Back in 2007, I was asked to take on the ultimate wine pairing challenge. This wasn’t a ‘red wine with seafood’ kind of deal… I was taking on an entirely new concept, and none of the answers could be be found in some handy wine guide.
I began to ask around, but none of the experts I reached out to seemed to think it was possible. Actually, to them it sounded like a really bad idea. Google searches yielded nothing, and it became increasingly clear that this sort of thing just hadn’t been done before.
The challenge? Pairing wine with a music festival.
More specifically: figuring out how wine could play a role in a massive new fest that was being planned for Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. Expected attendance? 65,000.
It sounded pretty cool, god damn brilliant actually, but was it doable? Did wine have the power to conquer a beer and hot dog dominated universe? Would a Sonoma Coast red pair well with Radiohead?
I started breaking down wine tasting into two categories. There’s the precious candlelit tasting that’s isolated, heady and almost always out of touch. Then there’s something holistic and more in sync with the festival vibe: the appreciation of wine as an integral part of an environment and a greater experience.
The goal was to aim for the latter type of tasting. That’s to say, exactly the opposite of the boring events that wine businesspeople are used to attending. No more rental tables with white tablecloths and a mountain of sweaty cheese for grazing. No more snobbery and over-intellectualizing. Nobody has fun when there’s more ego in the room than at a post-grad, post-modernist literature conference.
So I invited Sonoma and Napa winemakers to talk to people who were drinking their wines for the first time. The idea was to educate concertgoers by giving them the chance to meet the people behind the bottles. The result was a party full of music lovers and vintners in a huge, ornate tent right next to some of the best bands in the world.
So it came to pass that this awful idea turned into what Rolling Stone hailed as Outside Land Music Festival’s “fifth stage.” Eight years later, Wine Lands features 36 California wineries pouring wines for a sold-out festival crowd of 70k in Golden Gate Park’s cool, foggy, festival awesomeness.
As the curator of Wine Lands, I get to pair 110 California wines with 100 bands and 80 of the Bay Area’s best restaurants. The possibilities are endless, and the secret to our success is simple: wine pairs ridiculously well with live music and delicious food in beautiful outdoor spaces. That place where good juice, tunes and eats intersect is a place we all really want to be.
In the end, the “pairing” is more than wine x + food y + music z. The three create a whole that’s greater than the sum of its parts. The wine, the music, the food and the moment are one. The experience is all encompassing.
I’ve paired wine with most of the things in this great wide world, but bringing wine to a music festival is by far the best thing I’ve ever pulled off.