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Rock the Cellar!
Music To Make Wine To
by Michael Sherwood
Avalon Food Wine & Music Writer

Does listening to jam bands such as ‘Sound Tribe Sector Nine’ during harvest make Andrew Rich’s Syrah taste jammier? Does ‘punching down’ the fruit to classical music lend an elegant finish to Beaux Frères Pinot Noirs? This is something only your palate and imagination can decide.

Music adds a dimension to the wine making process that doesn’t make it to the back label description. From the gentle cadence of Gregorian chant at Owen Roe to the bold strains of the Jimi Hendrix Experience heard while stirring a cauldron of biodynamic spray at Brick House, music is an inspirational partner in the winemaking process.



Check out the Music!

Michael's site has a selection of the best of the music winemakers listen to while making wine!


Loud and Rauccous -
Winemaking at Sineann

Sineann's Big Reds are made to the strains of Frank Zappa

It was day two on the bottling line for Jezebel, the négociant wine label by Peter Rosback of Sineann and Aron Hess of Daedalus Cellars. The thundering bass notes of ‘Morning Dew’ rumbled over the din of the rattling bottles and hissing argon gas purging oxygen out of just filled bottles of wine. We’d listened to Rosback favorite Frank Zappa the day before so now it was the Grateful Dead’s turn. Aron Hess, a confirmed Deadhead, was in charge of both the bottling line and boom box. The bottling crew was getting an earful of the Dead’s June 10, 1973 concert at the RFK Stadium in Washington DC, a memorable concert in a year of incredible shows.

Crush time at Sineann is a rockin’ musical affair. The house system is moved out of the barrel room to the sorting line during crush. Like most wineries at harvest time, a half a dozen crush crew helpers converge with CD wallets in hand making for a heady sonic mélange.

The music has to be turned up pretty loud to be heard over the roar of the destemmer and whirring of the fork lift truck. The winery is located at the top of the Chehalem Mountains, with all of Yamhill County at its feet, so noise levels are rarely an issue. When 8 tons of old vine Zinfandel roll in at 3 PM forcing a late night destemming party, Peter Green era Fleetwood Mac Blues Band is sure to find its way to the CD changer in short order. Cellar master Aaron Berlin and the crush crews dictate the ambient music more than winemaker Rosback. Berlin leans more towards Stevie Ray Vaughn, the Flying Burrito Brothers and Joni Mitchell while Peter Rosback would put on Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band in a heartbeat if he wasn’t buzzing around tending to barrels.

Grateful Dead Rock on at Bergstrom

Deadheads can cite concert dates and set lists like they were scripture. Josh Bergstrom of Bergstrom Winery is one.

“The third set opener of Dark Star on 8.27.72 at Veneta, Ore. is enough to quicken the heartbeat of any confirmed fan of the Grateful Dead” says Josh.

Josh Bergström’s older brother turned him onto the Grateful Dead when he was 12 years old along with the likes of The Who, The Doors and Pink Floyd but it was the Dead that made the greatest impression on his young brain. With access to bootleg cassette tapes like the legendary 5.8.77 show at Cornell University’s Barton Hall in Ithaca, New York, the die was cast early.

Josh likes the story telling side of the Dead as well as the folk roots meets psychedelica element of their music. The whole community that was the Grateful Dead spoke volumes to Josh. His first Grateful Dead concerts at Autzen Stadium in Eugene, Ore. came in the mid 1980’s with bands like Santana, Robert Cray, Jimmy Cliff and Bob Dylan as opening acts. If you walk into the Bergström winery today it’s a good chance you’ll hear the Grateful Dead, Phil Lesh and Friends or some lively Jerry Garcia / David Grisman bouncing off the barrel room walls. Josh's collection of bootleg tapes disappeared after college, but a new batch of live Dead and Sons of Champlin arrived at crush last year, so you know the cellar was rocking as the grapes were fermenting in their bins.

