Eric Hutchinson: Uncorked and Uncovered

 

Artist: Eric Hutchinson

Playing at City Winery: October 29th, 2012

 

Emerson College is known for the focused environment it provides and driven mentality it encourages. Has this affected your approach to your musical career?

Yeah! I met some amazing people and was totally inspired by the Emerson world. I did my first official show on campus.

With so many colleges in Boston, house shows are very popular there. Did you ever go to house shows or play any?

I’ve played a few house concerts over the years. Good times, but I like a proper stage better.

Who are some of your biggest musical influences?

The Beatles were like religion in my house growing up. My dad used to play them every night during dinner and my mom would quiz me on which Beatle was singing each song.

Your voice has a real old-school jazz, blues tone to it. Did you grow up listening to that type music, too?

I love all kinds of music including jazz, but I tend to think my influence comes more from the soul records I love. Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson, The Isley Brothers. All that classic soul.

Who are some musicians/bands out there today that you are currently listening to?

I love Vampire Weekend, The Black Keys, Frank Ocean, Fun & Gregory Porter.

You’ve lived all over the country, but you now call NYC home. How do you like it here? How do you think it has affected you as a musician?

I’ve been here for 6 years now and love it. I wrote my new album “Moving Up Living Down” here and was really inspired by the city’s energy. Love doing hometown shows!

Have found any favorite spots in NYC that you now frequent?

TONS. But can’t divulge them. So I can still get a table.

This upcoming show is at the only fully functioning winery in all of Manhattan. It’s pretty cool, right? Are you excited to play in this type of venue? And to try the wine?

I love wine and I’m looking forward to seeing my face on a bottle of Cab Sauv. Hope I’m sober enough to perform!

 

Cary Pierce of Jackopierce: Uncorked and Uncovered

 

Artist: Jackopierce

Played at City Winery: October 14th, 2012

Q&A With City Winery

So you both went to school for theatre. In fact, that’s how you met. Do you both still act?

We both try to act cool on occasion but it rarely works out.

Jack did a stint with the Bat Theater Company, voiceover work, etc but was scared back into music eventually.

I quit theater my sophomore year at SMU and never looked back. Twas not my calling. My B.I.L (brother in law), James Moye, is a bad ass, though. He lives in NY and has been in many a Broadway production such as Urine Town, Million Dollar Quartet, etc. But the coolest thing lately is that he is the Crunchy Nut Cereal guy. My kids think he’s a real super hero. I can’t compete with that.

What is your songwriting process like? 

I gave my oldest boy a baby Taylor guitar at 10 years old. It’s half size and really easy to just pick up and play. I have a dozen amazing guitars at my studio, but I play that one about 95% of the time. Most all the kernels for new songs start there. I also go to Nashville a lot to write and always come back with 3-5 new ones cookin’. I keep TONS of ideas in my phone, on my computer, etc. If a guitar is in my hands, I’m usually writing something. Usually music first and then lyrics.

Have you ever been in any bigger bands?

Nope. JP may be the biggest band I ever get to be in. We toured for years with a full band. It was fun playing rock star – being on a major label  – and having a bus and crew, etc. Our roots were as an acoustic duo and that’s how we play most of the time now. I live in Dallas and Jack lives in NY so we fly in to city, meet up and go play the show. When we do a full band show – we’re hiring real pros that are great, love what they do and there’s NO drama. Jack and I got enough drama goin’ on… no need for more fuel on that fire.

You’ve worked with a lot of other musicians, writing and producing. What made you want to get into that?

It just seemed to be a natural extension. I like helping people get to the “next level.” I learned a lot about making records by being produced by heavyweights like T Bone Burnett, Stan Lynch, Rob Jacobs, Don Smith, etc. I’ve learned a lot about co-writing over the years, too. I’m pretty much a co-writing producer, helping write the songs and then producing them.

How is working with other musicians different/the same as working with Jack? Do you find that being part of a duo was helpful to the process of writing for/working with other musicians?

Yes, I’m a duo guy. When I enter into a co-writing/production situation, I basically become the other half for a minute and then I get to bid them well and set them free to go “do it.”

What was the recording process like? You both live such different lives now, how did you manage to come together and make the album and this tour happen?

The album is called Everywhere all the Time and it was recorded just about everywhere: Atlanta, Austin, Dallas, DC, LA, Minneapolis, Nashville, etc..

We tracked a lot of the bass and drums in Nashville and then I would grab Jack’s vocal and guitars in whatever city we were playing in. It was a lot of fun.

Do you feel that this album is more mature now that time has passed?

