On August 13, 2015, Andy Perdue (b. 1964) is named honorary chair of the Auction of Washington Wines for his longtime contributions to the state's wine industry. This is one of the highest honors in the industry; previous honorary chairs include internationally known names such as Robert M. Parker Jr., Ernest Gallo, and Robert Mondavi. Perdue has been one of the state's most influential wine writers and wine judges since 1998. He co-founded Wine Press Northwest magazine and was its editor-in-chief for 16 years. He is the author of 2003's The Northwest Wine Guide: A Buyer's Handbook. He is the editor, publisher, and co-owner of Great Northwest Wine, a company devoted to news and information about Washington and Northwest wines. At the event in Woodinville -- the top social event in the state's wine calendar -- Perdue is celebrated for his "insatiable curiosity and incredible memory recall with wineries, growers and varietals" (Auction news release). Perdue suffers several strokes from 2016 to 2019, yet remains influential in the Washington wine industry.
Andy Perdue's career coincided with the remarkable growth of the state's wine industry -- and he, in no small part, helped encourage that growth. For years, his byline was familiar not only to readers of Wine Press Northwest, but also to readers of The Seattle Times, The Spokesman-Review in Spokane, and dozens of other newspapers around the state that carried his wine columns.
Perdue was born Andrew Graham Perdue in Bremerton on October 8, 1964, and graduated from Bremerton High School in 1983. His parents, Ed and Mona Perdue, who met at Washington State University in journalism class, taught him "the value of hard work and creativity" (Northwest Wine Guide). Wine was hardly a staple in the Perdue household -- "not at all!," said Andy Perdue -- nor was it an everyday item in most Washington households in the 1960s (Kershner interview). He never envisioned a career in wine, yet he certainly envisioned a career in journalism. He's a third-generation journalist.
He attended Western Washington University in Bellingham, majoring in journalism and minoring in Middle East studies. He landed a job in 1988 at the Twin Falls, Idaho newspaper as a copy editor. From there, he went to the Tri-City Herald in 1989 as a copy editor and quickly advanced to news editor and later, interactive media editor. He created the newspaper's first website. The Tri-Cities were in the heart of the state's growing vineyard regions in the 1990s, and Perdue became interested in wine via an unusual route. "I was the food editor and we had a wine columnist named Bob Woehler, and I became interested in wine from editing his column," he said (Kershner interview). Woehler would become his wine-writing mentor.
It took Perdue several years to make the transformation to wine writer. He married Melissa O'Neil, a reporter with the Tri-City Herald in 1995, and they both had a budding interest in wine. "The first thing I wrote about wine came when my wife and I went on a vacation to the Middle East -- because that's where journalists go on vacation! -- and we went to a winery in the Golan Heights," said Perdue (Kershner interview). He wrote a column with an unusual angle: wine-tasting in a war zone.
"I thought it was a fun thing to write, and so when we returned, Melissa and I started going to a few different wineries on the weekends," he said (Kershner interview). They also started going to wine festivals and wine tastings. Before long, the Perdues became connoisseurs of the many fine wines that were being produced throughout the Yakima Valley, the Tri-Cities and Walla Walla regions. Their first case purchase was a Tefft Cellars rose made with Cabernet Franc grapes. Perdue even went out in the fields sometimes and helped Tefft Cellars with the grape harvest.
Covering the Northwest Wine Scene
The turning point in his career came in 1998, when he and fellow Tri-City Herald writer Eric Degerman came up with what they believed was a foolproof idea. They went to the Herald publishers and pitched an idea for a wine magazine. "I went into the publisher's office and said, 'I want to start a wine magazine and I want you to pay for it,'" said Perdue, with a laugh. "I thought it was a big industry in the valley and felt we could take advantage of that. Melissa came up with the name Wine Press Northwest because we saw regional potential and didn't want to limit our coverage to Washington" (Kershner interview).
