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Wineries Rock at Napa Festival

Five-day BottleRock concert-comedy series places emphasis on wine

by Andrew Adams
bottlerock festival
General manager Rory Clements said that as of Thursday night Cairdean Vineyards had sold 50 cases of wine at the BottleRock music festival in downtown Napa.
Napa, Calif.—About a hour into the Primus performance Thursday night, lead vocalist and bassist Les Claypool encouraged guitarist Larry “Ler” LaLonde to offer the “most sophisticated guitar lick you know” to the audience of “sophisticated wine-drinking people” assembled in front of the stage.

“They want to hear some French Laundry music,” Claypool, whose acerbic wit is infused into the band’s music, said referring to the famous restaurant in nearby Yountville, Calif.

LaLonde’s guitar solo elicited a raucous response from the several thousand fans packed into a corner of the Napa Valley Expo grounds at the BottleRock music festival in downtown Napa. The event is a somewhat incongruous pairing of rock music and fine wine. Nearly 40 wineries are participating in the festival, which organizers are claiming offers a level of food and wine unseen at most other events.
bottlerock festival pouch
California blend Reverb Red is packaged in a pouch custom labeled for BottleRock. "It was pretty clever for a concert beverage," said Kelsey Orlando, who attended the opening night show Wednesday. "No spilling!"

While many in the crowd Thursday were clutching beers, the wine booths ringing the concert grounds were still doing a brisk trade, and single-serve wine pouches similar to Capri Sun—but filled with Bottlerock “Reverb Red,” a California blend—were particularly popular.

City Winery coming to Napa
Rock music and wine is the focus of City Winery, which currently operates two winery and music venue operations in New York, N.Y., and Chicago, Ill. The company is at BottleRock touting their plans to open a third venue in downtown Napa.

CEO Michael Dorf said he’s looking at two locations, adding that it’s too early to be any more specific. He said when he heard about a festival in Napa combining good food, fine wine and live music, his reaction was: “Wait a minute, that’s our tagline.”

Dorf said he quickly got in touch with organizers to sponsor a booth serving the winery’s draft wines as well as start building relationships with the Napa community. City Winery produces 5,000 cases per year at its New York location and another 500 in Chicago. The winery brings in grapes from California, Oregon and even Argentina to make wine onsite.

He said plans for the Napa location would be much different. “We are not making wine in Napa,” he said. Instead, Dorf said the goal would be to strengthen relationships with his grape suppliers in the valley. City Winery Napa would serve more than 30 wines on tap, which would all be made by wineries in the area.

Local officials, including Napa Mayor Jill Techell, have been encouraging so far, and Dorf is quite bullish on the future growth of the city of Napa as a destination spot for people looking to enjoy wine and good music.

Dorf said he’s pretty confident he could get his 300-seat Napa location opened by the start of 2014. He said marketing to a crowd of wine tasters on a wine country day trip or weekend will be a bit different than the urban audiences who are now filing into his New York and Chicago, locations but Dorf said the crowd at BottleRock encouraged him.

At the event, which continues through Sunday, musicians are performing on three stages that ring a central food court and food trucks. Comedians are performing live stand-up routines in a building dubbed the “Comedy Closet.”

Miner Family Winery, which is based in Oakville and produces 30,000 cases per year, is sponsoring a full stage. The Violent Femmes performed on the Miner Family Winery Stage Thursday evening, and Blues Traveler is one of the bands slated to perform there tonight.

On Wednesday the Miner stage featured a performance by The Silverado Pickups, a band comprised of wine industry veterans including Jeff Gargiulo, owner of Gargiulo Vineyards on lead and rhythm guitar, David Duncan, the president and CEO of Oakville, Calif.-based Silver Oak Cellars on lead and background vocals, and Dan Zepponi, part owner of Valley of the Moon Winery, playing lead guitar.

The Black Keys headline tonight’s line up on the largest stage, followed by Kings of Leon on Saturday and the Zac Brown band Sunday. For a complete lineup of musicians and other information visit

Wineries playing active role
A crowd of thousands flowed from stage to stage Thursday evening. In between concerts, groups of mainly older patrons filed into the wine booths. Each winery is equipped with a full tasting bar, credit card and cash point-of-sale system as well as additional table and lounge seating in each booth. The spacious areas essentially provide a tasting room experience at a rock concert.

Some of the wineries were attracting a younger, boisterous crowd with added entertainment. Domaine Chandon’s booth had a ping-pong table that lured a line of young rockers.

At the Cairdean Vineyards tent, the winery’s general manager Rory Clements said the event had been amazing. Owners Stacia and Edwin Williams are currently building a tasting room for their winery in St. Helena, so Clements said the festival “is kind of our coming-out party.”

She said the people coming through the booth were definitely interested in wine, and she was somewhat surprised by how many wine club memberships she had sold. While there had been a few minor glitches with the Internet and getting enough ice for the white wines, Clements said the BottleRock staff was quick to address any issues. “They’re doing a great job,” she said.

So far, Clements said the winery had sold more than 50 cases of wine, and she was quite optimistic about what the weekend would bring. “We can’t wait to come back next year and do it again,” she said.

Wine and rock music may not be that incongruous of a match. After all, Claypool of Primus fame is the owner of Claypool Cellars in Sebastopol, Calif., a boutique Pinot Noir winery that makes about 500 cases a year.

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