Thursday, May 22, 2014

Napa Valley's Rolling Hills Are Alive With The Sound Of Brian Culbertson's Jazz Getaway

By Darlene Donloe

Napa Valley is known for its plush, rolling green hills, scenic, calming vistas and, of course, for some of the finest wine in the world.

But, Napa Valley isn’t your ordinary destination. It’s an experience!

It’s true that it’s one of the premier travel destinations in the world, but it’s so much more. You have to inhale it, swirl it, then take it all in.  It’s just that breathtaking.

Everywhere you look there are picturesque hills planted with vineyards year-round, not to mention limitless wineries dotting the landscape.

Whether it’s a weekend getaway, a day trip, a bachelorette gathering, a family vacation or a corporate meeting, Napa Valley has something for everyone.  Plan your next meeting in the legendary Napa Valley, considered America's premier wine, food, arts and wellness destination.

It goes without saying that there are any number of wine tastings in Napa, but there is also fine dining, spas to relax and rejuvenate and even mud baths in Calistoga.

Napa Valley, which had 2.94 million total visitors in 2012, hosts 400 hundred wineries, many of which are open to the public (some by appointment only, others not at all). Some have a large, world-famous wine-education focus, while 95% are small, family-owned hands-on wineries.

When it comes to places to stay there are any number of hotels, resorts or quaint bed & breakfasts from which to choose. 

There are more than 6,000 rooms in 150 properties from 5-star luxury resorts to intimate bed and breakfasts establishments.
When it’s time to meet, there are more than 200,000 sq. ft. of meeting space from ballrooms to barrel rooms and wine caves to vineyards.

For dining, the area has more than 125 of North America’s finest restaurants and awarded more Michelin stars per capita than any other wine region in the world.

There are several options for getting there including four international airports: Oakland (50 miles/81 km), San Francisco (57 Miles/95 km), Sacramento (64 miles/103 km) and San Jose (82 miles/129 km).

If you’re not quite sure where to go or what to do when you get to Napa Valley, before you arrive, contact

Christine McMillan

“I can plan an itinerary for visitors,” said Christine McMillan, guest services manager at “That’s what I do. I plan things for folks coming to the area. Whatever they want to do, I match them to that. If they want me to plan something for them and then they do it for themselves, it’s a free service. If they’d like me to do all of the follow-up, it’s a paid service at $100/hr., with a five-hour minimum. I would design everything for them from restaurant reservations, to spa services to hotel reservations.”

For the best savings and the best the area has to offer, McMillan said it would be wise to contact about four to six months prior to visiting the area.

“The farther away, the better prices I can get for you,” said McMillan who has been at for four years. “We get a lot of visitors each year who love the area.”

None of the region’s splendor is lost on smooth jazz artist Brian Culbertson. For the third year, Napa Valley is the setting for Brian Culbertson’s Napa Valley Jazz Getaway, a five-day musical event taking place at several venues, including the Jamieson Ranch Vineyards, and featuring some of the hottest artists in music.  

This year’s event takes place June 11-15 and features an impressive lineup that includes: Eric Benet, Ohio Players, Lee Ritenour, Morris Day & The Time, Mavis Staples, Eric Darius, David Benoit, Average White Band, Dave Grusin, Earl Klugh, Keenen Ivory Wayans, Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Eric Marienthal, Michael Lington, Jazz in Pink featuring Gail Jhonson, Althea Rene & Karen Briggs and Cecil Ramirez.

Brian Culbertson

“I chose Napa because just driving around, the place is spectacular,” said Culbertson. “If I didn’t have any wine I’d still say this is spectacular. I picked Napa because when you say that to people they go, ‘Oh, yeah, I want to go there.’ It’s the feeling and the lifestyle. It’s unique. Anywhere I go I say I’m doing a jazz and wine festival. People want to hear jazz and drink wine already so if you add Napa, it’s fantastic. It’s perfect because nothing was going on here jazz wise.”

The Napa Valley Jazz Getaway ( is an interactive lifestyle experience at which fans can share their passion for wine and jazz with the musicians while dining, during wine receptions and tastings, at autograph sessions and at casual post-concert ‘hangs’.

About 3,000 festival-goers from all over the nation are expected to flock to California wine country this year.

“That’s nothing for us,” said McMillan, who had ‘big fun’ at the Getaway last year. “We’re used to hosting large groups.  That’s what we do – everyday. We have more than enough hotel rooms for 3,000 visitors.  We welcome everyone.”

McMillan said gets more than 3-5 million visitors per year on the website.

