Music in the Cellar

Winemakers tell Wine Enthusiast which tunes they play to help inspire their winemaking process.


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Music can be an integral part of the winemaking process. Whether it serves to better influence the staff or the wine itself is at issue. As Scott Rich, winemaker and owner of Talisman in Sonoma, California, puts it, “The right music reminds me that one of the qualities of really great wine is how it creates a visceral reaction that makes you weak at the knees because it envelops you in its pure beauty.”

Here are winemakers who use music to make great wine, albeit in very different ways.

Amanda Cramer of Niner Wine Estates, Paso Robles, California

At Niner Wine Estates, there are multiple iPods and iPads plugged into speakers in the lab and cellar, as headphones are not OSHA-approved. The Beach, a local radio station, is popular; many of the employees are avid surfers. “While my inner scientist will not allow me to say that the music itself seeps into the wine, there is no doubt in my mind that the vibe provided by the music influences the way we feel as we listen while we work, and that unquestionably affects the wine,” says Cramer.

Stephen and Shannon Mackey of Notaviva Vineyards, Purcellville, Virginia

Before the Mackeys founded Notaviva Vineyards in 2002, they were in the music business. So, it’s no surprise that they tailor music in the winery accordingly. For their Ottantotto, a barrel-fermented Viognier, the couple prefers New Age piano music, while Irish pub tunes work better for their Celtico Chambourcin.

Jerry D. Murray of Van Duzer Vineyards, Dallas, Oregon

Music selections at Van Duzer depend on the season. “During harvest, we need to keep a diverse group of people moving with a varied playlist that ranges from mariachi and death metal to Johnny Cash and John Coltrane,” says Murray. Though the crew usually picks the music themselves, he will occasionally throw in a James Brown song.

Carl van der Merwe of DeMorgenzon, Stellenbosch, South Africa

At DeMorgenzon, it’s all Baroque all the time, with music for wines and vines 24/7. Speakers linked to an iPod with a playlist heavy on Bach and Mozart are strategically arranged throughout the vineyard and winery.

“Music is a part of our daily lives at DeMorgenzon,” says van der Merwe. “Our vines seem happier, and we’ve noticed more even growth patterns in blocks exposed to direct music. Plus, our staff are more relaxed and focused on what they do, and I believe without a doubt that this ultimately affects the taste and quality of the wine.” Is there ever a time when the music goes silent? “We only turn the volume down when the neighbors complain that they can hear it at night, usually on cold nights when sound travels further,” he says.

Stacy Clark of Charles Krug, St. Helena, California

When at the winery, Clark prefers Tom Petty. “His voice reminds me that pure artistic expression never goes out of style, which is how I approach making wine,” she says. “My interns have told me that the French think music creates vibration in the cellar, but I am sure the wine likes it.”

Scott Siver of Desert Wind Winery, Prosser, Washington, desertwindwinery.com
At Desert Wind Winery, Scott Siver opts for high-volume and high-energy tunes from Drive-By Truckers and Kid Cudi. “Music brightens the mood and focuses the mind,” he says. “We do most of our work with our noses, and focusing the mind on the music before delving into the heady aromas of the wine adds clarity and precision to the work.”

Marcelo and Damian Doffo of Doffo Winery, Temecula, California

Damian and Marcelo also believe that music helps in the vineyard, so they pipe classical music through speakers from sunrise to sundown year round. While they believe the vines and grapes clearly benefit, they also stress that it helps workers as well. “Classical music helps you slow down so you can concentrate on nurturing the vines or picking grapes,” says Damian.

Dr. Robert W. Young, and John Rivenburgh of Bending Branch Winery, Comfort, Texas

At Bending Branch Winery, Young and Rivenburgh lean toward Neil Young and The Beatles, but they readily admit that they couldn’t make Texas wine without Willie Nelson. “We work with Tannat, a highly tannic grape,” says Young. “To be able to extract such a divine product from such a hearty grape has been a blessing. If the power of song is encouraging the fruit’s quality, who are we to doubt it?”

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