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Take Five White Rabbit

The guy next to me kept screaming “White Rabbit!” at the top of his lungs for the better part of two hours. It was a Jefferson Airplane concert in 1971 and the band, despite a change of personnel could not escape their hits. No matter how well they played that guy would only be happy if they played White Rabbit.

Last week, while attending a performance of the Dave Brubeck Quartet, a true jazz legend and creator of West Coast Jazz, the guy in front of me screamed “Take Five!”. It seems no matter how many decades pass that fans are more interested in hearing your hits instead of your music. In Brubeck’s case he has progressed far beyond his Take Five days and created am amazingly diverse body of work. Yet, even with all he’s done since Take Five was recorded in 1959 I’m willing to bet that the majority of concert goers were there to hear Take Five, which is probably the only jazz composition most could name from memory. Of course, I’m sure few of them knew that the piece they were screaming to hear was not written by Brubeck, but by the late, great Paul Desmond, who played saxophone for The Dave Brubeck Quartet when they recorded Take Five.

Winemakers face the a similar dilemma. Once you get a big score, your big hit, you can feel locked into that style. It takes great courage to evolve your style in a way you believe in instead of just playing the same old hit over and over again. What most consumers don’t understand is that a winemaker can be relatively unhappy with a wine even though it gets a high score. As difficult as it is to believe, behind closed doors winemakers are often amazed at a high score they’ve received. What happens if you get a 93 from Robert Parker on a wine you’re not particularly pleased with? Do you keep making that wine or follow your own vision?

Brubeck seems to have resolved this dilemma perfectly as when he did finally play Take Five for the crowd, it was not the Take Five of 1959, but a piece that reflected the talents of the current Dave Brubeck Quartet. While it started with the famous chords and catchy quintuple time, it soon evolved, in the great tradition of jazz, into a distinctive exciting performance with a personality all its own.

Great winemaking should take its cue from the improvisational spirit of jazz as each vintage is a singular performance that deserves its own riffs.

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