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On the Grammys and Dylan and why things are...

I spent 25+ years in the music industry, so even after being out of “the biz” for over 15 years I still take a passionate interest in what goes on in the industry, and stay in contact with some of my artist and executive friends from my former life. And I always watch the Grammys – “Music’s Biggest Night”.

The Grammy telecast is more often than not one of music’s largest disappointments – it’s generally an hour’s worth of entertainment wrapped into a 4-hour show. Too much filler, not enough meat. Last night’s was true to form, though Annie Lennox did kick some major butt. I’m embarrassed for Katy Perry and Kanye West and Ed Sheeran and most of what passes for major artists these days. At the risk of sounding like an old fart, they just don’t make ‘em like they used to.

The best thing to come out of Grammy week this year was a special tribute to Bob Dylan on Saturday night in LA. Neil Young, Jackson Browne, Sheryl Crow, Beck and a bunch of others paid tribute and played some of Dylan’s classics. Then the enigmatic Mr. D himself took the stage and spoke for about 40 minutes – which is probably longer than he’s spoken to the public over the last 40 years or so combined.

When the unique genius that is Bob Dylan speaks, I want to hear what he has to say. And boy, did he have a lot to say. (The complete transcript of his speech is available online from the LA Times.) It’s long but definitely worth the read – and gives a lot of insight into the inner workings of the strange and beautiful world of Dylan.

What I liked most was his explanation of where his songs came from. He spent so much of his life deeply immersed in the world of true folk songs, classic folk songs from deep in our past. He learned and sang and studied hundreds of them endlessly, exclusively, obsessively, for years and years, until he was completely subsumed by those songs. When he started writing his own songs, what came out were – though they seemed groundbreaking and revolutionary to most of us – were to him just a simple continuation of all the songs that had come before. He felt he was just “extending the line”. He wrote his songs because “they were the only kinds of songs that made sense” to him.

I think somehow I know exactly what he means. I can relate to it in wine terms. I spent so many years drinking and studying the wines of Burgundy, and had wonderful opportunities to get to know older vintages, getting to know the vineyards and appellations on intimate basis. I was so immersed in the wines of Burgundy that Burgundy became infused in my “wine DNA”. When we started making wines in 1999, my frame of reference had been formed over the years of swimming in the Burgundian stream, and the wines we made were simply an extension of that line. I realize now that they could not, in fact, have been anything else. They were “the only kinds of wines that made sense” to me.

Had I been raised drinking Italian wines, or Spanish or German or Californian, I undoubtedly would have had a different approach, different sensibilities. The wines we made came from the line that started with the monks in central France in the Middle Ages – although seen and realized through the lens of the soils and climate of Oregon, of course.

We’ve never made, and I don’t expect we’ll ever make, a wine as complex and profound and potentially game-changing as a Bob Dylan song – but now I think I understand why our wines are the way they are. Except of course for the unquantifiable and unknowable magic that brings a sense of mystery to all wines, and keeps us coming back for more...