I just hope people like it. We’ve had a lot of people lately tell us that we’ve been the “soundtrack for their lives.” Wow. Mission is being accomplished. Just wanna keep that rollin’… I love writing and I love playing.

You guys mostly play acoustic together. Outside of Jackopierce, what do you like to play around with musically?

I have a James Taylor/John Denver side of me (like Jackopierce – Let Go of Me and Jackopierce – Lonely). But I also have a heavily 80’s influenced Smiths/Roxy Music/Tears for Fears/Police side of me that wants to make big, powerful compelling pop (like Jackopierce – Around Me Now). I also have a Mumford/Avett side of me that wants to bang on that acoustic hard and fast and kinda combine all of it. I have a fantasy of an acoustic trio or quartet a la Mumford. That kind of music is a big part of me – all acoustic. Love it. Have you heard the Punch Brothers? IN-SANE. Check this out. Humbling.

What inspires you? Both as a musician and as a person?

Art/museums/galleries. I love great design. I’m constantly saving design ideas – both graphic and architectural/interior design in Evernote. If I could, I’d probably be releasing a new Jackopierce shirt or piece of merch every week.

I love dreaming and scheming our Destination Shows. We are playing June 8, 2013 in Santa Barbara on a roof deck overlooking the ocean and the mountains. Gorgeous. And we are having a clambake dinner and concert on Martha’s Vineyard August 17, 2013.

I am also working on a book about being creative for a living. I post a new chapter most Fridays to my blog. It’s meant to encourage and inspire the same way I am inspired by so many great authors, speakers, teachers.

You guys are from Texas. Do you like the cooking down there? 

Of course. I love Texas. Love everything about it. Well, most everything. I went down to go to SMU and I’ve been there ever since. My wife is a Texan. All 3 of my boys are Texans. I love that.

You have a song called Vineyard and here you are playing at City Winery. What is the story behind that song? Are you wine fans? Do you have a favorite wine? 

Yes, Vineyard is actually about Martha’s Vineyard. I was heartbroken in college and went there to get away. I met a sweet gal and my 2 day trip turned into 5 or 6 days. That song seems to still be one of our most popular. We did a destination show in 2010 on the Vineyard and 400 people came from 36 States. We were glad to give them an excuse to come to one of the most beautiful places in the world.

We’ve done several destination shows in Sonoma County, CA. I’ve really fallen in love with Pinot Noir. When it’s good – its’ the best – but it’s a testy grape. I feel like I’ve tasted some of the best out there at Arista, the former C. Donatiello, Hanna, etc.

Best kind of wine is the wine you like. I’ve had friends open these fancy, expensive bottles of wine and they sit around and gush over it – and to me it tastes like it’s been open for a week. Mondavi has a great everyday Pinot now for about $6. Meiomi Belle Glose is probably my current favorite. They had it in several restaurants around Dallas and I was thrilled to find it in the grocery store for about $15 bucks. We’ve actually been in touch with them. They love our Destination Shows and we are hoping to partner up on something soon. I also love Willamette Pinots from Oregon and have discovered a great find: Merriman. I asked my waiter if I could see the bottle. There was an email addy on the back. I emailed them right there and it turns out the owner, Mike Merriman, is from Dallas and his winemaker sold me his house 15 years ago. Talk about small world and great Williamette Pinot!

The smell and taste of great Pinots take me to Sonoma (specifically Healdsburg) – a place that my wife and I could see ourselves spending

Grant Lee Phillips: Uncorked and Uncovered

Artist: Grant Lee Phillips

Played at City Winery: October 3rd, 2012

 

Q&A With City Winery

You’ve done a lot of work recently with comedienne, Margaret Cho. What role does comedy play in your life? Are there any other comedians you’d love to work with?

Margaret’s a force of nature. We’ve known one another for ages, but it was a huge treat to work with her on her “Cho Dependent” album. Comics and musicians are a bit like distant cousins, but there’s a crazy amount of courage it takes to be a comic and I look upon people like Margaret and Paul F. Tompkins with awe.

Do you check out any comedy shows? Any favorite places to check out? Do you ever think of getting on stage at an open mic or taking an improv class?

Largo out in L.A. has long been a hotbed for comedy. It’s a place where comics and songwriters mix and through Largo I’ve been able to explore the high-wire thrill of being onstage without a guitar.

You are very vocal about your Native American heritage. How has it informed your songwriting? What drives you to incorporate this into your music?

I grew up with an awareness of my Creek heritage. It was reinforced by my mother and grandmother. My desire to grasp the history of our country, one that’s often untold, has been a driving force behind a lot of my songs. Becoming a father has also compelled me to better understand where I come from, to honor my ancestry and pass that knowledge onward.

