The Ultimate Wine Road Trip

© Tom Caltabiano

By Ray Isle Posted April 07, 2016

Dan Dunn's American Wino chronicles the funniest (and craziest) wine road trip since Sideways came out.

This week saw the release of American Wino, author Dan Dunn's chronicle of a 15,000 mile trip he took solo through the hinterlands of the U.S., visiting wineries in every state as he went. It's a lively ride to be sure. The book is equally a chronicle of Dunn humorously but honestly coming to terms with his own problems (abundant: horrible breakup with girlfriend, unexpected death of beloved younger brother, plus a childhood marked by one of the more dysfunctional families you're likely to run into) as it is a wine travelogue. Call it, perhaps, a multi-state Sideways, but with only one character. Luckily Dunn is a lively, funny companion. I chatted with him recently about his experiences writing it:

F&W: What was your takeaway from the whole trip?
DD: I was dealing with a lot of demons and ghosts on this trip, and wine is the backdrop for that, so a lot of the takeaway was personal. But I did learn that it's crazy what's going on in this country. There's wine being made in every state, and I doubt anyone in California knows what a vibrant scene it is in places like Texas and Michigan and Virginia and New York.

F&W: What was your favorite wine you discovered on the trip?
I really love the Bordeaux blend that Virginia's RdV Vineyards does; it can certainly stand up to the wines of the West Coast. Also another Bordeaux blend I had at Barboursville in Virginia. In fact, Virginia was one of my favorite spots of the whole trip. Lots of wineries, it's beautiful, and it's got a ton of history. And there's no other state that has wineries owned by Dave Matthews and Donald Trump right across the street from each other.

F&W: How was Trump's wine?
DD: Well, he declares that it's the best wine in America. But he also professes that he's never had a drink, either. So, how does he know? I guess he'd say he has the best people tell him. Sort of like his foreign policy. But I'd say I prefer Blenheim, Dave Matthew's winery. And I do feel better about giving my money to Dave Matthews than to Donald Trump.

F&W: What was your least favorite wine of the trip?
DD: I don't want to throw anyone under the bus, but I was not enamored of the wines of the Northeast. The only one that was really stellar was Shelburne, out of Vermont. They have a Marquette reserve that's a really good wine.

F&W: And what was the least likely place you found wines that you liked?
DD: I'd say Colorado, in an area called Paonia, on the west side of the Rockies. I liked Alfred Eames' wines—he's an old hippy, doing interesting stuff like Tempranillo. Paonia is where they used to grow weed, before it was legal. Now I guess you can grow it anywhere there.

F&W: How's the response been to the book so far?
DD: Phenomenal. You know, I brought my kid brother's ashes along with me on the trip in a mason jar, just me and him, out on the road for six months. It was really transformative. When I left I was in a bad way, and you do spend a lot of time alone with your thoughts on the road, but there was something magical about waking up each day and not knowing who I was going to meet, what the wines were going to taste like. I was determined to write the most honest book I could. I mean, dead brother, bipolar mother...seriously, it could have been like the worst Lifetime movie ever. But I think it turned out good, and people are really responding to it.

(If you happen to be in LA, Dunn will be talking with Time Magazine columnist Joel Stein at Book Soup on April 14; for other appearances, check out his Facebook page.)

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