Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

I’m leaning back in a comfy bucket seat behind the driver of the Troutmobile—a Ford SUV. My tummy’s full of breakfast: poached duck eggs and mimosas from a wine bar in Arcata, Calif.

This is a fine way to start a quirky Humboldt County wine-tasting tour. I’ve joined an adventure that will end tonight with a private tasting at Coates Vineyards.

The winery is remote—in the Six Rivers National Forest, not far from the bustling unincorporated community of Orleans, which is 12 miles east of Weitchpec. Surely you’ve heard of Weitchpec. No? It’s at the juncture of the Trinity and Klamath rivers in Humboldt County—not far from the Pacific’s Lost Coast. This area is better known for crops other than wine.

The Coates Winery is a 12.5-hour drive north from Palm Springs and a mere 2.5 hours from Humboldt’s largest center of commerce, Eureka. About 15 wineries are listed as members on a Humboldt Wine Association website. Several more listed as nonmembers. Coates is one of the latter.

This is northern Northern California. In my vast 15 minutes of Internet research, I can’t find another California winery further north than Coates. Robin and Norman Coates’ all-organic vineyards are so remote that the grapes can grow on their own rootstock: They don’t have to be grafted to disease-resistant rootstock, as happens pretty much everywhere else. This fact, touted on the Coates Winery website, means that the grapes are “generally more healthy, vigorous, and … can better express their varietal characters.”

As the afternoon begins, we turn inland from the Pacific Coast drive and head into the mountains. Sitka spruce. Second-growth redwood. Invasive pampas grasses.

The Troutmobile slows through a residential area. A familiar smell wafts through the window—pungent, spicy, potentially intoxicating.

“Someone’s burning trim,” observes a co-adventurer.

The sun shines, a rarity. Recent rains have made the hills green alongside Highway 299, a logging road that moves inland from the Pacific Coast to Redding. The drive to Coates takes us off 299 in Willow Creek, well before Redding. We’re driving north toward Hoopa. We’re on the way to Weitchpec, a place written about in Vice magazine’s “War in Weed County.”

Before today, I knew only one person in this van—the journalist who invited me along. No matter. A love of wine makes us all fast friends.

We share memories of remarkable tastings in Amador County, Sonoma, Paso Robles and Southern Washington. Advice is shared, recommendations made. I take notes.

Because the drive is long, and we’re a thirsty bunch, we stop beyond Willow Creek at a private home overlooking the Trinity River. There, we sample local and regional wines—some we’ve brought along, like an award-winning 2009 Moonstone Crossing Barbera. Today’s tour organizers had spent the previous afternoon at the Moonstone tasting room in Trinidad. Moonstone’s Sharon Hanks had poured dozens of tastes of wine made from grapes imported from Amador, Lake and Mendocino counties by local genius winemaker Don Bremm. The winery is among the county’s best known. It’s open to the public and easy to find on Main Street, just off Highway 101.

We drink other fine bottles. Standouts include a Dutcher Crossing Carignane ($36, Sonoma winery and Mendocino grapes) and the 2010 Dogwood Mea Culpa ($65, Humboldt winery and Napa grapes). So tasty.

These are my kind of people.

Our designated driver herds us back into the Troutmobile. Then we’re going north-er and north-er. In Weitchpec, we turn east and drive along the Klamath River to Orleans. The winery isn’t in Orleans, but beyond it, of course—a few more miles up winding narrow roads.

“I forgot how early the sun goes down,” someone says.

Even in the dark, the Coates’ home and vineyards form a lovely oasis. A fire crackles in a woodstove. Robin Coates ushers us into the kitchen where bottles of red wine are lined up on a bar. Robin ladles out lentil soup, which pairs perfectly with the estate’s sangiovese and zinfandel.

A wine connoisseur in our group declares the 2012 Sangiovese ($18) the best he’s tasted all day, which is saying something. The varietal makes me think of Tuscany. Ah, Tuscany.

