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Wine, Whiskey and Songwriting: Q&A with Chris Thile

The Grammy-winning mandolin virtuoso of Punch Brothers plays for Champagne and Vintage Port

Nathan Wesley
Posted: August 24, 2010

Coming off of the popular success of his previous band, Nickel Creek, which earned a 2003 Grammy for Best Contemporary Folk Album for This Side, mandolin player and singer and songwriter Chris Thile formed the critically acclaimed quintet Punch Brothers in 2008. This summer they released their sophomore effort, Antifogmatic. While its popular hit "Rye Whiskey" is a nod to the resurging cocktail culture, Thile is just as comfortable with a glass of wine in hand when the occasion calls for it.

Wine Spectator: Is there ever a time and place while on tour for a glass of wine?
Chris Thile: Absolutely. One of the great parts of my life is the travel and it's also one of the worst parts of my life. I meet all of these wonderful people that I don't actually get to know that well because of time constraints. You meet a great person at a festival, but the thing is you haven't seen him for a year and you need to get the conversation started. And it needs to get into a deep place because you have a couple hours before you go to bed and are off to the next town. That's the time for a great bottle of wine. That gets you talking.

WS: You're friends with Daniel Baron, the winemaker for Silver Oak. How did you two meet?
CT: It's a nice thing that Daniel happens to be a mandolin player. We met at Jazz Fest in New Orleans. Nickel Creek had played a show. A very unassuming fellow with a funny straw hat came up and said, "I really loved your show. It was just great." He handed me his card and I saw the Silver Oak logo. I said to him, "You make Silver Oak Cabernet?" because I [thought] maybe he puts the corks in or something like that. And he said, "Yeah, I make the wine there." And I was mouth on the floor, Tex Avery-style. He’s a lovely fellow, even without a bottle of wine.

WS: Last year you played a concert at Blackberry Farms, which has a 6,000-selection wine list. Did you drink any wine while you were there?
CT: Oh, god, did I ever. They were having a gathering with Thomas Keller as a guest. I played a couple of tunes after dinner. Sam Beall, the proprietor, started us off with magnums of '79 Krug and then we went to great old vintages of Chassagne-Montrachet. Later in the evening I had a '63 Bordeaux and we got into some incredible Burgundies, I think again from '60s, perfectly preserved, not a trace of vinegar. The next day, after a more official performance, one of the guests brought over a little tumbler full of this beautiful Port from 1927, set it right next to my microphone and said, "This is for you if you can play that song you played the other night." And the song was played promptly.

WS: Is there one wine that's the most memorable for you?
CT: One of the most memorable bottles I've ever had was from California. I'm usually one to shy away from the California wine because I want to taste the dirt and I usually get more fruit in Californian wines. At that Blackberry meal two of the big wineries that were present were Screaming Eagle and Harlan Estate. The Harlan Estate Cab that we had at the end is one of the best bottles of wine I've ever had in my life. I want to say it was a '95. It's also a great wine coupled with momentous social experience. I always remember those experiences the most fondly.

Barend Weijdom
Portugal —  August 26, 2010 6:30am ET
We like is music here too. I'll save a bottle of Dow's 2007 Vintage for him if he ever decides to come to Portual.
Gerald Schroeder
Orange, CA. USA —  August 31, 2010 12:37pm ET
My wife and I recently heard the band when you opened for Steve Martin
at his concert in Sun Valley, Idaho. I'd heard you before on the radio, etc, but in person, very, very tight and creative. Congratulations...it was a real pleasure. I'm a jazz pianist, living in Southern California, and can really appreciate the musicianship that goes into your performances.

Re wine; It's always fun to hear what "celebrities" drink when they have been bitten by the wine bug. I belong to several wine tasting groups, (my favorite is highly informal, but incredibly educational),some of whom have great cellars, so I also get to taste older wines, especially from Bordeaux. There's never been a better time to be a consumer of Fine Wines, as prices are low, and there's LOTS of great juice from all over the world. Right now I'm especially enjoying wonderful "new" whites from various countries. My 2 favorites this summer are Albarino from Spain, and Chenin Blanc's from South Africa (Mulderbosch!!).
Continued success, in music and wine. Hope to hear you again soon.
Sincerely, Gerry Schroeder

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