I received an invitation to meet with Jimmy Stafford, lead guitarist of the music group Train last Tuesday evening, August 6th at the Isleta Amphitheater just south of Albuquerque. The band also has a wine company, Save Me, San Francisco Wine Company and the idea was for us to try some of the wines and chat with Jimmy before the show.
OK, let’s add it up; San Francisco, wine, music, meet a guitarist. That hits many of my hot buttons. Being a guitarist myself, I’ve never met a guitarist I didn’t like, to paraphrase Will Rogers. I was a little leery about the wine, however. Names like Calling All Angels Chardonnay and Drops of Jupiter Red, do not always instill confidence in me, unless I’m dealing with Australians. They seem to thrive on weird names for their wines.
Getting there is not half the fun
Never having been to the Isleta Amphitheater, I was not sure how this would work out. I was imagining a huge drive-in movie style stage and backdrop with seating in front, but where was the backstage? Getting off the Rio Bravo exit of I-25 I was also worried to see so many cars. I was afraid they were all going to the concert. They were. Would we make it in time? I had heard comments from folks who had been there that it was difficult to get in and out of the complex.
Arriving at the entrance, we were escorted down behind the stage to an outbuilding, which was where acts could relax, get refreshment, and hang out. There at a large circular table was Jimmy with three bottles of wine and glasses set up. As it happens we had plenty of time to talk and Jimmy was very generous with his time. In fact, we talked, drank wine, and conversed like old friends getting back together. An hour flew by on fleeting wings.
Tasting wines with Jimmy
This was way better than I had imagined. And so were the wines. Tasting the 2011 Soul Sister Pinot Noir, I relaxed and smiled. The wine tasted much better than its $12 price tag, with tarry notes (that’s a good thing by the way), dark cherry, with some good spice, fine tannins and good mouthfeel. It also had good typicity, a term that replaces “varietally correct” to identify authentic grape characteristics. Re-tasting the Pinot Noir, Jimmy said, "I'm liking this much better than when I first tried it."
When we arrived, I had given Jimmy a copy of my wine book, Wines of Enchantment, which includes a good primer on wine fundamentals and advanced topics. When I mentioned typicity he asked, “Is that in your book?” Clearly Jimmy is learning about wines at an accelerated pace as the band’s spokesperson.
He also approves the wines or blends used. For one wine there were 5 lots or samples for Jimmy to try; A to E. He chose E, which the winemaker considered the best, so he does possess a good wine palate. Jimmy has been drinking wines before each of his concerts for some time. It is his ritual for getting ready for a concert and even mentioned on their website. That’s another use for wine I had not previously considered; relaxing before going on stage. Since I operate as wine server when I do wine classes, I am not allowed to taste the wine according to state laws. Otherwise I might try this out myself.
We next tried the 2010 California 37 Cabernet Sauvignon, while Jimmy checked the label. When he had first read the winemaker tasting notes, one of the terms used was hints of tobacco. Jimmy said, “I don’t even smoke, is that good thing for a wine?” I assured him it was a highly-prized element in the nose of a wine. I mentioned it is a characteristic of some great Bordeaux wines and people pay big bucks for that. The Cab was more refined than I expected at its price point with good structure and depth, and good fruit structure.
James Foster, the winemaker, is doing an outstanding job with their wines considering the price point and variety of wines Save Me, San Francisco now offers. The last wine we sampled was the 2010 Hella Fine Merlot, which had good earthy spice normally found in much more expensive wines. They have sold over a million bottles of their wines this year alone. Proof this is not a vanity or souvenir wine, but the real deal.
If you are a fan of Train you, no doubt, already knew the names of the wines related to their albums and most successful songs. So they definitely are not weird, but wonderful. The other two current wines are the 2011 Calling All Angels Chardonnay and 2011 Drops of Jupiter Red, a red blend that is primarily the Petite Sirah grape. All wines are $12, a very good price for this quality. I do hope to try these soon, as well.
I also learned about the band’s involvement in Family House, a non-profit organization providing temporary housing to families of seriously ill children in the San Francisco Bay area. The band makes a donation to Family House for each bottle of wine sold. As Jimmy said, “we wanted to give back to the Bay area.” Some folks say that and it sounds self-serving, but in this case they really mean it and back it up with visits to see and interact with the children and their families. There is even a Train “music room” for the countless musical instruments the band has donated.
Later we went out to join the thousands of fans enjoying the concert. Even the grass fields above the stage and fixed seating were full. Lots of families, too, which is something Jimmy really likes about their concerts. Not only do they help Bay area families, they help fans and families around the world. And now they have signature wines to represent another aspect of the band.
When I finally got to see Jimmy in action I had to admit; he plays a damn good guitar, too. Rock on guys, and wine on, too and thanks for all the memories.
Moving Day is Soon
This will be my last post on the present website. I’ll be moving to much nicer digs soon, with a better, more interactive website I think you’ll love.