Let the Music Play

In an apparent effort to attract tourists, California wineries have ramped up their offerings of music, art and other entertainment.

Of course, some have been at it for years. Bruce Cohn, owner of Sonoma’s B.R. Cohn Winery and manager for The Doobie Brothers, is well-known for hosting concerts on his property. He recently hosted his 24th annual Charity Fall Music Festival, and the lineup included Eddie Money, Cheap Trick Grand Funk Railroad, War, The Turtle and (you guessed it) The Doobie Brothers.

At Wente Vineyards in Livermore, which describes itself as the country’s oldest, continuously operating, family-owned winery, concerts are big business. The events include restaurant dining, and seat close to one thousand people. The 2010 series, which ran from July to September, inluded Earth, Wind and Fire, Willie Nelson, ZZ Top, Barenaked Ladies, Don Henley, Liza Minelli and Harry Connick, Jr.

We constantly hear that many consumers are now hesitant to spend $100 for a bottle of wine, and many balk at half that price. It seems, though, that there’s no shortage of people willing to cough up triple digits for an evening of music at a winery. These events are not only profitable in themselves, but provide a way to attract wine drinkers and establish brand identity with them.

Established wineries that host concert series include Robert Mondavi, Rodney Strong, Gundlach Bundschu, Hanna and Landmark. The C. Donatiello Winery in Healdsburg offers outdoor concerts every Sunday afternoon, and Michel-Shlumberger Winery down the road presents live music in its courtyard each Friday evening. There are an estimated 250 arts and cultural events happening weekly in Sonoma County alone.

Paradise Ridge, in Santa Rosa, has joined the ranks of wineries that offer art and sculpture exhibitions. There’s a long tradition of this in California. The most famous venues are Clos Pegase near Calistoga, designed by architect Michael Graves and described by its owner as “America’s first monument to wine and art,” and the Hess Collection on Mount Veeder. Owned by Swiss industrialist Donald Hess, the winery building has a museum-quality collection of modern art.

Taken together, all these trends combine to make California wine country seem more like Europe, where wine and art tend to combine seamlessly. It provides a richer experience for the visitor and consumer. On top of that, winery owners are discovering that you have to mix media to navigate the current economy.

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