It was love at first sip. The wine was bold. But smooth. It carried a range of flavors that was a symphony for the taste buds. It also didn’t hurt that it was only nine bucks a glass, and was paired with the best steak I’d ever had in my life.
That’s one of the grand things about aviation: You just never know what you’ll discover on an overnight fuel stop.
The wine was called Cooper Prophets, and it’s made by the Rosewood Winery in Great Bend, Kansas. Beyond making one the best reds I’ve ever had the pleasure to drink, it turns out that Rosewood also has the distinction of being a winery with a cause. Their staff is made up of developmentally disabled people. Making wine is both therapy and gainful employment.
My first brush with the wine was on my way to the Ercoupe 75th Anniversary gathering and the massive annual air-meet at Oshkosh. I jotted down the oddball name of the wine on the margin of a flight log (all Rosewood wines are named after race horses raised by their sister operation, Rosewood Ranch) and somewhere in the middle of Missouri, grounded by fog and low clouds, I went online to try to order a case so it would be waiting for us on our return home. No joy. Rosewood does not sell online.
Not to be deterred when it comes to good wine, I re-routed our return flight to stop over in Great Bend a second time, and as soon as we landed we jumped into the Centerline Aviation crew car and headed for Rosewood’s retail “wine cellar” in downtown Great Bend. But as it turned out, Rosewood isn’t licensed to export their product out of state, and between Rio and I, fuel, and tee-shirts and tooth brushes, we literally could not carry even a single bottle back with us. This is one of the disadvantages of antique airplanes. Built in the days when people were smaller and lighter, and when there was virtually no cockpit gadgetry, they don’t have much carrying capacity—what we call “useful load” in aviation. When you add in modern conveniences like, say, a radio or a starter, it only gets worse.
What to do? It was either leave Rio behind, or leave the wine behind.
In the end I bought the wine and then hit the streets to make friends with Kansasions to try to find someone to ship it home to me. It was a lot of work, and a little nerve-wracking, but eventually my wine reached me. Oh, I forgot to mention, it might be cheap by the glass, but by the bottle, it turned out to be the most expensive wine I’ve ever purchased. We saved each bottle for special occasions.
It’s amazing how many special occasions we have in our household.
So we were down to two bottles when the Plane Tales Plane went into the shop for her recent epic annual inspection (not a special occasion, although I suspect my mechanic might have broken out a bottle of his best when he saw me taxi up), and then she cracked a cylinder (also not a special occasion).
Sorry it’s taking so long to get to the point of the story, but it’s complicated.
So as it turns out, new cylinders have a special break-in procedure. Basically, you need to run the engine hard for the first ten hours or so. High power. Low altitude. Minimum landings. Short taxiing. In a nutshell, the recipe for a road trip, which in aviation we call a “cross country.”
In the old days, to plan a cross country like this I would have sat down at the kitchen table and spread out a sectional chart. Or, if I’d been at the airport, I would have gone to a planning chart: Huge 7-foot tall maps of the United States that covered entire walls. Most terminals used to place a screw in the map at their location. Attached to the screw was a piece of string with knots tied into it every hundred miles or so. You could swing the string around to estimate the distances to faraway places.
Instead, I sat down on the living room couch with an iPad Mini. And a glass of cheap wine. I need a trip of around 400 miles, the theoretical maximum distance I can go with full tanks, a legal reserve, and no copilot. (I’m flying solo until the engine is safely broken in.)
“Maybe I could fly over to Dalhart for breakfast,” I told Rio. I simultaneously laid my left index finger over our homebase on the touch screen, and my right finger over Dalhart. Two simulated black pushpins appeared on the screen, with a line drawn between them. Only 154 miles. “Not far enough,” I sighed.
“You could go to Amarillo again,” suggested Rio. There’s a great restaurant on the field, and a dynamite little airplane museum to make the trip worthwhile. I checked the distance. It was around 200 miles.
“Still too close,” I said, then looking at the chart, and talking more to myself than to Rio, added, “I wonder what’s further east…?”
“Well you could just fly to Great Bend and pick up another case of that wine you love.”
Three hundred ninety seven miles.
The boy’s a genius.
Next time on Plane Tales: A milk run of a beer run.