I love wine. That’s a given. I also love music. All types. Well, almost all. So, whenever possible, I’ll go out of my way to experience wine and music together.
It may be as simple as sipping a glass of Merlot while listening to under-the-radar jazz, rock, folk, outlaw country, Americana, blues or world artists on my iPod.
Or it may involve hitting the road or hopping on a plane to get to one of the hundreds of music festivals held around the country each year, primarily in the late spring through late summer months.
Each May, the historic Osthoff Resort in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, hosts an event called Jazz on the Vine. It’s a two-day festival that brings together stars of the so-called “smooth jazz” genre (I’ll be happy to rant about that phrase on another occasion) in a big tent, under which numerous wine tasting “stations” are set up.
If there’s a better place for lovers of music and wine to be on a spring weekend, I’ve yet to find it.
Between sets, guests can stroll from table to table and taste dozens and dozens of wines from around the world. Then, once one finds something they like, they can purchase a glass for a reasonable price – $5 or $6 for all but a few of the “big-name” bottlings such as St. Francis Cabernet Sauvignon ($10) or La Crema Pinot Noir ($10).
There’s also plenty of food available in the tent, or one can walk a few yards back to the resort, which offers sit-down dining options.
The 2007 festival featured Marion Meadows, Nick Colionne, Slim Man & Bona Fide, Gregg Karukas, Eric Darius, Ray Parker Jr. (yes, of “Ghostbusters” fame) and my favorite “smooth jazz” artist, Peter White.
I take personal pride in (but absolutely no credit for) Peter’s solo career. Ever since he decided to part ways with folk-rock icon Al Stewart (“Year of the Cat”) and pursue what he calls “instrumental pop,” I’ve been extremely impressed with his creative and always-lyrical guitar playing; it’s the perfect music to accompany a glass of wine.
One year, when I was serving as a steward at the Pacific Rim International Wine Competition, the organizer was looking for a musical act to perform during the event’s closing walk-around wine tasting. I suggested Peter, he got booked, and the evening turned out to be magical.
In previous years, the entertainment had served more as less as background music for the tasting; when Peter played, attendees actually gathered around the stage and sat down for long stretches to soak in the sounds. Some even danced. That evening may have given Peter the confidence to pursue his solo career with no regrets, and he has since gone on to become one of the top-selling “smooth jazz” artists with more than a dozen No. 1 singles on “smooth jazz” radio stations. (I’ll share a story I once wrote about Peter for the Sonoma County Independent another time.)
But back to Jazz on the Vine. Peter headlined on Friday night, and brought the house down. Another highlight of the festival came when one of the other performers (can’t remember which one right now – too much wine) played a very nice version of Grover Washington Jr.’s classic “Winelight.”
Clutching a glass of Badger Mountain Riesling from Washington state as that wonderful sound filled the festival tent, all was right with the world.
(More musical musings later. Meanwhile, I’d love to hear about your memorable wine-and-music moments – whether they involve festivals, or simply a special song and a special wine.)