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.

Bringing Burning Man to Berkeley

There is a free event tomorrow in Berkeley, to promote Burning Man culture. The CEO of the Downtown Berkeley Association, John Caner, teamed up with some independent Burners who wanted to see more Burner art in the East Bay. They decided to throw a community-building event in the spirit of the festival.

The second annual Berkeley Spark will happen in Civic Center Park (Martin Luther King Jr. Way between Center Street and Allston Way) this Saturday, July 19. 11 a.m.-9 p.m.

From East Bay Express:

If you ask someone who has been to Burning Man to explain it, they’ll often say that you can’t fully understand the magnificence of the experience until you go. But for those who aren’t up for the trek (or the dust), there’s now a way to grasp the event without leaving the safety of the Berkeley bubble: Berkeley Spark.

John Caner, CEO, Downtown Berkeley Association

John Caner

The idea for Berkeley Spark came about partly through the organizing efforts of Downtown Berkeley Association CEO John Caner, who hadn’t attended Burning Man until last year. In October 2012, Caner was walking past Revival Bar + Kitchen after Berkeley’s Sunday Streets festival when owner — and burner — Amy Murray asked him to meet some fellow burners who were discussing how to bring Burning Man art downtown. Eventually, the group realized that instead of merely bringing the art of Burning Man to Berkeley, they could go a step further and create a community-building event in the spirit of the festival.

spark festival berkeleyKat Parkin, who has been attending Burning Man for six years, had recently moved back to the East Bay after 25 years away and decided to take the lead on organizing the event as a way to re-immerse herself in her surroundings. “I’ve been gone a long time, and what better way to get to know my community than by throwing a party?” she said.

berekely mapDescribed as a “community-driven art, innovation, science, and technology festival,” the second annual Berkeley Spark will happen in Civic Center Park (Martin Luther King Jr. Way between Center Street and Allston Way) this Saturday. It will feature a market with items that those going to Burning Man may need on the playa, interactive art sculptures, Burning Man theme camps, workshops, food, a beer and wine garden, and a hip-hop open mic, a musical performance by Laura Inserra from the multidisciplinary performing art and music organization Samavesha.

While the festival does offer resources for those preparing for a trip to the playa in August, organizers emphasized that the event is intended for the whole community. “It’s really a fun festival that isn’t just about Burning Man,” said Caner. “It’s about igniting creativity.”

Michael Caplan, City of Berkeley

Michael Caplan

The organizers also hope that the event draws more people to the downtown Berkeley area and highlights its cultural and commercial revitalization. To that end, the City of Berkeley sponsored the event last year and is doing so again this year. “We’re the first city to put money into a Burning-Man-related project,” said Michael Caplan, Berkeley’s economic development manager. Caplan’s hope is that the tech innovation corridor — a new feature of the festival where attendees can meet with local designers, hackers, and innovators — will help generate enthusiasm for Berkeley’s emerging start-up and maker scene. “Bringing several thousand people who are interested in Burning Man to come and experience downtown — that’s a good thing,” he said.

Despite the City of Oakland putting money into the event – the first city to do so with a Burning Man related project – BMOrg have been uncharacteristically quiet on this. It seems to perfectly fit the mission of the Burning Man Project to facilitate and extend Burner culture, so what gives, BMOrg? No keynote panel opportunities for your directors? Or still feeling “burned” from when the East Bay community didn’t like you claiming all the credit for the Peralta Junction project?