WAITSBURG — The Wine Adviser’s cellar is, in most ways, everything you’d imagine: an envious volume of vintages from years of tasting and collecting wines all over the world, neatly organized in bookshelf-like cubical racks lining the perimeters of the climate-controlled cove with entry off a small music/art studio.
Paul Gregutt, who’s been writing about wines for 25 years — the last 11 with his Wine Adviser column in newspapers from Seattle to Walla Walla — spared no detail when designing his personal cellar. He wanted the shelves at just the right angles, so the bottles would sit back slightly.
Paul and Karen Gregutt
Paul and Karen Gregutt talk about their decision to relocate from the Seattle area to Waitsburg to continue wine writing, start making wine and open an inn.
The twist is the pig fencing. Wire fencing material from the local hardware store was shaped to mirror the wood cubicles and hung on the wall, adding another dimension to the shelving in a fun homage to Gregutt’s new rural life in what he and his wife, Karen, lovingly think of as their own little Mayberry.
Eight years ago, the two bought their home in Waitsburg, population 1,200. It was the beginning of a dual residency between their busy Western Washington careers and an Eastern Washington wine country respite.
Little did they know, it was also the start of a major life change. Now full-time residents of Waitsburg, they’ve left behind big-city living for the simplicity of the country. But they’ve brought a bit of urban life with them, juggling their existing careers with new ventures.
Filmmaker Karen also runs Bubbles and Chocolate, a retail shop in the heart of the city, and Paul has expanded from wine writer to winemaker with the opening of Waitsburg Cellars.
Together, they’re also innkeepers for three cottages in a community that previously had relatively little lodging.
It is the best of both worlds, the couple says.
“We were both urban kids,” Karen Gregutt explained during a tour of her rose garden. “We liked being part of a whole different life. Most people don’t get to live two lives like that.”
For fans of Walla Walla wines, Gregutt is a household name. A prominent voice on Northwest wines, he was named to IntoWine.com’s list of the Top 100 Most Influential People In The U.S. Wine Industry. He’s also the author of “Washington Wines & Wineries — The Essential Guide.”
For the first six or so years after buying the Waitsburg property at Third Avenue and West Street, he and his wife went back and forth from Seattle about every two weeks.
“We could feel this decompression here,” he said.
“What’s happening now is the opposite. We got to Seattle and see the stress. People’s lives are so compressed.”
From the kitchen of their home, he explained the lineup for what he dared to describe as a “typical” day: the bulk of writing — blogs, columns, emails — starts around 9 a.m. That’s also when he communicates with clients, including Precept Wine for whom he consults, readers, winemakers, conducts research and his own interviews.
“I’m in touch with editors all over the world from my cluttered desk in Waitsburg,” he said.
Lunch. After that is a little break with rescue dog Cookie, a terrier chihuahua mix whose “terrhua” background is just about perfect for a wine professional. Waitsburg Cellars gets his attention after that.
By mid-afternoon, it’s tasting time with maybe a dozen or more wines lined up along the counter and tasting notes to be taken. There is dinner to be made, tasting trips to be booked, speaking engagements to be arranged — for this weekend’s Celebrate Walla Walla Valley Wine — the World of Cabernet Sauvignon. Gregutt will be a moderator at a panel discussion.
After dinner he’s back on the computer for the evening.
“In and around that I try to play as much music as possible,” said Gregutt, one half of the duo Hat, No Hat that will play at Olive Marketplace & Café this evening with a tasting of his Waitsburg Cellars, too.
“Our work and our life is amazingly integrated,” Karen said. “Part of it is that the work we do is really fun.”
The original idea was to have an Eastern Washington home for relaxation and vacations. That was back in 2005. Karen wanted a place in Walla Walla, but there was virtually nothing available. So she branched out and found Waitsburg.
More specifically, an 1875 home straight out of the town’s hand-drawn historic map at the Bruce Memorial House Museum. It had been on the market for a year. It had no foundation but beautiful, enormous locust trees and mounds of potential.
They got to work renovating. They harvested original wood from the eaves hiding under metal and repurposed it around the windows. They renovated completely — new floors, new appliances, new counters, paint and treatments — turned a chicken yard into a rose garden, added vegetables, salvaged old wood for their workshop/shed, added a painting studio, music space and the wine cellar, built out a porch where they could spend spring afternoons and summer evenings, built a picket fence.
“Now this is worth a four-and-a-half-hour drive,” Karen said.
It soon became difficult to end their weekend getaways.
“Every time we’d be getting ready to leave, we didn’t want to,” she said.
When properties around their home became available, neighbors began approaching them first to buy them up. They’ve revamped each as rental cottages: Three Maples, The Teahouse and Dogwood. Each has been painstakingly renovated to highlight the best qualities of the homes to meet the needs of travelers.
The Dogwood, located about a half block from Main Street across from Preston Park, is open to all but specifically designed for those traveling with dogs.
Inspired by travels with Cookie, the owners charge nothing extra for canine companions but feature a dog run, dog beds, treats, grooming tools, even a hydrant outside.
As with all of the rental homes, it also features a wine bottle exchange program. Guests are encouraged every night they’re at the home to enjoy a bottle left behind in the rack and leave a different one in its place for the next guests.
Touches in each space are designed to promote the community and integrate visitors: carrots in the refrigerator to feed Izzy the camel; discount coupons to the Coppei Coffee Co.; a cheese dome on the counter presuming a trip to the Monteillet Fromagerie may be on the agenda.
Word is spreading more and more about the cottages, Karen said. During Whitman graduation weekend, the homes were rented out to one family. A group of about 40 Napa Valley wine lovers is also coming to stay this summer at the properties, along with just about every other Waitsburg rental, to experience wine country.
Along with other businesses in the community that are attracting visitors — the Whoopemup Hollow Café, Jimgermanbar and Anchor Bar, to name a few — the new ventures are giving others a chance to experience the same Waitsburg that turned the Gregutts from big-city residents to country folks.
The two acknowledge their idyllic home with their careers wouldn’t be possible without technology. But it makes them appreciate what they have that much more.
“I think we want to continue to build out this life,” Gregutt said. “And give ourselves the time to do the most creative work we can do.”