RedHawk's Blush Wine,
Punk Floyd

RedHawk Names Wines for Musical Heroes

Maybe nowhere else does music and wine become one as it does at RedHawk Vineyards just outside of Salem, Ore. Winemaker Tom Robinson has named a number of his wines after rock bands over the years.

Blush wine‘Punk Floyd’ sports an alien punk rocker on the label, but his best known rock and roll wine is the blend of young Pinot Noir he calls ‘Grateful Red’. And while the Grateful Dead is still played on the winery sound system during open house holidays the 120 channel satellite radio SIRIUS delivers music the rest of the year.

Santana, Flamenco Inspire Abacela's Tempranillo

Ottmar Liebert

Earl Jones, owner and winemaker at the Abacela winery outside of Roseburg, Ore. was living in San Francisco when the whole psychedelic music scene emerged. Earl lived within walking distance of the legendary Fillmore Auditorium while he fulfilled his medical residency at a local hospital.

It was not the Jefferson Airplane or Quicksilver Messenger Service that piqued his interest, but the Santana Blues Band. A Latin tune has been beating in his heart since he sipped his first Spanish Rioja in 1965. It is little surprise that today, nouveau flamenco guitarist Ottmar Liebert is his favorite musician. Strains of impassioned flamenco waft through the winery as Grenache, Syrah and Tempranillo sleep in their barrels.

Ottmar and Earl trade emails about wine and music from time to time. Ottmar’s plea to Earl is to continue using real cork and shun alternative closures. Ottmar hopes that continued cork use will help preserve the cork tree habitat of the declining Iberian wolf.

Classical Music and Eclectic Sounds at Owen Roe, DePonte

Winemaker David O’Reilly of the Owen Roe winery in St. Paul is partial to pre-Reformation choral music and classical music - Handel to Beethoven. You won’t find Gregorian chants, fugues or sonatas coaxing juice in the barrel room though. Aaron Lieberman, Owen Roe assistant and Cottonwood winemaker along with his cellar staff controls the CD player that resides within the lab’s computer. You might hear a mix of Edith Piaf, Frank Sinatra, Doc Watson or Morrissey though there is a whole folder of Mozart on the hard drive as well.

At the DePonte Cellars nestled in the south end of the Dundee Hills winery owner Scott Baldwin likes to top his barrels off listening to the classical music of Vivaldi. You’ll also hear a bit of St. Germain, pioneer of the new electronic music in France who plays an intriguing collage of jazz for the DJ remix culture. Compact discs of Bryan Ferry’s Roxy Music rest comfortably amongst Bob Marley’s ‘Natty Dread’ and Crosby Stills, Nash & Young’s ‘Déjà Vu’. DePonte's French winemaker, Isabelle Dutartre, is a huge U2 fan. You can feel the vibes of U2’s ‘Beautiful Day’ echoing off the high ceilinged fermentation room walls when you walk in to the winery.

Miles Davis

Leo Kottke

Jimi Hendrix

Music Defines the Moment at Brick House

The jungle drums beat steadily as you move down the Chehalem Valley to the ‘dry farmers’ of Ribbon Ridge. If you are listening to Miles Davis’ ‘Kinda Blue’ or Leo Kottke at the Brick House Vineyards in Newberg, Ore. you’d be at one of Doug Tunnell’s private wine tastings. Music helps define the moment at Brick House. Working around the winery, you’d be listening to B.B. King, Jimi Hendrix or Mali artist Ali Farka Toure’s world beat rhythms. When Doug is blending wines from different lots and barrel, Brazilian folk singer Cesaria Evora or the late folk/jazz torch singer Eva Cassidy find their way onto his CD player. Some of his most successful Pinot Noir blends have been done to these artists. At open house weekends, wunderkind mandolin player Chris Thile of new bluegrass ensemble Nickel Creek or the Dixie Chicks set a lively tone for the winery guests.

