Save for very few exceptions, we play jazz in the Monte Bello Tasting Room. From early New Orleans polyphonics and big band swing, through bop, post-bop, hard-bop, to cool, orchestral, and beyond, it’s pretty much jazz all the time. From Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman, and Count Basie, through Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, and Bill Evans, to Thelonious Monk and Lee Morgan and beyond, it’s jazz, jazz, The Jazz. Why?
I suppose the answer is fundamentally two-fold; there are practical reasons, and there are aesthetic ones. On the practical side, jazz is usually “up” enough to match the energy of a tasting room on a weekend, yet restrained enough to not be obtrusive; rhythmic enough to be felt below the head, cerebral enough to be heard between the ears; hip enough to not be stodgy, familiar enough to soothe. And at least in terms of what I select, it’s instrumental, meaning no vocals to invade the vocal space I prefer occupied by our staff and our guests. Jazz is also both classy, and funky; uptown and downtown; sophisticated yet slightly seedy.
This takes us to the aesthetic side of the equation. I fiercely believe that great art emerges from the holy mojo intersection of spontaneity and craft; the idea that you have to train an entire lifetime to act, at the moment of truth, as if you’ve never learned a thing at all. Craft without spontaneity is a dullard’s game, and spontaneity without craft is self-indulgence and sloppiness. It’s when the two cross that the hoodoo hits. This is what makes jazz magic, and this is what makes wine magic. Sure you can make wine as a technician, even very good wine. But you can’t make wine that transcends explanation, moves into the realm of the inexpressible, conjures and foments both spiritual and sensual excitement, without a little bit of that funky untrained wisdom of the ages; the knowledge that can’t be taught, the lessons that can’t be laid out, the truth that can’t be told. A great vineyard manager, a great winemaker, is part scientist, part shaman; part farmer, part painter; part concrete, part mist; part laborer part conjurer; part oenologist, part philosopher.
John Coltrane was legendary for the rigor of his practice, his obsessional devotion to his craft, the meticulousness of his technique. But he played like a gentle man possessed by an insane spirit; twisted, pulled, and pushed to seek just one more secret, one more truth, to make the soul’s inexplicability cogent.
The great figures in wine have similar reputations; hard-working, diligent, devoted men and women driven by an unnameable passion to weld the human world and the natural world in the service of aesthetic pleasure, artisan singularity; the both metaphoric and tangible creative act as expression of solidarity with the forces of sun, moon, soil, water, nature.
This is why, when you enter the Monte Bello Tasting Room, you may hear Thelonious Monk strike adjacent keys simultaneously to find the music in between. Because that’s what wine is. The music in-between. What you taste is what doesn’t truly exist. Except it does.