The Grammy-winning band just released the fourth offering in its award-winning California wine line.
By Kelly A. Magyarics
Jimmy Stafford isn’t used to performing live without his pre-show glass or two of red wine.
The guitarist for the Grammy-award winning band Train, whose hits include “Drive By” and “Meet Virginia,” always gets his head in the game with a generous pour of Cab or Merlot. (For the record, he prefers to quench his thirst after concerts with a well-chilled Chardonnay.)
But since Saturday evening’s show took place at the Charles E. Smith Center on the campus of George Washington University—a dry campus—he had to forego his essential touring ritual. “I think this is the first show I’ve ever done where I didn’t drink wine beforehand,” he admitted.
Certainly, Stafford’s forced abstaining didn’t affect the energy of the show. The band performed in front of an enthusiastic, eclectic mix of college students and their middle-
aged parents, with some younger siblings thrown in for good measure. Train barreled through all of its hits, from the ubiquitously popular “Hey, Soul Sister” to the ethereal ballad “Drops of Jupiter,” to the Mariachi-inspired current single “50 Ways to Say Goodbye.” Lead singer Pat Monahan not only gave us his soulful voice for the evening, but also tossed out dozens of signed t-shirts and beach balls; he also graciously posed with fans for cell phone pics and Tweets.
I caught up with Stafford, Monahan and drummer Scott Underwood backstage before their recent show on October 20, part of Colonial Days / Parents’ Weekend at GWU, to chat about their successful wine line “Save Me, San Francisco” (the moniker refers to the name of the band’s 2009 album and single.) Currently, the band produces three reds and a white in collaboration with Concannon Vineyard and winemaker James Foster of The Wine Group.
Stafford and Monahan are fellow wine geeks. (In fact, when I introduced myself before the show as a wine writer, Monahan enthusiastically declared that he’d “be happy to talk the sh*t out of some wine.”) They were adamant about doing it right though, and not resorting to gimmicky, celebrity wines . That philosophy has certainly worked for them: Train’s wines have won gold medals at the San Francisco International Wine Competition, and the Orange County Fair Wine Competition.
Their California 37 is a fruit-forward yet intense Cabernet Sauvignon that reminds Stafford and crew of the wines they used to drink in their early days as a band; the pineapple, buttery and vanilla notes found in Calling All Angels appeals to lovers of supple, luscious Chardonnays; Drops of Jupiter is a Petit Sirah-based blend that is fruity, low in tannins and (in my opinion) works slightly chilled, as you would a Beaujolais.
Train’s latest wine is a varietal bottled Merlot called Hella Fine Merlot, with cherry and chocolate aromas and medium tannins. Stafford told me that the first three Merlots sent to him for approval were too astringently tannic; he went with door number four, a wine that’s approachable, both with and without food. In the Washington, D.C. area, you can buy Save Me San Francisco Wines at Whole Foods Markets. It’s also on the menu at Bonefish Grill, and Ruth’s Chris Steak House.
The band has other wines in the works, including Soul Sister Pinot Noir, and Sweet Rain, a semi-sweet, Moscato-based bottle. Stafford approves not only the wines, but also the names and labels. And they have recently partnered with Ghiradelli Chocolate to produce sweet pairings like Dark Cabernet, Sea Salt Almond and 72% Cacao Dark Chocolate.
A portion of all the proceeds of wine sales (and all the profits from chocolate sales) goes to help Family House, a non-profit guest house in San Francisco that provides temporary housing to families of patients at the UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital.
Kelly Magyarics is a wine and spirits writer, and wine educator, in the Washington, D.C. area. She can be reached through her website, www.kellymagyarics.com, or on www.twitter.com/kmagyarics.