Jerry Garcia Wine
Makers of J. Garcia wine use original artwork by the Grateful Dead's Poppa Bear, Jerry Garcia, to sell wine commemorating the band leader, who died in 1995.
"J. Garcia is about the wine, but it also is very much about the artist," says Limeng Stroh, senior director of marketing for Beam Wine Estates, which produces J. Garcia and numerous other well-known labels. "It's a combination of the music and the art Jerry did in his lifetime."
Garcia, who grew up near wine country in California's Marin County, produced more than 500 paintings in his lifetime. Deborah Koons Garcia, Garcia's third wife and manager of the $15.4 million estate, approached Beam (then known as Allied Domecq) to see if it could produce a tasteful wine that would also be a platform for Garcia's artwork. Allied Domecq jumped at the chance to produce a wine with ready-made brand recognition.
Of course, the family didn't want anything tacky or ill-suited for the label. They consciously left Garcia's image off and also went with the more subtle initial "J" rather than spelling out Jerry. As for the artwork, which changes with every vintage, Beam and members of Garcia's estate hunt through the hundreds of canvases for the image that best reflects the wine inside.
The wine had to live up to the family's expectations, too. "The estate wanted to make sure that the wine was made well, and once we showed them Erik's work with Simi, Chateau Ste. Michelle and with Clos du Bois, they were very impressed," Stroh said, referring to J. Garcia winemaker Erik Olsen, who also makes Clos du Bois wines. "Still, they blind-tasted his wines against some top competitors. They wanted to make sure that his wine came out on top."
Like the Grateful Dead, with its legions of fans, J. Garcia has developed a strong following since its release in 2003. Sales in 2005 topped 40,000 cases of chardonnay, merlot, cabernet sauvignon and zinfandel. Not surprisingly, it can be found on the wine list of Hard Rock Cafés in the United States but also has found favor with a number of fine-dining restaurants, like
Atlanta's Food 101, which held a wine dinner this summer featuring J. Garcia wines.
Ron Eyester, a card-carrying Deadhead and Food 101 chef, created signature dishes with a mischievous nod to the drug culture that swirled around Jerry's band. Nearly 170 diners enjoyed items like duck burrito with marinated mushrooms and goo-ball brownies while grooving to Swami Gone Bananas, a local Dead cover band.
"They're good wines, but not over the top," said Eyester, who named his daughter Midland after the late Dead keyboardist Brent Midland and counts several J. Garcia wines in his home wine collection. "They are very food-friendly and provide a good backdrop for lots of dishes." The J. Garcia dinner observed the anniversaries of the guitarist's death and birth, which occur three days apart in August. Eyester will reprise the event in 2007.
"The Jerry Garcia estate is happy to see how the wine is going," said Stroh, who reports that the wines, priced at $12 to $15 a bottle, don't resonate with typical caravaning Dead fans. "We see this as a baby boomer type of item. We like to think that people drinking J. Garcia might love the Dead, but they are driving around in BMWs and enjoying the finer things in life."
I think Phil should come out with a wine because he was the connoisseru!