Let’s go drive ‘til the morning comes,
Watch the sunrise to fill our souls up.
Drink some wine ‘til we get drunk…
-Dave Matthews, “Crush”
For the sake of full disclosure, I’ve never been an enormous fan of the Dave Matthews Band. I’ve always appreciated them, but they’re one of those bands that have always been on the periphery of my music collection. However, after a friend of mine forwarded me a press release announcing the release of Dave Matthews’ new “Dreaming Tree” series of wines, I got curious. I sent an email to Megan at Constellation Wines and lo and behold, there were samples to be had! While I may not be a fanboy, I’ll give big ups to anyone willing to let me try his wine.
I do, actually, have a tangential connection to Dave Matthews. Several jobs and a couple of lives ago, I found myself working at the University of Richmond (VA). I lasted less than a year there – working in residence life, riding herd over drunken, horny, segregated-sex college students wasn’t exactly my bag.
A small, fragrantly smoky venue in Richmond is probably the best way to experience the Dave Matthews Band live for the first time. As my musical tastes expanded, DMB joined a few other bands I liked in my mid-20’s as bands I’d hear from time to time and go, “Hmm…not bad” and then let it pass from my attention. Except for “Crash into Me” – which I heard once as a first-dance wedding song – which is just lyrically creepy if you think about it.
In any case, Dave Matthews’ first experience with winemaking was a property he bought in Charlottesville, Virginia he wanted to farm. “I started making wine and that process kind of enlightened me,” said Matthews. “Through a few different instances I met Steve, and that brought the possibility of making wine in a place that’s designed for making wine!”
“Steve” is Steve Reeder, head winemaker at Simi winery in Healdsburg in Sonoma County, the aforementioned well-designed place for wine. “From the first time I talked to him on the phone,” said Matthews, “I got the sense that he wanted to do something with me. Not because he thought I was a great winemaker, but because he was curious. I think that’s pretty bold and also pretty generous.” Matthews went to Sonoma to discuss life and winemaking with Reeder, and The Dreaming Tree (named after a song on his “Before These Crowded Streets” album) sprouted.
“I want to work in collaboration with Dave to make wines that are approachable, still food friendly, fun wines that are available for pretty much everyone to drink,” said Reeder. “I like to make wines for people to drink, not wines to be put in the cellar.” (This is only half true. Simi makes some cabernets in the $60-$100 range that I wouldn’t classify as everyday!) Matthews and Reeder collaborate on the composition of the wine in small batches. Reeder takes care of the heavy lifting in production, since he has Simi’s ample resources at his disposal.
The Dreaming Tree produces a chardonnay, a cabernet sauvignon, and a red blend called “Crush,” all from California grapes – a much better source than Charlottesville, to be sure. The information on their website stresses environmental sustainability in production and bottling, which is a nice plus. All three retail in the neighborhood of $15. So, how are they? Have a seat crosslegged ‘round the fire and read on:
The Dreaming Tree 2009 “Crush” North Coast Red Blend – The Crush is a 2/1 blend of Merlot and Zinfandel. While these wines are designed to be “open and drink,” this one certainly benefitted from a little time in air. At first slug, the flavor was a little “grapey” without much structure, like a very inexpensive merlot. However, some time in the glass with a few strong swirls pulled vanilla out of the nose. Once the wine opens up a bit, it’s got a very full flavor with strong blackberry and vanilla tastes. I thought it was just a bit too dry for a “quaffing by itself” wine. As it is, it would likely be good for gnawing on a plate of barbecue ribs. Unfortunately, that’s not what we had that evening and disappointingly, it wasn’t all that tasty with evening chocolate. Another recommended pairing from the website was “Spanish orange and onion salad,” but I have a hard time envisioning that.
The Dreaming Tree 2009 North Coast Cabernet Sauvignon – Made with grapes largely from Sonoma County, this was my favorite wine of the three. The nose is full of blackberries with a little bit of vanilla. When I took a sip, my first thought was “Bacon?” There’s a smoked meat flavor that I didn’t see coming at all. After a few days, it hit me where I’d run into that scent before. Dave Matthews is a native South African, and this smelled as much like a Pinotage (the pride of the Rainbow Nation) as any Cabernet I’ve tried. That bacony smokiness mellowed out quite a bit after a few minutes to something a little more balanced, although as the finish sat, there were still hints of that savory goodness at the end. Otherwise, lots of dark blackberry and cherry tastes with a finish that doesn’t start tannically at all, but quickly dries into smoke. This wine ends up being a mouth-coater of a cabernet. Like most wines with a South African flavor, this would be right at home next to a big hunk of something grilled. They recommend rack of lamb or lentil salad, both of which I could see without too much of a problem.
Matthews claims his wine philosophy is “If it tastes good to you, then it’s good wine,” which has been one of my standard lines at the tastings I have led for years. As Reeder so aptly put it, “Great minds drink alike.”