7 Lessons from 2,500 Miles of Wine Travels

Dan Dunn is taking a road trip across America to research his forthcoming book, American Wino: A Story of Reds, Whites and One Writer’s Blues on the Winey Road to Redemption. Here, the first in a series of weekly dispatches chronicling his journey.

Dan Dunn is taking an extensive road trip across America to research his forthcoming book, American Wino: A Story of Reds, Whites and One Writer’s Blues on the Winey Road to Redemption (Dey Street Books/HarperCollins). Here, the first in a series of weekly dispatches chronicling his journey.

Ladies and gentlemen, I find myself at a crossroads.

Now you might think I’m speaking metaphorically, but no. I mean an actual crossroads. At the point where Route 125 crosses State Highway 12 in Walla Walla, Washington. Why the heck would I be here? Because here’s where I live now (or at least for the next three months). Down at the crossroads, that is. The place you sell your soul to the devil in exchange for money, fame, success, or in my case, wine.

See, I got a little obsessed with the fact that wine is now made in every state of the union. And I mean sure, we all know about Napa and Oregon, even upstate New York. But once I realized that someone was making wine in West Virginia, I knew had to try it, even if it made me blind.

I’m pretty sure it’s going to make me blind. But it should be entertaining, as long as you’re not me.

As I weave my way across the country, trying every last drop of wine from the country’s most unlikely vineyards (like Chateau Aux Arc in Arkansas, which is attached to a trailer park) I’ll be bringing you weekly dispatches about where I am, what I’m drinking, and how my spirits are holding up.

Since leaving my home in Venice, California, in mid-September, I’ve added 2,500 miles to my odometer and at least seven pounds of body fat. I’ve discovered many things along the way, among them…

… Napa Valley eatery La Toque may not garner as much hype as some of its neighbors (I’m talking to you, the French Laundry) but it is every bit as fabulous. There’s a spot-on wine pairing suggestion for every item on chef Ken Frank’s ever-changing menu. The Niman Ranch rib eye with a 2009 Noemi Cabernet Sauvignon was worth every calorie.

Pancha’s of Yountville is one of the country’s premier dive bars. Credit cards and pretentiousness are not accepted.

… “When it comes to winemaking, intuition is every bit as important as logic.” — Karin Warnelius-Miller of Garden Creek Vineyards in Geyserville.

… At Chimney Rock in Napa’s Stags Leap District, winemaker Elizabeth Vianna needs one gallon of yeast to ferment 3,800 gallons of juice. The Cabernet Sauvignon from the Tomahawk Vineyard is as classic an expression of the varietal as you’ll find in that region.

… I could drink Chardonnay from Jordan, Sauvignon Blanc from Silverado and Cardinale Estate Cabernet Sauvignon every day of the week and twice on Sunday. Unless of course, I had to drive to Oregon on Sunday, which reminds me…

… Beware the speed traps in the coastal towns of Oregon, particularly in the town of Bandon. In fact, skip the town of Bandon altogether. Trust me on this one.

… Oregon’s Willamette Valley is celebrated for its world-class Pinot Noir—Sokol Blosser or De Ponte, anyone?— but wineries there are having great success with other varietals, too. Winemaker Patrick Reuter of Dominio IV Wines in McMinnville is making stellar Tempranillo, and the Ab Ovo Pinot Gris from Archery Summit in Dundee Hills is sublime. And the sparkling rosé from Soter Vineyards rivals the best bubbly Champagne has to offer.

… Did I mention that Bandon sucks? I did, right? Well, I still stand by that statement.

OK, that’s it for this week. If you stop hearing from me, that means the rednecks are holding me hostage. If you send meth and Cool-Whip maybe I can buy them off.

Next week: Washington, Montana and Wyoming.

Let’s drink some wine, people!

For more on Dan’s journey, follow him on Twitter @TheImbiber.

Related: Best Napa Valley Wineries to Visit
Best Sonoma County Wineries to Visit
Why José Andrés Loves Virginia Wine Country

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