It seems like you have also been able to use comedy as a way of demonstrating your awareness of your heritage against a contemporary American backdrop. In the Margaret Cho video for “Asian Adjacent,” you appear as a Native American man when she says the word “Cherokee.” Something Margaret (and many comedians do) is poke fun at herself and address stereotypes that affect her on a personal level. Was this experience a first for you (as far as addressing it in a comedic way)?

Margaret came to me with “Asian Adjacent.” She’d written these lyrics inspired by our first meeting many years ago. For ages, she had assumed because of my features and the “Lee” in my name that I was Chinese. It’s not the first time that I’ve encountered this. When I explained that I’m actually Creek and Cherokee, it inspired the concept of being “Asian Adjacent.” In one scene of the video we did a take-off on “Miss Saigon.” I was portraying an American soldier, pursuing Margaret. The editor dropped me in on the Cherokee lyric, (the power of editing and suggestion). There’s something really incredible about her way of using comedy to challenge stereotypes.

You also combine your music and your heritage as a means of awareness and outreach. Though the Internet has had some negative impacts on the music industry, it has also been an amazing tool in expanding audience. Additionally, it has become a means of outreach and awareness. One platform this is possible through is PledgeMusic, which you are currently using; how has that been?

My new album, Walking In The Green Corn, is a Pledge Music project. I love the grass-roots connectivity of this approach. There’s something very hands-on about it that appeals to me. I’ve also become very informed in the ways of shipping these days and I have a greater appreciation for the US Postal Service.

Outside of your heritage, what inspires you as a writer/performer?

Songs are just the evidence of whatever life you live, the people you love, your desires, your fears and the rest.  I’m just trying to walk and sing at the same time.

I just wanted to mention that your website is incredible. How do you think that the aesthetic style and the design (interactivity, click-throughs) reflect you as a musician and as a person?

My website is one part American Pickers and one part Hoarders. I’m very at home there.

You’ve done a bit of acting work, even had a recurring role on Gilmore Girls. Is acting something you’d like to do more of, maybe having bigger, more prominent roles?

I’d love to do more acting. When Gilmore Girls ended I went back and studied some more. I’ve got a lot of respect for actors and all they have to put themselves through.

Do you have any favorite things to do in NYC? Are there any stores or restaurants you have to stop at when in town? Any other interesting spots along the road you love?  

New York, for all of the times that I’ve visited, still takes my breath away. I grew up in the country and learned to drive on one-lane highways out in the foothills so the city is little overwhelming. Still, on a warm night, with good friends there’s nothing like it.  New York is also a place where people still hold the door for each other. More often that you would think. ( LA is the worst for that). There’s a rhythm to this city. It can be tough to find the downbeat at first, but when you do, it’s an incredible place.

What is the best meal you’ve ever eaten? 

Depended how hungry I was.

If you could eat any meal right now, what would it be? Would there be a drink to go with it? 

I’m always up for a cup coffee and I’ve never pushed away a pecan pie.

Do you have any big plans for 2013? 

More music, more coffee, more pie. Let me get that door for you…

Shemekia Copeland: Uncorked and Uncovered

 

Artist: Shemekia Copeland

Played at City Winery: September 27, 2012

 

Q&A With City Winery

You have been newly crowned the “Queen of Blues.” Congratulations! How does it feel?

It was a total surprise and an incredible honor, something I try to live up to every time I perform.

You aren’t afraid to perform songs about serious issues and obstacles in life like domestic violence. Are these coming from first hand experience or knowing someone in these situations? Did growing up in NYC, seeing the constant class struggle and disparity have anything to do with your awareness?

I try to perform blues songs, but in a contemporary way. To make blues relevant for young people, especially women. So it makes sense to address issues like domestic violence and financial disparity. I don’t think these issues came out of growing up in NYC. They’re issues we all have in common everywhere, but you’d certainly run into them in NY.

Blues is one of those genres that kind of spreads out into a lot of other genres or at least influences and informs other genres/styles. Given that, is there anything you feel you’d like to do musically that you haven’t done yet?

I want to help this music evolve and grow, to reach young people and get them as excited about the music as I am. I’d like to expand the boundaries of traditional blues. Do a blues samba. A blues in French. New, different, and unexpected explorations.

 

 

Our Big Crush Last Weekend

Close to one-quarter of our entire fall harvest arrived last Saturday. Needless to say, it was a long day for us, but it was also filled with high expectations. We were not disappointed. The grapes arrived in top condition ready to fill our hungry tanks. In the Pinot Noir department, we received grapes from the Bien Nacido vineyards in the Santa Maria Valley and the Bacigalupi vineyards in the Russian River. Petite Syrah and Zinfandel arrived from Lodi as well.

