Wine Column: Music can help wine hit the high notes

Wine and music are often associated together in metaphor, in marketing and as means for mutual pleasure. With the Long Island wineries’ winter “Jazz on the Vine” series of concerts coming to an end March 18, I asked their owners and winemakers to tell me other ways that music plays a role at their wineries. Their responses showed me how important music is to all, whether it’s whistled by the winemaker, played over a boom box during bottling, used for inspiration during blending or to set a tone in the tasting room.

At Bedell Cellars, Rich Olsen-Harbich (who has been making wine on Long Island since 1981) relates, “During the long days and nights of harvest, music provides comforting entertainment, sets the mood of the crew and keeps everyone moving and focused. We’ll start the day with something quiet — that could mean anything from Jack Johnson, Sarah Vaughn or even some quiet Chopin. Once the day gets started, though, we need a more up-tempo beat, so we’ll listen to anything from the Clash, the Beatles and Rhianna to world music like Bachatas and Bollywood hits.”

Rich likes the metaphoric association of wine and music: “I like to relate to music during the blending process in particular. Great examples of varietal wines are often like a great solo artist, commanding a single instrument and creating soulful sounds. Blended wines, on the other hand, are more like listening to a symphony. So for blending, I like to use music as a backdrop. You can have lots of instruments playing at different levels and pitches and chords — when they are really working well together it’s a joyful moment. The great perfume makers do this all the time when they discuss base notes and treble notes. For wines I look at them the same way, often finding bass notes first (usually dark, deep, powerful red wines) and blending over these with treble notes.”

While the vintage of 2010 was defined for Rich by Lady Gaga, he says, “The music that defines the 2011 vintage for me is Mozart’s Concerto in C for Flute, Harp and Orchestra K. 299: Andandino.”

At Peconic Bay Winery, winemaker Greg Gove doesn’t often play music because, he says, “I usually have more than one thing going on at a time. Hearing a change in the pitch of a pump or the sound of a leaky door gasket as the head pressure builds is pretty important to me. When we’re labeling, however, music soothes the soul and reduces the repetitive motion sickness.”

Eric Fry at The Lenz Winery loves music but, like Greg, he finds, “Music is a distraction in the winery. I want to hear what’s going on. Barrels are bubbling. I want to hear that. If there’s a leak somewhere, I need to run and fix it.”
He adds, “Wine and music are so different. I find no analogy.”

At Paumanok Vineyards, Charles Massoud also likes it quiet. He says, “A good wine is like music to my ears. Adding other music creates a cacophony. So I prefer the wine to show off. And music cannot help a bad wine.”

Many tasting rooms do play music to set a tone. At Sparkling Pointe, it’s Brazilian. At Macari, it always “has a little ‘umph’ to it.” Paula Croteau of Croteaux Vineyards plays only French music (Edith Piaf to Carla Bruni), saying, “We feel the music ‘defines us’ and creates the ‘French escape.’ ”

At McCall Vineyards, Russ McCall remembers hearing “how Aubert de Villaine [of Romanée Conti] had a quiet evening with [cellist] Yo-Yo Ma at his home in Chagny. Well, at McCall tasting room we sip ’07 PN Reserve listening to Cat Stevens’ ‘Morning has Broken’ and ‘Father and Son.’ Cut­chogue wine trade is still like the Wild West compared to the historic French districts. Let’s have fun with it.”

Wölffer Estate winemaker Roman Roth (himself an accomplished singer) doesn’t usually play music in the winery but he said, “There is no good day without a song. So from time to time I do start singing. This is the secret why wines are so harmonious!”

He adds, “There is also a lot of whistling going on. For some reason the theme song of the 2011 harvest was Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller.’ Other times it’s the tune of ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.’ Phy-phy-phy, wah wah wah!”
When asked if music influences the style of wine he makes, Roman replied, “Yes — a happy winemaker makes better wine!”

Ms. Hargrave was a founder of the Long Island wine industry in 1973. She is currently a freelance writer and consultant.