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Wine Train

Jimmy Stafford talks about "Drops of Jupiter."


What do Grammy-winning band Train and the Livermore Valley have in common? Well, wine. The San Francisco–based rockers and budding wine aficionados teamed up with Livermore’s Underdog Wine Merchants on a new label. The first vintage, a fruit-forward 2009 Petite Sirah named after the band’s hit song “Drops of Jupiter,” was released in July. Says guitarist Jimmy Stafford on the new project: "I think music and wine have always gone together."

Go to savemesfwineco.com for info.


Exclusive Q&A with Jimmy Stafford from Train

Diablo: How did you get started in wine?

Mark Holthusen

Jimmy Stafford: Probably no different than you. I like wine and I like to drink it before a show: I’m a mellow personality I guess, so I like the effect that a glass of wine has on me before I go on stage. To drink a beer or two, you just go on stage feeling a little bloated, you know? So I started drinking a glass of wine before I went on stage, that’s kind of my thing, my pre-show routine. We’ve all got our routines to get our head in the game and get ready to get out there every night and that’s part of my thing.

So there were always a few bottles of wine in the dressing room every night and I started posting photos of some of the better wines on the Train website and on my Facebook page, and then our management had the idea to start our own little wine website, so we started the Train fanclub site. I started posting pictures and blogs and it kind of just grew from there: as more people signed up then management said ‘hey. Maybe we should start offering a wine of the month and then actually start a paid club where people receive a couple bottles every month.' And before long, they were talking that maybe we should have our own bottle of wine. So it kind of just naturally morphed into this thing, it was never part of some master plan, and now the wine is doing so well. It’s only been out for about a week, but I know we sold like 1,000 bottles each of the first few days. People seem to be really enjoying it. We played the Hollywood Bowl the other night, and they were selling our wine at this one vendor station at the Bowl and I guess there were 100 people in line all night long to get the wine—it’s crazy!

So now it’s all of the sudden growing into, ‘well now we need a Chardonnay and now we’re going to need a Merlot.’ It’s kind of funny because now I’m being asked to do all these wine interviews and my name is on the bottle and everyone thinks I know all this stuff about wine but I really don’t. Even when I went in to choose the blend for the Petite Syrah, they have professionals that do that stuff. They had like six choices for me, but I didn’t know anything about it, I just sat there and tasted them all and went: ‘I like that one.’ That’s about as far as my knowledge goes: I know what I like and I liked that one. I’m a guitar player, you know?

Do you think you’ve introduced a lot of people to wine through Train or do you think your fans were already into it?

You know, it's both. There are people who actually know wine and they got on the website and actually ask serious wine questions so I defer to the serious wine guy at our management company to answer those. And then there are fans, who are just Train fans, who are like ‘hey, we have to get a bottle of the Train wine.’ Like my parents for example. They’re not wine drinkers, but my mom bought a case of Drops of Jupiter wine and they opened a bottle the other night, their first bottle, and they actually really enjoyed it. So who knows: maybe dad will put the Budweiser aside and switch to red wine.

So how did you hook up with Underdog Wine Merchants and Concannon in the Livermore Valley?

Management had a lot to do with that, because all of this happened during a world tour for the Save me San Francisco album, which we’re currently on right now—I’m talking to you from Albuquerque, New Mexico and we have a sold-out show tonight. So all this stuff is going on while I was on tour: I mean we’ve been everywhere, we were in Europe and Australia and South America. So I come back to the States and they have taken meetings with different wine companies and suggested this to me. We always wanted to keep it a northern California wine and winery, because we’re a San Francisco band and it just kind of made sense. So when I got home to the United States, and was headed to Oakland for a show, they wanted me to come out to this winery and meet with all the people out there. Our management believed that they shared our vision for what we were trying to do. So I went and spent a day out in Concannon and I really liked the people  And they just had a nice vision. They wanted to do a classy thing, and we, as band members, have always thought of our band as kind of a class act—we didn’t want to do a silly bottle of wine, we wanted to do something classy and real and good and they shared our vision with all that. Plus, it’s an East Bay winery, a beautiful place; it just seemed like a really good fit.

What did you want your wine to be like?

You know, I really liked Coppola winery when they first came out and how they grew. When that first came out it was a very reasonably priced bottle of wine and then as the popularity grew along with the reputation of the wine and the quality, they upped the price, and now it’s a pretty well respected bottle of wine. I kind of wanted to follow in their footsteps a little bit.

It’s weird because with me not being a sommelier, I buy wine like I think a lot of consumers do: I walk into a store and I’m looking at a certain price point, and unless I’m really trying to impress somebody or have really nice company coming over, my generally price point is, you know, $10, $15, $20 bottle of wine. And then I look at the label. I kind of look down the row and say OK, I’m in the $15 range and I go ‘oh look at that, that label is kind of interesting,' and then I’ll pick it up and read about it. I wanted that to happen with our wine. Let’s not put it in with the really cheap wines—we don’t want it in with the boxed wines—but I wanted to keep it in the $10, $15 range and have a label that was catchy enough and classy enough to where someone would want to pick it up and read about it.

Are there any similarities between picking a wine label and picking an album cover?

Yes, for us there were. That was actually an interesting turning point, because up until the wine label, the other bands members hadn’t been involved. But when the wine label came up, they became very involved and wanted the label to fit into the band’s image—to have similar tones and a similar vibe to our albums and posters in that past—so suddenly we had a few more cooks in the kitchen [laughs]. But it was okay, we went back and forth. The winery had been doing such a good job with everything and I was so excited to see it come together that when they sent the first draft of labels I thought they looked awesome… and the other guys were like, ‘no, that doesn’t look like our band.’ So we had to get through that but that’s kind of the fun of being in a band, you get to work together and compromise and come out with hopefully the best idea in the end.