Assistant Winemaker Bill Anton delivered pallet after pallet of grapes to the loading dock where Sikou Nakate and his trusty pallet jack were waiting to lift and pull each one-ton stack to the loading station. In the case of the Petite Syrah, whose clusters tend to run somewhat large compared to other varieties, the stems had to be snipped into smaller pieces so that they would go through the destemmer properly. Working in shifts, the sorting table was kept busy all day long, with only short interruptions in order to move from one tank to the next. Purple hands and sticky fingers were in abundance.

With our second crush of the season now finished, three-quarters of our fermenters are already full.  It is now up to the hard-working yeast cells to transform all that sugary must into wine. We tend to them day and night making sure they complete their important task on schedule. This means regular pump overs, punch downs and temperature regulation. Our lab technicians are busy monitoring the progress and if all goes well, we will start to press and barrel down during the next two weeks. As you can see, timing will be very important so that tanks are available for more crop as it comes in. We are excited about breaking in our new press that will make this process more manageable. Stay tuned for updates.

 

 

World’s Fastest Winery

Last Saturday we had one of our largest crushes ever — 20 tons of grapes! Thanks to our dedicated members, staff and friends, it was processed in record time without a hitch. In fact, they managed to sort the grapes with such precision and care that David’s high standards of winemaking were held in the highest regard. In the time lapse video below, you will see most of the day’s effort compressed into two and a half minutes.

 

The World’s Fastest Winery from Hank S on Vimeo.

 

First Crush of the Season: 2012 Carneros Vineyards

This past Sunday we arrived in the pre-dawn hours for our first crop of the season: 6 tons of Pinot Noir grapes from Carneros. Within the Carneros AVA, these grapes were harvested from two vineyards: Poseidon and Beckstoffer. They were in excellent condition and the sweet aromas made us feel like a part of each vineyard came with them! As a matter of fact, if you closed your eyes on this quiet Sunday morning and felt the warm, bright sun shining on the pallets loaded high with moist grapes, you might have thought you were in the middle of a vineyard.

This delivery was more than just grapes, however. It included our new 5-ton press: we call it the Beast. It will allow us to dramatically increase the amount of grapes we can press in one day. Pressing is actually one of the most time consuming and labor intensive procedures. With our old press, which was quite a bit smaller and not programmable, it would take much longer to press a tank than to fill it with the crush. Below you will find our gallery of photos from the day.

 

The Grapes are Coming! The Grapes are Coming!!

Poseidon Vineyard-Pinot Noir 2012

 

As I sit here at my keyboard in Soho, our first crop of the season is being hand harvested at the Poseidon Vineyard in Napa. These luscious Pinot Noir grapes have reached the point of optimal ripeness and will soon be on their way to City Winery. The small yellow bins that you see above will be stacked high in a refrigerated tractor trailer and covered with a protective blanket of argon gas to retard oxidation. If all goes as planned we will have them in our hands this Sunday! Six tons are expected and will make for a gentle opening to our fall crush (We have been known to crush as many as twenty tons in one day!).

The Poseidon Vineyard, situated in the Carneros AVA at the northern end of San Francisco Bay, was first planted by the Molnar family in 1973 where the cooling winds from the Pacific temper the summer heat. This maritime climate is ideal for growing Pinot Noir grapes so that they ripen slowly and develop phenolic ripeness at the same time as sugar ripeness. Phenolics are a vast group of organic compounds that are responsible for the color, tannins and complex flavors found in wine. Over the years, the quality of this vineyard has been so remarkable that many of the big names in Napa purchase grapes from it, including Joseph Phelps, Heitz Cellars, Sterling, Pride Mountain, Acacia, and Mumm (The PinotFile, Volume 9, Issue 11, September 11, 2012).

Those of you who read my last post know how busy we have been preparing the winery for the biggest crush of the year. Time is of the essence so that when the grapes arrive they are crushed and placed into fermentation tanks without delay. Today we finished cleaning and reassembling our conveyors and made sure the tanks are fully cleaned and sanitized. As you can see below, these are big tanks (6,500 liters or 1,717 gallons) and require a person to actually get inside to do the job thoroughly.

Sikou Nakate preparing to clean one of the 6500 liter fermenters

 

Cleaning a stainless steel fermenter in preparation for Sunday’s crush

 

Work schedules are being drawn up and provisions made to have the fermenting juice, pulp, and skins, aka the must, attended every day from early morning to late at night. For the next two weeks or so, it will be like incubating very precious farm eggs: keeping the temperature just right, making sure there is proper ventilation (or circulation in this case), and constantly monitoring the development. And this is only the beginning of what we hope will be our most phenomenal harvest to date!