Our talk turns to wines with which one might start the day, and Norman Coates suggests his trebbiano, the Italian white from grapes he planted in the 1990s.

“If you have to drink wine for breakfast, that’s the one to drink,” he says.

Debate ensues as to whether one drinks the wine before coffee or after it.

My wine journalist friend seems disappointed that she can’t give readers the inside scoop on how to visit the Coates Winery. The winery is not open to the public. The couple prefers that people visit the website and, you know, buy the wine at area stores.

“We’re not as social as some winemakers,” says Norman.

Talk turns to crime in Humboldt County. We crowd into the Coates’ living room and watch the trending YouTube video series featuring a “Boondocking” guy—the Nomadic Fanatic—who makes a stop in Eureka. He encounters a Starbucks-drinking vandal, fends off the theft of his solar panels by a felonious meth-head, and parks a block away from a McDonald’s that is the site of a recent officer-involved shooting.

“Let’s get the hell out of Eureka,” concludes the nomad at the end of the YouTube video.

Laughter ensues. We taste the syrah and a delectable cabernet sauvignon—lighter than many California cabs and superbly drinkable. We eat cheese and pate and sourdough rye baked this morning.

Bliss ensues.

Before leaving, we hike up an unlit road to the Coates’ warehouse, where cases of wine are stacked alongside crates of ripe organic kiwi. Those grow here, too, and this year’s harvest was abundant.

We buy wine and tote two cases down the dark road. Giggling in the moonlight, we climb back into the Troutmobile and head back to the coast.

I seem to remember someone passing around a bag of gummy peach rings. But I might have been dreaming, dozing in the comfy bucket seat.

Ah, Humboldt County.

Published in Wine

Hot, windy, crowded. Long lines for the toilet. Overpriced food.

But all the bands you love. And now, you can have wine carefully paired with the music.

Yes, we’ll be listening to Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds while drinking some red wine barrel-aged in a cavern. Maybe one of those Castello di Amorosa 2009 Zingaro “The Gypsy” reds. Yeah, the Castello in Napa is fake, with its caves excavated centuries ago (in 1995). Still, the Tuscan-style replica has a fun vibe. And Zingaro would pair nicely with the band’s “Red Right Hand.”

Ah, now you’re wondering: Coachella’s doing wine-music pairings? The lyrics of aged Cave, 55, come to mind: “We call upon the author to explain!”

Sure, no problem.

I’m not going to Coachella the Fest. This means avoiding pricey tickets and constricting wristbands. This means not having to worry about finding parking, obtaining a shuttle, camping and enduring strip searches, hoping security guards won’t find the bottle of Aquafina that I slid into a balloon and swallowed in order to save serious water dough.

This means no chance encounters with a drugged-out Lindsay Lohan, who’s outfoxed her handlers and disappeared into the crowd, disguised as an 80-year-old man to confuse the paparazzi, and who’s now spending way too much time in the portable potty. I need to pee, Old Man Lohan; I need to pee now!

This means no long waits for service in the wine tent. What, wine tent? What wine tent? No wine tent?

This means no live music for me. So sad. I’m crying in my Riedel. But necessity is the French oak barrel of invention, as they say.

So I’ve fermented a plan. I hope you like it: I’m calling it the Sniff the Cap Laundry Room Music Fest and Wine Pairing. Or SCLRMFWP, for short.

My laundry room is about 8 by 10 feet. It’s a nice place for Granny Deidre to wash, dry and fold towels and undies while listening to punk rock from the ’70s, ’80s and whatever. The room is half the size of the Matson shipping container that carried my household goods—beds and tables and chairs and books—from Honolulu to Oakland’s port last summer. I wanted to be closer to the grapes.

My laundry room should hold 60 people or so. SCLRMFWP 2013 will be exclusive and sufficiently crowded. My friend with public-relations expertise says that holding an event in cramped quarters builds excitement. If the room is too capacious, people flop around and go limp with boredom.

