Danna and I went to Yakima with a group of friends to taste a little wine. If this sounds like a horribly pretentious and boring thing to do, you’ve never been to Yakima. Most of the wine in Yakima does not come from large corporations, old money, or stuffiness. It comes from a garage. This makes Yakima a unique experience.
The Minivan Of Style (tm)
We started the weekend early Saturday morning when we picked up the Minivan Of Style (tm) . I’ve never really spent any quality time in a minivan before, but of this experience I can say one thing: it is obvious that Chrysler spends all of its available dollars on design, and little on implementation. Cup holders and storage compartments literally sprang out of nowhere, but were made of cheap, unfinished plastic. I was afraid to put anything in the storage compartments for fear it would fall down inside the inner wall of the minivan. I am now beginning to wonder if they gave us a mock-up version of a minivan made of Styrofoam, and the real finished vehicle would be nicer. Still, we were forever entertained by the trip computer. This wonder of technology taught us the difference between Fahrenheit and Celsius, and we watched with excited eyes to see how low the MPG reading would dip as we went up hill (3 MPG).
A Day Of Wine
When we reached Yakima, the rest of the day became a blur. At the first winery, “Sagelands”, I was informed by the staff that “fish” is not an acceptable adjective used to describe a wine’s bouquet. The server had accidentally given me a glass that had been sitting in a refrigerator filled with salmon. Yum. After that, winery after winery showed itself whenever I opened the sliding door of the minivan, like a mad carnival ride. We pulled into our bed and breakfast around 8:00 that evening, famished, drunk, and heavy with six cases of newly-bought wine. A few more hours in town eating and drinking at a local brewpub we found and the “bed” part of the bed and breakfast was a welcome sight.
The “breakfast” part started at 9:00 am. I’ve never stayed at a bed and breakfast before, so I wasn’t sure what to expect here. It is no Denny’s. Breakfast was delicious and consisted of French toast, sausage, coffee, juice and pastries. Our friend Suzanne, who is from England, had never heard of or tasted French toast before. She was quite sure, however, that it had nothing to do with France. I was toiling with other issues. Groggy from yesterday’s wine binge, I was trying to pour syrup on my French toast and having a hard time of it. The syrup container had no lip, and the syrup ran down the side of the container and dripped off the bottom. When I remarked about this, Danna looked over and calmly said, “Brian, that’s your coffee.” “So it is”, I said, and picked up the syrup container sitting right next to my coffee. It poured much better, and I enjoyed a wonderful French toast with a tinge of mocha.
Time for Wine
10:00 am: time for wine. But where do we get it? Most of the wineries don’t open until 11:00 at the earliest. Many of the wineries we visited the day before were nothing more than sheds out in the middle of nowhere, but the sheds (and sometimes garages) were built by nice down-home families who happen to make pretty good wine. We couldn’t wait for these wineries to open. This is where we encountered Yakima’s wine fringe. These are the wineries that never really close. Wineries that remain locked until some passerby wants wine, and then are open for business, like a good, seedy neighborhood bar. That is where we met Crazy Mike.
Crazy Mike lives at the end of a long dirt road out in the middle of nowhere. That’s the middle of nowhere even for Yakima, which is already in the middle of nowhere. Crazy Mike’s home could have been the movie set for Raising Arizona, or any of a dozen hack-and-slash horror films. Crazy Mike lives in a single-wide trailer whose roof is held down by old tires. The winery itself is a dilapidated old shack wedged between Mike’s trailer and a couple of broken down old cars. The door to the tasting room was locked, and a note was taped to it that read, “Call for tasting”. A cordless phone lay in a plastic lawn chair next to the door.
There is a time when every animal, even humans, can smell some impending danger. Like that time you made a wrong turn down that dark alley in Tijuana. Every cell in your body simultaneously reports back to your brain with the words, “Hey, dumb-ass! Who’s driving up there?”
It was too late. Crazy Mike had spotted us out a greasy trailer window. There was no time for us to bolt; he was already shuffling toward us.
Crazy Mike was wearing cut-off jean shorts with bits of ass protruding through various holes in the fabric, an old holy tee-shirt and dusty brown sandals. He didn’t say a word to us, but walked past and gruffly opened the door. “Let me clean up a bit”, he said, with lips stained a deep purple from countless bottles of wine. He fished out six glasses from a crate in the back of the room and poured us all a glass of a yellow liquid he called “Chardonnay”. He disappeared upstairs and started a tape of classical music, then came back down with a broom. “This chardonnay is twelve years old.” He said, while sweeping up some broken glass from behind the tasting counter. “I like to age ‘em a bit.” Crazy Mike sat back, swilling wine with the rest of us, and explained his winemaking philosophy. Crazy Mike makes wine the way it’s been done for ten centuries, not the way those sissies in California do it. He prides himself on using really old barrels – barrels that he gets from other wineries after they have outlived their use and have been discarded. He also ages his wine for a really long time before releasing it. Ten years for whites, fifteen or more for the reds.
“Wine is meant to go with food”, said Mike, as he shuffled to the back again and emerged with several cheeses aged well past their prime. He whipped open a pocket knife and, with the knife and a finger that had just finished fishing out a glob of wax from Mike’s ear, cut off a bit of the acrid stuff for each of us.
We continued this routine for several more wines, and several more cheeses. About midway through the tasting process Mike fished out a long plastic tube. The insides of the tube were stained a purple-brown color, like it had been used to siphon thousands of gallons of wine but never itself been washed. Mike led us back to the barrels, climbed halfway up a rack and pulled the cork out of one. “This has only been aging about five years”, he said and started a siphon by sucking on the end of the nasty rubber tube. Spilling wine everywhere, he filled a glass with barrel wine and replaced the cork, letting the wine in the nasty tube mix back into the barrel. He took this glass and poured each of us a taste, never really stopping between glasses and spilling quite a bit of wine on the floor. When he had finished with our glasses there was still about half a glass of wine in his hand, which he downed in a single movement. Mike sat on the barrel, legs spread wide, noting the finer points of this wine-in-progress and scratch-scratch-scratching an obviously stubborn itch deep in the crotch area.
Mike gave us a sample of everything he had, letting us taste over a dozen wines. The pride of a pirate showing off his bounty twinkled in his eyes and some of his wines were actually pretty good. Toward the end of the tasting the now long rehearsed movement of pouring wine found itself with no more wine to pour, so he moved on to his line of vinegars. This came as an initial shock to Eric and me, but after tasting wine for close to an hour we had little trouble quaffing the sour stuff. This was to the amusement of the sober drivers, but I’m still convinced that they just didn’t understand.
So, did we buy wine from Crazy Mike? You bet, we would have to be crazy not to. While some of his wines had a few off flavors, and we didn’t trust the reds because they had been sitting in a Crazy Mike Decanter for weeks, some of the whites were quite tasty. We walked away with several bottles. Crazy Mike gave us quite a show.
In the end we bought a little over ten cases of wine. It doesn’t fit in the apartment, but we have had no trouble finding people willing – even eager – to hold it for us. I highly recommend you visit Yakima, and especially Crazy Mike of Blackwood Canyon Vintners. He puts on a show that doesn’t disappoint.