The publishers gave them the go-ahead, and soon had reason to be happy about that decision. That first issue was a moneymaker, more than 30 pages long, with plenty of advertising. The cover story of the first issue -- dated spring 1998 -- was about Steve Lessard, the winemaker for Hedges Cellars who had recently come up from California. The first issue also included a comprehensive blind taste test and rating of 40 Washington Merlots. These taste tests would become a regular feature of the magazine
The inaugural issue also included a statement of purpose from editor Andy Perdue:
"This magazine was born in a discussion with a friend a few months ago. Eric Degerman and I were commiserating about the lack of coverage of the Northwest wine scene in national wine publications. The snippets of information and occasional features just weren't enough to satisfy our thirsts. But we couldn't blame these publications. It's difficult to expound on the Northwest when you need to cover such important areas as France, Italy, Germany and California. So we decided Northwest wines needed their own magazine and we should be the people to do it. We have the enthusiasm, the editing and publishing backgrounds, and the resources to start this publication and see how the public responds (Wine Press Northwest, Spring 1998).
When asked if the magazine was a success from the beginning, Perdue answered in 2020 by saying, "It's still going" (Kershner interview). In fact, it grew remarkably quickly. The second issue, dated Fall/Winter 1998, was 48 pages, with even more advertising. In his editor's note, Perdue was clearly heartened by the response to the first issue. "Here at Wine Press Northwest we're bullish about the future, too. Since the first issue came off the press in early April, we've given away 20,000 copies to an obviously thirsty audience. It's true: The Northwest is an exciting wine region that deserves its own magazine. Your response has been so overwhelming, we're going to do this bigger, better and more often. In 1999, Wine Press Northwest will come out quarterly, and you will be able to subscribe, if you wish" (Wine Press Northwest, Fall/Winter 1998).
The taste test in that issue was about another burgeoning Washington varietal, Semillon. In 1999, the magazine continued to expand. The Fall 1999 issue included a feature about one of Perdue's favorite local wine-growing regions, Red Mountain, and advocated for its designation as an American Viticultural Area (AVA). That designation was granted in 2001.
Soon, the magazine grew to more than 100 pages per issue. After a few years, it expanded from quarterly to semi-monthly. They distributed copies at wine festivals and food festivals. For their blind taste tests, the judges included Perdue, Woehler, Degerman, editor Ken Robertson, attorney Coke Roth, and usually some winemakers. Each issue would have a theme -- blends, ice wines, or Syrah, for instance. The magazine gave tips on touring through wine country and included recipes to go with specific wines.
Into the Book Business
The magazine continued to prosper over the next two decades, and became the leading voice of Washington wine. Their articles were reprinted extensively in newspapers throughout the region. In 2003, Perdue used all of that knowledge to produce a book, The Northwest Wine Guide: A Buyer's Handbook, published by Seattle-based Sasquatch Books. "They wanted three paragraphs on every winery in the Northwest, and three or four reviews [from each], so that's what I did," he said (Kershner interview). He spent weekends traveling over the Northwest to dozens of wineries.
The book's foreword was by Bob Betz, a key Washington winemaker and, at the time, vice president of Stimson Lane Vineyards and owner of Betz Family Winery. Betz explained why Perdue was exactly the right person to write this book. "Andy is one of the resident scholars of Northwest terroirs," Betz wrote. "... Few people outside the region accurately understand the precious combination of natural factors that have come to make up the terroirs of this new wine growing area. But Andy Perdue does, and with this book he helps to identify the producers who are optimizing the natural gifts of this region. Who better to comment on the conditions and wines of this region than Andy, a constant observer and dedicated student of all Northwest wines?" (Northwest Wine Guide).
In his own introduction to the book, Perdue explained the book's purpose and structure:
"Today is a great time to be a wine lover in the Pacific Northwest. Over the past decade, the Northwest has become one of the most exciting wine regions in the world. After playing second fiddle to California and the wine regions of Europe for years, the Northwest has gained worldwide recognition for producing wines of excellent value and diversity. With each successive vintage, more and more wine professionals, collectors and consumers are realizing that the wine regions of [the Northwest] can achieve greatness, that the wines produced here can stand alongside the best in the world. ... Nearly 1,500 wines are reviewed and recommended here out of more than 5,000 tasted. They were reviewed under a variety of conditions, including double-blind judgings with Wine Press Northwest magazine's tasting panel, blind tastings at competitions, open tastings specifically for this book, wine festivals, in restaurants, and at wineries. To ensure a broad range of experience, I've tasted from barrels, from bottles submitted by wineries, and from bottles purchased at wine shops and grocery stores" (Northwest Wine Guide)
The market was ripe for just such a book. It soon found its way into the pockets, purses, and glove compartments of wine consumers trying to make sense of the dizzying choices now available along the wine trails and in the grocery aisles of the Northwest. Meanwhile, Perdue continued to edit and write for Wine Press Northwest, which was chronicling this growth.
