Barrels + Beats

Barrels + Beats

Can music played in the vineyard improve the quality of the wine in your glass? Whether they play classical music from the Age of Enlightenment to the vines or pump hip hop beats directly to the barrels, these pioneering vintners are firm believers that music makes a positive impact on the winemaking process.

“There are numerous studies that show the effect of music on plants, as well as an ASEV [American Society for Enology and Viticulture] published study of the effect of music on yeast fermentations,” says Greg La Follette, winemaker for La Follette Wines in Sebastopol, California. “I do believe that music can affect wine in many ways, including how workers perform around vines.”

If the notion strikes a chord, read on: Wine Enthusiast talked to five winemakers who are actively exploring music’s relationship to wine.

Glen HugoGirard Winery

Yountville, California,

“We think our complexity of music adds to the complexity of our wine,” says Glenn Hugo, winemaker for Girard Winery in the Napa Valley. “It starts at fruit sorting during harvest when it’s all about sing-alongs, especially dance tunes. Justin Timberlake tends to end up on this mix a lot.”

And while there’s no consensus at the winery concerning which type of music is best, Hugo’s crew tends play music that matches the characteristics of each grape variety.

“We like the spicy character of Macklemore for Zinfandels, the rhythms of a smooth blues guitar of Stevie Ray Vaughan for Cabernet Sauvignon or a little Daft Punk for our bold yet elegant Petite Sirah,” says Hugo.

If the music selection process sounds subjective, it is, but that’s the point: “Opinions vary, but we feel like our diversity of music helps all of our wine complete fermentation and age nicely,” says Hugo.

WCVforWineEnthusiastmusic2William Chris Vineyards

Hye, Texas,

“We really focus on growing terroir-driven wines with soul, and the music we play reflects who we are,” says Chris Brundrett, winemaker at William Chris Vineyards in Texas’s Hill Country. “Whatever we were listening to that day gets left on for the barrels overnight.  I know that music has played a major role in helping us express who we are and I feel this comes out in our wines.”

Fittingly for a vineyard looking to make soulful wines, Brundrett and his team plays George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic during harvest, with some indie rock mixed in. After fermentation is complete, Brundrett switches to alternative country or Bob Dylan.

“I feel really fortunate to have an old fraternity brother who owns a speaker store. He hooked us up pretty sweet,” says Brundrett. “I would venture to say the tasting room and winery, along with barrel room, are the loudest and most interesting sounding in the state.”

Speakers on the vinyard.DeMorgenzon

Stellenbosch, South Africa,

Citing the handful of studies that exist about the positive correlation between music and plant growth, Baroque and early classical music from the Age of Enlightenment is played to wine at DeMorgenzon in Stellenbosch, South Africa on a 24/7 basis, with speakers placed in the vineyard, winery and cellar spaces.

“The secret lies in the vibrations, the waves,” says Hylton Appelbaum, owner of DeMorgenzon, who has photographed vines of the same cultivar, clone and rootstock—planted at the same time in the same soil, both with and without music—in a kind of hands-on case study.

“In our analysis, the music seems to give us phenolic ripeness with lower sugars. The consequence is ripe fruit and lower alcohol,” says Applebaum.

And to those who are skeptical that music can have a great effect on wine? “To them we say that wine is art and science combined. If nothing else, immersing oneself in a beautiful environment contributes to the human element in the production of wine. The music in the cellar and vineyards creates an atmosphere of peace and serenity. People tend to be more focused in this environment, and given that our wines and vines are tended by hand, ultimately better wines are produced,” says Applebaum.

BendingBranchTeamBending Branch Winery

Comfort, Texas,

“I have heard buzz about playing music in the cellar to create vibrations to help aging,” says John Rivenburgh, founder and vice president of winery operations at Bending Branch Winery in Comfort, Texas. “One more thing to keep researchers going, I guess. Nevertheless we almost always have music going around the winery.”

Rivenburgh has an eclectic taste for music but a streamlined winemaking philosophy: “Keep it simple, and don’t tinker too much,” says Rivenburgh of crafting his award-winning Texas wines, “but stay in tune with the wines as they age.”

To help stay in tune, Rivenburgh and his employees at the winery play a diverse selection of songs during the winemaking process, from the classic country hits of Willie Nelson to the bluesy rock ballads of The Black Keys. “During bottling it could be anything, and I mean anything. There’s nothing like having someone not used to being in a winery, walk in and hear N.W.A. playing,” Rivenburgh says. “That’s what we are trying to do here in Texas, shatter the image, so I guess it’s not a bad thing.”

Greg with bagpipes.La Follette Wines

Sebastopol, California,

Winemaker Greg La Follette of La Follette Wines in Sonoma County has a tradition of serenading grapes—he’s an accomplished bagpipe player who has been known to stand over bins of fruit, playing during harvest.

But that’s not the only time his bagpipe music fills the air: “I play in the vineyard at bud break, I play to the first grapes of harvest, and I play to the last,” says La Follette. “And when I [bag]pipe to the grapes and they go into the tank, everyone who works with those grapes remembers the piping and does that much better of a job, creating a heightened awareness of that tank and those grapes.”

But it’s not just about focusing his vineyard workers at harvest time. “Music is like anything, it can be used to great effect on all living things if used with intention and purpose,” says La Follette. Now that’s music to our ears.

The Wine + Music Issue

Published on June 1, 2014
Topics: Wine and Music, Wine Pairings, Wineries