If you’re in the local wine industry here, you can plan your obit around the month of October. If you make it past Halloween (or, in Shona’s case, Beauty Pageant Day), consider yourself alive for another year. We lost a titanic five years ago when David Lake went to teach the Lord how to vinify grapes. Then, we lost a Washington original in chef de emeritus of Chateau Ste. Michelle in John Sarich earlier this month. Last week, the demons lurking inside Eric Dunham of Dunham Cellars finally persuaded him, reportedly, to eat a bullet in that quaint resort town of Cannon Beach, OR. He left behind a son who will spend the rest of his life asking, regretfully, why?
Wine aficionados know of Mr. Dunham’s artwork through the artwork that graced the Artist Series of wines that headlined his eponymous winery. Those wines were good but everyone knew that the high premium for those wines were more for the artwork than the quality within the bottles. Art and wine go together; just ask any hoidy toidy art gallery hosting an “opening night” party. People don’t spend thousands of dollars (while sober) on something an elephant can splat together. Eric’s works were, suffice to say this, bizarre. However, what modern artist hasn’t endured criticism from those who don’t “understand” what the artist is attempting to convey? Anyone can draw circles with high-contrast paint. Painting a Mona Lisa is a whole ‘nother matter.
Perhaps, the clue that provided a window into Eric’s dark chasm began when he even chose to take up painting as an endeavor. It is well-known that “artists” have a higher propensity toward suicide than other intellectual explorations. The odds are stacked against artists… men are four times more likely to close their books than women, and whites are twice as likely to commit self-harm than blacks. That same 2x factor goes with artists.
Creative people, in general, are more apt to prematurely end their own life for many reasons, but there is a growing understanding that those who “become” artists essentially have found an outlet to express their lack of some sort of conformity within their society.
One can look immediately to a most famous example in Vincent van Gogh. The Dutch-Frenchman hacked off his own ear during another purported psychotic episode before later dying by a bullet to the chest (allegedly self-inflicted although no gun was ever found).
However, the bigger loss might be that of John Sarich. His Saturday cooking shows on KIRO, Taste of the Northwest, pre-dated that of Emeril and all that clunk and clutter hoarding the PBS airwaves, with locally-inspired dishes that anyone in the area could comfortably attempt. The fact he was showcasing his culinary artistry as a representative of Chateau Ste. Michelle during the sunrise years of the modern Washington wine industry attests to his importance to the industry. The local executive chefs of the last twenty years can all tell you they got some motivation from watching Mr. Sarich’s televised cooking demonstrations. He did it when no one was, and for that, he should be honored in Washington Wine’s Hall of Fame.
Speaking of notoriety, the folks at Vin du Lac have gotten on the radar with us. Both flattered but not intimidated, we have Larry and David on the list of followers on our social media account and that is greatly appreciated but will not sway us in how we evaluate the wines from this notable Lake Chelan AVA winery.
Let’s just say that the wines coming out of the Cascade Valley have not been too inspiring to drinkers west of the Cascades. Most of the sales tend to come out of their tasting rooms, plentifully attended by weekend and summer tourists drawn to the splendor of Lake Chelan itself. And, we continue to attest that people with money on vacation tend to loosen their critique of premium wines. That’s a natural given. I would have no issue paying $15 for a coffee and croissant on the boulevard in Paris, yet I balk at coughing up three lousy bucks for an Americano at the twin-tailed mermaid.
However, that built-in hypnotized audience continues to stifle exceptional winemaking.
There will come a day when no amount of scenery will blissfully continue the illusion that a scenic lake can uplift the quality of food and wine served there. The Alliance can wine-and-dine half-wit wine bloggers into grossly overhyping the wines but those in-the-know see right through the smokescreen and will eschew buying any wines with the Lake Chelan title. Until then, the other AVAs will deepen the fissure of quality separating these AVAs. Sure, there are a few exceptions to the rule, but the vast majority of Lake Chelan AVA wineries continue to underperform while their balance sheets remain somewhat healthy. A false sense of entitlement if there ever was one…
Alcohol: 13.3%. Tasted at 55-61 degrees on the IR temp gun. Color: bright lemon. Nose: hay, lemon crème, peach. Mouthfeel: medium-bodied. Tail trail: 7 seconds. Flavors: lime, nectarine, mint julep, lemon, grapefruit. Columbia Valley AVA. “Barrel Select” whatever that means. Power: 2/5. Balance: 2/5. Depth: 2/5. Finesse: 1/5. Rated: 87. Paid: $15. Value: $8. Music pairing: “Title” by Meghan Trainor. This is WAwineman… uncorked, uneducated but not uncouth.