When the 13-time Grammy-Award winning country music band The Chicks sat down for this interview, they were in Toronto on tour—their first since 2017. Asked how the tour was going, Emily Strayer and Martie Maguire both paused, laughed and said in unison, “Well…”
Despite having to cancel a few dates due to lead singer Natalie Maines coming down with laryngitis, they were in good spirits. “We kept thinking Covid was going to interrupt the tour somehow,” Maguire said.
“We already rebooked the shows we had to miss,” Strayer added. “The fans were so sweet. We were really blown away.” Besides their harmonious voices, relatable lyrics and activism, their resilience is arguably a big part of their fan-appeal.
From speaking out against the war in Iraq to gracing the cover of Entertainment Weekly with the names they’d been called stamped on their nude bodies, The Chicks have never been afraid to defy expectations and shake things up. Formerly known as the Dixie Chicks (they changed their name during the 2020 protests, dropping the “Dixie” due to its association with the Confederacy during the Civil War), the women have now launched their own wine brand, Gaslighter, sharing the same name as their latest hit album released in 2020.
According to the band, the project happened organically. “Over the years, we’ve been asked to do all kinds of things, but those things never felt like a good fit,” says Maguire. “We love wine, and we drink a lot of it,” she adds with a laugh.
The concept was conceived during the recording of Gaslighter, The Chicks’ first album in over 14 years. “[While] still working in the studio, the rosé would come out, and we would all start talking about wine and the wines we loved,” says Strayer. “We called it wine-thirty.”
The trio then teamed up with the iconic Bundschu family of Gundlach Bundschu in Sonoma, who are also mutual friends of Martie’s husband. “They gave us one of their best winemakers for the project, so we were really excited,” Maguire says, referring to Joe Uhr, esteemed winemaker at the family-owned winery. “They’re huge music fans. They have a music venue on the winery grounds.”
The Chicks’ vision for the wine brand was clear. They didn’t want Gaslighter to be a stereotypical wine brand, and each member is part of every winemaking process—from virtual tastings to label design.
“We have to be behind everything we do,” Maguire says. “We had wine samples sent to us during Covid. Those tastings were a big learning curve, trying to describe what we liked and what we didn’t like about the samples. We’re not sommeliers.”
“But we do know what we like, and we have similar palates, especially for rosés and white wines,” adds Strayer. And although The Chicks aren’t winemakers, they have been learning more about wine with this project. “We come to this with our own palates and opinions, but there’s been a lot of education on wine while we’ve been doing this,” says Strayer.
Given its negative connotations, Gaslighter is probably not an obvious first choice for a wine brand name. But The Chicks are not typical celebrities and want to sync their nonconformist attitude with their label. “I think the name stood out because we loved the juxtaposition of an edgy name onto a rock-and-roll design,” Strayer says. “We wanted something that would stand out on the shelves.”
Referring to the label design, she adds, “We knew the rosé would be the first one out, and we just wanted something bold design-wise and something that didn’t look all frilly and pink.”
Perhaps celebrity wine brands are becoming ubiquitous, but The Chicks prove not all are created equal. They continue to collaborate with skilled winemakers, build their portfolio, learn about the art and science behind the process—all while maintaining their “let’s stand out” attitude that ingratiates them to their loyal fanbase. So—why shouldn’t their wine label defy expectations, just like everything they do?
This article originally appeared in the October 2022 issue of Wine Enthusiast magazine. Click here to subscribe today!