Paul Beveridge: Here’s a Renaissance Man Who Makes
Wine, Spirits…and If You Can Believe It… Pies
Owner of Wilridge Vineyard, Winery & Distillery has worked for more than three decades defending the rights of Washington winemakers while establishing his own brand of organic and biodynamic winemaking.
By Mark Storer
Paul Beveridge is something of a renaissance man in the wine industry, and he maintains a passion that comes right down to every bottle he opens and each glass he pours.
A lawyer by training, the owner and winemaker of Wilridge Vineyard, Winery & Distillery, has a last name that makes him an apt player in this business. Beveridge has worked for more than three decades fighting bureaucracy and defending the rights of Washington winemakers, while also establishing his own brand of organic and biodynamic winemaking.
From Wilridge’s vineyards in the Eastern Washington AVA of Naches Heights (just northwest of Yakima) to his tasting rooms in Woodinville and Seattle, Beveridge traipses between eastern and western Washington every week, while making award-winning, unique and beautiful wines, spirits and, if you can believe it, fruit pies — while also fighting for the right of Washington winemakers to ply their craft.
Wilridge wines have won so many awards and accolades, it’s hard to keep up. Dan Berger, former wine columnist for the Los Angeles Times, called Wilridge’s estate Nebbiolo “the best in the western hemisphere.” Beveridge was pleased with the review, and even more that Berger bought a case of it. “I think Nebbiolo is Washington’s answer to Oregon Pinot Noir. We make great Nebbiolo here in Washington,” he said – which is not something many regions outside of northern Italy can claim.
Beveridge is involved in everything from lobbying Olympia for the right to produce and sell wine and spirits, to the daily operation of his winery and vineyard. “I was scrubbing tanks out earlier this week,” he said.
He waxes poetic about the closest-to-Seattle Yakima area vineyard he planted in the Naches Heights area in 2006. Though he’d already been making wine for 20 years, purchasing grapes from all over Washington and working with a variety of vineyards, planting his own vineyard was one of his happiest achievements.
With 85 total acres, and 15 of them under vines with 24 grape varieties, Beveridge said the vineyard was planted with global warming in mind. “With ample water from the Cascade Mountains for irrigation, it’s a paradise there. In 2011, Beveridge successfully lobbied the federal government to declare Naches Heights an official American Viticultural Area.
Yet, in the same conversation and with fluidity and purpose, he also discusses his pro-bono law work advocating for small Washington wineries to open tasting rooms, have adjoining distilleries and use a variety of containers, other than bottles, to sell their wine in. “To change the container restrictions, we got the attorney general’s office involved and they said, ‘nowhere does the statute say you can put wine in a keg.’ And we said, ‘yeah, but nowhere does it say you can put wine in a brand new bottle, either.’ The next day it was legal. So we were the first Washington winery to put wine in a keg.”
For all of his varied abilities, Beveridge contends he doesn’t have any new ideas. “I just look at what they do in Europe and say why aren’t we doing it here?” He says the U.S. laws on alcohol still hail back to prohibition and the country’s puritan roots. “The liquor control board says that if it’s not permitted in the statutes, it’s prohibited. In the U.S. however, the Constitutional framework means the opposite of that. In a free country, if something isn’t illegal, it’s legal,” he said.
Full of energy, passionate about the wine and spirits industry and dedicated to the hard work of making quality wine, spirits and food, Beveridge has created a unique organization in Wilridge Vineyard, Winery and Distillery. Together with his partner, winemaker and distiller, Lenora Thelen, he owns and operates the first biodynamic winery in Washington.
“The best wines in the world are coming from biodynamic producers. We got into it totally from a quality standpoint,” Beveridge explained. “We knew it would differentiate us from everyone else in the state — and the more we learn about it, the cooler it is. We are maximizing life-force in the vineyard and you can’t argue with the results.”
Biodynamic production differs from anything that is called “sustainable.” On a biodynamic vineyard, the ecosystem is “closed,” meaning that everything in the vineyard stays in the vineyard. Rather than spraying chemicals, compost teas are used. No synthetic pesticides or products are used. It also means that fertilizer comes from animals within the vineyard system, and all produce is organically grown. For Beveridge, simply using the term “sustainable,” isn’t enough. “Touting sustainability is essentially green washing. It’s saying, ‘I don’t spray toxic chemicals unless I want to.’’
