Hot! Hittin’ the Wineries

By Paulette Rees-Denis

Paulette and Her Corgis

I’m a Lucky Girl. I live a funky and fabulous life. Actually, it’s not luck; it’s a well-earned life. I work hard, and I play hard. I am a tribal bellydancer, a writer and author and a musician. I run a wine bar/vegetarian café in Clatskanie, Oregon, with my husband, Jeff. We have a little farmette, with goats, chickens, dogs, and a cat. I travel the world teaching my style of bellydance (for twenty-five years), and we glamp around the Pacific Northwest in our growing collection of campers/trailers, which includes a 1963 Shasta, a ’56 Aloha, and an ’05 T@B. Oh, and yes, and I am tattooed, which is how I became friends with the notorious Bob Baxter, who invited me to write for this tattoo mag, to share with you stories from my travels around the globe and at home, with tattoo tidbits, chance meetings, tribal bellydance events, subcultural journeys and my crazy farmlife in a little town (population about 1,600), in Oregon.

On the Road

You know how it is, when you are tattooed. You see a hint of ink peeking out from a sleeve or above a collar, and you are almost immediately drawn to that person, or at least, I am! So when I was on my latest weekend camping event, with seventeen other T@B-ers, I saw ink, and asked Mel Z. and Mike T. if I could take photos to share with you. It was our fourth annual T@B rally, and we were camping right next to the Columbia River, at Peach Beach, in the gorgeous Columbia River Gorge. The Gorge is one of my most favorite places in the world, stunningly beautiful and powerful, with large rock formations, the crazy constant wind that makes for very happy windsurfers, and all if it surrounded by grapevines. The Washington wines in this region are amazing. So, camping with some fun folks, the glorious scenery, good food and wine, and my two corgi dogs, Rika and Gracie, and my man Jeff, I couldn’t be happier.

Car Heaven

One of my callings in life is to be the hostess and create community wherever I go. I like to camp (so I joined Sisters on the Fly), cook and drink wine (opened a wine bar), be a farmgirl (started the Farmgirrrl Divas), play music (play in bands and started Acoustic Clatskanie), but the biggie is my dancing. I developed a style of bellydance called Tribal, and wrote a book called Tribal Vision: A Celebration of Life Through Tribal Belly Dance. You will undoubtedly here more about all of these adventures as we go.


As hosts of this annual gathering/camping/rally, Jeff and I pick a groovy campsite that will accommodate fifteen to twenty-five T@Bs. Other campers joined us, who have different types of trailers, too. This particular weekend was devoted to wine tasting. It was a work thing as well as a hang-out thing. Arriving Friday night, we had a wine tasting and a meet-and-greet. I enjoy seeing everyone’s personality put into their trailers.

Saturday day, Jeff and I drive to Prosser, Washington, to sightsee and taste wine. Known for many fantastic wineries, we only have time to hit a few before we head back to our campsite. It was a rainy day in Prosser, but still a gorgeous drive. This time we brought back five different wines from Apex Cellars, for a night of tasting in June. We had an amazing lunch at Wine O’Clock. They serve their own wines, Bunnell Family Cellar and RiverAerie wines, and I had a lovely glass of Malbec, with a salad and local, fire-roasted asparagus with mascarpone citrus cream. Oh my. And Jeff had an amazing mushroom and cheese pizza, and, of course, custard for dessert. My camera comes out, after supper, and I follow Mike back to his trailer. I’m working on my first story for Tattoo Road Trip, writing in my head before I can get to a piece of paper or my computer.


Mike is a quiet man and I don’t know him well, but when I ask to photograph him, he takes off his coat to reveal his tattoos and a Harley shirt. Sometimes, when you ask a quiet man to write a bit about his tattoo, he will tell you a lot! Mike then proceeds to show me photos of his bike and sidecars. We talked bikes (I used to have a Harley) and tattoos, as I snapped away. It was a sweet moment of getting to know someone just a bit more. I’ve camped with these folks for the four years of our annual Pacific Northwest spring T@B rally. Sometimes it takes a long time to get to know someone.

Mike is an exhibit builder in a hands-on science museum in Boise, Idaho. He writes, “I have never gotten a tattoo off the wall or out of a book. All my work is custom-designed and drawn. I got my first tattoo, in 1990, when I got back from Sturgis. I was thirty-nine.  My tattoo artists are Russ Meyers and Erik Payne, both in Boise.  I like to say Erik is an artist first and a tattooist second. He went to Boise State University and was an art major there. I have around fifty-four hours of work in my arms.  Being tattooed feels like an electric-fence shock, to me, although I did fall asleep during one session with Russ. I had always wanted a tattoo but never thought of anything significant enough, even in the military. The ride to Sturgis and the week there is what did it. However, I must warn anyone wanting one that they are addictive. When you see the first one in the mirror, after you have taken off the bandage, you immediately think you are not balanced and want another one to balance the first one. I have entered in several tattoo contests and won some awards.”

On Sunday, before we packed it up and left the campsite, for our drive home and few more winery stops, I photographed Mel outside her trailer. She is a funny woman, not so quiet or shy, and I adore her. Trained as an electrician/welder, she loves to work on planes, and then she goes fishing and camps with her gal, Wendy. She has this big, beautiful tattoo on her arm—Angel Heart. Not remembering the tattoo artist’s name, she said it was from a guy on Capitol Hill, in Seattle.

When I asked about her tattoo, Mel wrote, “Angel Heart was my mom. Sweetest mom in the whole wide world. I got the tattoo after she passed away, within a week of her illness. The tattoo is in memory of my mom, Iris.” Short and sweet.

See, tattoos can open up a relationship where there are no barriers. I get to find out a little more from someone, when I ask about his or her personal artwork. Like many subcultures, it doesn’t matter what you do, how old you are, or what you look like. A common bond shared, in this case, tattooing, and all is right with the world.

On our way home, we stopped at two exquisite wineries. Memaloose is way up high, on a hillside overlooking the Gorge. It was a gorgeous day and quite the view. Windy, too. In fact, Memaloose has named one of their wines after that mighty wind, Mistral Ranch. We spent time with the winemaker and chatted with his son, who has Idiot’s Grace Winery. We bought several cases for the shop, and they will be visiting us to do some guest pouring this summer. Then on to Domaine Pouillon. Hidden in a little valley, it’s hard to name a favorite, but I love their Gewürztraminer and Black Dot. Alex and his wife, the winemakers, hung out with us a bit, and they will be visiting and pouring, too, this July.

Homeward bound, and always ready for the next journey—wine and food feasts, vintage trailer rallies, camping/glamping farmgirl weekends, music festivals, dance travels, good friends and always, more and more tattoos.

—Paulette Rees-Denis

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