The British Journal of Psychology recently reported on the connection between wine and music; there is a link between what you hear and what you taste; listening to music may stimulate the part of your brain where taste and aroma are processed. Independent research in the wine industry indicates that hearing music can influence your perception of characteristics such as acidity, fruitiness, and astringency of the wine you are drinking.
On the Central Coast, there is another powerful connection between music and wine. Many musicians have become legendary winemakers during the last two hundred years.
19th Century Wine and Music
The music we celebrate in the Central Coast may be as old as the Mission grape variety, Listan Prieto, planted by the Spanish Franciscans two centuries ago. Catholics still sing hymns and prayers in the Spanish Chapels at local Missions once surrounded by prolific vineyards in San Luis Obispo and San Miguel. Mission wine was produced and used in the sacraments and enjoyed with meals in local communities.
When Mexico revolted against the Spanish and won their independence in 1822, they acquired ranchos and vineyards. They planted vineyards to produce Mission grapes for the families and workers living on the ranchos. They were known for their hospitality and were famous for their fiestas and musical celebrations. The Mexicans contributed the traditional folk guitar to our musical genre on the Central Coast.
Early Pioneers Brought Music to the Central Coast
Various ethnic groups settled in San Luis Obispo County after California became a state in 1850; they planted grape varieties here that originated in Croatia, France, Spain and Germany. They also brought their pianos and a variety of instruments around Cape Horn to make music after a hard day’s work. These winemakers composed music and organized bands, to perform at local concerts, picnics, and civic events.
William and Barbara Ernst, the first of seven generations still farming on Union Road in Paso Robles, planted over 25 grape varieties in the 1880s and made award-winning wines including champagne and sparkling Tokay. Their son, Will Ernst (1876-1951), loved music so much he practiced his violin while he ran the plow team; he stood on the harrow with the horse’s reins around his shoulders. At age 12 he organized the Creston Band featuring a dozen brass instruments played by talented family and friends at events all over the county starting in 1894. Will was later appointed City Band Director in Paso Robles. Will played in a number of local bands which he organized including the Paso Robles Band and the San Luis Obispo Theater Band.
Will played multiple instruments including the saxophone, the clarinet and the piano. He abandoned the vineyards and headed to the Midwest for college to study music. Will became a well-known composer who produced a wide variety of musical works. He moved to New York City and founded the Ernst School of Music and the Saxophone Conservatory in the 1920s. He trained hundreds of musicians and gave concerts at Carnegie Hall. He later moved to Los Angeles to work in the music industry.
Will played his music for family and friends during his lifetime in the historic Steinbeck/Ernst ranch house on Union Road, where Cindy Steinbeck currently resides. Cindy, the founder of Steinbeck Winery, is the granddaughter of Hazel Ernst. Cindy’s mother Bev Steinbeck is also a talented musician married to Howie Steinbeck, a respected grape grower. Cindy’s son and daughter have performed Will’s compositions for friends in the family home, keeping their musical heritage alive. You will find photos of the Creston Band in Cindy’s tasting room.
Ignace Paderewski – Our First Famous Celebrity
Famous Polish composer and pianist Ignace Paderewski came to Paso Robles in 1914 for the healing waters of the local hot springs after experiencing severe pain in his hands during a nationwide concert tour. His doctor convinced him to explore the area and to purchase what soon became known as Rancho San Ignacio in the Adelaide district. Apparently, his doctor had both a medical and a real estate license. Paderewski purchased around 2,500 acres in total.
Paderewski, an internationally known viticulturist, planted 35,000 Zinfandel cuttings on his ranch during the Prohibition Era in the mid-1920s. He also planted Petite Sirah and Mission grapes. His grapes were crushed and fermented at the famous York Brothers Winery in Templeton. Paderewski’s Zinfandel wines were the first to win a gold medal, after Prohibition, at the 1934 California State Fair. The awards brought attention to the historic York Brothers Winery, well-known for their winemaking skills.
The Paderewski Festival was launched in Paso Robles in 1991 to commemorate Paderewski’s association with the area. The Executive Director of the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance, Joel Peterson, is the grandson of the Festival founder, Virginia Peterson. This four-day festival is held each November with annual concerts featuring world-renown talent, exhibits, lectures, and masterclasses. Tours of vineyards, wine tasting, and presentations of Polish culture are held in a variety of venues including the Paso Robles Inn where Paderewski played in the hotel ballroom in the 1920s and 1930s. Each year a vintage Zinfandel with the Paderewski label is produced in honor of the namesake of the Festival.
Since 2007, a wine tasting event has been paired with Paderewkski’s music at the Cass Winery hosted by Steve Cass.
The York Winery
The York family vineyards and winery, established in 1882, hold a special place in San Luis Obispo County’s local wine history as the longest family-owned wine business, operating for 88 years. The third-generation owner, Wilfrid (Bill) York, was an accomplished winemaker and musician. After graduating from UC Berkeley, Bill York moved to San Francisco, joined the Wells Fargo Orchestra as a violinist, and taught at the San Francisco Conservatory. When his father’s health failed in the 1940s, Bill returned to York Mountain but never abandoned his music. He continued playing the piano and the violin as he made his award-winning Zinfandel.
When Bill decided to retire and sell the most famous winery on the Central Coast, he shared his plans with Max Goldman, renowned winemaker and classical pianist. Max and his wife had just retired to Malibu after almost 40 years in the wine industry. Bill shared three generations of York history including his father’s relationship with Paderewski. His father and uncle made the award-winning Zinfandel wine that received the 1934 Gold Medal at the California State Fair. Max’s eyes filled with tears; he told Bill that he had played classical piano since early childhood and his signature piece was Menuet a L’Antique by Ignacio J. Paderewski. Fate brought the two men together; the winery changed hands and Bill moved down the road on York Mountain to help Max and his family restore the winery and the vineyards.
