A Grape Named Brianna

© Dan Dunn
By Dan Dunn Posted October 22, 2014

Over the past five weeks I’ve driven nearly 6,500 miles and visited countless wineries trying to transform myself into the leading authority on wine in America.

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). This is the fourth in a series of weekly dispatches chronicling his journey.

Over the past five weeks I’ve driven nearly 6,500 miles and visited countless wineries trying to transform myself into the leading authority on wine in America. Sure, I’m beginning to experience creeping doubts about my ability and/or continued desire to attain such a lofty goal, but that’s okay because I’m more than willing to settle for the next best thing— becoming the leading expert on talking about becoming a wine expert. I’m totally nailing that!

At every stop along the way, from Healdsburg, California, to Paw Paw, Michigan, I tell anyone who’ll listen about my ambitious plan for achieving complete oenophilic omnipotence, and virtually everyone has the same basic reaction— what I’m doing is awesome, and I’m an extraordinary human being for doing it. I never get tired of hearing such well-deserved plaudits either. Unfortunately, those same people usually go on to say a bunch of stuff about phenolics and racking and boring winemakery gobbledygook that tends to make my eyes glaze over... especially after I’ve been driving for six hours (which is my daily average) and have thrown back several glasses of whatever it is they’re pouring (which is my daily salvation).

Still, I make it a point to jot down a few notes. I am, after all, a professional. For instance, there’s this entry from October 14th at the Miletta Vista Winery in St. Paul, Nebraska: “You know how you say a wine has legs? And that sounds like lakes? Lahhkges, right? But they don’t look like lakes at all! They look like rivers. We shouldn’t say a wine has good legs, we should say a wine has good rivers. Because back in France grapes grow by… oh, hell. What am I doing in Nebraska again?”

Actually, Mick and Loretta McDowell, the proprietors of Miletta Vista, are fine people who are at the forefront of Nebraska winemaking. Now, cynics may equate that to being valedictorian at summer school, but I’ve tried the wine, dammit, and can attest it’s the Real McCoy (er, Real McDowell?) But don’t take my word for it, Miletta Vista has garnered numerous prestigious awards around the country, most notably for their Brianna—a Muscat hybrid that can withstand the harshest of winters. It won “Best of Show White Wine” at the 2012 U.S. National Competition in Sonoma, CA, where renowned sommelier Christopher Sawyer declared it one of the more interesting American wines he’s tasted in years.

Speaking of interesting, how ‘bout them Iowa wines, huh? They’re very... interesting. No, for realz. Worth checking out, especially if you’re into fortified grape juice that’s affordable and on the sweet side. I recommend the Edelweiss from Jasper Winery in Des Moines (birthplace of Ashton Kutcher), as well as the “Caba Moch” rosé and the De Chaunac from Summerset Winery in Indianola, where no one you’ve ever heard of was born.

I stopped by Chicago, too, but since there aren’t any wineries in the Windy City I instead spent the better part of two days there hunkered down on a stool at Delilah’s, arguably the finest no frills whisky wonderland in these United States. They boast an amazing and expansive selection of single malts and bourbons, and owner Mike Miller is as knowledgeable a whisky-phile as they come. If I didn’t have two more months and many thousands of miles worth of wine research ahead of me, I’d likely still be at Delilah’s sipping Highland Park Single Cask and rocking out to the Bad Brains.

But duty calls, and seeing that I’m a professional and all, I can’t just let it go to voicemail. If I’m truly to become the best there is at talking about being the best there is, I gotta keep popping corks and paying tolls across the Land of the Free. Plus, I have to get down to Asheville, North Carolina... guy down there owes me 75 bucks. Freedom ain’t free, people.

Next week: Michigan, New York and parts of New England

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

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