ER: I first discovered your vineyard because Keaton Simons was performing there during the weekend festival Taste of Yountville back in March, but then was delighted to realize you also sponsor Renee and Irish Greg’s Pop Up shows (Renee and Irish Greg are former KFOG morning dj’s who now host free small pop up concerts with quality artists). Can you tell us more about your love of music and involvement in promoting music? How you see it fitting with your winemaking craft?
MW: Jamey and I both love music. The record player and vinyl are out every night when we get home, cook dinner and wind down from the day. Back in 2011 when I was renovating the chateau, Live In The Vineyard, the parent company that manages Taste of Yountville approached us to partner with them on their exclusive, private shows. It was the beginning of a long and wonderful friendship and partnership. It is also how I met Keaton a couple of years ago. He dropped in (with his guitar) for a glass of wine after a LITV performance and played a sweet set for us on the front lawn. Needless to say I kept his glass full.
Through mutual friends in the music industry I was introduced to Renee and Irish Greg while they were still at KFOG and did several shows with them for their Live From The Archives. When they resurfaced and called about us sponsoring their Pop-Up shows it was an immediate YES! We have been fortunate that the universe has connected us with some of the best people working in the music business. The private concerts at Whetstone are really an extension of what we do everyday there. It is always about the experience and how we connect with people. Music and wine are very similar; like musicians, winemakers are artists. If you want to be authentic and do things on your terms it takes a lot of perseverance, thick skin and patience. I think that is why wine and music work so well together, we appreciate each other’s crafts.
ER: I fell in love with the 19th-century chateau that is your vineyard. Can you tell us more about this beautiful place?
MW: This was our lucky break in 2011. Jamey had started Whetstone in 2002. It remained a side project for many years but that all changed when I found the chateau. It was built in 1885 and was a winery until prohibition. It was turned into a residence and sat vacant for about 15 years until we found it. It was in bad shape but a diamond in the rough and I immediately connected with the space and saw our future. We have about 2 acres of beautiful old oaks, historic stone walls and stair cases. The tasting salon where we host most of our concerts and tastings is all original stone with a wood burning fire place. And the acoustics are incredible so when we have the chance to have live music it is like the reward/payoff you get for working hard. Although I don’t think I could have envisioned how magical it would be.
ER: How did you and your husband, Jamey, meet? How did Whetstone Wine Cellars come to be?
MW: I am a Napa native and after about 15 years away, returned home in 2002. I met Jamey through mutual friends and in 2005 we married. Jamey had started Whetstone a few years prior while working as Assistant Winemaker at Turley Wine Cellars. I joined him full time in 2008 and since we didn’t have any other financial net ( and 4 kids) we didn’t have a choice but to make it work. We both were ready and willing to pull up our boot straps and go after it. Since Jamey had started Whetstone, I wasn’t sure of my role exactly until we opened the chateau. My focus was to create a unique setting and experience which came about organically over time and showcase our beautiful wines. Looking back, staying true to our brand and voice has been key. It has brought amazing people into our lives, personally and professionally.
ER: You wrote on your website, “At Whetstone we are acutely aware of the art of being present.” Can you say more about that? How does the art of being present enhance the experience at Whetstone?
MW: We are all so plugged in all of the time and looking at screens rather than each other so we really encourage our guests to unplug at Whetstone. We offer a seated, personalized experience, no bar to belly up to. Settle in, slow the pace down a bit and really enjoy your surroundings. While Jamey and I struggled to get Whetstone on its feet the thing I looked forward to most at the end of the day was sitting around the dinner table with my family (and a bit of wine)! Real conversation, breaking bread, great music. It helps keep things in perspective. Time is precious.
ER: Finally, I would love to know more about the benefit concert happening at Whetstone Wine Cellars May 24?
MW: I am really excited to do this show. We are on Atlas Peak Rd. and during the October fires our home and business were in harm’s way. We were one of the lucky ones but have so many neighbors and friends that were not. It was a terrifying week but there were so many heroes. This show is to benefit our first responders through the Heroes Rock and The Resiliency Training Center organizations. The great George Porter Jr. and a few friends will be performing. All the proceeds will go to further their training and support our first responders.
Emilie Rohrbach has taught music and theater to grades pre-school through 8th in San Francisco and Marin counties for the last 20 years. She has been a freelance writer for Divine Caroline for five years, and her writing has appeared in Narratively, Hippocampus, Common Ground, Travelers’ Tales, and Marin Magazine, among others. She is passionate about Room to Read, Shanti Bhavan, and Destiny Arts and serves on the board of Knighthorse Theatre Company.