Sip and Savor: Wine and chamber music at Four Lanterns Winery
Violin performance in an intimate setting
-What wine pairs with chamber music?
How about fine Rhône- and Bordeaux style-wines at Four Lanterns Winery. Which is what we savored on the palate, heightened by an audio sensory experience of a violin performance by Helen Nightengale and Jacqueline Brand.
Aptly titled “A Night to Remember,” the concert was staged on Sept. 23 in the intimate tasting room of Four Lanterns and attended by 50 aficionados of wine and classical music.
“This is the first time for chamber music at our winery,” said Steve Gleason joined by his wife Jackie, proprietors of Four Lanterns. Usually it’s Sunday afternoon rock n’ roll and blues, he added. “We are fortunate to have Jackie (Jacqueline) and Helen, world-class musicians here.”
It doesn’t hurt that both are wine club members.
Nightengale and Brand entertained for over an hour, presenting an eclectic program from old German masters to American bluegrass. Both have performed with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra (LACO) and other illustrious orchestras. After performing for 30 years this was the first time they played together, noted Nightengale who began her violin studies at the age of two.
Guests arrived early to sample the repertoire of Four Lanterns wines ranging from vigonier, picpoul blanc and rosé to grenache, syrah and a merlot served with a cheese platter. As we settled in, with a glass in hand or a bottle tucked under our seats, Gleason introduced Casey Biggs aka Paso Wine Man. As it turned out this concert was an introduction to the in-development Paso Robles Performing Arts Center, a brainchild of Biggs.
“This is a soft fund-raiser,” said Biggs who, as the center’s executive director, has garnered much local support toward the goal of build a 600-800 theater center in Paso for film and all performing arts.
“The objective is to raise the bar as an arts destination,” said Biggs. “We are already a food and wine destination.” He emphasized that having an arts center is not a luxury but a necessity. “Five years from now we may see the Joffrey Ballet here,” he said confidently.
As the musicians took to their music stands, Nightengale greeted the audience with a “Wine and music go together” welcome. She was cradling an antique 1830s French violin and Brand holding an even older Italian instrument, circa 1670s. “Like wine it’s aged and well taken care of,” Nightengale said of her precious violin.
The two began with a Max Reger composition, Duo for 2 violins opus 131b Vivace, followed by Brand performing J.S. Bach: “Prelude” from the E major Partita and Eugène Ysaÿe’s Sonata in A minor Opus 27 #2 : Prelude and Poco lento.
Nightengale, who grew up playing bluegrass music, then switched gears as she played American composer Mark O’Connor’s Appalachian Waltz.
The musicians ended with Louis Spohr’s Opus 67 duo # 2 but not before Brand broke a string. “It happens more often than we think,” Nightengale informed, adding that they always carry back-up strings. “Get a glass of wine, “ she suggested. The duo returned in minutes with antique violin restrung and finished the evening’s performance to rousing applause.
“We are standing in the barn here in Paso and listening to this music,” said Steve, pleased with the audience enthusiasm.
Back at the tasting counter, I learned from Gleason that the winery’s annual production is small, a mere 2000 cases. The Gleasons purchased the property in 2013 and named it after their four daughters. The 35-acre estate on Highway 46 West is planted to Rhône and Bordeaux varieties.
Originally, an apple farm in the early 1900s, the ranch was revitalized in the 1970s and 1980s by Sycamore Farms, an herb farm and vineyard. The Gleasons’ pride and joy are the 30-year-old syrah and viognier vines. In addition, the vineyard is planted to picpoul blanc, grenache (both blanc and noir), ugni blanc, mourvedre and clairette blanc.
The portfolio also offers a 2016 Sunset Rosé, light-hued crisp Provencal-style wine fragrant with strawberry notes, and a 2016 Apricitiy picpoul blanc, crisp and tart with a melon finish. The 2015 Lamplighter viognier shows pear flavors and leans toward a richer style.
In the reds, the 2015 Jacinth grenache is deliciously intricate; the medium body 2014 Shadow, a grenache/syrah blend is spicy with peppery notes; and the 2014 Right Bank is well-knit with fine tannins.
No doubt, the Gleasons hosted a successful evening and it looks like the Southern California-based musicians will have encore performances in Paso and the future performing arts center.
Brand is active in the motion picture and television recording industry and has appeared frequently as a soloist with LACO as well as with San Francisco, Chicago and Houston symphonies.
Nightengale has held various symphonic positions including concertmaster positions with the London Symphony Orchestra, Frankfurt Opera and LACO. She is active in the studio recording scene having recorded over 500 films including “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” “Titanic,” Jurassic Park” and “Pirates of the Caribbean.” Nightengale has also played on many albums of such stellar stars as Barbara Streisand, Frank Sinatra and Placido Domingo.