For his upcoming book, American Wino: A Story of Reds, Whites and One Writer’s Blues on the Winey Road to Redemption, Dan Dunn hit the road to drink wines from every region in America. We sat down with the intrepid taster to talk about his 14,000-mile trek, how Playboy led him to wine and the best red blend in the Louisiana bayou.
You used to be a beer and whiskey guy, what brought you over to wine?
Years ago, back when I was writing “The Imbiber” column for Playboy, I was invited to have lunch in Santa Monica with a winemaker named Pierre Seillan from Vérité in Sonoma County. I didn’t know much about wine then, but I did appreciate the value of a free lunch at the Viceroy. Pierre brought these incredible wines—La Muse and La Joie—that just made me swoon. Note that I’m using the word swoon. About fermented grape juice. It was a wholly unexpected and transcendent experience. That’s the day I fell for wine.
Is making wine more approachable a goal with your book?
First and foremost, I wanted people to understand that wine is one of the few products that’s produced in every state in this country. That’s pretty amazing. Red states. Blue states. The cities. The boonies. Everybody in America is in on the vino action.
What wineries surprised you the most?
Maynard James Keenan, the lead singer of Tool, makes delicious wines in Jerome, Arizona. It’s one of the most soulful places on this planet. Paonia, Colorado, has always been famous in stoner circles, but I’ll tell you what—they’re growing more than just cannabis. Both Vitis vinifera and hybrids flourish there. Up and down North Carolina. The foothills of the Appalachians in North Georgia. Hell, I had a good red at Pontchartrain Vineyards in the Louisiana bayou. Oh, and with all due respect to Champagne, the bubbly at Gruet in Albuquerque will absolutely blow you away.
Have a favorite winemaker story from your trek?
I visited a winery called Table Mountain Vineyards in Huntley, Wyoming. Where’s that, right? I didn’t know either. This guy named Patrick Zimmerer is the winemaker. His family’s owned the land for generations. They raised cattle. Grew corn. But like so many other small farms in recent years, they had trouble competing with the conglomerates. Got offers from the big boys to sell their land. But the Zimmerers said, screw that, we’ll figure out a way. And Pat learned about grapes in college, and he planted vines. This a place where most folks had never had a glass of wine before, mind you. And now, stop by the tasting room on any given weekend and you’ll find some real cowboys in there sipping on rosé. They’re in business, and it’s beautiful.