John Grochau and I have been friends for awhile now, ever since we shared the same tasting room at the Portland Wine Project (with Boedecker Cellars). Tasting room music is always a tricky thing, along the lines of room temperature. What’s best for the worker bees is often not best for the customers, and while the worker bees want it cooler because they’re buzzing around, customers tend to be stationary and get cold. Likewise, a warm, relaxing audio environment for customers often creates complacency among those who serve them. Balance needs to be attained.
Or not. John and I have been running into each other at Bob Mould concerts for years, and he was always happy to oblige me when I put Workbook on in the tasting room, although sometimes I had to turn it down. OK, usually I had to turn it down. We’re those proverbial diehard fans who will buy a ticket to, paraphrasing Steve Winwood, watch their hero go onstage and fart. Which, in a way, I have: Bob even said in his biography that his Carnival of Light and Sound Tour “wasn’t working.” That was the first time I saw him. But I’ve seen him play five great shows since, gotten a lot of my records autographed, and had a blast. And I’ve run into John Grochau almost every time.
I’d recently noticed the Life and Times album was spending a lot of time on my turntable. The very definition of a sleeper is an album that gets played all the time and you didn’t realize it, which is the case here. It’s an introspective album, not surprising since it was recorded when he was gearing up to write his autobiography, See a Little Light. When I asked John what he had that would work with that, his wine pick turned out to be the Grochau Cellars 2012 Dundee Hills Pinot Noir. I was pleasantly surprised that it was made from Anderson Family Vineyards’ fruit—a place I’d worked briefly over the holidays. He gave it to me at Hop and Vine, and over a beer he explained that he thought the album warranted something with a little more power, but this one wasn’t “powerful in the conventional sense. The power lies somewhere… not up front, more underneath.”
There’s an underlying earthiness I’ve come to expect from Grochau Wines, which I noticed right away with the first chords. What wasn’t expected was the darkness—something I hadn’t encountered in a Dundee Hills wine in quite some time (specifically a 2002 Arcus Estate). Black cherry, marionberry and boysenberry flavors are prevalent, rather than the spicy, red fruit flavors I generally associate with Dundee. Shortly after, Bob shouted, “What the fuck.” I’ve rarely had a more perfect moment with a glass of wine.
Track two is actually one of my favorite Mould tunes and “The Breach,” seemed to correlate best to Grochau’s “power underneath,” idea. The lyrics are dense and metaphorical, telling a painful tale of alienation well before the hard electric guitar hits. The wine was just opening up now, and I thought the muscular structure befitting the guitar grit. But that’s just me. By the time I flipped the record to side two, the wine had opened up to full throttle.
There’s an understanding that tasting notes and high fidelity go only so far. Music and wine present emotion in their own ways and formats. On a good day you, you get it and find yourself wandering around in the artist’s head. On another, your palate’s razor sharp and you can taste every note and breathe every nuance from the land the wine came from. On a better day, you can do it with both. Of course, it helps to have the artist’s biography in arm’s reach, after you’ve gotten the lowdown from the winemaker.