The Most Ratchet Winery Ever
Saugatuck, MI – the Napa Valley of the Midwest is a picturesque artsy town nestled against Lake Michigan frontage and host to a great portion of the Michigan Wine Trail. My new friend KB, a recent transplant from Texas, had been bugging me to take her some place to see the autumnal colors, and I could think of nothing better than the two-hour drive to Saugatuck and the requisite wine tastings. About two dozen wineries and vineyards line the area between Saugatuck and Chicago. Cultivated vineyard-lined pathways lead to quaint buildings housing wine-inspired paraphernalia and incredibly friendly staff well-versed in all things wine. Well, most of them do. Unless it is the one that has to be the most ratchetly. winery. ever.
I’m not even going to name it. I’m just going to shame it. All the other wineries were surrounded by fields and fields of vineyards, while this place was located in the industrial sector of a one-intersection town. It sat on a corner where I’d expect to see the local auto repair shop. It had no windows, just a large double wooden door sporting a sign proclaiming it to be open. We had our doubts. KB sat in the truck while I hopped out to check. I slowly opened the door and my eyes had to adjust to the profound darkness. I let the door rest on the back of my heel; a sliver of light illuminated the interior. I’ve seen more inviting biker bars than this joint. It really looked like the sort of trap space you’d see #zola and Jess and Jarrett waiting for Z to pick them up.
Unlike the other tastings, where khaki-clad sommelier types beckoned us into brightly-lit cozy spaces, the most ratchetest winery ever employed some dudebro who assured me that they were open for wine tastings. I motioned for KB to come in and we made our way across the concrete vastness to the bar. The lighting, or rather lack of, was disconcerting. It was not the slight softening of light the other wineries had near the tasting area that contrasted with the bright illumination of the rest of the store. And yes, the other tastings were located in places that sold bottles and cases of wine and wine paraphernalia. The most ratchetly winery ever is a bar and there are no bottles of wine on display. Not a grape or vine around. No cute “I love Wine” aprons or coasters. No Eiffel Tower cork holder. No cork screws for sale. No lamps made from wine bottles. No instructional wine tasting books.
We reached the bar and glanced at the tasting menu only to find them all written on. Dudebro sheepishly gathered them and dug around under the bar until he resurfaced with newer menus. This is when we got the first inkling that maybe, just maybe, this wine tasting thing might be a front. I mean, Dudebro seemed just as surprised by our request for tastings as we were by the entire un-wine-like atmosphere of the place. His whole goal seemed to be just to humor us since not one other soul was present. Thoughts of classic horror film scenarios filled my head and I honest to goodness felt my arm hairs rise in alert. KB and I shared a side-eye and I saw that she, too, was in fight-or-flight mode. But hey, you know, wine. So we stayed.
Some tasting are free. Others charge up to five bucks and usually include the souvenir tasting glass. The most ratcheted winery ever charges EIGHT DOLLARS and all you return home with are crushed dreams. This didn’t include any glasses – not so much as a used cork. At this time, we really began to wonder exactly what we were paying for because the most ratchetiest winery ever doesn’t even have those cute little cracker puffs used to clear your palate between glasses.
The previous winery had chocolate chips to pair with the reds, but no such thing here. Dudebro reached behind the bar and grabbed a Costco- sized tub of pretzels. He poured them onto the TOP OF THE PRETZEL CONTAINER and slid that ish in front of us like it was on an actual platter. KB and I exchanged a “girl, don’t even think about touching those” glance. I’m sure that wouldn’t have stopped Dudebro from returning the uneaten portion back to container anyway.
The most ratcherdly winery ever gives bullshit descriptions of their wine and we once again wondered if “wine” was their actual product. I kid you not, one description of “Married in the Vineyard” (yeah, that’s the name of the wine) was that they had received vines from two grapes but because they weren’t labeled, this place didn’t know what percentage of each grape composed the blend. You know, cause when you’re in the business of Viticulture – the science of blending grapes – you couldn’t possibly have a method for determining grape variety. So while the other vineyards drilled out their wine’s lineage in percentages, Dudebro giggled about the crap shoot that yielded Marriage in the Vineyard with all the romance of a Vegas one-night stand and subsequent Elvis-themed midnight wedding.
The most rachetful winery ever DOES NOT HAVE WINE. If we can learn anything from pop culture drug movies, it’s that packagers often buy pure product and then use a variety of unsavory mixers to increase the size and financial return. They cut it with baking soda, baby powder, rat poison – anything to double the amount. And if we learn anything from bars we avoid, it’s because they serve watered-down drinks by the same principle. This aqueous mess looked like Jesus’s first attempts at converting water into wine when he was only partially successful. This was like Ron Weasley’s attempts at transmutation. It reminds me of when my brother and I snuck rum punch from the fridge and replaced it with juice, water, hell, just never replaced it. This wine tasted like it should be served to children at Disneyland. And it hurt me to core that Dudebro could stand before us serving this swill with a goofy smile and think that we didn’t know any better.
At this point, I refused to believe that this establishment was a purveyor of wine. Hoodwinked, bamboozled, and led astray do not even touch the surface of this experience. Either 1) this was a social experiment (but I saw no cameras), or 2) this was a From Dusk til Dawn-type tourist entrapment and the vats in the back were there to boil down our bodies until we were tender enough to be served with those Costco pretzels, OR 3) they were making and dealing dope and we just hadn’t figured out the right password. In either case, I was tired of the façade. If they weren’t going to make a skin suit out of us, then the least they could have done was allow us to purchase whatever illicit drug they had to be peddling in order to even attempt such a ruse as “wine tasting.” Seriously, I will buy the crack. I will buy the meth. I will buy the weed. The narcotic. The prescription. The schrooms. The magical beans. For the love of all things oenological, I’d buy it all just to make them cease and desist their vile production of bottled grape-aid. We slapped a twenty down on the bar and high-tailed it out of there without even waiting for our change. I’ll be damned if I pay four dollars extra to be cooked and paired with the most rat-shittiest wine ever.
M Shelly Conner is a writer, scholar, and humorist focused on experiences of race, gender, and queer identities. She is Executive Director of Quare Square Collective, Inc., a nonprofit organization for queer artists of color. A foodie with texture issues, Shelly curates the new blog dappervista.tumblr.com — examining dining, travel and cultural events from a queer, womanist perspective. Her comedy web series, Quare Life, is in pre-production.