Sniff the Cap
Desert dwellers crave wine.
Rose Baker and her husband, Buster, suspected as much when they envisioned a wine bar in Yucca Valley.
The venue is no slick wine-country rip-off.
Rose and Buster’s Wine Tasting Room sports an eclectic vibe the couple calls “cowboy feng shui”—with Buddhas, cactus, dream catchers, Ganesha banners, mandalas, the headdresses of Southwestern tribes, craft beers, guitars and, of course, Northern California wines. Wines like Peterson Winery’s Mendo Blendo from Redwood Valley, Hop Kiln pinot noir from Healdsburg, and Rose and Buster's own private-label wines, from cab to chardonnay, bottled at Vista Verde Winery north of Paso Robles.
The couple carries Tulip Hill’s sauvignon blanc, a summertime hit obtained from the winery’s Rancho Mirage tasting room. They’ve exhausted their supply, though, and can’t get more, so they eagerly await the next batch.
“I’m bummed out about that,” Buster says. “I hope they’re making more. I have enough reds to choke a horse.”
Travelers can’t miss the new “Wine Tasting” sign along the Twenty Nine Palms Highway through Yucca Valley. Before the Bakers came along, a Yucca Valley wine aficionado’s choices were limited to mass-produced grocery store wine—with its six-bottle discount and bland selection—or a drive to the nearest wine bars in Palm Springs. Tulip Hill Winery’s tasting room in Rancho Mirage is a 45-minute drive, and Temecula wineries are twice that.
The Bakers wanted to bring a big gulp of Northern California to Yucca Valley. Buster lived in Santa Rosa 18 years ago, when he moved west from Ohio. His friends worked for wineries and turned him on to old vine zinfandels. Love at first sip.
“On my days off, heck, I’d just get in the car, drive out to Kenwood and make about five stops before it was time to turn back,” Buster says, reminiscing. “The next weekend, I’d head to the Dry Creek area. In those days, that's when Sonoma was famous for free wine-tasting. And only Napa charged.
“Now everybody’s charging.”
Sigh. Everybody’s charging.
It’s 91 degrees on a sunny Friday afternoon. Buster’s alone in the tasting room, but traffic is light. Hot afternoons, he says, make sangria a popular choice. Buster mixes his from Sangria Igardi, one of the only reds on offer not obtained from California. (The other is an Italian chianti.)
Buster adds fruit—and a splash of orange muscat. Chillicious.
“Believe me, on a hot day, people come in, and they like it a lot,” Buster says.
The bar offers a flexible flight of any four wines for $15—chosen from around 30 wines available. The fee includes a souvenir glass with the Rose and Buster’s logo.
“And we give pretty nice pours, especially if my wife is pouring! She gets talking to people and gives away the store.”
Rose is from Guatemala. Buster describes her as a minimalist. All the assorted bric-à-brac on the walls? That’s his.
“She is the yin to my yang,” Buster says.
The couple enjoys meeting folks from around the world who come in for wine. A trio from South Africa came through not long ago. They’d read about Rose and Buster’s on Trip Advisor. Buster didn’t even know a review of Rose and Buster’s existed on Trip Advisor. He’s busy juggling a lively Facebook page, Yelp reviews and live streaming of music events at UStream.
Social media makes me thirsty.
What wine would Buster want if he were stranded on a deserted island—and could only have, you know, one last bottle?
He names Manzanita Creek Winery’s Cloud Buster zinfandel from the Russian River Valley. It’s near Healdsburg. Mmm. Old vine zin paradise.
He looks at the bottle he’s holding.
How did Buster Baker’s life journey bring him to the desert? A cable-advertising pro in Sonoma County, Buster jumped at a better job in Los Angeles. That’s where he met Rose, and “it was love at first sight,” he says. The two married in 2008, went camping at Joshua Tree National Park to get outta the city, and ended up buying a house in Desert Hot Springs.
While scoping out kitsch at local antique shops, the two met their eventual landlord, who owns a consignment shop in Yucca Valley. He had some space opening up.
“Something this desert needs is wine, a wine bar,” Buster recalls thinking. “I’d been spoiled living up there in wine country.”
The wine bar opened around Thanksgiving 2013. During the slow summer months, it’s only open on weekends. For the first year, because of its liquor license, the venue closes at 9 p.m. This means live music starts crazy early at Rose and Buster’s.
Buster doesn’t mind for now, since it means getting home at a reasonable hour.
“I’m an old dude.”
If pressed, Buster describes his own appearance as similar to that of a famed 1970s recording artist.
“I’m reminiscent of Leon Russell, (with) the long straight hair, mustache and beard,” he says.
Buster worked in the music industry while living in Ohio. He sang in a band; emcee’d at the Cleveland Agora, a renowned music venue; and worked as a stringer for Entertainment Tonight, producing segments on the Jamaican World Music Festival and the first-ever Rock in Rio event. He’s met musical legends from Kiss to the Talking Heads, and has the photos to prove it. For a gift, Rose ordered him a coffee mug that displays a 1971 shot of John and Yoko from a meeting in London.
A guy walked into the bar recently and saw Buster drinking out of the mug.
“Is that … ?”
“Yeah, and do you know who that is with him?”
“Is that … you?”
Relating the story, Buster laughs. “I was a lot younger then. My hair was a lot darker.”
Buster’s the kind of guy who can narrate life adventures all day long—aka an engaging bartender.
“If someone wants to come in and talk about how I met John Lennon, come on in,” Buster says. “I’ll pour you a glass of wine and I’ll tell you a story.”