We’ll jam into the room, compact, like riding a big-city metro during rush hour. I’ll turn on the dryer for added heat and noise, and run a couple of fans to simulate wind. My gigantic 32-inch monitor should rest nicely on the shelf next to my detergent and fabric softener. Or maybe I’ll just use my MacBook. Haven’t decided.

Then, the music. We’ll stream all our favorite Coachella artists on YouTube. And drink. The plan’s still rough, but here’s a sample of what you might experience at SCLRMFWP 2013, in oenological order, from whites to reds:

Yeah Yeah Yeahs and sparkling wine. Obviously, California champagne is in order for the triple Yeahs, who’re releasing their new album on April 16—coincidentally, between Coachella’s weekends one and two. My guests will be pleased that I’ve tasted the sparkling wines of Carneros, south of Napa. The 2008 Domaine Carneros Brut Vintage feels celebratory to me. “Pack up. I’m straight.” I hope you’re singing. I hope you don’t mind plastic cups. Broken glass = laundry room lawsuits. No thanks.

Lumineers. My folks made dandelion wine when I was 8. No me gusta nada. But the dandelion vibe feels about right for the Lumineers. I like to boast that I saw the Lumineers before they were famous, at the Biggest Little City Club in Reno. Yes, that’s really the name of a bar.

My friend and I went to see Kung Fu Sophie but stayed for the obscure folk-rockin’ hippies from Denver. The Lumineers were into audience participation, but only about eight drunks were at City Club that night. Most of ’em were regulars, ignoring the floor show. I ended up playing something percussive with the band. And the Lumineers changed the lyrics of “Darlene” and sang “Deidre.”

If you come to my event, I will regale you with this tale at least two times while we listen to “Submarines.” Since I have no dandelion wine, we’ll go with an organic chardonnay from Mendocino’s Girasole Vineyards. Sunflowers on the label! “Ho hey!”

Red Hot Chili Peppers. No prob. Just pair this with whatever you’d serve with spicy Tibetan, of course. First, I was thinking a barbera, fruit forward, like Pilot Peak’s 2008. I tasted this in Grass Valley last summer. Alas, sold out. I blame psychic spies from out of state. On reflection, something grimmer and glummer might be in order. Plummy, hint of minerality, without losing popular appeal. So not too complex. I’m talking about the wine. Turns out any big garish cab will do. “Space may be the final frontier, but it’s made in a (Napa) basement.”

Violent Femmes. Wisconsin. Not known for wine. So, beer? Don’t mock; it’s not all about the Schlitz. Milwaukee has been brewing up some crafty tastiness in recent years. Horny Goat. Buffalo Water. Cheesey Bratwurst. (I made up the last one.)

I spent the first 25 years of my existence in Wisconsin. If anything would get me to Coachella, it would be the chance to see the Violent Femmes live for a reunion after 5 1/2 years of performative silence. Even though, you know, the lead guy Gordon Gano’s a bit older than me. He turns 50 in June. I don’t turn 50 for two more fabulous years.

Oh yeah, wine. We’re listening to Viva Wisconsin and sniffing Bounce in my laundry room in California. What wine pairs with weird? What’s shadowy enough to accompany “Dahmer Is Dead” and “Blister in the Sun” and the catchy ditty about the dad who, during troubled economic times, throws his lovely daughter down the well?

Ah, something from the far reaches of the state of California. In the deep north, a winery in the Redwoods obtains grapes from all my favorite places. Moonstone Crossing’s 2007 Dark as Night is a blend of Mendocino merlot, Amador County cabernet Franc and cabernet sauvignon with Lake County petit verdot. There’s nothing subtle about its dark fruit, black oak, brown spice and bramble.

“Words to memorize, words hypnotize. Words make my mouth exercise. Words all fail the magic prize.”

I haven’t plotted overpriced snacks yet. “Wait a minute, honey, I’m going to add it up.”

Deidre Pike has no actual plans for a music festival in her laundry room. No SCLRMFWP 2013 wristbands will ever be available online. Please don’t call or write with your credit card information.

Published in Wine