The entire Goldman family, Max, Barbara, Suzanne, and Steve, made York Mountain Winery a resounding success. It became an important destination for locals, travelers and wine writers, including Sunset Magazine, throughout California. The Goldman family restored the historic winery, creating a tasting room with a long bar to showcase their wines. Steve and Max replanted the vineyards with new grape varieties. Their tasting room, filled with fresh baked bread and gifts made by local artists, won the first “best in the county” awards for years.
The Goldman family combined winemaking with musical philanthropy supporting the local NPR radio station KCBX, the Mozart Festival established in 1970, and The Paderewski Festival established in 1991. They held dinners and musical events in the gardens at the winery and donated wines to support both musical festivals, pouring York Mountain wines at concerts and fundraising events. Max continued to play the piano and entertain friends for the rest of his life. He also shared memories of joining bands in each town he moved into as he built his career as a chemist and winemaker in California and New York.
Stanley Hoffman Partners with the Mozart Festival
Dr. Stanley Hoffman, founder of the Hoffman Mountain Ranch (HMR), was the first to plant Burgundian and Bordeaux varieties in the county in the 1960s. He was also the first to win International Gold and Double-Gold Medals for his HMR Chardonnay in 1979 in London.
Stanley Hoffman is remembered for two other historic events: 1) building an historic winery, and 2) developing the collaboration between wineries and the two famous Classical Music Festivals that originated in San Luis Obispo County.
Stanley Hoffman built the first large-scale modern winery following the Prohibition Era with the latest “state of the art” stainless steel fermenting tanks and French oak barrels (1972 to 1975) in the Post Prohibition Era. The famous consultant Andre Tchelistcheff, who is considered to be the “Godfather of American winemaking,” helped design the winery and mentored winemaker Michael Hoffman.
Stanley and his wife, Terry, loved classical music. They were early supporters of the Mozart Festival, founded in 1970 with its first musical director, Clif Swanson. The Hoffmans decided to create a new type of fundraising event to support the Festival; they invited the patrons, musicians, board members and the public into their remarkable new winery. It was located in the rolling hills of the Adelaida district, west of Paso Robles, to host the first philanthropic fundraiser at a winery in the county.
This event started a new tradition, that of holding concerts, auctions and fundraising events in the local wineries, to support music festivals. This tradition continues to the present day. The Mozart Festival (now Festival Mozaic), currently celebrating its 51st anniversary, will be held this year with eight days of musical events from July 25 to 31, 2021. There were two Festival Mozaic events on May 22 and 23 to highlight the 2021 season. Kynsi Winery poured Pinot Blanc, Pinot Noir Rose, and Nocturnum, a commemoration Cuvee of red wine from grapes grown in the Edna Valley at a dinner honoring Grammy Nominee and Steinway artist, John Novacek. On Sunday Steve and Alice Cass hosted John Novacek in Recital at their event center at Cass Winery in the Paso Robles. One of the unique aspects of Festival Mozaic is that the concerts are held throughout the county in unique venues including both local Missions, Chapel Hill in Shandon, the Dallidet Garden, and local wineries including Halter Winery and Tolosa.
Niels Udsen. ©Julia Perez, The Winemakers of Paso Robles.
The California Wine Revolution Brings the Sound of Music
Dave Caparone, a trombonist, and his son Marc, a trumpeter, are famous jazz musicians, often playing at the annual Jubilee by the Sea Festival in Pismo Beach. Dave made wine history planting and producing their noble Italian varietals: Sangiovese, Nebbiolo, and Aglianico in the 1980s. Dave is the first to produce all three varietals successfully in the United States. Both Dave and his son Mark continue to make music throughout the county (you can find them on YouTube) and to make wine at the Caparone Winery on San Marcos Road in Paso Robles.
Niels Udsen decided to pair his Castoro Cellars wines with music by hosting a monthly concert series at his tasting room in Templeton. He started the tradition in 1995 with the help of SLOFolks, the San Luis Obispo Folk Music Society; 25 years later all genres of music are still enjoyed. County residents listen to the Lazy Local series while other fans come from hundreds of miles around to attend the annual Whale Rock Music and Arts Festival. Niel’s wife, Bimmer Udsen, plays the piano and his son Luke sings while playing guitar and harmonica.
Norman Goss was the first to plant vineyards in the Edna Valley in 1973. He traveled the world learning about food and wine and became known as a famous wine collector. He was a famed cellist who played with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. After retiring from his musical career, he became a well-known restaurateur, providing gourmet food and wines at The Stuffed Shirt in Orange County, California. He recognized a trend among his restaurant patrons – the preference of white wines over red. After consulting with viticultural experts through California, he selected the Edna Valley as a potential place for growing Chardonnay. He purchased 68 acres and was the first to plant Chardonnay grapes in the vineyard he named Chamisal, after the native white flower that grew there.
Winemaker duo Jean Pierre Wolff, a harmonicist, and his son Clint Wolff, a guitarist, have been making wine and music in the Edna Valley for over two decades. They purchased pioneer Andy MacGregor’s historic Chardonnay vineyard planted in 1976 which is located east of Orcutt Road in the Edna Valley. The Wolff family renamed the vineyard when they acquired and built their winery in 1999. Besides performing at the Wolff Vineyards tasting room during event weekends, they have been known to jam with a band of winemakers called The Crush Tones, along with winemaker Steve Autry from Autry Cellars, whose bass treble adorns the labels of his wines. You can catch Steve jamming with his band, the Local Vocals.
So – What music are you pairing with your favorite wine tonight?