UPDATE: RIP Eric Dunham, October 23, 2014
I’m fascinated by how closely wine is aligned to art. It’s liquid art, really, when it’s a handcrafted procedure during the winemaking process. Many, like Jan Shrem of Clos Pegase, who in this instance was a publisher in his past life, has now surrounded his winery with art which he’s purchased. That’s always lovely…
Now, imagine when a winery is surrounded by art, much of which is liveable… This is what you’ll find at Dunham Cellars. By that I mean, you walk into the landscape and realize this is a very special place… just by the touches of this and that sprinkled around the premises.
Stepping into the tasting room, you find yourself in a small, but classy, hospitality center with touches of whimsy… like large Alice in Wonderland flowers hanging from the ceiling. But… off to the right of your periphery, you spy a magical room… A huge used-to-be barn, that’s converted into Eric Dunham‘s play room, and find yourself walking around in what should be an oil painting. Every square inch has been addressed…. not all of it is cohesive, like a finely groomed English landscape. Nope, it’s this here, and that there, and a dash of this over there. That scattering and splattering makes it cohesive and delightful as a whole, as you get to walk around in the details. The room itself is art defined. If you’re headed to Walla Walla wine country and love art, this is a must see.
Eric’s room is something I’ve always dreamed of doing… Living in a large open space and just having at it. I’ve already hung Asian umbrellas upside down in a living space, but this room is done in ways I could only dream of. He’s pulled it off for me, until I get to do it for myself.
It wasn’t until I saw a bottle of his wine with art that he had produced for the label that I asked the questions, “Who decorated that room for you, your winemaker?”
The answer was ,”Yes.” It was then I realized that Eric Dunham is a one man band, of sorts. Butcher, baker, and candlestick maker…. Or, owner, winemaker, and artist in residence.
A recent trip to Waitsburg with my Oak Knoll Boys, to stay in Karen and Paul Gregutt’s Waitsburg vacation cottages, allowed Jose and me to learn about Washington’s high desert wine country. Our visits to Walla Walla were really insightful, and I’m going to write about our other visits along the way, too. This one at Dunham Cellars, because liquid and solid art collide, has me writing a separate piece ~ just because of the many facets.
We were a bit early that morning, before tasting rooms had opened. Dunham Cellars is in a really non-descript, wine country location. Don’t expect typical wine country charm. Expect innovation, imagination, and the best use of military space gone industrial.
When World War II started, a base was constructed overnight. After the War, the space was no longer needed. Just as Kent Rosenblum has created two spaces in Alameda from old military installations, so have many Walla Walla vintners in Washington.
Honestly, they’d be much more successful if decent signage was available. This is the only drawback. One of the people that I met at the Gregutt’s cottages was Washington State Wine Commission’s president Steve Warner. He explained to us that in order for signage to happen, a business in that complex must be open five days a week to the public. This has created a bit of a challenge for finding wineries. The base is a maze, without a map to get yourself around. Everything seems to look the same to the untrained eye. There’s bit of “Let’s get outta here, before we get so lost we’re doomed to take up residence,” that goes on as you drive around looking for a winery… any winery.
Dunham Cellars was fairly easy to find, because they meet the signage criteria.
Something else I didn’t realize until I read their Website, is that they offer overnight RV parking. They’ve got rules and regulations, so before you go driving up there, read the dos and don’ts on their Contact Us page… For instance: We only permit Class A Motorcoaches, which are a minimum of 30 feet in length
When I finally settled into tasting, it was Jose’s recommendation that I loved the most. Jose was already familiar with Dunham’s Trutina. We tasted the 2009 Trutina that was absolutely delicious… lots of juicy crushed cherries with a bit of cocoa on the back end… The finish was great, with its soft tannins. We brought one home to have at another time.
I’m going to leave you with a couple more favorite images. Enjoy!
- Karen and Paul Gregutt’s Utopian Waitsburg in Walla Walla Wine County (wine-blog.org)
- Washington’s reds find a sweet spot (sfgate.com)
- Insider’s Guide to Walla Walla Wine Country (fodors.com)
- Guide to the Best in Walla Walla (seattle.cbslocal.com)