The Nuthouse


It’s true, I’ve spent time in the nuthouse. It was the 90’s, a crazy time for many of us, and I needed to get away from the stress and strain of a 50 hour a week sales job in the wine industry. The nuthouse I ended up in didn’t have padded walls or any of those white sport coats with the sleeves that tie in the back. Instead, there was a hard floor, a sleeping bag and a 12 hour workday with three squares. The nuthouse was the old house next to the former hazelnut processing plant which is now known as Argyle Winery. I was a voluntary inmate, with no compensation other than a workout tougher than any health club could offer, and enough gourmet food and wine to keep the NY Times’ food critic happy.

Rollin Soles, the greatest living wine-making Texan, was kind enough to let me play cellar rat for a week, allowing me to see first hand what it takes to turn grapes into wine, and dispelling any notion of the romantic life of a winemaker. What it takes is one brilliant Texan and enough blindly obedient disciples to do the grunt work. My main job consisted of hoisting milk crates full of grapes to the top of some scaffolding, then dumping them into the de-stemmer, being careful not to hurl myself into the hopper. Lift, twist, dump, turn, lift, twist, dump, turn. Not exactly the poster boy job for OSHA. The strain on your back is taken care of by the red’s. If you ever want washboard abs, then just volunteer to punch down the caps on a few vats of Pinot Noir. Balancing on the edge of a vat with a stainless steel paddle in your hands, you can either strain your abs or fall in. By the second day I could barely sit up in bed. The satisfaction came a couple years later when the reviews for Argyles latest release of Pinot’s came in. “Amazing extraction,” they read. Yeah, because me and a couple of other zealots got into the punch down competition of ’95.

My best memory of that week was provided by Rollin. He grabbed me to come help him with a lab project. We took a large chemistry beaker to one of the tanks of fresh Riesling juice, waiting to be inoculated with yeast. He had me help him draw out a large quantity of juice into the beaker and I followed him into the lab. Was there a problem? Did he need to adjust for sugars, or acidity? We went into the lab and he went over to the beat up refrigerator and got out a bag of ice. What strange research project was this turning into? He filled a pitcher with the ice and poured the large volume of Riesling juice into it. He then went to the fridge and near the back he found a bottle of vodka. He poured a healthy dose of vodka into the pitcher of Riesling juice, and looked at me with that big Texas grin of his. “Riesling gimlets,” he said. Damn if he hadn’t invented his own cocktail.

Rollin and Corby Solles

Argyle is an easy stop in Dundee,Oregon. Rollin also makes wine under the ROCO label and is pictured with his wife, Corby.

Published in: on April 17, 2008 at 5:50 pm  Comments (2)  

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I’m just crazy about Argyle.

  2. Argyle wine? Sock it to me.

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