What do you get when you combine a 2X GRAMMY nominee with an award-winning wine expert and author? In the case of blues saxophonist Mindi Abair and her husband Eric Guerra, you get something new, fresh, and personally catered: The Reserve Tastings Wine Company.
Abair is one of the most recognized and sought-after saxophonists in the blues world. A two-time GRAMMY nominee, she has been electrifying audiences with her dynamic live performances and sax prowess since her debut album in 1999. Guerra is an acknowledged wine expert with over 18 years experience, having managed or sold over 20 million cases and developed over 500+ wine brands. He is also the author of the highly acclaimed When Great Wine Is Not Enough – A Wine Sales & Marketing Guide For Wineries, Négotiants & Wine Brand Owners.
The two have combined their passions into a truly unique business. At Reserve Tastings Wine Company Eric finds small-lot, luxury wines that are not available to the public. Mindi then creates originally designed label artwork, and curates a music playlist for each wine. Then the wines are shipped to members four times a year for the ultimate wine + music experience.
We recently got to chat with the couple from their home in, where else, the California wine country.
So how did Reserve Tastings get started?
Basically I’ve spent my life as a musician, making records and touring with my band. My husband Eric has spent his life in the wine business. He has run some of the coolest wineries that all of us know; Kendall-Jackson, Mumm Napa, all these cool wineries. But at a certain point, you know we’re home together, he brings home great wine and we’re always drinking wine and I invariably pair it with music. He’ll bring home a great Cabernet Sauvignon, and I’ll look at him and say, ‘Well, we’re listening to soul music then.’ That’s what pairs with big red wine. We’re listening to Sam Cooke, Ray Charles, and Aretha Franklin. We looked at each other one night and thought, we love doing that, maybe other people would too. So we decided to form a membership club that would be wine and music.
Eric knows wine, so he reaches out to his friends in the industry and we buy these wines that no one else can get in really small lots. Once we get the wine, I will create artwork that goes with it that’s music-centric. It’s all about the music qualities of the wine. Then I’ll put a playlist to it. I’ll create a playlist the describes how the wine tastes in my terms, because I’m not a geeky wine guy like he is. I’m a musician so I’m going to think in those terms.
One of our wines is called Harmony, and the playlist to it is all these bands that have great harmonies; Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Fleetwood Mac, Little River Band. It works out great and people get shipments from us four times a year. It’s just a blast. We also go on adventures to different places in the world and just share wine and music.
Has this really helped you economically during these pandemic times?
You know, it’s interesting the whole world closed up for us as musicians in March. I was in the studio doing a new record and we had big tour plans, and then all of a sudden, the world closed up. We’ve been sitting home ever since. We started doing wine and music Facebook Live sessions every Tuesday night and that was just a cool way to stay connected to people. Then we’d do live virtual tastings, where Eric will go through wines, and we’ll play music and have fun. It’s just an amazing way to stay connected because, boy, everybody wanted to drink wine through this.
This has been a really interesting year. We started this wine company almost a year ago, and we obviously didn’t see this coming, but it has built our business. People have joined the club virtually. They don’t even get to taste the wine, but they join just to be part of this journey. What a great time to start a wine and music club.
When you say you make art that corresponds with the wine that goes out, are we talking about the label?
Yeah. Every wine has its own label and brand that we create once we find the wine. It’s either me creating the artwork or friends of ours. Our first wine was called Treble Clef Chardonnay, and it’s the treble clef that I write. I mean everyone has their own kind of treble clef that they draw, well this one’s mine. But on our Harmony wine, one of our friends drew the label. He’s a rock ‘n roll painter and he’s just phenomenal. He did all the punk rock stuff for The Clash and The Ramones, and he’s done cover art for Duran Duran, Oasis, Mick Jagger, Bob Dylan, and Mindi Abair and the Boneshakers. It’s cool to draw on our friend’s talent and try to get that style and art that kind of feed off each other and show people what it is.
I noticed one of the labels was your song title “Pretty Good For a Girl.”
Yeah (chuckles), that was one of the first wines we put out. I just figured rosé is one of those wines that people don’t think that much of. They don’t expect much from it. But, this particular rosé that Eric found is just the total luxury rosé and it’s kick ass. It’s incredible. The reason I wrote that song is because I have people come up to me all the time after shows. They’ll look at me, shake my hand, and go, “Wow! You’re pretty good for girl.” As if they don’t expect it. I know they have the best intentions, but it’s funny to hear that night after night, and year after year. It became the name of my record label as well and this wine just kind of brings it out of me. You’re not going to expect much from a rosé, but this one kicks ass.
The music that you pair it with. How does that get to the members?
Actually we use the power of what’s already out there. Why create your own when something amazing already exists? So we have our own Spotify page that’s for Reserve Tastings, and each wine has its own playlist. There’s a link to Spotify on our website, so you don’t even have to be a member to check out the playlists and play them while you drink the wine. It just makes it easy for everyone.
The beauty of having something virtual is that everyone can be a part of it. You can pull it up on your phone from anywhere. You can be sitting on the beach with a bottle of our wine, and pull up the playlist and enjoy it.
You ship four times a year correct?
Yes. Four times a year, and two different wines each time. Usually a white and a red to please both the white and red drinkers. We try not to ship during the summer months, so the last time we shipped was April. The next time we ship will hopefully be the end of September or early October.
