Dan Dunn is visiting wineries across the country for his new book project, and he's spilling his guts along the way in his long-running Food Republic column The Imbiber. This is the third installment. Click here to read part one and here for part two.
“Once I rose above the noise and confusion. Just to get a glimpse beyond this illusion.”
Over the past five and a half weeks I’ve spent more than 100 hours behind the wheel of my Toyota FJ Cruiser driving across 14 states. During this time I have learned one thing. That no song is in heavier rotation on SiriusXM than “Carry On Wayward Son,” the first Top 40 hit by the band that was so exciting they had to name it Kansas. By my rough count, I’ve heard that song 37 times since pulling out of Venice, CA. And at this point I want to hate it, but I can’t. Somehow, every time I hear it, I love that goddamn piece of shit even more.
“I was soaring ever higher, but I flew too high.”
The first time I heard the stupid fucking thing, I’d just pulled into the parking lot of the Sokol Blosser Winery in Dayton, Oregon, in the heart of the Willamette Valley, where they make some of the best pinot noir in the world. When I parked, the song had just begun, so of course you know what I did. I sat there and listened to the whole goofy crap-ass tune before I got out of my car. Then I went inside, got shithammered and wrote in my notepad “this is some of the best goddamn pinot noir in the world.” The close reader will discover that I cuss a lot when I’ve been drinking.
“Though my eyes could see I still was a blind man.”
The next night, I heard it again when I drove to Dundee and met Jeff Knapp and Eileen Wong of Sokol Blosser at Stumpy’s, one of the more godforsaken dive bars on God’s green earth. Stumpy’s bills itself as the “most bodacious bar in the world.” A strong claim, but I’ve learned to take things at face value out here this far from home. It also bears noting that Eileen and Jeff are both fine human beings, and I am a better person for having spent time with them. We played pool, talked politics and did $3 pudding shots. Yes, shots. Of pudding. Spiked with vodka. For three bucks. I should inform you before I write this next sentence that I have a fairly high threshold for bodaciousness. Stumpy’s, you’re pretty freakin’ bodacious.
“Though my mind could think I still was a madman.”
I heard “Wayward Son” again the day I visited Sleight of Hand Cellars in Walla Walla, WA. I got besnockered there, too (are you sensing a theme?), this time with owner Jerry Solomon and winemaker Trey Busch. Both righteous men of valor. They make a delightful red blend called “The Conjurer” that has actor Neil Patrick Harris’s likeness on the label. Why’s that? Well, apparently Neil’s a magician of some merit and a big fan of Sleight of Hand’s wines. So, Jerry and Trey, being savvy businessmen, called up this very famous guy one day and asked if they could slap his face onto a wine label. And — voila! — Neil Patrick Harris said slap the fuck away! The note in my pad from that day is “get Neil Patrick Harris’s phone number from Trey.” That didn’t happen.
Before he started making award-winning wine, Trey was in the armed forces. He also had a successful career as a buyer in the fashion industry, and is one of the world’s leading authorities on Pearl Jam. Given our similarly peripatetic lives, I figured Trey and I would become immediate blood brothers. I’m not sure that happened either. But if it ever does, I’m gonna get Neil Patrick Harris’s number and call him up to talk about wine and magic and gaybies. I heard “Wayward Son” again on my cab ride home. And the guy didn’t even have satellite radio!
By this point, the observant reader may have concluded that I’ve been drinking while penning this dispatch. Congratu-fucking-lations!
“Masquerading as a man with a reason. Masquerade is the event of the season.”
Washington was great except for one thing. I have an ex who teaches at Whitman College in Walla Walla. I’d hoped to crash with her and maybe, just maybe, score a little ex-sex. Wistful, tastefully lit ex-sex, that is. The kind that might start me reflecting upon my career as a professional boozer, which is great for starting romances, but terrible for keeping them. I also hoped this ex-sex would not involve her husband. Alas, however, he was in town. Guy probably has a stack of Kansas records in his basement.
“And if I claim to be a wise man, it surely means that I don’t know.”
I carried on my wayward way through Idaho and Montana and into Wyoming, home to what I believe to be is the world’s most successful — also only — cowboy chocolatier. His name is Tim Kellogg, and he makes these exquisite chocolates in his shop in Meeteetse, a don’t-blink-or-you’ll-miss-it town on Highway 20 between Where the Fuck Am I? and Goddamn, Isn’t It Colorado Yet? The only reason I even knew to look out for the cowboy chocolatier is that the folks at Buffalo Jump Winery in Cody had raved about the guy. You’ve heard of the Buffalo Jump Winery? Of course you haven’t. It’s in fucking Wyoming! As for those chocolates, well, they’re even better than Stumpy’s pudding shots.
When I pulled into Tim’s spot, I was actually a little disappointed that my theme song wasn’t playing. I was visiting a cowboy chocolatier in Wyoming for fuck’s sake. It doesn’t get much more wayward than that. I decided that perhaps the curse was broken. Then, no more than three minutes after pulling out onto the highway again, there it was. Goddammit Kansas, you’re my only friend.
“On a stormy sea of moving emotion. Tossed about I’m like a ship on the ocean.”
When it came time to pull out of Denver a week later I had a decision to make about which state to visit next. I was headed due east, leaving me with two options, neither of which was particularly appealing from a sweary-juice standpoint. Or any standpoint for that matter. Cuz wherever you end up standing is guaranteed to be really flat and dusty. So I left it up to Fate.
“Carry on, you will always remember. Carry on, nothing equals the splendor.”
I hopped in the FJ, tuned the satellite radio to the Classic Rewind channel, sat back and waited for it. I was certain the answer would come in due time. Come on baby. Twenty minutes later I started getting antsy and flipping through channels — Deep Tracks, Classic Vinyl, 70s on 7. Nothing. Eventually I just started randomly surfing the SiriusXM lineup. Nothing doing. But just as I was about to give up and Google “heartland wineries” I heard it loud and clear, coming right out of my speakers. A voice from the past, singling in hushed tones, directing me where to go…
Well they blew up the chicken man in Philly last night
Now they blew up his house too
Down on the boardwalk they're gettin' ready for a fight
Gonna see what them racket boys can do
Nebraska it is, Bruce. You’re the boss.
Next time: While rolling through the soul-crushing endlessness that is Nebraska, Dan hears “Homeward Bound” and “The Long and Winding Road” in succession. Weeps uncontrollably. Plus, wine made with raspberries!
Follow Dan on Twitter: @TheImbiber
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