It's not the kind of thing you expect to happen as a wine writer. We're backstage at the Santa Barbara Bowl, with a trumpet trilling down the hall and a very tall and very red-headed Brett Dennen almost running us over on our way to a dressing hall room to, yes, taste wine. In the process we end up hearing lines like, "Michael [Franti] goes crazy for fonts, he adores fonts. For nine hours we did nothing but fonts."
The speaker of those sentences is Valentina Guolo-Migotto, co-owner and chef at Napa Valley's Ca'Momi, and she's working with Franti on his foundation's latest fundraiser, wine. Franti, when he pops in for a quick chat and photo op before running out to headline the show with his band Spearhead, explains his Do It for the Love Foundation as a Make-a-Wish for concerts -- "all a person has to have is a working computer." Then his organization goes through the applications and tries to match up the worthy ones with live music, assuming the person in need is in advanced stages of a life threatening illnesses, a child with severe challenges, or a wounded veteran (as was the case at the Santa Barbara show).
Guolo-Migotto and Ca'Momi winemaker Dario De Conti have developed both a white and a red that are for sale only for Franti's foundation. Franti consulted on the blends, and designed the label featuring a guitar with a heart where the sound hole should be. (Cute and cleverly symbolic at once.) All that label work got to the font fixation.
But the leader of Spearhead seems to be that keen on the details of everything, especially all the people, quickly remembering the names of our press cohort, and later during the concert, dancing his way to the very top of the Bowl mid-song, drawing every last concert-goer in. It's little surprise he'd develop a charity like Do It for the Love.
The wines are also crowd-pleasers at a suggested retail of $18.99 (all proceeds go to the charity). The white is a blend of chardonnay, viognier, muscat, and sauvignon blanc, refreshing, somewhat familiar, but then edging to the exotic without turning strange. The red is a blend of syrah, cabernet sauvignon, and petit verdot, so a bit less out there, but pleasingly deep and voluptuous. De Conti stresses he makes wines that aim to go well with, and not overpower, food. After all, their restaurant in Napa's Oxbow Public Market features a pizzeria that's certified for authenticity by the Verace Pizza Napoletana (VPN) Association of Italy.
"In Italy when you are sixteen you have a class of wine tasting in school," De Conti says, both explaining one part of his keen palate and one part why we should all live in Italy. He started winemaking school in Italy in ninth grade, so once he got to the U.S., and Napa, of course, he was ready to go. (And if you want something truly tasty, try their 2011 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, already approachable and lush, with fruit mostly from Rutherford.)
Or simply enjoy the Do It for the Love wines while supporting a good cause. Raleigh J. Neil, keyboardist in Spearhead, hung out with the media the most and told the tale of getting a bottle of wine they really liked after one gig. Then out of the blue they met Guolo-Migotto and De Conti, who told the band they make wine. At first skeptical, that emotion changed when they put down a bottle of the wine Neil had been hankering for. That's how friends, and fundraisers, are made.