Classic tunes from Neil Diamond and Billy Joel notwithstanding, a foamy beer and a face-puckering shot of Jack Daniels have long been the drinks popularly identified with the rock 'n' roll experience. Think back to all those iconic photographs of Keith Richards gripping a beer bottle, or Van Halen's Michael Anthony and his legendary J.D. bass. But lo and behold, the times they have a-changed! Nowadays, rockers (and their fans) have fallen in love with the Dionysian delights of that ancient entheogen known as wine. Of course, Sammy Hagar and his Cabo Wabo Tequila empire would certainly dismiss such bold claims, but sorry Red Rocker, the proof is in the pudding, I mean, grapes.
From Whitesnake's David Coverdale and Journey keyboardist Jonathan Cain to Dave Matthews and Mick Fleetwood, the number of high-profile rockers moonlighting either as winemakers or key investors in vineyards and wineries has mushroomed in recent years. Even those cave-dwelling troglodytes in AC/DC have turned into sophisticates with the delightful Back in Black Shiraz and Highway to Hell Cabernet Sauvignon. And let's not overlook alt metal icon Maynard James Keenan of Tool, Puscifer and A Perfect Circle fame; his Caduceus Cellars winery in Arizona was the subject of the 2010 documentary Blood Into Wine.
Yet the most evangelical of all rock's would-be connoisseurs and sommeliers has to be Train. This shouldn't come as a surprise. After all, nearly every song the band has recorded in the last decade comes littered with references to California and the state's many renowned delicacies, from vino to burritos. They helped launch the Save Me, San Francisco Wine Co., and the video for their hit single "Drive By" features singer Pat Monahan hanging in Napa Valley. There, at an idyllic vineyard tucked among those famously rolling hills, he and model Linda Croitoru court one another while flirtatiously stomping grapes and sipping exquisite reds from antique barrels.
But rock 'n' roll's torrid romance with wine contains a second and no less vital component: the nationwide emergence of vineyards and wineries as performance venues. The number of those staging rock concerts nowadays comprises a bona fide circuit. Mountain Winery (Saratoga, Calif.), Chateau Ste. Michelle (just 15 miles north of Seattle) and secluded Maryhill Winery (100 miles west of Portland) are just a few notable stops. Additionally, numerous festivals (including RockNapa) and promotion companies (Rock 'n Roll Wine, for example) have popped up.
On top of all that, the instant success of City Winery in both New York City and Chicago confirms my suspicion that wineries and vineyards have overtaken faux blues clubs like House of Blues as the hot spots to catch veteran rock acts. Indeed, the winery circuit is dominated by legacy artists such as Journey, Supertramp and Steve Miller Band. This makes total sense, actually: An afternoon or early-evening concert at a posh winery appeals to the older fan whose grown-up commitments (kids, career, etc.) prevent him or her from logging wee hours at a smelly nightclub -- and sure, maybe this doesn't sound too rock 'n' roll of them. But hey, consuming fine wines and food with the accompaniment of loud guitars sounds really rather awesome.
A note on the playlist: In addition to cuts from rockers active in the wine industry, as well as many of the acts touring the winery/vineyard circuit, it contains a smattering of rock 'n' roll's classic "wino jams," like "Scenes from an Italian Restaurant," "Red, Red Wine" and The Grateful Dead's "Jack Straw" ("We can share the women, we can share the wine," croons Papa Jerry). And be on the lookout for "Desire," the new single from the aptly named The Winery Dogs, a super-group featuring members of Mr. Big, Poison and Dream Theater.