“The Noble Grapes” CD project was truly a labor of love. Back in my college days at the University of Grenoble, I had the good fortune of working as a laborer in a vineyard south of Lyon, France. The experience of this ”Vendange” taught me so much about the chemistry of wine as it proceeds from a simple fruit to the incredibly rich culture that surrounds every step of the vintner’s art. Wine lovers world wide are a passionate, dedicated cult whose sole pleasure in life is to connect with the “Je ne sais quoi” of wine.
Certainly there are many steps before one reaches the heights of a world class wine: the variety of the grape, the weather and soil, the art of creating the wine with just the right amount of sweetness, acidity and texture, and lastly, the global market for new and better vintages. These are the instruments that the talented winemaker has to create a symphony of taste. Wine is Art. Indeed, wine is Life in a glass!
So it did not seem difficult for me to interpret the noble grapes as musical pieces. My first step was to interview “wine people”. To my surprise,I discovered that nearly everyone considered themselves to be a “wine person”! The real wine people,however,I found to be the distributors, the wholesale buyers, the retailers and of course, the vintners themselves. I had a few simple questions: 1) what are the essential characteristics of each varietal 2) What are the meanings of terms like, balance, nose, body, finish etc.3)Describe the cultures of the regions where these wines are produced.
Needless to say, I was deluged with information! Many of my interviewees went on for hours waxing philosophic about the intrinsic "personalities" and "souls" of the different grapes. It was as if we were discussing God, Politics or Sports! After several months of research, (sober research) I felt I was finally ready to go to the piano and make attempts at capturing these grape personalities in music. Some of the pieces were directly correspondent to the taste of the wine itself. That is, a Chenin Blanc for example, is bright and acidic and so was my improvisation. Others pieces where ambient or evocative of a scene. My Sangiovese, for example, could be the soundtrack to an Italian family all gathered around the hearth to celebrate a festive event. My Pinot Noir: romantic. Tempranillo: Spanish Mysticism. Riesling: anthemic, patriotic. Shiraz: ancient Persia. All sixteen grapes have a specific musical motif. Of course, the accuracy of my music to grape is not an issue. I fully admit that these interpretations are exactly that: subjective interpretations that apply to me only. The listener may,for example,think that an Italian Tarantella has nothing to do whatsoever with the taste of a Pinot Grigio!
In any case, (no pun intended) I firmly believe that wine is life and life is hard to pin down and categorize. Nevertheless, I have included my own short,poetic descriptions of the grapes which should help to make the music more accessible. (see below)
I hope that you enjoy each of these snapshots of taste and culture. Be careful,however, not to drink samples of each of the sixteen wine varieties as you are listening to the CD. That could blur your judgment!
THE NOBLE GRAPES- Descriptions
CABERNET- Deep and rich, with glances that are subtle and sensuous. Complex, elegant and romantic, the taste lingers like a treasured memory.
GAMAY – Rejoice! The first bottles of Beaujolais have arrived! All of the villages celebrate. Food and dancing are everywhere!
CHENIN BLANC – Near the village of Vouvray, the light bathes the fields with timeless energy. At exactly the right moment that energy bursts forth in a brilliant bouquet. All the memories of a perfect summer shimmer into a crystal goblet.
MERLOT - At Last! An innocent, pure delight that floats and flitters like a soft evening breeze. Unassuming and true, it balances on a flower like a butterfly then flows on, humming its simple, medieval melody.
Chardonnay- An underlying current, smooth and delicate, glides along as flavors take flight. The soil is rich and fertile giving birth to flashes of flavor. The stream winds its way to a fine satin finish.
PINOT GRIGIO – A tantalizing Tarantella! An Italian picnic by the lake. The baskets are overflowing! Toast to the land and sky! Dance the day away!
PETITE SIRAH – Peaceful and deep, a redolent rouge holding the scarlet secrets of the soil never told to anyone.
RIESLING - M home, my country! The wine is an anthem of my heart singing to the ageless mountains and flowered meadows.
SAUVIGNON BLANC – A vividly iridescent gold. Blooming with life like a verdant pasture on an early summer’s morn. The glass is filled with flashes of light.
PINOT NOIR- From a translucent cloud she emerges wearing velvet and rubies. Strikingly beautiful, astonishingly gorgeous, yet delicate and ephemeral. She begs to be savored and cherished. Then, mysteriously, she disappears back into the mist.
SANGIOVESE – Mangiamo! Come and eat ! Dinner is served ! The family is gathered around the hearth singing, dancing and laughing. It’s a joyful feast of love! Salute!
TEMPRANILLO – Only in Spain do they capture that dialog between cape and bull: guitar and dancer, sun and soil. Extended meditations repeated on the red rosaries of Rioja.
GRENACHE- A perfect friend: non critical, supportive, relaxing. A go-anywhere companion who can speak intelligently on most any subject!
VIOGNIER- A soft rain falling on the Rhone valley. The flavors speak quietly of their floral fields and the still-lifes of fruit poised delicately on the wooden table.
SHIRAZ- The mountains of Persia resonate with their ancient memories. Echoes of Alexander the Great on the throne of Darius toasting victory to the gods!
ZINFANDEL- Bring more glasses! Open another barrel! The party is just beginning! The rhythms and harmonies dance on the tongue until the last note is played!