Wine Lands 2011.
All Photos: Wendy Goodfriend
In the hit song, "California One," indie rock band, "The Decemberists," pay homage to the grape with the line, "Take a long drown with me of California wine." The fact that the band appreciates a good bottle of wine makes sense once you find out every member carries a Zagat iPhone app for culinary guidance on long road trips. This band appears right at home at a festival like Outside Lands where food and wine vendors seem to share top billing with the music line up.
Outside Lands gourmet fare is a far cry from rock concerts of yesteryear where the best one could hope for was a warm draft beer and a lousy hot dog. Beer might have a history with young people and big, outdoor events but this weekend micro-brews took a back seat to local, small lot wineries. By late Saturday afternoon the line was more than fifteen people deep as I waited for a taste of 2009 Mendocino Pinot Noir from Navarro. As usual, Navarro did not disappoint. While in line I overheard the following conversation, "That is such a butterball, you should really check out Wind Gap, their wines are so balanced." Am I at a rock concert?
The idea of Wine Lands, which has now grown to thirty artisanal wineries and one hundred wines all under one big open-air tent, is the brainchild of Peter Eastlake. Eastlake is co-owner of Vintage Berkeley, a wine shop that focuses on small production wines -- most under twenty five dollars. Eastlake believes that wine and, well, nearly everything go together. He even had some favorite pairings for this year’s music line up.
For Phish, give me something lunar, hippie and refreshing for all that spinning, scooping and dumping. Bonny Doon's biodynamic spaceship adorned 2010 Vin Gris de Cigare all the way.
When Erykah Badu sings, people listen. She’s a strong woman with a vocal range that can howl, scream, screech and make you cry. There is one wine for her show, and it rhymes with pink bubbles, Gloria Ferrer Blanc De Noirs.
Oh, let's not forget the other star of the show, the food. This year's Outside Lands included more than fifty local restaurants and food trucks and asked Eastlake for a couple of suggestions for pairings. For the Mac and Cheese from Oakland's Homeroom, Eastlake recommends a California Chardonnay like Hess Collection, Hirsch Estate for a special treat or Lioco's 2010 Sonoma County on tap.
I thought I was going to stump him when I asked about the very popular Fabulous Frickle Brothers fried pickles. Without blinking, Eastlake said, "It's a little known fact that deep fried pickled gherkins are only found in two places in the world -- Tennessee and Germany's Mosel River. Summer of Riesling. If you don't like Riesling, try the Riesling."
Paul Grieco, owner of Terroir wine bar in New York, is on tour. He is traveling around the country in a Winnebago preaching the gospel of Riesling. Grieco wants people to know Riesling is lots of things including, not always sweet. Says Grieco, who even has a Riesling tattoo along his forearm, "Riesling is the best grape in the world." I tried the 2009 Toni Jost and liked it a lot.
Although Eastlake curated all of the wines under the tent, star sommelier Rajat Parr picked a few for the VIP tents including: Kermit Lynch's Bandol Rose, Qupe's Syrah and Navarro's Pinot Noir. Parr was also pouring his own brand at Wine Lands.
Sandhi Wines is a boutique winery focusing on the grapes of Santa Barbara. Parr makes a Chardonnay and a Pinot Noir. The Pinot is elegant, complex and superb. Parr uses only native yeasts in his wines, part of a trend toward a more natural way of making wines. Taking this effort several steps further is Natural Process Alliance which also had a booth at Wine Lands.
NPA is minimalist winemaking which, briefly, includes: Sustainable vineyard management, organic grapes, native yeasts and very little to no added sulfur. NPA delivers natural wine in reusable stainless steel canisters to restaurants and wine bars within a one hundred mile radius of their Santa Rosa cellar. Like kegs, NPA stays clear of corks and heavy glass bottles. I tried the 2010 Chalk Hill Pinot Gris. It was not my favorite but I appreciated the unique, flavorful taste.
I thought it was kind of cool to see legendary importer Kermit Lynch hosting a booth at Wine Lands. This was their first foray into the world of big outdoor events and would probably do it again in an effort to attract a new generation of drinkers. My favorite Kermit Lynch Wine that day was a 2010 Bandol Terebrune Rose. I found it spicy and herbaceous.
The big winner for me at Wine Lands this year was wine on tap from Long Meadow Ranch. Besides, being eco-friendly and less pricy, the wine tastes just as good as if it was in a bottle. I tried Long Meadow’s 2010 Sauvignon Blanc, poured through a stainless steel tap. It was vibrant and crisp with a little of what seemed like effervescence. I thought it must be the keg but, no, that’s their Sauvignon Blanc. Delicious. Personally, I think the keg is a winner but winemakers are still trying to decouple it from the image of frat parties. Maybe hip, rock musicians can help lead the way. Rumor has it band members from MGMT were seen hanging out at the Long Meadow booth sipping on a 2009 draft Cabernet blend.
- Outside Lands: A First Timer's Take on an Eco-Friendly Gourmet Music Festival
- Outside Lands Recap 2011 at KQED Arts
- Guide to Outside Lands 2011 at KQED Arts