Jenny Lewis has always been big on collaboration. Starting out as a child actor, she later made a name for herself in the music world as front woman for the beloved 2000s indie rock band Rilo Kiley. As a solo act and bona fide indie doyenne, she consistently works with other artists to make music: Her latest album, On the Line, released in March, features rock greats like Ringo Starr, Beck, Jim Keltner and Benmont Tench of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.
It's fitting that someone who plays so well with others would also find ways to creatively collaborate in wine, another of her passions. Starting in 2014, Lewis and her "wine mentor," Los Angeles wine-shop owner Jill Bernheimer, began working with different winemakers to put out limited-edition wines to celebrate her album releases. The first venture—a red blend for her 2014 album, The Voyager—was made in partnership with Berkeley, Calif., urban winery Broc Cellars. In 2016, Lewis teamed with La Clarine Farm in the Sierra Nevada Foothills to make a Syrah for the 10th anniversary of her 2006 album Rabbit Fur Coat.
For On the Line, Lewis and Bernheimer ventured outside of Lewis' native California, tapping Beaujolais vintners Gerard Belaid and Philippe Jambon to produce 30 cases of a Gamay appropriately called "On the Vine." Available in June at Domaine LA, Bernheimer's brick-and-mortar wine shop and online store, the wine was made from organically farmed fruit and without additives such as sulfites—satisfying Lewis' desire to offer her fans a "natural" wine.
Lewis spoke with Wine Spectator assistant editor Lexi Williams about her latest collaboration, drinking wine at the deli, why she loves the Loire, and which wines qualify as "indie," "punk" or "funky" (and whether that's a good thing or not).
Wine Spectator: What sparked the idea to release wines to go with your albums?
Jenny Lewis: Well, as a fan of wine, I thought it would be cool to make something for my fans to introduce them to natural wine.
WS: Have you always been a fan of natural wine, specifically?
JL: Well, I guess Manischewitz was the starting point, at the Seder [laughs]. And then from there, I think honestly it began with Bordeaux. There's a wine shop in L.A. called Greenblatt's—it's also a deli and it's open 24 hours—and they pour really great wines by the glass. And I think Bordeaux was the first thing that I learned. I'd found something that I knew how to identify, and I liked it, and it was relatively consistent—wherever I was traveling, I could get a decent Bordeaux.
And then from there, I really got into natural wine through a friend of mine from New York who was a big wine collector. I remember we had a conversation about natural wine, and I was like, "What is natural wine?" He explained it to me, and I was like, "Wow, this feels like indie rock. I'd like to learn more about this."
WS: What are your wine tastes like now?
JL: I drink pretty much exclusively natural wine. And I know the natural [wine] conversation is a big one: What is organic? What is biodynamic? What is natural? Just the idea that you put the fruit in the barrel and it kind of does its thing—that agrees with my body chemistry.
Loire—that was my introduction to natural wine, and that's where I like to hang out. I've never been to the Loire Valley; that's the one place that I want to go to in the world. Nowhere else, just the Loire Valley.
WS: How did the partnership with Gerard Belaid and Philippe Jambon come about?
JL: My wine angel and mentor is Jill Bernheimer. She reached out [to them]. We've done these three collaborations together, and I've learned so much about wine from her.
Jill knows a lot about my palate, because I've bought a lot of wine from her over the years—like, cases and cases. We chose something based on our knowing each other and her understanding of my palate, and also what people actually want to drink. We had a couple choices, and one was way funkier. Although I do enjoy that end of the spectrum, I wanted something that was a better gateway natural wine, and I think Gamay was the perfect introduction. We don't want to scare people.
WS: But you like the funkier natural wines?
JL: I would say funky is a characteristic, but not every natural wine is funky. But there is kind of a funkified part of the spectrum that sometimes is too funky for me. I don't want to drink something that tastes "off." But I think that there's this really beautiful place in the middle, where there are no additives, the alcohol content is a little lower, it's not too funky, it's not too fruit-forward, but it's just like this extremely quaffable drink that's like several klicks away from kombucha.
WS: Do you have any philosophies about wine?
JL: I would never tell anyone what they should drink or enjoy. That's why wine is so interesting. The language in describing the palate and embracing what you like. And talking to other people about that. It's so fun.
WS: Is that how you feel about music, too?
JL: Yes, exactly. And the natural wine vineyards are, like, punk rock. And the winemakers are all such interesting, unique people. I'm really into the culture of that. It just feels punk!
WS: Is there a lot of wine on the indie scene?
JL: There is more and more on the scene. There are more and more natural wine bars that are opening up. James Murphy from LCD Soundsystem opened up a wine bar; he's a natural wine enthusiast. Eric Wareheim, from Tim and Eric—big natural wine guy. They are some wine fans out there. I feel like I'm usually the only one who has a bottle of semi-funky natural wine, and I'm like, "Hey everybody, come try this," and not everybody's into it, but they'll drink it anyway, if it's backstage.
WS: Do you think you'll become more deeply involved in the wine world?
JL: I mean, I'd certainly like to learn more. I'm already in, so I may as well learn some techniques. I'm not interested in the business aspect of it, necessarily; more just, you know, having access to more wines.
WS: And access to the Loire Valley!
JL: And the Loire Valley—oh wow, maybe one day I'll go there on a romantic trip! [laughs]