Sonoma Wineries Are Using Music to Ferment Their Wines

Some of the music local wine grapes are currently into: Beethoven, Beatles, John Coltrane, Van Halen, Dio and bagpipe tunes.

This harvest season, as he’s done every year for more than three decades, winemaker Greg La Follette will take a deep breath and blow into his bagpipes, serenading the grapes as they arrive for crush.

“I believe that wine reacts to the vibrations in music,” he says, referring to an American Journal of Enology and Viticulture study that analyzed the effects of different music genres on the fermentation process. “The heavy metal was tragic; the fermentation actually died. The Muzak worked as well as the control group. And the classical music — that fermentation performed the best.”

The magical union of wine and song has been time-tested for centuries, from traveling minstrels toting bota bags to the latest Bottle Rock festival. But some wineries are taking it a step further, experimenting with the effects of Beethoven or Miles Davis on the wine.

If only Beethoven would have known, he could have composed an Ode to Vino.

At Manzanita Creek Winery in Healdsburg, the barrels go to bed with classical music and jazz every night.

“The wines don’t like to be alone,” says owner Jack Salerno Sr. “They can’t see, but they can hear. I’m not a druid by any means, but it just seems that it helps the wine.”

Salerno was initially inspired by veteran winemaker Tom Montgomery, who cued up Van Halen one late harvest night over a decade ago as dry ice in Pinot Noir bins fueled a pink mist that rolled out of the winery and down the driveway.

After installing a state-of-the-art sound system, Salerno now prefers John Coltrane and Yo-Yo Ma to Eddie Van Halen. But that can change during harvest, when his son, cellar master Vincent Salerno, plays mostly metal deep into the night, falling back on classics like Dio as well as the latest “screamo” bands.

Likewise, a typical day at La Follette’s Alquimista Cellars might start out with Gregorian chants in the morning and turn to Puccini’s “Tosca” by midday, before giving way to the Beatles or Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band, and maybe a little reggae to wind down.

“Beyond the vibrations, it’s about the people involved getting enthused,” La Follette says. “A lot of winemaking is about having the right environment for making the wine. I always make sure I have a good sound system wherever I make wine.”