Winery concerts: A triumph of all the senses

What does Robert Mondavi Winery in Napa, California, Chateau St. Michelle in Washington State, Leeuwin Estate in Margaret River, South Australia and Villa Maria Winery in Auckland, New Zealand have in common? Other than the obvious high quality wines, all these wineries are also proud hosts to much anticipated annual summer winery concerts in their respective cities. Winery concert as a concept basically brings wine, food and music in the idyllic backdrop of vineyards during summer. It is an amazing treat to all our senses.

The pioneer among these winery concerts would probably be the Robert Mondavi Winery, which started the first summer winery concert as early as 1969. The winery concerts of Robert Mondavi Winery have been renowned for symphony, jazz, R&B and even Pop music for over four decades now. Robert Mondavi, the man synonymous to Napa wines started this concert series with the Napa Valley Symphony Orchestra on its inaugural year. But since then, the lineup of musical performers became very diverse to encompass all musical genre, they included A-list names Tony Bennett, Gladys Knight, Olivia Newton-John, Dionne Warwick, Julio Iglesias, Smokey Robinson, Tears for Fears, Herbie Hancock, to the more recent hitmakers like Natasha Bedingfield, Josh Groban and Plain White Ts. The last Mondavi concerts, just June 2013 featured 80s icons, Huey Lewis and the News and Bruce Hornsby among others.

The Villa Maria Botrytis
Riesling is one of the
several wines available
in the concert

In Washington State, the largest winery of the region, Chateau St. Michelle started their winery concert tradition in 1984. The event is now one of Seattle’s best known concert venues for top performing artists. In Western Australia, Leeuwin Estate owner Denis Horgan started the Leeuwin concert series in his Margaret River vineyard in 1985. And just last February 15 and 16, the multi-Grammy awarded Canadian singer-songwriter superstar Diana Krall was the headline of Leeuwin Estate’s 30th anniversary concert.

The same time as the Diana Krall concert at Leeuwin Estate, I was in the Villa Maria Winery in Auckland New Zealand for the 8th Classic Hits Winery Tour, Auckland leg. The Classic Hits Winery Tour brings local New Zealand singing talents to different winery venues, showcasing the unparalleled synergy of wine, food, entertainment and the natural scenic beauty of the vineyards. This year’s Classic Hits Winery Tour had a great ensemble, featuring the talents of NZ legendary band, The Exponents, pop superstar Stan Walker and the Breaks Co-Op. The Villa Maria Auckland Winery is just one of the 16 winery venues across all of New Zealand wine country to host these concerts this summer of 2014.

First-hand experience

Yours truly with Sir
George Fistonich,
founder and chief
executive officer of
Villa Maria Winery

I was very thankful to Ian Clark and the rest of Villa Maria management for giving me a VIP access to the concert. This VIP access allowed me to join local wine media people and Villa Maria executives at the Vineyard Café, complete with free-flowing wines, and a sumptuous dinner buffet, while seating comfortably outdoor al fresco within earshot of the ongoing music and a periphery view of the concert stage. The general public on the other hand were seated outdoors on grassed areas, and asked to bring their own blankets and chairs. The concert started promptly at 5:00pm, with the group Breaks Co-Op, followed by the very popular Stan Walker, and for the finale, at around 8:00pm, The Exponents of vocalist Jordan Luck. This was the time most of us at the Vineyard Café decided to go closer to the concert stage to listen to this local phenomenal band. I was told that The Exponents were huge since the 1980s, and have several hits that were considered NZ anthems. And I was not disappointed at all. This band was very good, and reminded me a bit of INXS in the early days.

Among the songs that still ring in my head are: "Victoria," "Your Best Friend Loves Me Too," and "I’ll Say Goodbye Even Though I’m Blue." I could swear everyone in the venue knew the songs of The Exponents by heart - a testimony to the immense popularity of this band. I cannot help but also join in the singing of the chorus. The beats were catchy, the vocal was very good, and the lyrics were quite simple and very easy to remember.

Classic hits winery tour in Villa Maria
Auckland Winery

I had a blast! And despite a crazy traffic mayhem after the concert in most of Auckland—also due to rap superstar Eminem’s sold-out concert and a National Rugby League game, both also coincidentally happening at the same February 15 Saturday evening, I left the concert still humming the Exponents lyrics …. Darling…. I’ll say goodbye… even though I’m blue ….. even though I’m blue…

Several of the Villa Maria wines from several NZ wine regions are available in the Philippines through the local exclusive distributor, Wine Depot. For more information, please call the Wine Depot hotline at (02)890-1041 or visit their website at

For comments, inquiries, wine event coverage, wine consultancy and other wine related concerns, please e-mail me at I am a proud member of the Federation Internationale des Journalists et Ecrivains du Vin et des Spiritueux or FIJEV since 2010. You can also follow me on twitter at



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