Mixing the organic spray for Brick House’s biodynamically farmed grapes takes its own special music. In a large stainless steel tank the bio-agents take half an hour of vigorous stirring to completely mix the stew. For this task Doug throws on some bluesy Jimi Hendrix which includes the 15 minute version of Hendrix’s blues masterpiece ‘Voodoo Chile’ from the 1968 ‘Electric Ladyland’ album. The music echos off the winery walls as Jimi sings “I’m a voodoo chile. Lord knows I’m a voodoo chile!” On this song, Jimi’s searing guitar notes and Steve Winwood’s Hammond B-3 organ wash over you like dense waves of molten lava. Late nights as the hearth fires burn low within the Brick House winery, you might catch some Gershwin; Yo Yo Ma’s ‘Appalachian Waltz’ or KINK FM radio ‘Lights Out’ series as Doug returns emails on his Macintosh computer.

You can’t be a slave to a single disc CD player, so the radio holds sway in wineries as well. At Brick House Vineyards, Mt. Hood college jazz station KMHD 98.1 FM and classical station KPBS 89.9 FM share the radio dial during the week. All day on Saturday, you are likely to hear Portland, Ore. community station KBOO 90.7 FM where they play two hours each of country, bluegrass, Grateful Dead, jazz and blues from 8 AM to 8 PM.

Patty Green's Non-Stop Music

Further along down Ribbon Ridge, winemaker Patty Green and Jim Anderson of Patricia Green Cellars have music on pretty much non-stop during the day. A bank of CD’s put on shuffle take you from jazzy crooner Harry Connick Jr. to Jerry Garcia to the Godfather of Funk – James Brown, all in the course of a half hour.

Patty and Jim's giant wallet of CD’s carries a huge range of musical styles from blues and bluegrass to Dylan and Ray Charles. Patty has favorite music for different tasks. When it comes time to bottle the latest vintage, you are sure to hear Johnny Cash singing ‘I Walk The Line’ or Bruce Springsteen’s “Darkness On the Edge of Town” as leaf green burgundy bottles full of wine amble towards waiting pallets. On a recent trip to the Cook Islands in the South Pacific Patty picked up a CD of Polynesian drumming that no doubt will be in heavy rotation for punch down this year. There is nothing like the rhythm of drums to coax newly picked grapes to give up their juices.

Penner-Ash Plays Coltrane

At Penner-Ash, Ron Penner Ash prefers to get his morning started with a little John Coltrane playing his classic opus “A Love Supreme’ during punch down. In the album liner notes, Coltrane dedicates the record to God as his "humble offering." The spiritual intensity of ‘A Love Supreme’ leaves one profoundly moved and quietly ecstatic. It’s no wonder that Lynn and Ron have been producing such deep wines lately.

Beaux Freres' Music Follows the Harvest

At the Beaux Frères winery, music follows the energy and cadence of the grape harvest in an almost Zen-like manner. Winemaker Michael Etzel rides the rollercoaster of harvest via the energy of music and the spaces between. The crush crew is relatively small and has been coming back year after year. They pick the estate fruit early in the morning and have the day's crush harvested by noon. Rowdy Mexican accordion music fills the air on the sorting line as the harvest gets underway. As the harvest progresses, the music segues to rock veterans Tom Petty, The Allman Brothers, Van Morrison and polyrhythmic Paul Simon.

The punching down of fermenting grapes is often done in silence or to classical music. Michael wants to pay special attention to the stages of fermentation and the feel of the berries as they give way to the stainless steel plunger. The fermentation room has the feel of a library in the morning. The contemplative Etzel seems to be at ‘church’ as he punches down the cap created by fermenting fruit.

Later on in harvest, the initial filling of the barrels with juice is a quiet affair. It’s important to listen to the sound of the pump and the gurgle of the filling barrels in order to sense how full the oak barrel is. Depending on the sugar levels left over from the initial fermentation, the barrel fermentation can be quite active and a winemaker wants to leave just enough headroom for expansion of the bubbling juice.

At this point, the fruit is about to settle down and develop quietly. The whispering of the autumn wind, the cry of raptors overhead and the rustle of leaves match the slower pace of the end of harvest. This time at the winery is both exciting and exhausting and the music at Beaux Freres mirrors the stage of harvest and the crews’ energy level.

