For those in the business of wine, music can be essential to the winemaking process. This year we asked a number of notable winemakers in Napa and Sonoma counties to share their music playlist preferences and habits that keep them and their crews going this harvest season.
Russian River Vineyards
When I think about what I’m listening to at 3 a.m. during harvest—running tractors, moving full bins of grapes and loading trucks—one type of music comes to mind, country. It may be Hank Williams Jr., Toby Keith, Brantley Gilbert, Chase Rice, or so many others. This type of country sound always brings me back to my roots. Country music tells a story, and a lot of the time how these artists became who they are, through the work they did as they were coming up. For me, that’s my common bond with this type of music. I was raised on tractors, running cattle, collecting eggs, and planting gardens. Now, its harvesting grapes, being outdoors, and working with my hands that has molded me in to what I am today. I can see a lot of myself in the country music I listen to when harvest time comes around.
Chateau Montelena Winery
Harvest is a sensory overload. It draws out emotions and ideas, contemplative thoughts and exuberant creativity, just like music does. I don’t ever live in my earbuds because I don’t want to separate myself from this amazing reality. Instead, the music I listen to complements the clamor of my diesel truck and the rumble of our sorting table. It perfects my moods, helps me think, and the rhythm provides some semblance of order and balance amidst the chaos. That naturally leads to quite the spectrum of a playlist. Here’s just a snippet: in the vineyard, I like the pastoral nostalgia of outlaw country: Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, and sometimes Willie Nelson along with some newer artists that feature more bluegrass and folk rock like The Devil Makes Three and The Builder and the Butchers, respectively. In the winery, it’s Led Zeppelin when we’re full throttle and Pink Floyd when we’re dreamy. Sometimes the music is just in my head, which works too. I’ve learned that everyone in my crew has their own unique vibe, a special glimpse into who we are, which contributes to this wondrous time of year.
I typically let our enologist, Abi Horstman, DJ year-round upstairs in our lab while our cellar master, Robert Diaz, keeps the tunes flowing downstairs. It really depends upon the day as to what you might hear blasting around the winery. However if I am having a bad day during harvest, I will make a special request. I love watching the 3 minute Limp Bizkit “Break Stuff” video on YouTube. I sing along with the video, it totally cheers me up and has the added benefit that my staff thinks I’m crazy.
To paraphrase John Cusack in “High Fidelity”, a harvest playlist has to cover a lot of ground. I grew up in Detroit in the ’60s and early ‘70s, so Motown always has a place at the table. I consider it my obligation to educate the interns about Electric Ladyland and Quadrophenia. If we’re just powering along, I like up-tempo stuff—Tom Petty, John Mayer, The Doobie Brothers, Matchbox 20, or U2. But if we need to grind out some late-night hours, then Alice in Chains, STP [Stone Temple Pilots], Satriani, or Metallica.
If the pace is steady but mellow, I want something with a groove a mile wide, so maybe Beck, The XX, or Natalie Imbruglia. At 3 p.m., in my world, Snoop, Dre, or E-40 have the mic—everyday. For late-night punch downs, I listen to Tony Rice, David Grissman or Alison Krauss. If I’m working alone on a quiet Sunday morning, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and Bill Evans get a lot of play.
But for the past 19 years, after the last grapes are safely “in the barn,”as I head the truck home, I put on one of my favorite Clapton songs—Let it Rain—and turn it up, way up.
Mark Herold Wines
I have a lot of vineyards under my supervision, so during harvest I drive…a lot. The plus side is that I’m typically solo, so I get to listen to whatever I want. When my assistant winemaker is with me, he mixes it up and happens to have great music taste. If I’m not tuned into Radio Lab or Science Friday (yes I’m a science nerd) music is a big part of what keeps me going.
Fat Freddys Drop keeps me mellow. Joy Division gets me introspective. Deerhunter feeds my creative side. War On Drugs is just plain good. Ween keeps me in good humor. Brian Jonestown Massacre helps me escape. The Smiths make me nostalgic. And anything ’80s because that decade of music rules!
