Huey Lewis, a prince of American airwaves in the 1980s, spent his formative musical years in the ’60s and ’70s Bay Area blues-rock scene. He also spent his formative wine years near the heart of California wine country—but was drinking the great crus of Burgundy and the Rhône Valley as a teenager at the dinner table with his stepmother, Martine Saunier, the importer who made a name introducing Americans to the likes of Henri Jayer and Château Rayas.
Lewis would go on to refine his palate both at home and on tours of Europe with Huey Lewis and the News, which released three Platinum-selling albums in the mid-1980s and the No. 1 hit “The Power of Love,” from 1985’s Back to the Future, eventually selling 30 million records worldwide. In February 2020, the band released Weather, their first album of new music in two decades. It may also be the last: Two years ago, Lewis was diagnosed with an ear condition that has severely impacted his hearing and ability to maintain pitch. But his palate is still attuned as ever. He spoke with associate editor Ben O’Donnell about his ’80s wine adventures with Bruce Springsteen and Bob Geldof, what he pairs with elk now that he lives in Montana, and what Saunier thinks of the Napa Cabernets he now prefers.
Wine Spectator: Going back to the late ’70s and ’80s, what were you, your bandmates and the bands you toured with drinking backstage or after shows?
Huey Lewis: We don’t drink when we perform, because performing is a bit of a marathon, really. It’s two hours long, and you could maybe have a drink and it would be fun for a song or two. But you have to play another 18! But afterward, oftentimes, we’d have a meal. And very often we’d serve a bottle of wine with a meal in the nice places that we played, in the old days. In Europe, especially. Not so much in Cincinnati, you know? [laughs]
Paris comes to mind. We had Bob Geldof and Bruce Springsteen, they came by our show—this is a hundred years ago, this is ’89 maybe—and afterward, we all went to dinner and had a fabulous feast until the early hours of the morning. I think that helps everybody’s palate a little bit, those European tours. We upped our taste buds a little bit somehow.
WS: What types of wine do you like to open these days?
HL: I live in Montana most of the year, and we eat a lot of game in Montana. Everybody hunts in Montana; everybody has different kinds of meats. My friends and neighbors have elk, and I think elk might be the best meat in the world. Not lean and not gamy at all, and just fabulous. And nothing goes better with game than wine. I developed a taste for the big, thick California Cabs from where I come from, the Napa Valley. A lot of people up there do a really great job. There’s the Caymus people and Silver Oak and Paradigm and all the little ones as well.
With an appetizer, I do like a dry Pinot Grigio, for salad or starter. I do [also] like a Negroni now and then, with a really good fruit vermouth like Antica Formula or something like that. I discovered that in New York when I played Billy Flynn in the musical Chicago for a couple stints [in 2005 to 2007]. There was this place right around the corner, and one of our cast members said, “You gotta have their Negroni!”
WS: Unlike many rock stars—and people generally—you actually began trying fine wine early in life, with Martine Saunier of Martine’s Wines. How has that colored your food and wine experience?
HL: Though I went to prep school, when I came home, she would cook. And man, would we eat well every night. I was 15, 16, so I was allowed a glass of wine. And they were all French wines. She taught me how to make duck with peppercorn sauce, carrots and chard, all these things. The amazing thing about Martine is not only is she an expert taster—watching Martine drink a glass of wine is actually more informative than drinking it myself. Because I can tell from her facial expressions whether it’s good or it’s just terrible or it’s interesting. Because she has a different face for every wine. [laughs]
WS: Does Martine like any of the Napa Cabernets you drink?
HL: I know she doesn’t serve any at her house. We always have French wines. The truth is, they’re just different; there is no better or worse. That’s where we get screwed up. It’s like music. I always use food as a metaphor for music. “What kind of music do you like?” Well, there’s foie gras and then there’s a cheeseburger. And you know, they’re both relevant. There’s a time for a cheeseburger and there’s a time for foie gras.