Down a long, dusty Benton City road, Dan and I found the kind of wine experience we didn’t even know we had been looking for.
There was no large, air-conditioned tasting room.
No wrought iron chairs to lounge in or panoramic vineyard views.
Just a man in his garage, ready and willing to share his love and tales of Washington wine making.
His dog was there too.
Aurora – THE dog of Sleeping Dog Wines – greeted us excitedly, as she does all visitors (when she’s not ‘Sleeping’). And while Larry didn’t exactly start barking or jumping up and down on us, his excitement to greet visitors was evident too.
“You must be Dan!” said Larry Oates, founder and sole winemaker of Sleeping Dog Wines.
Larry had found us online and had exchanged emails with Dan, persuading us to visit his winery. What we found there redefined my notion of ‘winery.’
First, it’s a garage. But not the dark, dank, wood-beam kind of garage you had back home. No, this one is loved. Probably because it has a greater purpose – that of wine making, sharing and enjoying.
We quickly learned how Larry got his start in the winemaking business (what he calls, “The Puppy Years”), how often he walks the vineyard (twice a day with Aurora) and how many acres he has (“We’ve got four, but we don’t have any grapes”).
The source of Larry’s carefully selected grapes is actually just across the small dirt road from his home, in Buoy Vineyards.
Since 1992, Larry has been walking Buoy vineyards, at first procuring whatever grapes were left after harvest. Ten years later, he began purchasing select grapes that he personally taste-tests until his palate – and his refractometer – determine the grapes are good for the picking.
His winery team is, well, less of a team, and more of a trio. It’s him, his wife Joyce, and of course Aurora. Together, they produce 500-600 cases a year, but no, they couldn’t possibly do it alone. It’s only with the help of devout friends, family and fans that Sleeping Dog Wines make it from bushel to bottle.
All it takes is a call out to his mailing list, and people come from all around to help with the crushing, the pressing and ultimately, the bottling. These volunteers are compensated with a homemade feast, a bottle of wine, and the glory of knowing they helped produce some great Washington wines that are enjoyed all across the state and as far away as Washington DC.
So while our trip to Sleeping Dog Wines didn’t exactly land us in the trendiest of tasting rooms, I couldn’t have asked for a better wine experience. What Larry does with only a few hundred feet of space is a showcase all its own and there’s something priceless about visiting a wine maker with such a welcoming rapport, that almost an hour into the visit, you realize you haven’t even started wine tasting yet.
But what’s the rush? As we learned from Larry’s philosophy with wine, the process should be just as sweet as the product.
To learn more about Larry, Joyce and Aurora’s adventures in winemaking, and where you can get your paws on some of their wines, visit their website at http://www.sleepingdogwines.com