Joe Sherk

A photo of Joe Sherk, along with the typewriter he used as a sportswriter at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, at his memorial service in August 2018. (Photo by Greg Halling)

For the most part, my history with wine is probably typical for someone from the Midwest.

My parents always kept a bottle of Mogen David Concord wine in their refrigerator, although I never saw them drink it. When I went home for my mother’s funeral in 2006, I’m pretty sure the same bottle still sat at the back of the fridge, barely touched in more than 40 years.

Wine simply didn’t interest me. During college, while others succumbed to the charms of Boone’s Farm and Riunite, I failed to see the attraction.

I didn’t care about wine until years later, when I met Joe Sherk. Joe was a motorsports publicist. Covering a drag race in Topeka, Kansas, I made a snide joke about one of his more hapless drivers. “As the publicist for Pontiac motorsports, I resent that remark,” he replied from across the room. Then he flashed his radiant smile and burst into laughter.

We became friends immediately. For the next two decades, we constantly stayed in touch. Even better, we saw each other at two or three races each year. Joe knew all the best restaurants. Whenever we went out for dinner, he spent several minutes reviewing the wine list. I had no idea anyone took wine so seriously. I was intrigued. Every bottle he ordered introduced me to tastes in combinations I’d never experienced — some powerful, some subtle, all of them remarkable.

Joe lived in Port Orchard. Since I’d never seen Washington, we hit on a plan to meet in Sonoma, California, where I’d cover the drag race and we’d drive up the coast to spend a week together, knocking around Seattle. I got there just in time for temperatures to spike in the low 100s, which never happens there.

One day we took the ferry to Seattle for a Mariners game. A day game. The scoreboard said it was 105 degrees.

We didn’t mind. Joe and I didn’t need to talk much; we had each other’s company, which counted more than conversation. Also, we’d had the foresight to stop for lunch at F.X. McRory’s Whiskey Bar on the way to the ballpark, which made the afternoon more bearable. When we got back to Joe’s apartment that evening, I learned how much Joe truly appreciated wine. The apartment didn’t have air conditioning. Usually, nobody near the water needed it, Joe explained. But it was still wickedly hot, and Joe owned just one floor fan.

He didn’t offer it to me. He turned the fan so it blew directly on his small but impressive wine collection, and he left it there for the rest of the week. I didn’t complain. How could I? Wine mattered to Joe, so it mattered to me. It still does. Now, living in the Pacific Northwest, my goal is to learn enough about wine that Joe would allow me to order a bottle at dinner.

The wine edition of Yakima Magazine is helpful in that regard. In this issue, Ryan Messer introduces you to a pioneer of Washington wine, Mike Sauer of Red Willow Vineyard. He was named a semifinalist for the prestigious James Beard Foundation award in the Outstanding Wine, Spirits or Beer Producer category this spring. He was one of the first in the state to plant Syrah, and he continues to break new ground in the family vineyards, which thrive in the hilly, ancient soils of the Lower Valley.

Molly Allen shows you what it took for Petar Marshall to become one of the few professional sommeliers in Central Washington — a journey that began at the family dinner table as a kid, with stops at YVC, Provisions Restaurant, Cascade Wine Shop, and Swiftwater Cellars in Roslyn.

But this month’s magazine is about more than wine. Melissa Labberton takes you inside the miraculous transformation of a 220 square-foot ski condo at White Pass. The unit hadn’t been remodeled since it was built in 1964. A Yakima architect took on this tiny, outdated condo and made it a modern, functional thing of beauty.

While we’re in the mountains, Shannon Mahre takes you on a daring run from Chinook Pass to White Pass, showing you the spectacular scenery along the way and telling you everything you need to pack to make it a safe and comfortable trip. And if mountain running isn’t your thing, how about a friendly dash through our local vineyards, with stops to taste some wine along the way? Bridget Turrell has the story of the Rattlesnake Hills Wine Run. It’s the only run of its kind in the United States.

As it turns out, I won’t get a chance to order wine at dinner with my friend Joe. He died in June, a victim of Alzheimer’s disease. But whenever I open a good Washington cabernet, I think of him.

Greg Halling is managing editor of the Yakima Herald-Republic.

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