And why Petite Syrah?

To be honest, originally we were just going to call it a red blend, but apparently if it has a certain percentage of a certain grape it can be called a Petite Syrah and the one bottle I chose—I think it was bottle B—happened to have the right percentage for it to be called Petite Syrah so we called it that. But it wasn’t our intent.

Do you think you’ve become more knowledgeable about wine through this whole process?

No [laughs]. You know, I really need to. I’m kind of learning a little bit, just doing so many interviews about it, and it’s actually become a talking point in every interview we do, radio, television, whatever: we always get asked about it. And when we do get asked about it, the question is always directed to me. So, I’ve learned how to beat around the bush, and kind of sound like I know what I’m doing.

I’ve had some wine tasting events: we headlined the VH1 Rock Cruise this year and they had a whole wine tasting event that people had to buy extra tickets for and it sold out and I was the host! And I had to go into this thing and actually talk wine to people who really knew about wine, and I was scared to death. I’m a guitar player, you know; I’m fine getting up on stage and playing with my band, but getting up on stage with a microphone and having to talk about wine was interesting. I didn’t really have anything prepared, but I actually got up there and told everybody the truth and told them some funny stories and it turned out really nice and we had a good time. I’ve learned that people appreciate the honesty: I don’t claim to be doing this on my own or to know what I’m doing: I have really good people surrounding me and helping me with this. And the band does in general, we just have really good people around us helping us along the way. I kind of leave the technical stuff to the people who know what they’re talking about.

That being said, can you offer any pairing recommendations for your wine?

The first day that I opened this wine at home, they sent me taste number one, along with a film dude: they wanted to document me receiving the first bottle of wine produced at home and film me opening the first bottle for a youtube promo thing. We were grilling out with a friend of mine and we were cooking some salmon and scallops and we had some steak kabobs, and we sat down and opened up this bottle of wine and let it breath for about 20 minutes. And I was really relieved, because I hadn’t tasted it since I was at the winery and I was just like ‘please, let this still taste good to me like it did on that day.’ I would have been really bummed if I had just been like pfffew [laughs]. Although that would have made for a really funny video if I had done that.

But I was really relived when I tasted it, I was like ‘this is really good, I’m so happy with it and so proud of it.’ And it went so well with our food and we ended up having a really great night, I think we drank like three bottles, me and the three friends I had over, and we just had a really nice time and they enjoyed the wine. And I’ve had it on its own before a show where I just have a glass. I do find that it’s better to let this particular wine breath a little bit. If you just open it right up, it’s just a little overbearing at first, but if you let it sit for a few minutes it all settles into place and it’s really super nice, I’m very proud of it.

Will there be more wines coming out?

Yes. I’ve already chosen the Chardonnay blend and that’s going to be released in October and it’s going to be called “Calling all Angels” after another one of our songs—just another one of our smash hits [laughs]! And then I think we have plans to also make a Merlot, which is a lyric in our current single “Save me San Francisco,” the title track in our new album. There’s a line in there about Alcatraz and ‘at least they’ll have a hella’ fine Merlot,’ so we plan on having a “Hella Fine Merlot.”

Are you looking forward to coming back to the East Bay for your Concord show [at the Sleep Train Pavilion on September 15]?

You know I really hope I get a chance to go back to the winery but you never know. Like today at Albuquerque, I thought I would have had time to go golfing or something but I’ve had one of my busier days with interviews, so I just never know until I see what’s on the schedule two days before. But if I have an open schedule I’m going over to that winery, it’s a really beautiful winery—I had no idea it was out there and I lived in the Bay Area for six years. It’s a beautiful little town and I’d love to go over there with some friends of mine and have lunch and have a bottle of wine and make it back to the venue.

Do you find there are similarities between music and wine?

Yeah. I think that music and wine have always gone together. I used to go to the Hollywood Bowl and pay $8 to go sit way up on top to watch the Philharmonic play. And you can bring wine and picnic baskets in, so I used to go in with a bottle of wine and picnic and it was just such a nice thing to do to sit and watch a concert and have a bottle of wine. And I think that’s the kind of crowd we appeal to—you know, we’re not a Jack Daniels crowd, we’re not a tequila crowd like Sammy Hagar. I think if you’re going to associate Train with a beverage, it’s probably wine. We tend to appeal to a more adult crowd, although we’ve crossed over to different age groups with this current album and “Soul Sister” appealing to the kids so much. But we’re still generally an adult rock band and the crowd who we seem to have attracted to our shows for the last 17 years just seem like a wine drinking crowd. So it think it goes well.

And a lot of musicians I’ve met along the way like to have a glass of wine before they go on stage. I’ve become friends with Daryl Hall from Hall & Oates and we did a television show live at Daryl’s house and we did a wine segment on the program, he’s a big wine drinker. And I know other bands that have ventured into the wine industry. The Doobie Brothers have a wine, the Grateful Dead have a wine. I think music and alcohol and drugs have always gone hand-in-hand. And we’ve just never been a big drug-related band, either the members of the band themselves or the crowd that we attract to our shows. We’re just more of a wine band. Wine and Kool-Aid, for the kids [laughs].

Is this something you see yourself continuing to be involved with?

I would love to. I had no idea it would get this far—I just thought it would be a little website to post pictures of wine that I liked on the road. And it’s gotten to where now we’re producing our own wine and we didn’t even think it would even sell. We’re donating a lot of the proceeds to charity: Family House. So, if all of the sudden the wine actually starts doing well and getting distributed to stores all over the country I would love to be involved and keep it going. I think it’s a lot of fun and its something I enjoy doing. And who knows, if the band stops writing hit songs I can always go crush grapes with my feet.

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