Food & Wine

Music to Our Plate: Meet the Bay Area musicians who made their marks on the foodie and wine buff scene

By Heather Wood Rudulph

When a rock star’s career reaches a place of comfortable consistency, what are they to do? Some go on indefinite vacation, or continue to record and perform, while others nurture new artists, shepherding in the next generation of greats. But a select few turn to a passion project they can’t resist: Food and wine. Some have the success of a B.B. King, who can put his name on anything and instantly franchise it, and some have created experiences that have become a part of their legacy.

E-40’s Earl Stevens Selections

E-40

 

Vallejo native Earl Stevens (aka E-40) became one of the most successful hip-hop artists to emerge from the Bay Area during the 1990s, and over the course of a 20-year career and 25 studio albums, he largely helped define the sound of the local rap scene. Stevens’ latest passion — and success story — is wine. He launched Earl Stevens Selections in 2014, partnering with UC Davis-trained winemaker Steve Burch to create three blends — a red called “Function,” a moscato, and high-alcohol fortified wine called “Mangoscato.” In its first year, Earl Stevens Selections was selling upwards of 8,000 cases per month. The secret to Stevens’ success is in understanding his fanbase, a diverse network of followers who are used to the artist offering intimate experiences either at concerts, or when spotted on the street. His wines are similarly accessible, ranging from $15 to $20 per bottle, and can be found stocked at many California liquor stores, and warehouse stores such as Total Wine and Costco. Stevens, whose on-stage moniker alludes to a 40-ounce of malt liquor (not the highest-end of beverage choices), says he has always loved wine — and felt compelled to share that love with his fans. “I have always been a big wine drinker, and I just wanted my own,” he said at early press events for the brand. Adding a bit of hip-hop vibrato, he added, “And my wine is good. I’m the people’s choice.”

 

Carlos Santana’s Mumm Napa collaboration

The story behind the inspiration for the Santana Series is legendary. After taking a yoga class somewhere in the scenic hills of Marin County, Santana’s wife, Cindy Blackman, had a vision. Possibly still tingling from the yoga class, she floated the idea of a sparkling wine collaboration with a Mumm brand ambassador. The partnership, solidified in 2005, resulted in two limited-edition vintages, Santana Brut and Santana Savor. A

Carlos Santana

portion of all sales proceeds benefit the Milagro Foundation, a nonprofit Santana and Blackman started in 1998 to support young people in health, education and the arts. Like all of Santana’s collaborations — with artists ranging from Buddy Miles to Lauryn Hill — the 10-time Grammy winner needed to find a spiritual connection. After touring the Mumm facility and meeting the winemaking team and sampling countless vintages, master winemaker Ludovic Dervin presented Santana with a 1999 vintage. He found it serendipitous: That was the year his smash hit record, Supernatural, was released. The process to create the limited edition Santana spirits takes nearly six years per vintage, and Santana himself signs off on every one with a taste test. “I clearly remember that moment when we delivered the final wine to Carlos,” Dervin recalls. “First, he loved the label, grabbed the bottle and cradled it like a baby. Then we popped it open and all he said was a pleasing and relaxing ‘Mmmm.’”

Sammy Hagar’s El Paseo

Hagar (top image), dubbed the “Red Rocker” for his ginger curls as well as his electric vocals, which got him inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame with Van Halen, is no food and spirits newbie. After moving to Mexico in semi-retirement, Hagar launched a boutique tequila brand, Cabo Wabo, which he turned into an $100 million payday. He still owns the Cabo Wabo Cantina restaurant chain as well as his Sammy’s Beach Bar & Grill, which has five locations. Everything on Hagar’s docket is built for mass consumption, except El Paseo, the iconic mission-style restaurant at the center of Mill Valley’s most famous shopping center, which dates back to the 1940s. After years of decay, Hagar re-opened the restaurant in 2011, partnering with chef Todd English, who transformed the French cuisine into steakhouse fare. After English left the partnership, Hagar retooled once again, reverting to the Spanish food he knows and loves. In 2017, executive chef Todd Schoberg (formerly of Molina) broadened the menu to include all the culinary influences that make up classic California cuisine. Foodies come for the rich duck and juicy California burgers, and stay to mingle in the cavernous rooms flanked by exposed rustic wood beams, and sip a cocktail — or several. Hagar’s success in the restaurant business can be credited to his smart partnerships and his passion for food and wine. One of his most sacred spaces is the personal wine cellar in his house atop Mount Tam that holds a collection estimated at hundreds of thousands of dollars.

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