When it comes to the cellar, it’s the crew’s choice. Everything from Willie Nelson to Butthole Surfers and a rainbow of old school Hip Hop in between. It’s never a boring play list! But if you play anything by Dave Matthews you’re fired from being the DJ!
Music is a big part of my life during harvest. I listen to music as I drive to and from the vineyards, mostly alternative rock. I have to admit that I’ve had the same playlist for years, but I love it and it keeps my energy up. My playlist is a mix of artists, including Linkin Park, Breaking Benjamin, Audioslave, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Green Day, Fall Out Boy and anything with Chris Cornell. I don’t listen to music when I’m tasting grapes or wine, as I like to keep all my senses focused on the flavors and textures. At the winery, I do listen to music when shoveling out tanks or doing pump overs. We have a handful of portable speakers around the winery, so my team can also connect their music while working. The days during harvest are long, and music keeps everyone’s spirits up.
CK Mondavi and Family
Music sets the mood and the pace at the winery each day. The morning starts with classic ’80s rock to get everyone's blood pumping and really get the day going. Think AC/DC, Def Leppard, Scorpions, Gun N’ Roses, and Mötley Crüe. Midday, when I have to be analytical and focused, we move on to U2, Talking Heads, Nirvana Unplugged. The end of the day is all about winding down, so we turn to Johnny Cash and Jimmy Buffet."
The different stages and processes of harvest, as well as bringing in interns and helpers from a variety of backgrounds, calls for so many styles in our playlist. In my classified listing for harvest helpers, I literally put “must be open to a wide variety of music, and ideas” and have had good talks and connections about music with applicants as a result!
Quiet mornings- sampling the vineyard, checking on the new fermentations, I put on some older classics - Tom Petty, The Beatles, Johnny Cash, and newer favorites like Mumford and Sons, or Gorillaz, to just get the juices flowing and wake everyone up.
Through the day, crushing, pressing, moving barrels, we step it up with hip hop or more heavy rock -Outkast, the Beastie Boys, or punk classics such as Social Distortion and Bad Religion, tend to be the sounds blasting from the cellar door… Hopefully not scaring off too many of our would-be tasting room visitors. We’re all smiles inside!
Clean up and wind down after a 14-hour day, I go upbeat and inspiring, with reggae, Bob Marley, Steel Pulse, or other world music like Fela Kuti, Rodrigo & Gabriella, The Pogues, to close it out.
A. Rafanelli Winery
We don’t listen to music on the crush pad, for safety reasons, but we’re listening to music in the cellar quite a bit. We don’t have a particular playlist, as it is depends on whoever gets to the Bluetooth speaker first, which includes the grandkids, Caden (age 10) and Jordan (age 4). Here are some of our most played songs this harvest: Dance Monkey (Tones and I); Blow (Ed Sheeran, Chris Stapleton & Bruno Mars); SOS—(Avicii (featuring Aloe Blacc); It Takes Two (Rob Base & DJ EZ Rock); Only Human (Jonas Brothers); Despicable Me (Pharrell Williams); Vacation (Dirty Heads); You Need to Calm Down (Taylor Swift); Doing Time (Lana Rey); No Sleep til Brooklyn (Beastie Boys). As for my dad [David Rafanelli], he plays opera in the cave year round, and its usually Andrea Bocelli.
Firefighters are our heroes. They face the menace of raging wildfires while others seek safety, and every day, they assist individuals experiencing traumatic events. Incredibly, many firefighters perf...
Indeed, viewing Saturn’s rings, as well as nebulae, clusters of stars and other galaxies millions of light years away at the top of the Mayacamas Mountains is truly breathtaking—an experie...
As the sun sets behind Sonoma Mountain, a talented group of professional singers and dancers perform on a stage set within the old winery ruins at Glen Ellen’s Jack London Historic State Park. T...