A Full-Time Leap Into Wine
In late 2012, Perdue decided to make a full-time leap into wine writing and editing. "After 25 years at the Herald, Eric and I decided to start our own businesses as wine writers," said Perdue. "We left the Herald to start our own business called Great Northwest Wine. And to make money, we did freelance writing and wine competitions." Perdue would continue to contribute a column to Wine Press Northwest, but as a freelancer instead of a staffer. "It was scary at first," he said (Kershner interview). Yet it didn't take long for Great Northwest Wine to catch a big break. "Those first couple of weeks, we were just writing stories and reviews," said Perdue. "But then The Seattle Times called and wanted me to write a column, and I thought, 'Well, that would be a pretty good deal'"(Kershner interview). He said it was a lifetime goal to write for the Times.
When The Seattle Times began carrying his column in its Pacific Northwest Sunday magazine in 2013, the editors introduced Perdue to the paper's readers like this: "Andy's reputation for fairness and good taste has earned him a seat at many a judging table, from Los Angeles and San Francisco to the Oregon State Fair Wine Competition and Seattle Wine Awards," ("Coming Soon, Our New Wine Column"). Perdue soon syndicated his Great Northwest Wine column to 20 newspapers around the region, including the largest paper in Eastern Washington, The Spokesman-Review in Spokane.
In 2013, Great Northwest Wine began the first of its own wine competitions, the Cascadia Wine Competition held annually in Hood River at the Columbia Gorge Hotel. It would later move to various sites including the Tri-Cities and, in 2020, Lewiston, Idaho. Great Northwest Wine later began to run other wine competitions, including the Washington State Wine Competition, the Walla Walla Valley Wine Competition, and the Great Northwest Invitational Wine Competition.
Then in 2015, Perdue's many years of service to Washington wine were rewarded when he was named honorary chair of the industry's biggest charity fundraiser, the 2015 Auction of Washington Wines. This was an honor given only to the most important people in the Washington wine world. Perdue's first reaction was modesty: "I was kind of embarrassed, because, as a journalist you're supposed to be telling the story instead of being the story," he said (Kershner interview). He had written about many of the previous honorees, but now Perdue was being asked to accept the accolades at the event, held at Chateau Ste. Michelle in Woodinville. As he recalled it, he stood up and "said a few words," crediting his mentor, Bob Woehler -- and promptly sat down.
In November 2016, Perdue's life suddenly changed. He suffered a major stroke and was hospitalized and in a rehabilitation unit for two months. "It took out his left side," said Melissa O'Neil Perdue (Kershner interview). He worked hard in physical therapy to get out of the wheelchair and back on his own two feet. Before he could fully recover, however, he suffered several transient ischemic attacks (small strokes) in July and October of 2019. Then, in December 2019 he suffered another stroke that landed him back in the hospital for several weeks. As of 2020, he still retained his role as co-owner of Great Northwest Wine, but the strokes had put a damper on his activities.
"I don't drive anymore, so I don't get out of the house much," he said (Kershner interview). He still does some writing – but he can't write as fast as he once did, because he can write with only one hand. Yet he tries to stay on top of developments in the industry.
Meanwhile, Perdue sometimes thinks back on the astonishing growth of the Washington wine industry during his time as a wine writer. "When I started, there were 100 wineries in the state, and 25 were in Walla Walla," he said. "Then Walla Walla went from 25 to 125 – that was the biggest area of explosion during my tenure at the magazine. And the Yakima Valley has exploded in popularity, too." Perdue's work not only chronicled that growth -- it spurred it.