Napa Valley music festivals: I heard it on the grapevine

A crop of music festivals in the Napa Valley is drawing a wider crowd of visitors up to the renowned vineyards of northern California. Gemma Price raises a toast

"Saturday, it's a Saturday!" rouses rapper David Jude Jolicoeur, as he leads the crowd in a hands-in-the-air sway. "Put your hands up if you've heard of us; put your hands up if you haven't heard of us. We're just glad that you're here, having a great time."

It seems that everybody on the packed, sun-drenched lawn does know the trio onstage, even in the quiet Californian wine city of Napa. As De La Soul work their way through a set list of hits including "Me, Myself and I", so do the 80,000 revellers, many of whom are sitting on lawn seats or picnic blankets, nursing plastic tumblers of wine from one of 25 nearby vineyard stalls.

"Any region that has an appreciation of wine and food is surely going to also have an appreciation of music," David Graham, one of BottleRock Festival's organisers, later tells me. "When you add amazing weather, you're cooking with fire."

He's certainly on to something. Located 48 miles north of San Francisco, Napa and its surrounding valley are best known for their award-winning vintners, outstanding eateries and intimate boutique lodgings. But in the past few years, the region has started to offer more than just wine tourism. BottleRock Festival, now in its second year – with a genre-spanning line-up that included Outkast, The Cure and LL Cool J – is just one of many new events aiming to lure a wider audience to wine country.

A Live in the Vineyard event A Live in the Vineyard event It's a tactic that seems to be catching on. This year will be the first time that BR Cohn Winery hosts a summer series – an intimate affair for 200 will be held in its 160-year-old Pichelin olive grove once a month until October – and CEO Dan Cohn says he's hoping to attract a younger crowd. After all, Silicon Valley's flush, twenty- and thirtysomethings are only an hour away.

"After a wine tasting, you're not necessarily ready to go out to dinner – there's a void and I thought a concert would be a great way to fill it," Cohn explains as we stroll through the olive trees that slope away from the property's charming white wooden tasting room – formerly the Cohn family home.

"For this inaugural year, I identified different genres of music that had a pretty good local following; in the future I'd like to get Pink, Katy Perry and Green Day to play." BR Cohn's summer series might be new, but the property is no stranger to hosting musicians. Dan's father and winery founder, Bruce Cohn, managed the Doobie Brothers in the late 1960s and 1970s.

Chris Hall, vice president of Long Meadow Ranch winery, is also leveraging a strong family music background and the property's gorgeous setting. "My father – who started the business – and I are both music fans. I play the sax and he plays trombone. I don't think I've ever done an event without music ," he tells me.

Now in their third year, the Sunday afternoon concerts here attract up to 400 people, many of whom come for lunch or dinner at the impressive farm-to-table restaurant; others bring picnics to enjoy with a bottle of Long Meadow Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon or Sauvignon Blanc on the lawn. "I've had a lot of inspiration growing up here, with the long-running Mondavi concert series and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band on 4 July," Hall noted.

Mondavi's summer gig roster is one of the region's longest-running. It debuted with the Napa Symphony orchestra in 1969 and artists such as Ella Fitzgerald, Blondie and Tony Bennett have performed amid the To Kalon vineyard in subsequent years.

One of Napa's best-known brands, Mondavi made its name in the 1960s: Robert Mondavi's signature 1968 Fumé Blanc remains one of the company's best sellers and the Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve is one of its most celebrated labels. In addition to walk-in tastings, visitors can sign up for signature tours, the highlight of which is at twilight. As the sun sets over the Napa Valley, I join a small group on a stroll through the cool cellar and barrel-ageing rooms before retiring to the Fireplace Room for a tasting of reserve and spotlight wines, with a lavish platter of locally produced artisan cheeses.

Bottle Rock Festival Bottle Rock Festival The next big event is the mid-July Festival del Sole – a gathering of 100 wineries as well as food producers, musicians and dancers, all celebrating the best that wine country has to offer. Vintners' lunches are offered alongside yoga in the vineyards, opera and classical music.

Another key date is the opening concert of the Music in the Vineyards 20th anniversary season, featuring the music of Mendelssohn and Mozart at Clos Pegase on 1 August, followed by four weeks of chamber music at 18 intimate Napa wineries. Some of the concerts take place in wine caves, others in barrel rooms and on terraces – they're not just atmospheric venues; they're also chosen for acoustic quality. And the fun doesn't stop with summer, either – the three-day Live in the Vineyard series offers the chance to win access to private and exclusive acoustic concerts that bring together recording artists, top-tier winemakers and world-renowned chefs in November. I'll drink to that.

Travel Essentials

Getting there

The gateway to the Napa Valley is San Francisco, served from Heathrow by British Airways (0844 493 0787;, Virgin Atlantic (0844 209 7777; and United Airlines (0845 607 6760;

Staying there

Auberge du Soleil, Rutherford (001 707 963 1211; Doubles start at $675 (£421), including breakfast.

Visiting there

BottleRock Festival; 29-31 May, 2015 (

Summer Music Series at BR Cohn Winery; until October (

Sunday afternoon concerts at Long Meadow Ranch; until October (

Mondavi concerts at Robert Mondavi Winery; until 19 July (

Festival del Sole; 11-20 July (

Music in the Vineyards at Clos Pegase; 1-24 August (

Live in the Vineyard; 6-9 November (

More information

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    SFL Group: Video Project Manager

    £24,000 pa, plus benefits: SFL Group: Looking for a hard-working and self-moti...

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel Reservations Assistant - French Speaking

    £16000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This rapidly expanding travel c...

    Recruitment Genius: Duty Manager - World-Famous London Museum

    £24000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Do you have a strong record of ...

    Recruitment Genius: Personal Assistant

    £24000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will have demonstrable unde...

    Day In a Page

    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor