hoarder notes).

So, in the end, the story I’ve been telling was right, but the year was wrong. It was a 2004 trip to Yakima Valley that ultimately changed the course of my life, not a 2005 trip. I am more than a little surprised, but memory is, of course, fallible.

I am also amazed that two such momentous trips – the trip to Yakima Valley and my first trip to Walla Walla Valley and Red Mountain – occurred within a week of each other. Talk about a life changing seven days, though I surely could not have fully appreciated in the impact at the time. It’s also a good reminder that any day, maybe even today, momentous changes are possible. They might start in seemingly the smallest of ways.

The picture here is of a very young me standing next to Lemberger vines at Kiona with my friend’s puppy. I’ve also included a snapshot of the daily planner, with my pushbutton pencil writing.

Over the ensuing years, I eventually stopped detailing the events of each day. My friend’s puppy grew up, grew old, and eventually passed. I grew older too, so much so that this picture almost seems unrecognizable to me now.

But 18 years later, I continue to write about and review Washington and now Pacific Northwest wine, as I started doing formally after that trip. It has been quite a ride.

Sean P. Sullivan

6 comments:

  1. My guess is you are standing a Kiona with Red Mtn and Hightower in the background.

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    1. You are correct! I am standing at Kiona in front of their Lemberger vines. I meant to update the text yesterday after messaging with JJ Williams at Kiona. I'll do so now.

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    2. Note JJ also gave me a current day picture you can find on my WWR Facebook page.

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  2. We Washington wineries appreciate all your good work in reporting on our wines!

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  3. Excellent reporting !!

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