Burning Man. Some view it as a bucket list item but for us, it’s a time to get away from the default world. As we planned for our yearly trip to the desert we started to discuss what our “gift” should be…
Burning Man is built on ten principles, two of these are “gifting” and “participation.” You can have long in-depth conversations about what all these principles mean but these two come down to being an active participant in the community and bringing something special to share with as many other people as possible. This year we thought it would be fun to bring out some wine to share. But, like many of our ideas, it spiraled into something bigger and evolved into a guided tasting with the largest wine bar on the playa, Vines Without Borders.
With only three days before we had to start our journey we reached out to several of our favorite local producers and explained what we wanted to do. The goal was to share a wide spectrum of Paso wines in a semi-traditional educational tasting experience. Surprisingly everyone (except one, 😉 ), said “yes!” Each of the wineries that we reached out to was gracious enough to donate to us without any expectations of anything in return.
We made our 9-hour road trip on Friday and arrived at 3 am only to wait another 6 hours to get into the city. It was long but the wait wasn’t as bad as we took the time to share PB&J sandwiches with our neighbors stuck in stopped traffic. We also made friends with others and hung out on top of their RV’s as we watched our first Burning Man sunrise together.
As soon as we stormed the gate, we dropped off the wines to Vines without Borders so that they could be stored at a proper temperature. As temperatures rise during the day to over 100 degrees of direct sunlight and drop to below 50 during the nights, it was important for us to stabilize the wines as best as possible.
Mornings consisted of freshly made beignets from Black Rock Bakery, sunrise bike rides and dancing in the desert. We had sushi made by a pro chef from Japan, went to a ramen bar at Golden Guy, had Absinthe (no, sadly it is not a psychedelic), celebrated Shabbat, watched a fire tornado being born, baked a layered anniversary cake, listened to the Grateful Dead while wearing moisturizing Korean face masks, went to a circus, partied in a Boeing 747 and so much MORE…I think you get the picture…it’s insane. Every year that we attend is filled with more completely crazy moments that don’t completely make sense, and all of this is based on the “gifting economy.”
Many people believe that Burning Man is based on a trading or bartering system, but that isn’t quite true. Although you may walk into a bar which only serves a guest after reciting a poem or you might have to do a little dance to get that ice cold slushy, almost everything is gifted to you without any expectation of something in return. The point in Burning Man is not only receiving these gifts but giving them as well.
Before we knew it wine Wednesday was upon us and we FINALLY decided we needed to take a shower – using a bag of water and sitting in a Tupperware bin. We wanted to be fresh when we met all of our new wine friends. Afterward, we felt ready to take on Paso On The Playa!
We got to the bar early for set up and there were already people waiting to start the tasting. Vines Without Borders were so on point, all the wines had already been pulled, sorted and chilled. This was a huge pleasant surprise because everything out there is sort of on “Playa time” – just finding a watch or someone who has the time can be quite an adventure.
Tasters had traveled from all over the world, most knew about Paso Robles, some lived in SLO, and some were even wine club members of some local wineries. It was awesome to see the spark in everyone’s eyes as they savored new flavor profiles on their palates or to see them taken back to a Paso Robles memory despite being in the middle of the desert. We weren’t entirely sure the kind of audience this type of guided tasting would bring in, but it turned out to be almost all wine lovers who wanted to learn.
Wine tasting in 105 degree weather needs to start off with a refreshing dry sparking and Rava is one of our personal favorites. It’s done in the traditional méthode champenoise and has nice fine bubbles that linger for quite some time. Next we moved to a dry primitivo rose from AronHill followed by a pinot grigio from J. Dusi that had just the right balance of floral and melon, and our final white was a roussanne blend from Hood (TOPs second label!) that no one expected.
Despite the temperature, the crowd was eager to get into some reds. We started with a Hood red Rhone blend, this wine has such an incredible story and everyone always ends up falling in love with the wine. We followed this up with the AronHill primitivo so that people could compare the rose with the red, it’s always nice to see how different the same grape can taste when it’s used with a different process. Next was Slacker‘s 2016 Stereotype GSM side by side with their Wannabe ZSM. Our French crowd firmly loved the GSM while our Australian friends all obsessed over the ZSM.
To end our wine tasting we had a SURPRISE! We did a side by side of Rangeland’s estate cab next to their limestone cab. These two wines show a perfect example of terroir and people were able to instantly guess which of the two were on limestone.
For anyone left standing (that’s 10 wines already!) we shared some ciders from two of our favorite local producers, Two Broads Ciderworks and Jean Marie Cidery. These ciders were a great way to wine-down such a big tasting.
Throughout our 2 or 3 hours we served about 70 people, most of which genuinely wanted to learn about wines from our region. We got into real discussions about how primitivo and zinfandel are actually both clones of a Croatian grape called crljenak, why certain US makers call their sparking wine Champagne, and we had the opportunity to work on debunking the myth that all US wines are high in sulfates. While we were busy having in-depth wine convos, others were fighting within their groups about which wines were better in the side-by-sides, and which would age best.
Out of all the Burning Man experiences we’ve had…honestly this was our favorite. We were super happy take Paso Robles with us and to share our love for SLO CAL. We had never participated in the Burning Man community to this level and we have to admit it’s kind of addictive and exhilarating to watch a crazy idea like this come to life. It’s also a lot easier to appreciate all of the gifts we’ve received over the years, the ice cold waters, mojitos, snacks, art, performances, trinkets…they all seem so much more special once you’ve put a piece of your heart into Burning Man.
This is not a promotional article, each winery donated without any expectation or promise of return. We hand selected almost all of the beverages because of their story, history, and of course, taste! Ray and I picked up all the wines and ciders ourselves and made sure they were well cared for on our journey. Everyone on the playa gets a chance to take pictures of their memories and these are ours.
We have to give a huge “thank you!” to Vines Without Borders for allowing two strangers to come in and share, you are absolutely incredible and the definition of radical inclusion. And of course, thank you to the wineries (and cideries!) for sharing their passion, stories, and wine with the Burning Man wine community.
⭐ If you want to connect with SLO CAL Burners:⭐
⭐ If you want to learn more about Vines Without Borders: ⭐
UPDATE: Special thanks from Vines Without Borders :