Renowned keyboard musician and composer John Medeski, 43, has traveled the world as a founding member of jazz, funk and jam trio Medeski, Martin and Wood. Born in Kentucky and raised in Florida, Medeski studied at the New England Conservatory in Boston, where he met bassist Chris Wood. The two moved to Brooklyn, N.Y., in 1991 and, along with drummer/percussionist Billy Martin, formed their eponymous trio. The band has toured the world many times over and established its own record label, Indirecto Records, in 2006, after putting out six albums on the Blue Note label. Medeski's first memorable wine experience was as a teenager at a French restaurant in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.—a friend offered him his first taste of Corton-Charlemagne—and his tastes have never stopped evolving.
Wine Spectator: How did you become interested in wine?
John Medeski: In the early 1990s, I spent summers in the south of France. This incredible bass player and I would teach during the day at the Jazz is Toulon festival, and then we'd go back to his hotel and taste wine. What I didn't get at the time was that we were drinking '89 and '90 Bordeaux, which were pretty good years [laughing]. It set a tone. A few years after that, I had an old Burgundy, and that was it. … I have the disease now, and it's dangerous! [Laughing.]
Unfortunately I'm not a millionaire—the kind of music we do isn't on the radio so much, so I live on a working man's income, but highlights for me are 1982 and 1983 La Landonne, which blew my mind. That was one of the first wines that made me cry. Well-aged Barolo kind of rocks me, but that's also in the upper realms of price.
WS: What are your favorite wine regions?
JM: I used to stick mainly to European wines, but I had a breakthrough with American wines about 10 years ago, with a Turley Petite Sirah that made me see the point—the whole California idea—of ripe fruit and what can be done with it. Since then my mind has been opened. I go through waves where I'm really craving the European style, and then I'll go back to California. I'm not really in an Australian wine phase right now, but appreciate what they can offer, especially if they're aged for a while.
WS: How have your tours with the band facilitated your wine education?
JM: Whenever we go to Europe I end up "researching" [laughing]—in Italy and France. It's fun to drink the house wine, but I like to get a level deeper. I've been fortunate to meet some winemakers, people who tend to be into music, art, wine, food. [California Rhône producer] Sean Thackrey comes to our gigs, and then the whole band goes to Bolinas to taste some stuff out of barrel. I love his wines. They have a sort of wildness to them, and he's a wealth of information. Pax Mahle [formerly of Pax Wine Cellars] also comes out to our shows, and some of the guys from Karl Lawrence. … Yves Gangloff in Côte-Rôtie is a guitar player-turned-winemaker and his Condrieus and Côte-Rôties are just incredible. We always try to visit him and taste from some barrels.
WS: How much of a wine collector are you?
JM: I have a room that keeps perfect temperature here [in New York] and I have two friends with basements that store some of my stuff. One is in the Berkshires, and that's stuff that I'm not going to touch for a long time—the [Jean Louis] Chave Hermitage and the Bordeaux. I have a wine fridge at home for the more delicate things. I plan to expand but I'm pulling in the reins right now because I'm buying a new house and I'm not a millionaire, even though I drink like one! [Laughing.] If I had the means, I'd probably have 10,000 bottles—I would be buying every Barolo and all the Burgundies I could.