How to Avoid a Nervous Breakdown on an Eight-Week Wine Road Trip

Things didn't go so well in Rhode Island. © Dan Dunn
By Dan Dunn Posted November 05, 2014

Dan Dunn is taking an extensive road trip across America to research his forthcoming book. This week: A great discovery in Vermont and some trouble in Rhode Island.

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 sixth in a series of weekly dispatches chronicling his journey.

Day 49: Shelburne Vineyards; Shelburne, Vermont

I tried enlisting my friend Jonathan Goldsmith (a.k.a. the Most Interesting Man in the World, from the Dos Equis commercials) to join me on a comprehensive tour of Vermont wineries. After all, he’s a Vermont resident, and despite what people may assume he doesn’t always drink beer. Plus, New England is quite lovely in the fall. Maybe even the perfect place to find a long-awaited rekindling of my romantic spirit. Though perhaps not with Jonathan Goldsmith. Alas, he declined the offer, claiming he didn’t believe it’s possible to find a single decent wine produced in the Green Mountain State.

With all due respect to the man who’s the life of parties he’s never been to, he’s missing out. Up-and-coming hybrid grape varieties such as Marquette, Frontenac and La Crescent thrive in Vermont. There is certainly decent wine produced therein, and at least one that’s exceptional.

Before opening his winery in Shelburne, Ken Albert worked for 33 years as an engineer at IBM. He’s a problem solver. The sort of man who would eventually figure out how to make high-quality wine in a cold and hardy region not ideally suited for doing so. One varietal in particular intrigued him— Marquette, a cousin of Frontenac and grandson of Pinot Noir, developed at the University of Minnesota and introduced in 2006.

Shelburne Vineyards 2012 Marquette Reserve ($29) is not only the tastiest Vermont wine I sampled, it’s one of the best I’ve come across in the entire Northeast. Medium bodied, with lots of vibrant fruit and a hint of spice, it’s a balanced, flavorful wine that holds its own against reds from the most prominent AVAs in America. Bravo, Ken Albert. Stay thirsty, my friend.

Day 51: Harvest on the Harbor; Portland, Maine

I was excited to check out the many wines from Maine I assumed would be poured at Portland’s “premier food and wine festival.” Alas, I wasn’t able to find many. Or even one, for that matter. There was, however, plenty of delightful Maine-made beer on hand (oh, how I loves me some Allagash Black). Excellent craft distilleries, too. And the gluten–free potato doughnuts from The Holy Donut were out of this world. But over the course of several days spent in Maine’s most populous city, I visited numerous restaurants and wine bars and nary a one carried wine made in-state.

Then again, for a place whose main exports are lobster and an unshakeable sense of creeping dread (thanks, Stephen King), maybe it’s best I didn’t encounter any fruit of the native vines.

Day 54: Carolyn’s Sakonnet Vineyard; Little Compton, Rhode Island

As a resident of Los Angeles, I admit I was a little nervous when I found out I’d be visiting a winery in Compton. But by golly, it turns out that Little Compton is a far less intimidating place to visit than the bigger Compton we’ve got back home. As for the wines, well, there’s no comparison. Seriously, do not ever, ever, ever compare the wines. They’re, like, super sensitive about the whole East Coast versus West Coast thing.

Carolyn’s Sakonnet Vineyard is a gorgeous property. If you go, pick up some of the 2009 Port, 2011 Cabernet Franc and a few funky bracelets (the place is owned by jewelry designer Carolyn Rafaelian of Alex and Ani).

Day 54: Newport Vineyards; Middletown, Rhode Island

This stop on the trip is notable mainly because I suffered a mild panic attack at the winery, which really put a damper on the tour. This brings us to another Helpful Tip for the Wine Traveler: If your heart is on the mend following a devastating breakup, it’s not advisable to visit a winery located in the hometown of the individual who dumped you. Particularly not if you’ve been on an eight-week wine bender that has wreaked havoc on your central nervous system.

Sorry, Newport Vineyards, but it’s not going to work out between us.

But please understand, it’s not you, it’s me.

Next week: Porn stars and James Beard winners in New York City.

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


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