We wade the raft out into higher water. Molly and I climb in. John gives a push, climbs in and we're off. Hey, this isn't too bad. Yet.
The boat picks up speed. We're really starting to move.
Molly: Stew. Relax, don't worry. John and I do this all the time.
John: There's nothing to worry about. I mean sure, accidents happen. Molly, was it the guy from Enthusiast on Tuesday?
Molly: No, he was on Monday.
John: Right. We lost the editor from Wine News on Tuesday. Tragic. Still haven't found the body. Hopefu... probably never will. But hey, like I said, accidents happen. By the way, you did give our wines good reviews in your last issue, didn't you?
Wine X: The best.
John: See, nothing to worry about.
Molly: We're just having fun, Stew.
Wine X: Juh-huh.
Trying to make conversation so I don't wet my pants.
Wine X: So what does Walla Walla mean?
Molly: Lots of water.
Wine X: Yes there is.
Molly: No, that's what Walla Walla means. Lots of water.
Wine X: Oh, right. Okay. You wanted Australia, you got Fresno. Where'd you go from there?
John: Pine Ridge winery in Napa. Doing crush. In 1990 I got hired at Acacia as an enologist. In '93, the Chalone group, which owns Acacia, was looking to build a winery in Washington State, and I expressed interest in working on the project. So, from '93 to '94 I split my time between Acacia and building Canoe Ridge, then finally moved up here in '94.
Wine X: Do you hear banjos?
Molly: No, but I see some rapids comin' up. Hold on.
We hit the rushing water. John and Molly thrill in the violent surge. I hold on for dear life. We pass through, and the boat slows.
Molly: Stewart, you look a little pale. You okay?
Wine X: Yeah. Fine. Enjoyin' myself. Thanks. So... speakin' of music, what kinda music do you guys listen to in the cellar?
John: We like Fiona Apple, Sting, Sublime, Zappa, the Dead and Peter Gabriel.
Wine X: No Phil Collins?
John: No. No "ill" Collins. The crew gets pretty hostile when he shows.
Wine X: Do you ever bring your cellar crew rafting?
Molly: We took the whole production crew rafting last year. Right in the middle of the trip an intense thunderstorm blew in. I had to have a "moment" with 'em to calm 'em down.
Wine X: Wha'd you say?
Molly: I made the analogy of it raining during harvest.
Wine X: And they bought that?
Molly: Did they have a choice?
Wine X: What is all this stuff?
Molly: You can fit a lot in a 18-foot raft. Wine is one of the top priorities, of course, and we have to ration it out, especially when it's a seven-day trip.
Wine X: Pardon? Seven what?
Molly: Some folks like to smuggle a bottle from the raft into their tent at night, and that can cause a mutiny if you're not careful.
Wine X: I think that happened on the Bounty -- the wine ran out and there was hell to pay.
Molly: Could be. Another item that's a must is s'mores -- graham crackers, milk chocolate bars and marshmallows.
Wine X: What wine would you pair with that?
Molly: Merlot. It's the perfect wine for s'mores. If you want to do the gourmet version, a "Reserve S'mores," use two jumbo marshmallows, Pepperidge Farm cookies and Ghirardelli chocolate. Perfect with a syrah.
Wine X: I hear that you guys have a tepee in your vineyard.
John: The tepee was my idea. The ridge that the winery's on is shaped like a canoe -- thus "Canoe Ridge" -- and runs along the Columbia River. So I thought what could be better than to have a tepee on Canoe Ridge which is on a river named by Lewis and Clark. It's great. Most wineries take their VIP's to fancy restaurants, but we treat ours to an overnight campout in the tepee.
Molly: We supply them with a tepee kit complete with ear plugs for snoring guests, a little rug for shoes and socks, foam cushions, candles and washcloths.
Wine X: You know this rafting thing isn't too bad. ROCK! ROCK!
John quickly and skillfully steers our raft around the life-threatening obstacle.
Molly: Stew, you can let go of my arm, now.
Wine X: Right. Sorry.
We continue on... for what seems like forever. Finally, a few hours later, we beach the raft and set up camp. Molly was right. They did bring everything except the kitchen sink. No, wait. There it is.
Molly informs us that dinner will be served soon. She puts some Peter Gabriel on and hands us a glass of red wine
Molly: Peter Gabriel's our favorite artist. Goes great with the '88 Acacia St. Claire Pinot Noir.
Wine X: Yes, yes it does. John, what's your ambition? What kind of mark do you want to leave?
John: When I look at role models in this industry, I see people who are educators. And that's what I'd like to be. I want people to say, 'John is an ambassador, not only for Chalone or Washington State merlot, but also for wine itself in the New World. And I want them to say that I helped to promote and make merlot a better varietal during my lifetime.
Wine X: How would you describe your merlot?
John: Imagine a warm, sunny day. You're standing on the riverbank. The wine is ruby-red. Aromas of ripe blackberries drift by. You dream of blackberry cobbler. Climbing into your canoe, you float downstream sipping your wine -- intense jammy fruit explodes on your palate -- layers of boysenberries, dark plums and mission figs and flavors of shaved chocolate linger.
Wine X: Wow. Sounds like a York Peppermint Patty commercial. Just kidding.
Molly: Dinner's on.
We move to the make-shift table. Smells wonderful. We help ourselves to the beautifully prepared food and the accompanying wines. Sit. Lift our glasses.
Molly: Here's to the three "bigs" in rafting: good water, good friends and good wine.
Everyone: Here here.
Wine X: This is excellent. Thank you.
John: Our pleasure.
Wine X: For the record, why don't you tell us what you've prepared for this evening.
Molly: To start we have fresh raw ahi, sashimi style. And we're serving that with our gewurztraminer.
Wine X: I didn't realize you made a gewurz.
Molly: We make a small amount, about 300 cases. It's in a dry, Alsatian style.
Wine X: Very nice.
Molly: And then for the main course we have rosemary-marinated sturgeon with rice pilaf, or, as I call it, campfire rice. And with that we're serving a Chalone pinot blanc and a Chalone merlot.
Wine X: Wow, this is better than most restaurants I've been to.
Molly: Thank you. It's really a lot easier than it looks.
Wine X: Just for the record, you make merlot, chardonnay, cabernet and a red blend which is...?
John: A cab/merlot blend, about 75/25 respectively.
Wine X: And a small amount or gewurztraminer. What other wines interest you? What would you like to see "make it" in the market place?
John: Semillon. We're very interested in developing some semillon in the future.
Wine X: Regarding the future, in your opinion, being young and in the business, what does the wine industry need to do to bring in new consumers?
John: Knock the stuffiness out of wine. I think people our age don't want to deal with all that stuff. They just want something that's approachable and tastes great.
We finish dinner. The night is beautiful -- full sky of stars. I almost hate to leave, but I swear I still hear banjos.
Wine X: Hey, I wanna thank you guys for your time. It's been a cool trip.
Molly: We still have six-and-a-half days to go, Stew.
Wine X: I thought you guys were kidding about the seven...
John: Make sure you zip up your tent nice and tight tonight. Been a couple of locals hangin' around here lately.
Wine X: Can I have some more wine, please? Oink.