Elvis Costello

Louie Armstrong

Sam Tannahill- Sampling the Entire Palate of Music and Wine

Sam Tannahill of Francis Tannahill winery in Amity, Ore. believes there is a strong parallel between musicians and winemakers. A music album may have a dozen songs on it though you’ve heard only one of the songs on the radio. Unless you bought the CD, you’ve never heard the rest of the tunes. Similar to a record album, in each harvest a winemaker may release a dozen different wines and can only hope people sample the entire palate of his work to capture the full expression of the vintage. You found the Pinot Noir easily enough but you missed a few grace notes when you passed up the Côte Rôtie inspired Syrah or the amber colored late harvest Gewürztraminer where flavors of acacia honey, lychee, and roasted nuts explode out of every glass.

During Tannahill's 2004 grape harvest, ex-Byrds and Flying Burrito Brothers auteur Gram Parsons and songwriter Elvis Costello were in heavy rotation along with Uncle Tupelo, Radiohead, Louie Armstrong, Emmylou Harris and Bob Dylan. Early on at harvest Mexican polkas share space alongside Los Angeles Latino roots band Los Lobos. Late night punch down of fermenting grapes during crush is often done to the smoky throated phrasing of troubadour Tom Waits. Tannahill’s office mate and co-owner of A-Z Winery, Bill Hatcher bemoans the cacophony of modern music, preferring old school Mozart and Bach to Johnny Cash.

Argyle's Rollin Soles Listens to Friend Lyle Lovett

The Argyle winery in Dundee, Ore. has roots in wide open country, with one foot in Texas and the other in Australia. Argyle’s connection with the Petaluma winery in South Australia brought assistant winemaker Willy Lunn and a rowdy blend of blues, bluegrass and Johnny Cash. Willy grew up with jazz greats Dave Brubeck and Herbie Mann on his parents’ record player, though he went a different musical direction than his folks.

Both winemaker Rollin Soles and assistant Willy are big fans of the blues. Blues legends John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters and Robert Johnson share the CD player with folkies John Prine, Tom Waits and Bob Dylan. The volume on alternative rock station KRNK 94.7 FM can be sometimes be deafening as the cellar rats scramble around the fermenters. In the winery lab you might hear anything from Wake The Dead, a Celtic band playing Grateful Dead tunes, to Mo’ Horizons playing urbane lounge music from Germany to the Seattle post grunge quartet Death Cab For Cutie.

Argyle winemaker Rollin Soles has been friends with fellow Texan and country crooner Lyle Lovett since his college days at Texas A & M. Rollin and his buddies used to be regulars at a pizza joint that Lyle played in. Lyle would practice new tunes to a half empty room and end up playing music on Rollin’s rooming house porch later in the week. Lyle still invites Rollin to events in Texas and when Lyle is in town, Rollin has tickets to his shows. It’s not unusually to see Lovett’s tour bus parked at the Argyle winery in Dundee the day after a Portland appearance.


About Michael Sherwood

Michael Sherwood is an Oregon original - your modern day Renaissance man. Hes done more interesting jobs than most of us FM radio personality, commercial logger, commercial fisherman, rock band promoter, neighborhood advocate, energy conservation expert, arts festival coordinator, software developer, non-profit executive, beer and wine guy and land use planner.

After 10 years developing software in Seattle, Mike moved back to Portland and was soon drafted to be the first Executive Director of the Oregon Brewers Guild, a fledgling non-profit trade organization, which he helped turn into one of the most dynamic small brewer associations in North America.

All the while he was managing the affairs of the states craft brewers, he was not so secretly a wine lover and worked providing marketing assistance to a local winery. Beverages are 'in his blood' as his family owned a beer and wine distributorship in the 60s and 70s in Roseburg.

Today Mike runs a wine sales, marketing and technology consulting business called Arbre which provides branding and sales support for wineries large and small. He has also created the Internets first truly virtual stealth restaurant and underground wine bar called Sub Rosa. We liked his mix of wine savvy and irreverent humor so much, we hired him to write for Avalon.


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