Paul Beveridge- Wilridge Winemaker

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An Urban Garagiste Goes to the Country
story and photo by Sara Billups

“If anyone wants coffee, now’s the time to grab some,” winemaker Paul Beveridge tells a group of volunteers assisting him with a grape pressing. He is busy double-checking equipment and scrubbing bins. “Winemaking is 2 percent inspiration and 98 percent sanitation,” Beveridge recites, adding that the day’s first pressing of Nebbiolo grapes will begin in an hour.

 

Beveridge has the sort of life most anyone would envy—he is the owner of a community-centered boutique winery, surprisingly in the heart of the city. A lawyer by trade, Beveridge cashed in his partnership interest in a law firm in spring 2007 and purchased 85 acres of lush land in the Naches Valley west of Yakima. The transaction officially expanded Wilridge from its urban roots into a working vineyard. The winery, housed in an expanded garage and basement of a Madrona craftsman, is a fixture among the restaurants and boutiques that line 34th Avenue.

As preparation for the pressing continues, curious neighbors wander about on the sidewalk and poke their head in the door. Some pick Beveridge’s brain about the best way to begin a home winemaking project of their own. He suggests taking the “Winemaking for Busy Professionals” course he developed. An accompanying step-by-step home winemaking guide is posted on the Wilridge website.

Wilridge was founded in 1988 by Beveridge, his wife Lysle Wilhelmi, and her father Jim Wilhelmi. “My wife was a chef in town. She worked at Tom Douglas’s restaurants and Campagne and knew it was time to open her own place,” Beveridge recalls. “So we said, ‘Let’s take the plunge.’ We wanted to have our own winery as a part of it.” The family opened Madrona Bistro in the upstairs of a converted house, originally operating the winery in its small basement. The bistro closed seven years later, allowing the winery to expand with a 1,500-square-foot cellar.

In the twenty years since he began Wilridge, Beveridge has cultivated a vision for winemaking that is decidedly small-batch and hand-crafted. Wilridge annually presses and bottles 3,000 cases of wine. Varietals include Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Semillon and Nebbiolo, all sourced and shipped in refrigerated trucks from eastern Washington.

 

“I think I have a grape between my toes,” volunteer Julie Livengood exclaims, stepping out of the barrel. Her feet are the color of eggplant and her shirt is covered with wine skins. The winemaking process begins when grapes are crushed, releasing juice. Grapes are then sifted from their fermentation tanks where added yeast transforms the natural sugars, causing the grapes to release carbon dioxide and form what is called a “cap”. The cap is punched down several times a day in preparation for today’s pressing. Livengood volunteered to stomp the remaining juice so that only shells and seeds remain.

Beveridge is slowly transitioning from pressing other vineyard’s grapes to growing his own at the new Naches Valley vineyard. “It’s not something I could have done and kept a full-time law job,” he says. “It’s every winemaker’s dream to own their own vineyard for the total creative control.”

The vineyard is growing grapes completely organically and sustainably. “We are a low impact and minimal intervention winery,” Beveridge says, adding that with the exception of naturally occurring sulfites required for wine production, no additives are used in the process. In fact, Wilridge is the second certified biodynamic vineyard in the state. “Every year our neighbors fight over our grape pressings, which they use for compost,” Beveridge says. “You should see my mom’s tomatoes!”

 

While Beveridge has hired a manager to oversee farming the vineyard, he’s not afraid to get his hands dirty. “I grew up in eastern Washington, so I know about farming. I know it’s real work,” he says. Beveridge guesses that it will take about five years until the vineyard is in full production, and there’s plenty to do in the meantime.

The winery helps operate the Wines of Washington Tasting Room in Pike Place Market. Here, guests can sample varietals from five participating boutique vineyards. Working with a group of architecture students from the University of Washington, Beveridge opened an additional Tasting Room in a farmhouse at the new vineyard in 2007, over Thanksgiving weekend—it too allows guests to sample wines from a number of small vineyards, but it’s a different assortment than the Pike Place Market location.

As for maintaining the ethos of Wilridge, Beveridge’s vision is clear. “I want to stay where I am. I want to make the wine,” he says. “So many people claim they’re winemakers, but all they do is show up twice a year to taste the blends. I punch down the cap myself, I clean the floors. And I have lots of friends who help.”

Wilridge Winery
1416 34th Avenue, Seattle
206.325.3051

wilridgewinery.com

The Tasting Room
1924 Post Alley, Pike Place Market
Open Noon-8 pm daily; 206.770.9463
winesofwashington.com

For aspiring localvore Sara Billups, the best part of living in Seattle is eating from the bounty of Washington growers. She is a freelance writer and independent radio producer living in Capitol Hill.

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