Vinyl&Wine 25: Grateful Dead + Wente Chardonnay

It’s been far too long since I put out a V&W blog. My job has me traveling some serious miles weekly and when I get home at night, the brain cells have all gone mute. 

When thinking about a band and a wine that have traveled millions of miles and are also a great pairing, I landed on the Grateful Dead and Chardonnay. The proliferation of each is astounding and a natural pairing. I first really listened to the Grateful Dead as a kid while riding in a Ford truck. My parents owned a restaurant supply business and cooking school all through my middle and early high school years. I began helping out around the shop from the time almost as soon as they purchased the business. I was about ten years old. I would sweep and mop, break down cardboard boxes, and do pretty much anything I could do as a youngster without breaking anything or hurting myself. As I grew older, bigger and stronger, my father would take me out on equipment deliveries with him. Sometimes one of his employees, TC would join us, if necessary.  Some jobs were big like, large pieces of equipment for new restaurants, or sometimes the deliveries would be lots of small orders that needed to get to places around town. My favorite was going out just with TC. As the oldest child with no brothers, TC was kind of like my older brother and 20 years later we still have lunch and hang out.

When TC and I would go out on deliveries, we drove around in my father’s giant Ford F250 with an iron tie rack. I called it “Big Red”. TC was a huge Grateful Dead aficionado. Every time we went out, he would have another bootleg cassette of the Dead “live” from wherever. For years, that is pretty much all that was played in the truck on deliveries. Mile after mile, “Ripple after Dark”, “Star after Tennessee Jed”, the miles and shows tallied up. I can’t say I was ever as big of a fan as TC, but the songs slowly became rooted in my musical index, filed under “alright”, (with a big grin). The Grateful Dead may have the most number of miles under their belt and are still touring as The Dead sans Garcia. They are a well-traveled band. A few years ago I added a double vinyl set to my diverse collection of vinyls, The Best Of The Grateful Dead, What A Long Strange Trip Its Been. I can’t begin to tell you how pleasing it is to lay down one of these vinyls and sit back and relax with a glass of Chardonnay, and just listen from start to finish.

Thankfully, this is one of the pairing that I share with my wife because she is a big Grateful Dead fan as well. As far as I am concerned, the Chardonnay grape has traveled just as far as the Grateful. It originated in the hills of Burgundy, France as a cross between Pinot Noir and Gouais Blanc. Everyone is familiar with Pinot Noir, but Gouais Blanc is believed to have traversed Europe from Croatia by the expanding Roman Empire. Today, wherever wine is grown you will find Chardonnay, from France to California, South Africa to England and every place in-between. It is truly an all-inclusive varietal and regionally can be made into a decent style. One of my favorites is from California and made by Wente Vineyards. Wente makes some of the best Chardonnays in California and rightfully so, they are known as the First Family of Chardonnay. The Wente family started the emersion in Chardonnay over 100 years ago in the Livermore Valley and today, their Chardonnay vineyards have grown to more than 100 acres of plants and it is their number one most sold wine. Commercially, they sell four different labels of Chardonnay and I am sure you can find a few special bottlings at the winery if you visit them. Today, Karl Wente runs the show and keeps the tradition going strong. I think it helps that he is also a Grateful Dead fan. I’m sure he could tell some great stories of seeing the Dead live, back in the day. (Please Karl, if you are reading this, feel free to share any stories you want to in the comments.)

Wente Vineyards most accessible Chardonnay is their Morning Fog Chardonnay. It ranges in price from $12-16 and is pumped full of the classic California Chardonnay characteristics we have come to love, but not over done in any sorts. It has notes of green apple, pears, vanilla bean, toasted brioche and citrus. It tends to rate well in the press, but for $15 and under, who cares. It is just a great wine and when paired with a great band like the Grateful Dead, life is good. When we are talking distance traveled and getting mileage out of good thing, The Dead and Chard are a perfect pairing.

The picture below is a drawing of Jerry Garcia done by my wife Erin Baldwin. I had no idea it was her drawing when I first saw it. 

Drawing done by my wife, Erin.