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Dave Matthews makes music—and wine. A talk with his winemaking collaborator

Besides being a winemaker, Dave Matthews has also been known to play guitar.
Besides being a winemaker, Dave Matthews has also been known to play guitar.
Photo courtesy of Dreaming Tree Wine, used with permission

When he was a boy growing up in Indiana, Steve Reeder made home-brewed beer on his Uncle Tony’s farm. Now he is making wine in collaboration with famed guitarist Dave Matthews, who loves wine nearly as much as he loves music.

“Dave is an amazing artist with a deep appreciation for wine,” said Reeder by email. “Dave saw California as a great place to make wine, so he reached out to me and we just instantly clicked.”

Reeder, Matthews and Sean McKenzie, also a winemaker, formed Dreaming Tree Wines in 2011. Based in the small Sonoma County town of Geyserville, Dreaming Tree makes four wines—two of which are named after Dave Matthews Band songs: “Everyday” and “Crush.” Dreaming Tree is itself the title of a Matthews song, and its opening lines are stamped on the corks that go into every bottle.

Nevertheless, Reeder said that Dreaming Tree is no mere “celebrity” wine and that the creator of such blockbuster hits as “What Would You Say” and “Ants Marching” is very much involved in the company’s efforts.

“Our intention with Dreaming Tree was not to create a ‘celebrity’ wine brand,” he said. “Dave has always been somewhat of an oenophile, and he just really wanted to make a wine for his fans. Both of us have a passion for winemaking and music.”

He added, “Dave is extremely passionate about Dreaming Tree and is always thinking about how to expand and improve the brand.” One example he cited was the trip Matthews made to the Central Coast to scope out the grapes that are being used to make Everyday, a white blend that sells for $14. Crush, a similarly priced red blend, draws its grapes from the North Coast. Both wines are fruity and accessible with a taste, as Matthews himself has said, like “berry cobbler pie.”

Dave Matthews also owns Blenheim Vineyards, a winery in Charlottesville, Virginia. Charlottesville was where he first established the band that would sell more concert tickets in the first decade of the 2000s than any other. Although he is frequently on tour, all over the world, when Matthews comes to northern California he heads up to see Reeder where they talk wine, drink wine, and walk the vineyards and taste the grapes.

“I like to think that we both bring a different expertise to the table,” said Reeder. “Making wine and writing music are both very thoughtful and there’s a lot of imagination that goes into both.”

After learning to brew with Uncle Tony, Reeder spent his teen years in Germany, a nation well known for its fondness for food and drink. From there he came back to the U.S. where he met a biology professor at George Mason University who introduced him to oenology, the science of making wine, which became his life’s calling.

He came west to California and earned a degree in fermentation science from UC Davis, the academic center of northern California’s wine industry. He experienced his “first real harvest” at Alexander Valley Vineyards in Healdsburg in the late 1970s. After working as a winemaker for some years in the eastern U.S., he returned to California and eventually formed his partnership with Matthews and McKenzie at Dreaming Tree.

“To be able to link the art of music and wine together is an opportunity that other winemakers don’t have,” he said. “I have had a fascination for all things that bubble, gurgle and ferment.”

Dreaming Tree is a subsidiary of Constellation Brands, one of the biggest wine, beer and spirits companies in the world, and it is now making 600,000 cases of wine a year, according to Wine Business Monthly. It does not have a tasting room or visitor center, relying on Constellation’s facilities to produce its wines. But Reeder, who lives in Healdsburg, was happy to suggest some places for North Coast travelers who are looking for good places to eat and drink:

• Bistro Ralph, 109 Plaza, Healdsburg. 707-433-1380. You might even see Reeder there; it’s his favorite place for lunch or dinner.

• Willow Wood Market Café, 9020 Graton Road, Graton. 707-823-0233. Graton is inland from Highway 101, about 25 minutes from Healdsburg and 10 from Santa Rosa. Reeder loves their Sunday brunch: “Check out the Monte Cristo!”

• Terrapin Crossroads, 100 Yacht Club, San Rafael. 415-524-2773. A restaurant and live music venue owned by the Grateful Dead’s Phil Lesh, who also plays there. Another music and food spot that Reeder likes is Sebastopol’s Hopmonk Tavern, 230 Petaluma Avenue in that city near Santa Rosa. 707-829-7300.

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