Food by VICE

Meet the Professional Wino Who Drank His Way Across the US

In American Wino, Dan Dunn drove across 40 states and visited 200 wineries to discover the best and worst wine in the US. However, the inspiration for this book is tragic, to say the least.

by Javier Cabral
May 10 2016, 11:00pm

Dan Dunn has found a way of one-upping your wildest dreams. While many of us squares only daydream about ditching work to take a carefree roadtrip across America, Dunn did just that in the name of alcohol.

The guy has even written a 350-page book on the whole experience.

American Wino: A Tale of Reds, Whites, and One Man's Blues is that glorious book. Of course, it isn't too surprising. After all, he was the former nightlife and drinks columnist for Playboy and the author behind Nobody Likes a Quitter (and Other Reasons to Avoid Rehab): The Loaded Life of an Outlaw Booze Writer, and Living Loaded: Tales of Sex, Salvation, and the Pursuit of the Never-Ending Happy Hour.

MUNCHIES caught up with Dunn over the phone to find out about the tragic origins of a trip that included 200 wineries and 40 states in total. We also talked about the states that produced the shittiest wines, and what it was like to get drunk at the winery helmed by Maynard James Keenan, the frontman for Tool and A Perfect Circle.

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MUNCHIES: What's up, Dan? How are you doing? Dan Dunn: I'm doing well. It is a beautiful day in the neighborhood.

What drove you to leave everything behind and get shitfaced across America? Tragedy is really what launched this trip. My brother drowned off the Venice pier back in 2010, and right after that I met a girl on the plane on the way over to his funeral. We ended up together for several years, but that just delayed the grieving process in a way. Don't get me wrong, I was grieving heavily back then, but I was leaning on my girlfriend. Then, that relationship ended around the same time I just finished ghostwriting a book about It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia.

One night I was drinking wine and I decided that the best course of action was to drink more wine.

I took his ashes with me in a mason jar and throughout the book, there are all these conversations that him and I had in my head. This journey was really about getting my shit together. I didn't know it then. I just felt I needed to get out. I felt scared and lost. Things weren't making a lot of sense, so I thought, Maybe several months alone on the road will help me sort this shit out. It did. I wish the inspiration for the book didn't happen, but I'm happy with the way the book turned out for sure.

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Can you pinpoint the exact moment in time when this idea came to you? I was at this crossroads of my life, both personally and professionally. I felt a bit lost. One night I was drinking wine and I decided that the best course of action was to drink more wine. Then, an idea popped into my head: I'm going to drink all of the wine in America. That was the kernel of the idea for this book. I Googled "wine in America" and I discovered that wine is made in every state in the US. I didn't know this before, so I got this crazier idea: What if I just drove around the United States, trying to become the leading expert on wine in America?

How long were you on the road for? I drove 15,000 miles and was on the road for three and half months. Trust me. There were more than a few days where I thought about turning around, especially when I was out in states like Nebraska and Iowa, but I kept going.

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Maynard James Keenan of Tool

Aside from California, Washington, and Oregon, which states surprised you in terms of their quality of wine? Well, those states would probably be the gold standard for wine in the US. New York, Virginia, Texas, and Arizona, too. I'm friends with Maynard James Keenan of Tool and A Perfect Circle. He is based in Jerome, Arizona, and he has a winery called Caduceus and another winery called Merkin. Maynard is doing great stuff there. Texas is really booming for wine.

It wasn't just rich old white people sipping on wine and talking about how hard it is to find a good yacht crew these days. There were a lot of Millennials drinking wine all over the country.

How about states with the shittiest wines? Big sky country. You know states like Montana and Wyoming? It is not a very hospitable place to cultivate grapes there. Though, while they may not be making world-class wines, they are certainly making wine, which is encouraging. Same thing in Florida or Louisiana, but the fact that they are doing it is just amazing. It is a testament to the booze spirit here in America. Rhode Island and the Northeast was a little bit tricky. I went to a food and wine festival in Portland, Maine, and there wasn't a single wine made in Maine present at the event.

Why wine and not beer? I've written extensively about spirits and beer. Wine was always something that I knew about but I was never really good at. It was kind of like my Achilles heel. It really was a case of that one night when I happened to be drinking wine and feeling a little sorry for myself.

The whole experience sounds like it could have easily swayed into that "too much of a good thing" problem. Did you encounter that in this trip? When I tell people what I did, it sounds like a very romantic and cool thing. It was, certainly. However, the reality of it was that I spent an enormous amount of time driving. My ass hurt. I was alone. I didn't know anybody. The loneliness took its toll; so did all that time driving on my back. There were definitely moments when I thought, What the fuck am I doing?

I remember one time, I was in Nebraska and I seriously thought about turning around and coming back home. Then I turned on the radio and Simon and Garfunkel's "Homeward Bound" was playing. No joke. That song ends and then "The Long and Winding Road" by The Beatles comes on. I look up in the sky and think, Is somebody fucking with me right now?! But I just thought that I had to push through and make it happen.

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How were you feeling toward the end of your trip? As soon as I got over that wall of wanting to turn back, the rest of the trip was sad because I knew it was going to end. There was a real sense of wonder waking up every day and not knowing who I was going to meet or what I was going to drink and eat. It made me sad when I saw the finish line coming.

Also, it wasn't just rich old white people sipping on wine and talking about how hard it is to find a good yacht crew these days. There were a lot of Millennials drinking wine all over the country—just hanging out, digging wine, and getting into it. From what I saw, that was the main clientele for many wineries. Young people are also the ones working these wineries. This bodes really well for the future of wine in this country.

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Do you have any booze-fueled book idea trips planned for the near future? It has almost been two years since everything happened and I can't wait to do it all again. I have been thinking very seriously about taking off and doing another trip. Maybe South American Wino?

Thank you for speaking with me.