We want to protect the wine a little bit and not get too crazy with it. Four times a year is just right for us. Some wine clubs ship six or ten times a year and that’s just too much. We like to be on people’s radar but not inundate them with with too much. And, they can always come back and buy more from us.
Also, each shipment is unique. All the wine is new, and all the artwork is new. It makes for an interesting club because you’re always getting something new and fun.
Now you do live tastings as well right?
The way we get members is one of two ways. Either you spend millions of dollars online which we didn’t want to do, nor do we have. Or, Mindi sees thousands of people every year so a lot of these promoters are super onboard with it. We come in early, and do a little wine tasting with their VIPs. It could be twenty people and we’ve had as many as 80 to 100 people. We get people signing up for the club like crazy at these events. Then they go to the show right after that, so it creates a really cool evening for Mindi’s fans.
Let’s say she plays a show in Indiana once a year for example. Well, you see those fans once a year. But now they’re interacting with us four or five times a year through the club. Now, all these fans that she has are now becoming much closer to her because of it. Plus it adds a revenue stream outside of just show tickets and merch, so that’s kind of nice.
It’s awesome, and I don’t have to be anything else. This isn’t just some business we decided to try because music isn’t happening right now. No. I get to stay a musician and he gets to stay a wine person. It’s a beautiful thing that we can have this other business that’s attached to my business.
You get to spend more time together this way as well.
You totally hit it on the head. The last big cruise we did was the Blues Cruise, and I got to go because we did a big wine tasting and it was awesome. This way my business is with her which is all I’d ever need in my life. We’ll just keep building it up so that this company can be wherever we exist. Could be on the Blues Cruise, could be in L.A.
Just recently we did one in Florida. We’re trying to bring music back safely, and my home town is in the Clearwater, Florida area. The promoter for Ruth Eckerd Hall told us, “It’s a crazy idea, but come in for 4 nights, we’ll sell 100 tickets a night. We’ll do it completely socially distanced. We’ll check people’s temperatures at the door, and seat them at tables of 4. But it’ll still feel like a concert.” It was a really cool way to bring back live music to my home town in a safe way, and the wine tastings were just super fun. It was a great experience.
How many of the live tastings do you do a year?
We’d like to do 300 (both laughing).
I love being on the road. It’s my happy place. The more concerts we can do the better, I just want to make sure we can do them in a safe way for everybody. It’s all a symbiotic relationship with us and the promoters. It’s not just the musicians trying to survive right now, but the promoters are trying to survive too. We’re all in this together.
I’ve also got a new album in the can, and one song on the album is with Kenny Wayne Shepherd. But it’s not going to come out until we have enough tour dates to really support it. So, obviously I can’t wait to get out there and play more.
Can you tell me about the Music Adventures?
Yeah. There are a lot of artists that do cruises, but since we have this wine, we wanted to make sure we could get to wine regions. A lot of those are inland, like Healdsburg, Sonoma, California, like Napa Valley, like Tuscany, Italy. So Mindi and I came up with the idea of taking smaller groups, around 50 people, and have a full week of wine and music in whatever region we’re in. We’ll do wine tastings at the wineries, play some music there, and then continue the wine tastings at the local restaurants at night. We had them planned but haven’t been able to do any yet, so we have our first one planned for Sonoma in the Spring. We should be able to travel safely by then.
And Sonoma is where Eric lived for 15 years. He was right there in Healdsburg which is the epicenter of wine country. We can go in, take over a couple of these wineries, drink some wine, have some good food. It’s just the perfect scenario for us.
We’ll also be back to our little festivals when the world comes around. Like Mindi Abair’s Punta Gorda Wine and Music Festival. It’s like these other festivals are all great, the music’s great, but then there’s Coors Light to drink. I mean, c’mon. Help me out here.
Can you tease us a bit about the new album you have coming out?
The new album is called ‘Forever.’ I don’t know when it will come out, probably early next year. It’s really kind of a personal record. The last four records I’ve recorded have been as Mindi Abair and the Boneshakers, and I was writing all this music that was maybe not the right stuff for that band. That band was a lot of muscle; a lot of sheer power and mojo. But I was writing these songs that were a little more sensual and a little more personal that weren’t right for the band, but I thought I’d pile them up and maybe release a solo project again.
This is the first solo record I’ve made since 2014 and I just think it’s beautiful. I had my friend that played drums for Paul McCartney, Abe Laboriel, Jr. plays drums on it, my keyboardist of almost 20 years Rodney Lee, Sean Harley’s on bass from John Mayer’s band. And actually, and this is crazy, Steve Perry from Journey came in and was just kind of hanging out with us, and he ended up singing background for us on 4 or 5 songs. So he became the most over-qualified background vocalist in history. Then Kenny Wayne Shepherd came in and did a song with me called “What About Love.” He’s such a powerhouse. And then Raul Malo from The Mavericks did a duet with me called “Say it With Love.”
I’m just psyched. We just released the first single, which is a little jazzier, and little more chill. I think we’ll release a couple more singles and just keep the music coming a little bit more, then we’ll drop the record.
With a new album set to launch as soon as live venues can start booking tours again, for the time being Mindi and Eric are fine with their Reserve Tastings Wine Company. The only pairing better than the ones they offer, is the one they are. Wine drinkers and music lovers unite! Join the club, sample the great wines, and enjoy the specially selected accompanying music. Here’s another little teaser – according to Mindi, the next shipment is called, “Shades of Blue,” and the accompanying music will be “some badass blues.” Sounds like the perfect time to jump onboard the Reserve Tastings train.