When Chris Gorman of Gorman Winery isn't turning grapes into praiseworthy nectar, he channels his creative energy into music and food. Addicted to the buzz of creating something out of nothing, Gorman is a great chef in his own right, winning last year's Iron Vintner Challenge, which returns for its third year on June 6th. Gorman spent eight months prepping for the contest that pits winemaker against winemaker in a test of culinary prowess. And when he's not making wine or food, he's making music--or at least collecting it. He's got a nice set of top-shelf guitars signed by legendary rockers and even picks up a guitar himself every now and then when reminiscing about his college band, The Crawdaddies, gets the better of him.
These are days of wine and (a whole lotta) Rosie for Gorman, who is getting ready to open a new tasting room in Woodinville in a couple of weeks--complete with the state's first AC/DC pinball machine.
Where did your passion for cooking come from?
I cooked a little bit in college. My buddy was a waiter in a restaurant called Il Fiasco in Bellingham. He fancied himself a cook so we used to kind of impress the ladies during our college years by whipping up a good meal. When I moved down here [in the early 90s], it was that time when all the cooking shows started popping up and I had my VCR hooked up to record the Great Chefs series.
It's rare to find somebody who's really into wine that's not into good food. That would be an anomaly.
At what point did you start to take cooking seriously?
I've always taken it seriously. I'm self-taught, but I do own quite a lot of cookbooks.
It's relaxing. I love to cook, for kind of the same reason I like to make wine. Whether you're a chef, musician or winemaker, you like to produce something.
What do you like to cook?
I love single-dish meals. One-pot, one-pan meals, like paella, risotto and cassoulet. I like slow-cooked meals, too--things that take 4-5 hours to cook; you open up a bottle of wine and you're usually falling over by the time the food is done.
How come you didn't pursue cooking as a career?
I would say I didn't even choose wine. And I don't think wine chose me, either. I fell into the wine business right out of college. Mike, the same buddy that worked in the Italian restaurant in Bellingham, got a job with Bianco-Rosso Imports and he got the sales job. He helped me get a job in the warehouse and so I was delivering wine and driving a forklift and keeping everything clean, which, as it turns out, are all valuable tools for owning a winery. That's all I really do anyways: I clean and I deliver wine.
Guitars are now a business expense. I have 14 guitars that are either hung up on the wall or signed by some rock star I traded a case of wine for. We've got seven guitars in the tasting room right now.
Where are the other seven?
There's a couple hanging up next to my refrigerator in the winery. I've got two at my home and there's one in the new tasting room.
What's your most prized guitar?
I have a '71 Fender Stratocaster, American-made, that I pretty much learned on. I bought it at a pawn shop when I was like 15.
What's it worth?
I don't know. I probably paid $200 and it's got to be [worth] well into the thousands.
Who are some of the musicians you have signed guitars from?
Van Halen. Queensryche, who love to come over to the Gorman Winery tasting room and play pinball--just the singer. We have AC/DC. We've got a buddy of mine, Jon Auer from The Posies, whom I went to college with, and Brooks & Dunn, the odd man out. I've never heard a song by them, but I met Kix Brooks and he seemed like a very nice man who actually has a winery in Tennessee.
How do you get these guitars signed?
I bought two signed. I bought the AC/DC and Van Halen ones signed. I bought the guitar that Queensrych signed and shipped it over to the band and they signed it. I sent them a whole bunch of wine. And Jon Auer brought [the signed guitar] to the winery and played a little show for my friends and me. Brooks & Dunn--I have lots of those guitars. I must have four of those because I kept on shipping them wine and they'd ship me a guitar. They're great when I need an auction item.
The Crawdaddies were like a nine-piece, full horn section, kind of power-pop, horn-fueled rock-and-roll band. It was really fun. We used to play with the Cherry Poppin' Daddies, so it was very upbeat music, very rock with lots of horns. It was right around the time when Nirvana hit, and as soon as Smells Like Teen Spirit came out, that just ended anything happy in the world. Not that we were a totally happy band, but when you have a horn section, you tend to be a little more upbeat.
What did you play in this band?
Guitar, of course!
Do you have a favorite rock band of all-time?
I might have to default to AC/DC just because they never seem to get boring to me. They're simple, classic music. Sometimes the more complicated stuff gets a little droning after a while. I have my favorite musicians, but I think all-in-all my favorite band would be either old Van Halen or AC/DC.
He doesn't count.
I have the finest pinball machine ever made. Brand new release, it's the Stern AC/DC pinball machine. We got the first one in the state. We got it a few months back because we wanted to use it for the [new] tasting room when it opened up. We wanted to have a very spicy looking rock-and-roll tasting room. There's one at the current AC/DC exhibit at the EMP. When this thing came out, it was a really big deal because there's not a lot of new pinball machines made. The Guns N' Roses one is next on my list. It'd be nice to have a back-up pinball machine.
Who gets to play?
We haven't figured out the policy yet, but right now it's on free play so anybody who comes in can play it. We're thinking anyone who purchases a bottle of our wine gets a token.
It's an added benefit. We're not sure--we're sharing the tasting room with another winery--if it'll be too noisy to be playing all day, but I certainly get to play it as much as I like.
Do you have the high score?
I do not. My assistant winemaker has the high score. I can't seem to beat it, but I'm pretty sure I know what he's doing when I'm not around.
What's the coolest thing the machine does?
There are 12 full songs that get played on it. Plus, at any point when you get the pinball up this one ramp, it loads the pinball into a cannon and then the cannon engages and there's a "fire" button on the machine so you fire the cannon at certain targets. It's a pretty interesting maneuver.
Do you think you'll ever open a restaurant?
I don't think I want to open up a restaurant, although, [fellow winemaker] Mark Ryan and I have joked about opening up a steakhouse in Woodinville because we're in dire need of a steakhouse up there. I would be a partner in a restaurant, but I don't think I could do the day-to-day operation or be in the kitchen. I wouldn't mind the creative side and maybe the business side of it, but I can't see myself working those hours. I would be the somme.