 

ALL HANDS ON DECK! Preparing for the 2012 Fall Crush

As August draws to a close here at City Winery, word is arriving that our fall crop is going to be extraordinary this year. The growing season in California has been nearly ideal so we are expecting to have our fermenters filled to capacity in the next few weeks. Crushing up to one hundred tons of grapes takes a lot of blood, sweat and tears so we reach out to many of our staff, members and friends to pitch in. In other words: ALL HANDS ON DECK!

The work itself is quite exhilarating for those who appreciate the art of winemaking. Seeing the freshly picked grapes as they arrive opens a new window into the enjoyment of wine. Suddenly you make a direct connection between these luscious, aromatic fruit and the flavors that make wine such a distinct and delightful experience. Tasting a Pinot Noir grape and comparing that to a fresh Cabernet Sauvignon grape immediately reveals the source of their differences. The Pinot Noir’s bracing acidity and crispness contrasts with the thicker-skinned Cabernet Sauvignon grape that is rich and chewy.

But the real miracle is to witness the transformation from juice to wine. The combination of crushed grapes and juice, known as the must, begins it’s metamorphosis as a beautifully sweet and intensely flavored mixture. As the yeasts begin their work, the sugars are replaced with a complex variety of compounds that add a wide range of new tastes and aromas. Gradually the must becomes more wine-like over the roughly two-week fermentation process. During this period, the must is tasted and analyzed twice a day in our lab. Adjustments are made in order to insure the best possible outcome.

The preparations for the crush are moving into high gear. The fermenters need to be thoroughly inspected and cleaned, as do all the conveyors, destemming machine and sorting tables. Pumps, hoses and fittings are being put in order for managing the must. New barrels are being acquired and must be tested for leaks and other imperfections. Existing barrels are undergoing a thorough inspection, then washed and set in racks for receiving new wine. Our basket press will be taken out of storage and similarly prepped. Once a crush begins, there are no timeouts, so everything must be in near perfect working order. In the event of an equipment failure, we review our backup procedures. As they say, “Hope for the best and prepare for the worst” is the order of the day.

The winery is a hub of great activity and anticipation as we strive to improve every aspect of vinification each harvest. David Lecomte, our head winemaker, is never satisfied with just maintaining the status quo, no matter how diligent. We have been upgrading and intensifying our laboratory analyses with new staff and protocols. This will allow David to prevent or more quickly correct any must issues before they cause a wine fault. A week ago we received a new bottling machine that will allow us to substantially increase our capacity. This is important for the harvest because it will free up barrels and rack space as the aged wine can be put into bottles more quickly.

September marks a new beginning for City Winery with its sister facility in Chicago now open and ready for its first harvest. Together we watch the ripening grapes in California, Oregon, Washington and elsewhere with renewed excitement. With our combined knowledge and experience, this fall offers us an opportunity to make the best City Winery vintage yet.

CHEERS!

Malbec Crush Video: May 10, 2012

 

This was a very exciting day for all of us here at City Winery. We reached out to many of our good friends and staff to mobilize for the arrival of twenty tons of Malbec grapes from Argentina. This is the most labor intensive aspect of winemaking, and it was “all hands on deck.” Even those not directly involved in the effort came to watch and photograph. It seems that there is something alluring, almost mysterious about seeing fresh grapes transformed from a simple ripe fruit into a product that many regard as a work of art. The draw is even more intense because of the location: right in the heart of New York City!

In this video, you will see the tractor-trailer arrive with its precious cargo, followed by David Lecomte, our head winemaker, doing a quick inspection before the first pallet is removed by forklift. Some of the pallets had to be restacked for greater stability. Once they are placed inside the winery, the grapes are unboxed and loaded onto a conveyor to the destemming machine. There is some interesting slow-motion footage of the destemmer in action. From there the grapes travel onto the sorting table and any remaining pieces of leaves and stems are removed. You will see the whole process taking place for both the kosher and non-kosher wines.

Finally, as the grapes begin to ferment in stainless steel tanks, there is the first of many “punchdowns” of the cap after about four days to ensure an adequate extraction of flavor and color from the grape skins. The fermenting juice and skins, called the “must”, undergoes a schedule of multiple “pump overs” every day to further aid extraction, mixing and to aerate the yeasts that need oxygen to thrive. It is no wonder that the making of a fine Malbec, or any wine for that matter, requires intense labor and attentive nurturing.

Note:  For the highest quality video, please view on YouTube and select 1080p from the settings menu (gear icon)

 

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