Washington author hits WineTrails again

Eric Degerman and Andy Perdue, Great Northwest WineNovember 26, 2013 

MERCER ISLAND -- A lot has changed in the Washington wine industry in the past five years.

Nobody knows that better than Steve Roberts, author of the wildly successful WineTrails of Washington guidebook.

"The biggest question I began to get was, 'When are you going to come out with an update?'" Roberts said. "It took nearly two years to update the original."

Roberts' second edition, a 608-page wonder, is now available at bookstores, wineries, Costco and online.

"It's really fresh content," Roberts said. "It's a little thicker than the original book, but it has twice as many wineries."

His first edition, which came out in 2007, featured 232 wineries. This one is north of 500 winery profiles.

"By the time I visited the 500th winery, I didn't want to hear about another one opening," he said.

Roberts rewrote most of the book and added or replaced at least 3,000 photos. He did this on nights and weekends because he works for Wells Fargo Insurance, helping clients work through the new national health care system.

He self-published that first WineTrails of Washington in 2007 and initially feared he might be stuck with a garage filled with unsold inventory. But quite the opposite happened. His writing style, infectious enthusiasm and relentless promotion struck a chord with wine lovers and helped him sell more than 30,000 copies -- making it likely the bestselling book on Northwest wine ever published. Indeed, he returned to his printer five times to have more copies produced to keep up with demand.

The passage of time is never kind to this style of book, however, and the content started "to yellow," as they say in the guidebook industry. Thus began the work on the second edition.

But it wasn't as if Roberts was resting on his collective laurels between editions. Indeed, he published WineTrails of Oregon in May 2009, WineTrails of Idaho in November 2009 and WineTrails of Walla Walla in November 2010.

None was as successful as WineTrails of Washington, but he learned from each experience.

"Oregon has done pretty well," he said. "It continues to have legs, even though it's 4 years old."

The Idaho book, on the other hand, was not popular.

"It's near and dear to my heart," he said. "I love Idaho, but it was a complete flop."

The lesson was that the emerging Idaho wine region just wasn't ready for this kind of book.

And his Walla Walla book did OK, but the feedback he received was that readers want the whole state in one package, rather than in separate guidebooks.

"No Woodinville book is in the wings," he said.

However, Roberts has worked with a company called Sutro Media to create a WineTrails app for iPhone and Android devices, and he sees this as the opportunity to continue to slowly update his information and perhaps use it in the future for a third edition.

As he considers that, Roberts, 61, also is contemplating his future in the wine industry. He figures he is five years away from retirement age -- if he can survive health care reform -- and he is trying to decide what his path will be. He does know it will be in the wine industry.

To prepare, Roberts has been going through the wine program at South Seattle Community College, focusing on sales and marketing. In February, he will begin taking distance-learning classes through Washington State University's enology and viticulture program.

"I would like to get into the wine business, though I'm not sure what that will look like," he said. "I would like to leverage my experience and knowledge. It could be touring. It could be writing. It could be pouring wine in a tasting room. I'm really quite open. I want to stay in the game. I have a passion for it."

Eric Degerman and Andy Perdue run Great Northwest Wine, a news and information company.

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