A Vintner’s Tale

A Central Coast wine-maker shares his second Burn experience.


re-blogged from juice.clubw.com:

A Winemaker’s Journey to Burning Man, Creating a Wine Bar in the Dessert

Category: Life

by Grant Ebert

We were somewhere around Reno on the edge of the desert when the caffeine began to take hold. I remember saying something like “We’re making great time, this traffic is much better than last year.” Wide eyed, funk jams blasting… And then we stopped.

Miles away from the Black Rock City gate, parked on the Nevada highway with thousands of other eager and restless travelers. It would only take another 11 hours of stop and go in the car and 5 hours standing in will call and we would finally have our golden tickets.

Just then, the thunderstorm showed up and monsooned on our parade. It poured so hard they had to close the gates due to the dusty desert transforming into one massive mud puddle.

You’d think that this would’ve dampened the mood, but when the sky lit up with lightning and it started hailing in the desert, the crowd was ignited. We danced under crinkled blue tarps, passed drinks and food around. It evolved into a giant parking lot party.

Hell, we were in it together. Might as well seize the moment out here in the middle of nowhere.

Another 12 hours later, once the mud had dried and it was safe to drive, the gates were re-opened. After 28 hours of anticipation (which I’m told is a new record from Reno) we rang the ceremonial bell, drove through the gate, and arrived at Burning Man.

This was my second trip to the playa. After last year there was no doubt in my mind that I needed another helping. It’s impossible to efficiently describe the sheer magic that goes on in Black Rock City. But there are 60,000 humans living and celebrating together for a week in the harshest of environments with one common goal: enjoyment. Everyone around you is there to make sure that YOU have an amazing time. People are encouraged to be whoever or whatever they want and express themselves in the most colorful way possible. Judgment of others quickly blows away in the dust.

There is no money. Goods and services are not sold nor paid for, but gifted.  Food, drinks, clothes, jewelry is given with no expected reimbursement besides perhaps a hug and a smile. The feeling of connectivity and sense of community is overwhelming. In modern society, our daily lives often revolve around “what can I get today?” At Burning Man, the question is flipped on its head: “what can I give today?”

Pablo Picasso said it best:

The meaning of life is to find your gift, the purpose of life is to give it away.

As a vintner by passion and profession, my gift to the world is wine. I had planned on bringing some of my bottles to share with fellow desert dwellers as I had done the year before. However a month prior I was graciously invited to join forces with a brand new wine camp named Vines Without Borders, a diverse collective of 30+ winos from around the globe joined by their ommon interest in fermented grape juice. The team constructed a beautiful wine bar and a legitimate lounge with couches, carpets and all. We hosted pourings every evening at sunset, each night with a different theme.

As a Calfornia kid, I had brought two different styles of Paso Robles Zinfandel and a bright refreshing Central Coast Sauvignon Blanc from my label, Eight Sides. ‘Thirsty Thursday’ was my night behind the bar. I couldn’t have imagined having such a heart-warming evening. For some reason, the playa dust made my wines taste better than they ever had. Either that, or the massive amounts of positive energy beaming from everyone that stopped for a taste. This was a special place in the world, different from any other wine bar or tasting room I had worked in, and not just because it was neighboring a burlesque stage. Just thinking back to it now puts a grin on my face.

In the business world, there’s a specific protocol of service which maximizes revenue and never leaves a customer waiting. At Burning Man, there is no revenue. When I poured my wine for a cheerful ‘customer,’ I wasn’t concerned with how long I lingered chatting and getting to know them. I was blown away by the intimacy and the level of personal connection on both sides of the bar, a truly incredible experience for all who were involved.

Throughout the evening we laughed and danced around the camp, called people off of their bikes to join the fun. Plates of cheese and charcuterie, provided by the camp, were devoured as soon as they touched the tables. People’s faces were priceless. Nothing like gifting a weary raver some four star wine and cheese when it was obvious they hadn’t eaten all day. After hours of stories and smiling till my cheeks hurt, it was time to close the bar and head out to the playa.

When cruising around the majestic desert, especially during the day, it’s crucial to stay hydrated, and also to stay lubricated. I have found the best way to take wine to go is an aluminum water bottle. The standard klean kanteens and all the other knock offs are precisely 750ml. The exact size of your standard bottle of wine. Bless the genius who picked that wonderful capacity. Must have been a wine drinker. In the heat of the day as well as crushing it on the dusty dance floor, the wine of choice is usually a refreshing white. Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc were the favorites this past year. A hint of sweetness never hurts in the harsh desert environment.

The flat, picturesque, desert provides an optimal canvas for hundreds of artists to bring their dreams to life. Art installments are almost always interactive and people are encouraged to climb on, play with, or even write messages for others to stumble upon. Even the sound stages are works of art themselves. Some planted into the ground boasting pyrotechnics and lazer arrays into the cosmos. Others stages are mobile art cars and change locations requiring people to ride out into the dust storm to find them. The music never stops. When one set ends, the hunt for the next stage begins. Some of my favorite moments are biking out into the middle of the desert at first light to catch a sunrise set.  Imagine bouncing to a juicy bass line with hundreds of smiling faces as the sun breaks the horizon and lights up the mountains behind.

“Am I dreaming or is this really happening?”

The last day, before we left, I gifted my final bottle of Sauvignon Blanc to the fisherman at the Tuna Camp. They had brought 500 lbs of frozen albacore tuna from Oregon and were still cooking it for whoever was hungry. A great pairing if I say so myself.

I spent 10 days at Burning Man this year. Honestly, I could have stayed longer, but it was September and there were grapes ripening and waiting to be crushed back home.  I plan on venturing out to the playa next year for more mind blowing experiences and heart-warming connections. There is no gathering on the planet that unites and ignites people the way Burning Man does. There is a collective feeling that we are all doing something right. 60,000 beautiful people, but one big happy family.

About the Author
Grant Ebert is a winemaker and the co-founder of Best Coast Wines. While studying Agriculture at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, he was immersed in Central Coast wine culture. After his first harvest in Edna Valley, he was hooked and has been making wine in various appellations throughout California ever since.

3 comments on “A Vintner’s Tale

  1. Great story I just stumbled upon Grant… I’m a veteran burner since ’96 and winemaker, Paradox Wines, but have only brought wine for our camp since the only place back in the day was the Barbie Death Camp & Wine Bar. This sounds great, I hope to get out again one year and maybe be part of it. ~ Dominic

  2. Have you ever been the the Black Rock Cellars/Vineyards in the French Quarter? You should check them out! A couple Somms and winemakers also doing the good work.

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