With the inaugural issue of Great Northwest Wine Magazine under the leadership of Eric Degerman, we turn a page into a new chapter of Pacific Northwest wine and culture.
Eric and I met in 1989 when we worked for the Tri-City Herald, one of the better mid-sized daily newspapers in the Pacific Northwest. We had become friends in that newsroom, working nights together while Eric covered the Tri-City Americans hockey club as a sports reporter and I was the news editor in charge of the copyediting and page design for the next morning’s edition.
We became interested in wine at about the same time in the mid-1990s. My curiosity was piqued out of self-education (from editing wine columnist Bob Woehler) and survival (visiting wineries was quality entertainment for my in-laws).
As part of my growing thirst to know more about wine, I subscribed to a national wine magazine. Eric and I would discuss the content in detail as we waited for the newspaper press to rumble to life in the early morning hours.
In one issue, the magazine focused on American Chardonnay, not once mentioning the Pacific Northwest. As I was commenting on this oversight, Eric quietly and somewhat sarcastically mentioned that somebody needed to start a magazine focusing on Northwest wine.
The more I thought about Eric’s statement, the more I thought, “Who better to do that than a couple of young journalists who grew up in Washington?”
The only magazine experience I had, however, was from a couple quarters at Western Washington University. I don’t think Eric had any magazine experience from the University of Washington. But why should a lack of expertise stop a good idea? The next day, I walked into the publisher’s office and said I wanted to start a wine magazine and I wanted him to pay for it.
Surprisingly, Ian Lamont (a teetotaler) agreed and paired us with advertising director Rosemary Giacci (a wine lover) to get things rolling. We found a printer in Portland and started the journey.
We were originally going to focus on Washington, but quickly discovered Oregon had a thriving industry. We included British Columbia and Idaho almost as an afterthought — a fortunate move because each is dynamic, with wine regions worthy of in-depth coverage.
My mom, Mona Perdue, a retired schoolteacher in Bremerton, sold advertising for us and personally distributed magazines throughout Puget Sound. She had met Dad in a journalism class at Washington State University in Pullman and, early in their marriage, they owned a weekly newspaper in the Seattle area. The challenge of launching a wine magazine was in her blood!
Eric and I realized that we needed to make 100% sure we understood wine tasting basics so we could be top-notch wine journalists. We took a week of vacation and drove from the Columbia Valley to the University of California-Davis to take a wine evaluation course. I still have the binder with the tasting wheel. This was a life-changing experience — the place where we learned how to differentiate aromas and flavors in wine, such as currants vs. black cherry vs. blackberry.
And we started tasting more wine. This included mastering the art of sip, swirl and spit. Lots of wine. Lots of spitting. Eric and I even had the same dentist who loved the challenge of keeping our teeth white. We learned not to brush off the purple right after tasting wine for fear of scraping off acid-softened enamel.
The team became omnipresent at wine events. From the glorious Taste Washington venue to a notoriously rain-soaked festival at The Herbfarm, we were there hawking free copies of our magazine with our wives, Melissa O’Neil Perdue and Traci Degerman.
I started getting invitations to judge at wine competitions up and down the West Coast. This broadened my palate in many ways. Eric’s speciality was wine and food pairing, with a spotlight on Northwest restaurants and chefs — and a standing feature that helped define the Northwest food and wine culture.
In 2012, Eric and I chose to leave the newspaper to launch our own venture, Great Northwest Wine, which includes the Idaho, Cascadia International and Great Northwest Invitational wine competitions. For nearly four years, the business grew as we published breaking news, feature stories and wine reviews on our website.
Then in November 2016, I had a major stroke, which left me partially paralyzed on my left side — even now, five years later, I can’t use my left arm. I discovered that I’m a tactile writer, and I really miss having all 10 fingers on the keyboard to help the words flow. As a stroke survivor, it also is difficult for me to travel and to focus for long periods of time. I’m working hard to continue recovering.
A couple months ago, there was an unpleasant but not entirely unexpected surprise. The Tri-City Herald was no longer going to publish Wine Press Northwest magazine for economic reasons. Instead of being a blow to our small business, this is an opportunity.
As Great Northwest Wine enters this new chapter, it’s time to make an official change: I’m stepping down as a partner. I’ll stay in the loop as The Wine Knows columnist and occasional judge at Great Northwest Wine’s local events.
Eric has been capably running all the operations for several years. He has a strong vision for the future and with a trustworthy team of former Tri-City Herald leaders Jerry Hug and Ken Robertson. Ken, by the way, has edited our Wine Press copy since the magazine was founded and written its Sniff, Sip and Swirl column as well.
I’m pleased and proud that Eric and Traci will be continuing the business — and revitalizing the concept of Wine Press Northwest as the new Great Northwest Wine magazine.
Please join me in raising a glass to the Degermans and especially wishing Eric the best as he lives the dream of spitting out wine for a living.