(and Violin) Veritas
Story by Mark Stock / Photography by Andrea Johnson
Without music, life would be a mistake,” Nietzsche once said. Whether or not the great philosopher was enjoying a Riesling from his native Germany when he said it is unknown; but, given the transformative qualities inherent in certain wines, the chances are pretty good.
Quite simply, wine and music share an almost sacred bond. The Romans, who specialized in pleasure, insisted that the two be in tandem. Royal European families throughout the Renaissance could not bear one without the other and sipped heady reds to the tune of a harpsichord. Tasters of today continue the tradition, stuck on the extrasensory combination of structured sound and structured flavor.
The best pairing may be classical music and wine. The two sides share an age-old affinity for elegance, finesse and nuance. A mutual dependence draws them tighter still. Another large unknown is the precise number of good wines or good songs that were directly inspired by their cultured counterpart. Again, the chances are good that the percentage is high.
Portland’s Aaron Meyer can’t seem to separate the two. The classically trained violinist has created records specifically about and encouraged by fine wine. His 2009 release “Warming Up” includes tracks written from WillaKenzie Estate, where Meyer used undulating estate vineyards as his muse. The record is written about and for the wine enthusiast, drenched in warm, graceful melodies.
While Meyer often dons the black tie when playing his violin, he is, for clarity’s sake, a concert rock violinist. Track 11 on “Warming Up” is Led Zeppelin’s “Bron-Yr-Aur,” a folky instrumental that sways like a Burgundy. His favorite artists — in addition to Brahms and Beethoven — include the Beatles and the Grateful Dead. Such eclectic tastes drove Meyer straight towards Oregon Pinot Noir.
“I think wine and music go hand in hand,” Meyer said. “The beauty in the flavors and scents of the wine are the audio counterpart of good music.”
“Oregon Pinot is so rich and flavorful,” Meyer continued. “Drinking a great glass of wine can tell a story just like music can tell a story.”
Meyer plays at many wine festivals and winemaker’s dinners. He’s partnered with a limousine service that features both his favorite wineries as well as his own music. His tours include hand-picked bottles of his favorite local labels and private concerts along the way. His personal cellar is stocked with Oregon wines — the natural byproduct of a father Meyer considers a “psychotic wine collector.”
While Meyer was learning how to play the violin in Philadelphia as a child, his father was cellaring first-growth French wines. A half dozen of his friends would gather around the kitchen table and discuss the merits of early ’80s European vintages. “The conversation was only about the wine,” Meyer recalled.
Meyer moved into wine later in life, thanks in part to the nationally recognized ¡Salud! wine auction. He was amazed by the generosity and close-knit culture of the industry there, rubbing elbows with the likes of Ken Wright and Laurent Montalieu.
“Meeting the people who make the wine, sell it, make it happen is just as interesting as the wine itself,” Meyer said. He’s been donating and sometimes performing at the event ever since.
Meyer is now hooked and spreads the love with wine tasters — he takes them to the places where he learned to love Oregon wine. He particularly likes the barrel room at WillaKenzie, for example, which has unusual acoustics because of its cement walls. “The natural reverb is amazing and makes the violin soar.”
Considering that it’s just as likely Meyer will play an impromptu set among the vines at Stoller for his tasters, it is clear where he derives his musical power. For an artist who admits to always having a tune playing in his head, Oregon wine country speaks equally loud.
Like wine, music changes over time. Meyer is currently collaborating with members of the Oregon Symphony on a new album due out sometime this summer. A deviation from his traditional solo work, “Two Sides to This Story” will be wine-like in its depth of color and texture, according to Meyer. Furthermore, individual tracks are pliable and he enjoys tweaking them differently each time he plays them. One could remark similarly about a single wine tasted during different occasions.
The world of music has paired Meyer with some interesting people. He’s opened his violin case for Everclear, Pink Martini, Tim Ellis, even the Dalai Lama when he graced Portland in 2001. But a Smokey Robinson show continues to steal his memory. Meyer backed up the King of Motown a few years back and was struck by his youthful zest. “He was well into his 60s and he performed as if he was performing for the first time in his life,” Meyer recalled.
Travel has also occupied much of Meyer’s life. He lived in Cambodia and Thailand for six months in the mid-’90s and continues to hear Asia’s siren song. Yet, with his favorite wine region, Willamette Valley, Meyer struggles to imagine life anywhere else. “We [Portlanders] are proud of where we come from,” Meyer said.
Examined from afar, Meyer is one of many musicians who credit wine, at least in part, for some of their abilities. A closer examination shows an artist feeding off of his domain, literally and figuratively. And when that domain happens to include some of the most talked-about wine on planet Earth, art compounds to create a separate identity within itself.
The same phenomenon exists in Oregon vineyards, when you sample a wine grown within hearing distance of the tasting room. There, chances are good you’ll hear that incessant riff that plays in Aaron Meyer’s head. What you do with it is entirely up to you.
Mark Stock, a Gonzaga grad, is a Portland-based freelance writer and photographer with a knack for all things Oregon.