Stolpman Love You Bunches and Whiteout Conditions
The difference between wine and music that are made with love by people who care about each other and mass-produced products made for profit alone is drastic. You can taste it. You can hear it. That’s why wineries and bands born out of actual passion and community make their craft better than the other guys. Because they care about quality and they do it because they love it. And that’s exactly what’s behind Stolpman Vineyards’ Love You Bunches and The New Pornographers’ “Whiteout Conditions.”
Love You Bunches is a wine that definitely makes you feel the love, if not for its name alone. It’s got a cute, quirky label that is perfect for gift-giving. It’s a red that’s meant to be chilled - in fact it proudly instructs as much on the back label. It’s a natural wine made from sangiovese, fermented using carbonic maceration, which means it’s a bright, friendly wine that pops with juicy fruit, and nary a funky note to be found. That’s not to say it’s a simple wine. Easy, yes, but it’s got loads of personality and some subtle floral, herbal and Cherry Coke notes beyond the ample red berry fruit.
It’s already a wine that radiates happiness and fun just based on aesthetics and drinkability - then you hear the “awwww” inducing story behind it. The first vintage of the Stolpman Carbonic Sangiovese before it had its much-adored name was served at the Stolpmans’ friends’ wedding. A picture of the bottle was posted on Instagram and one of the comments read “nothing says I love you bunches like Carbonic fermentation”, and thus the new name for the wine was decided. Managing partner Peter Stolpman explains the winemaking process referenced in this comment, which is a labor of love itself: “To make Carbonic Sangiovese, La Cuadrilla must lovingly, gently harvest whole bunches. The winery team then softly cradles them into a tank without popping the skins.”
This happy little wine comes from a happy wine-making family. Tom Stolpman founded the winery and his son Peter took over daily operations in 2009. Pete’s wife Jessica is also a partner and manages the wholesale market in California. Their adorable son Auggie and their gentle giant Great Dane, Earl, are often featured in their social media. I had the pleasure of meeting Pete at the Stolpman vineyards this past April in Ballard Canyon, the Santa Barbara AVA that Stolpman put on the map, and he’s a super solid, kind dude who clearly loves what he does.
Stolpman also treats their vineyard workers well, even giving them the opportunity to make their own wine they receive profits from, known as La Cuadrilla. Vineyard Manager Ruben Solarzano started the program in 2003 when he reserved vineyard blocks for the crew to cultivate on their own, which is primarily where the La Cuadrilla grapes are harvested from. And let me tell you, it’s delicious.
The New Pornographers are a group of Canadian musicians, each previously established in other bands or as solo artists, who joined together not because they needed yet another musical outfit but because they were fans of each other and had fun making music together. It’s a passion project that grew into something bigger, similar to Love You Bunches, a wine inspired by a gathering of friends and loved ones and by wanting a chillable red to enjoy with those same people every spring and summer.
You can hear the joy in The New Pornographers’ music, even if the subject matter isn’t always the sunniest. They play catchy, upbeat pop music with a polished flow and construction. Their energy and charisma is on the same level as this carbonic sangiovese - both send a jolt through your sensory receptors.
“Play for Money” kicks off the record and it’s a glistening concoction of synths, Afro-beat style drums, and Neko Case’s beautiful and raspy vocals complemented by A.C. Newman’s slick pipes. It’s got something of a “fuck you pay me” attitude, but then there’s a revelation in this verse that happiness can be obtained by something as simple as a song:
I beat the path of least resistance
Over the hills and out of wisdom
And just when I thought we beat the system
I knew a gentleman of leisure
He loved to talk about his treasure
And of how he got it for a song, song, song, song
The title track “Whiteout Conditions” is deceiving. It makes you want to bob your head and jump around to The New Pornographers’ signature uptempo style and angelic vocal harmonies. But it’s about dealing with grief - in this case of the passing of A.C. Newman’s sister. The contrast of the painful lyrics with the bright music sounds intentional, as Newman communicates with his self awareness that being consumed by sadness is “such a waste of a beautiful day”.
“High Ticket Attractions” is classic TNP: the combatting high and low pitch changes, the echoes of interweaving vocals. It’s a musical game of tag. It’s a song about “Trump panic” preceding the election and it appropriately sounds frantic, but in a fun way. They sing “this thing could go two ways” and unfortunately it went the wrong way. TNP have a knack for making stark and bleak topics sound like a blast if you don’t get too caught up in the lyrics. What else is there to do when everything is falling down in flames than dance around to pop music and drink wine?
“Darling Shade” is a song I’d want to put on at a party after I’ve gotten pretty deep into this bottle of wine. It’s got a great beat and it’s just a fun song to rock out to when you’re feeling good and fuzzy. “We’ve Been Here Before” has a twinkly 80s synth vibe with echoey vocal effects. “Clockwise” sounds like a formidable futuristic song that’s a little bit shoe gaze but mostly makes you want to dance. The beginning of “Whiteout Conditions” matches the feeling of when you first open the Love You Bunches, and the end correlates with finishing the bottle. At first you feel light and bouncy and by the end you’ve hit full-sway.
“Whiteout Conditions” finishes strong with “Avalanche Alley.” It’s got driving momentum and palpable energy. This record and this wine are persistent. They maintain their vibrancy from start to finish, no doubt the result of a strong team on both sides.