Monty Waldin, who writes for Decanter Magazine, said it’s like saying you used to smoke two packs of cigarettes, and now you smoke just one. Washington is the easiest place in the world to grow and be organic,” Beveridge said. “There’s no rain at harvest, very few disease issues, a long growing season…all of it is really the perfect recipe.”
Alongside the vineyard, Beveridge bought an old apple warehouse that was abandoned for 35 years. “We like to say we’re the greenest winery in Washington. We’re solar powered, we use refillable bottles for wine, we’re biodynamic…so why not recycle a building? We do 80 percent of our production at that building and we do the rest of it here at the original winery in Seattle.”
“Here,” is the Madrona neighborhood of Seattle in a small but improved garage beneath a house where Beveridge and his former wife, Lyslie Wilhelmi, originally opened a bistro. Wilridge is a combination of his and her last names.
Madrona Bistro opened to wide acclaim, and for the fledgling winemaker it was a chance to do something unique. “We wanted it to be a real French bistro, where mom was upstairs in the restaurant, dad was downstairs making wine,” Beveridge said. But laws dating back to prohibition, which prevented alcohol manufacturers from selling at retail, hindered his revenue stream.
The law had been changed for brewpubs in Washington, so Beveridge allied himself with the Washington Wine Institute and had the law changed for wineries too. It was his first in a long line of continuing legal fights against state and corporate bureaucracy in the alcohol industry. He is currently working with Family Wineries of Washington State to persuade the state legislature to reduce the high excise “sin” taxes on small wine producers.
In 1996, after the couple had closed the bistro, Beveridge had the house lifted and excavated a 1,500 square foot winery where he continues to work today and has regular weekend happy hour and tasting events. In addition to a farmhouse tasting room at the Naches Heights vineyard and a tasting room in Madrona, Wilridge has a tasting room at Pike’s Place Market, featuring its own wines as well as other Washington wines, and a tasting room and “pie” wine bar in Woodinville, which is the first combined winery and distillery tasting room in Washington State.
Selling spirits was another legal issue that Beveridge challenged. “We wanted to originally do a distillery at the winery because of our green idea,” he explained. “We had all this leftover pomace from grape production and rather than letting it go to waste, we wanted to make grappa.” That legal process took 20 years. The state’s position was that nowhere does it say a winemaker can distill alcohol. “Well, where does it say they can’t?” Beveridge asked.
But persistence paid off and Beveridge now produces fruit brandies, grappa and other spirits along with his wines. And, in typical Beveridge fashion, he didn’t cut any corners on distillation once it was approved. “We use 600-year old technology that features a copper alembic pot still (there are only two companies in the world that make them). They’re hand-hammered in Portugal. We’re trying to capture the pure fruit flavor, so we use just the hearts.” Beveridge uses only the hearts of the distillate for his fresh fruit brandies and distills them only once. For wood-aged brandies, distills them twice and puts them in oak barrels for eight years.
Beveridge’s two sons have so far passed on the wine business and went to college, pursuing other careers. “They see how hard their dad works,” he said. “I love being out in the vineyard and in the winery. I’m good for another decade. I’m having fun, and really love it. But I could not do it without my partner, Lenora. She works harder than me and has a better palate than me.”
Restaurant owner, winemaker, biodynamic vineyard owner, lawyer-advocate for Washington winemakers, distiller, fruit-grower, piemaker (did we mention that he makes giant ceramic sculptures in his free time?) And he’s not done yet.
“My next project is to get a grape seed press so we can get the last useful product out of our fruit,” he said. It’s a natural extension for Beveridge, of course. One senses that it won’t be long until that project comes to fruition as well.
This summer is a great time to visit one of Wilridge Winery’s tasting rooms: The tasting room at the Estate Vineyard in Naches Heights is located at 250 Ehler Road, Yakima, WA. 98908. Phone: (509) 966-0686. The tasting room in Seattle’s Madrona neighborhood is located at 1416 34th Ave. Phone: (206) 325-3051. And the Pie Wine Bar is located at 19255 Woodinville-Snohomish Road, Woodinville, 987072. Phone (425) 245-0634.
Wilridge wines can also be purchased at Seattle’s Pike Place Market in the Wines of Washington tasting room at 1924 Post Alley, Seattle, 98111. Phone: (206) 770-9463.
If, because of the price of gas, you don’t plan to go anywhere this summer, you can purchase all of Wilridge’s current wine and brandy releases by calling the Naches Heights or Madrona tasting rooms and have them ship your purchases to you. Or you can purchase all of Wildrige’s current wine and distillery releases from their online wine store at: www.wilridgewinery.com/wines.