P ark in a gravel parking lot and walk up steps covered in herbs, crushed with each visitor's foot. Take in the gardens, where everything is planted to evoke a certain taste or smell found in wine. On the back deck of the estate's guest house, find a . . . rock musician?
This is Live at the Middle Reach, the summertime music series at C. Donatiello Winery, which provides further antidote to the old-guard notion of tasting rooms as stuffy parlors of condescension. The concerts have been well-attended, especially after Gomez frontman Ian Ball stopped by last year—on his 33rd birthday. (Casual and loose, Ball invited the audience up from the scattered tables onto the stage, where dancing and singing "Happy Birthday" ensued amongst the Russian River Valley views.)
"We believe that all these things go together—fine wine, music, art," says C. Donatiello's Robert Conard. "All of these things are intertwined into the lifestyle that wine is all about. I don't think they're too far removed from one another."
This year's series kicked off with Maria Taylor, one-half of the Saddle Creek Records duo Azure Ray, and includes upcoming appearances by Summer Mencher, a fine indie songwriter from San Diego (pictured above); Nashville's Carey Ott, signed to Dualtone records; the Dani Paige Band, fresh from opening for George Thorogood; Jason Damato, a feel-good Jack Johnson type; and Barba Shassus, a great band from Seattle that sounds a little like . . . well, Gomez, actually. A half-dozen or so other performers round out the summertime schedule, running through September. "Stylistically, we wanted to focus on music that was a little more of our generation," Conard says, "that was approachable to Gen Xers and Millenials and not exclusive of Baby Boomers."
The "Middle Reach" descriptor—an old miner's term—was unearthed by Donatiello from the history books to designate a more specific winegrowing region in the large Russian River AVA, says Conard. Amongst the C. Donatiello gardens and the guest house—which doubles as the green room for performers—the setting is quintessentially wine country. This Sunday brings Fred Odell, a sandpaper-voiced songwriter influenced by Neil Young and the Byrds, and who plays the hell out of "Gallows Pole." Buy a glass or three when he performs on Sunday, July 12, at C. Donatiello Winery. 4035 Westside Road, Healdsburg. 1pm. Free to patrons. 800.497.3376.