"There's a lot of winemakers who are frustrated musicians. I'm one of the them," said winemaker Chris Carpenter. "I play trombone; I play horribly." But despite his lack of music-playing ability, he adores music.
Cardinale Winery's Chris Carpenter is such a fan of music that he and a group of friends have been traveling from all around the country to attend the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival every single year since 1988. He continued, "Most of my friends were into music. As music fans, Jazz Fest was the ultimate pilgrimage. As we've progressed in our lives and our careers and families, we spread out around the country. There's a core group of 8 of us that have gone since 1988 and reconvene every year for the fest to reacquaint ourselves with each other and see great music."
Chris could not stop naming the best acts he's seen over the past decades: Bruce Springsteen after Hurricane Katrina, Van Morrison playing in the rain, and, of course, native son Trombone Shorty. "The great thing about Shorty is that he weaves funk, rock, R&B, and soul all into one sound. It's rare that you have guys who can take all those different influences and create a sound that's unique. That's what he's done. I love to dance, and that's one of the great things about New Orleans music in general is the ability to move your feet. His music, you can move your feet to nonstop. He has such energy and soul to his sound that I was immediately attracted to."
In celebration of Jazz Fest coming back in 2022, Cardinale Winery released a very special wine that was to be enjoyed while listening to Trombone Shorty's latest album Lifted. Some wine-lovers were able to get their hands on the multi-sensory box while others were invited to join Chris in New Orleans for an exclusive wine-paired dinner during the first weekend of Jazz Fest. I was incredibly fortunate to get to experience Cardinale's 2018 Vintage Cabernet Sauvignon while experiencing Lifted, and I must admit that it was transcendent in many ways.
The unboxing of this special delivery was so exciting. A black envelope with the gold inscription of "Cardinale" was tied to a big black box. Velvety-soft cards attempted to introduce this special wine and the music that was meant to go along with it, but I knew that it was very difficult to put into words due to the physicality of the pairing. Trombone Shorty's latest album Lifted which came in record form features a charming black and white photo of himself as a child playing a toy horn as his mother lifts him above the crowd gathered in a street during festivities.
After much unwrapping came the wine. The bottle is incredibly sexy, yet unfettered. You cannot see if the bottle itself is black or if the wine inside is too dark to see through. Only opening the bottle up and pouring out its content solved that mystery. The 90% cabernet sauvignon, 10% merlot blend is so incredibly rich that it becomes a black mirror in the glass. The dark reflection allows you to see the entire room behind you which looks otherworldly.
To me, it tastes of dark berries, but it has a thrilling acidity that tingles the edges of the tongue almost like pineapple. Cardinale explained that this vintage includes seven appellations and 32 individual wine lots. Paired with Trombone Shorty's signature blend of slow brassy funk, intense groove, and edgy rock moments, notes of chocolate, blackberries, and a hint of vanilla play on the tongue. This was created intentionally.
"There's a lot of synergies between how I look at layering flavor when I'm putting blends together with how musicians layer sound. There's highs and lows, there's timbre, there's beat, there's the progression from one moment in a song to another, it's the same with flavor and how flavor develops on your palate. There's a lot of that connection. Musicians that turn me on, whether it's Mozart, Springsteen, or Trombone Shorty, are people that I look to for inspiration when I put my wines together. What I do is use my love of music and my understanding of music from an experiential standpoint to frame how I experience flavor. A musician like Shorty who can take so many different levels of sound and different techniques in music, that's inspiration for me because I'm putting together what could be five different varieties of wine and trying to make one wine out of it, one complex and synchronist experience of flavor very similar to how he does that with music. When I run into those kind of musicians or experience them, that's how I connect with them," explained Chris excitedly.
There's a lot to be said about how sound, scent, ambiance, et al can influence your taste. Chris is keenly aware that music will affect one's mood, and one's mood can bring out different notes in his wine. He said, "Whatever you're doing, if music is in the background, it's going to influence the experience that you're having in that moment. That's why music is so important to everything that we do setting the tone, setting the mood. If you're listening to Metallica versus Andre Bocelli, it's going to change how you perceive that wine in that moment because your body is responding to whatever that sound is that's coming into your brain and changing how you're thinking about things. And it's going to change how you perceive the wine as well."
I cannot wait to see what other musical ventures Chris brings to his future bottles. His closing note was, "I'm honored that I had the opportunity to get to know Troy and chat with him about his music. I think his sound and his approach to music and his thought process is incredible and inspiring. That said, there's so many musicians in New Orleans that are that way. The cultural center for me and my pals is New Orleans. There's no place quite like New Orleans for that wellspring of sound."