“From that number I help hundreds of visitors,” said McMillan, who is looking forward to attending the Getaway again this year. “We get the most guests during harvest time because they want to see grapes on the vine. So August to October is a very busy time. We welcome guests all year long, we never close.”

Culbertson On Napa Valley

Culbertson, who recently released his 14th album, Another Long Night Out, a reinterpretation of the debut disc, Long Night Out, describes Napa Valley and the Jamieson Ranch Vineyards as “magical.”

“Once people come and experience it, they will know exactly what I mean by magical,” said Culbertson.

Jamieson Ranch Vineyards President Bill Leigon

“Working with Brian Culbertson and Napa Valley Jazz Getaway helps fulfill one cornerstone of the core vision of the Jamieson Ranch experience: to bring light into people's lives through music, art and film,” said Jamieson Ranch Vineyards President Bill Leigon. “Brian's music truly fills one's soul with light!”

Culbertson, an Illinois native couldn’t be more ecstatic about seeing his vision come to fruition.

I really envisioned a whole immersion into the Napa lifestyle,” said Culbertson.  “When you spend time up there it’s about the broad feeling you have when you’re there. It’s about the wine, the scenery, the food and then you add the musical component and bring in all these jazz lovers. It was a perfect fit.”

Jamieson Ranch Vineyards entrance

According to Culbertson, he saw a void.
“It was a no brainer,” he said. “I couldn’t believe no one had done this before. The real light bulb went off in April 2011. I knew exactly what I wanted. I had been randomly thinking about things. June 2012 was the first one. It was small, maybe 250 people in a theater. We didn’t want to go crazy year one because you never know. We announced it and it sold out in a week - four months in advance. That’s when we decided to expand it. Although we’re now using larger venues, it will still have an intimate feel. Napa is about feeling the outdoors. We are going to seat people in between grapevines. If you’re on the edge reach out and grab some grapes.”

The marriage of wine and jazz suits Culbertson well. Culbertson, the founder and artistic director of the Getaway, isn’t just taking in the scenery in Napa Valley. He immersed himself into the region and recently introduced his own Culbertson Pinot Noir, which he custom blended in partnership with Jamieson Ranch Vineyards and Reata Wines of Napa, California. 

It kind of made sense having these festivals,” said Culbertson. “I’ve been a wine lover for so many years. I know what I like. The more I tasted and tried and understood, the more I wanted to do something. Especially since having the festival, it was good to have product out there. Everything there is something I’m excited about.   I had the opportunity to work with Jamieson Ranch, which was exciting. The Jamieson Ranch put out Reata Wines.”

For Culbertson, developing his wine was both fun and enlightening.

“I got to blend six different Pinot grapes to create this one wine,” explained Culbertson. “It was an educational process. They have six different grapes, taken from a specific part of land.  They have a distinct characteristic. You can create a full flavor. One by itself isn’t that good, but blending it makes it very good. For a few hours I would sit there and taste each one individually. This one is more cherry and has a fruity explosion. I wrote down what I thought. After I tried all six, I rated them from my favorite to my least favorite. Then I thought about which percentage of each would work. It was 50% of this and 25% of that. We mixed it up and I tried it and then I slightly changed it, making it better and better. If that didn’t work, I’d just say, ‘let me try it again.’ It’s very cool to have a wine. It’s me. It’s nice.”

A contemporary jazz/R&B/funk musician, instrumentalist, producer and performer from Decatur, Culbertson, who has been married to his wife, Michelle, for 16 years, plays the keyboard, piano, trombone, drums, bass, trumpet, euphonium and percussion.  Oh, and he also has a passion for getting away and a passion for wine.

The official Getaway host hotel is The Westin Napa Verasa. The shows taking place on June 12 & 13 are at the Napa Valley Performing Arts Center at Lincoln Theater, which holds 1,200 and the June 14 & 15 shows are on the grounds of the 300 acre Jamieson Ranch Vineyards. (

“We picked Jamieson because we knew we would get folks from the Bay driving up that day. It’s the southern most winery in Napa Valley. It’s the quickest to get to for a quick day trip. It’s the closest winery to the Bay Area. Next, the setting is spectacular. Third, they have the room to expand this thing. They have these big open fields.”

Culbertson chose the Lincoln Theater because it was both large enough and intimate enough for the atmosphere he wanted to create.

Lincoln Theater is not too big,” said Culbertson. “There is no bad seat. The sound is perfect. It looks great. I like mixing it up. I like having events indoors and outdoors. Thursday night is going to be Jazz Legends Night. It will be more intimate. It’s harder to command the attention of an outdoor audience. So to see an Earl Klugh, Dave Grusin and a Ritenour (Lee) it was appropriate to be in a theater. I wanted funk night to be it’s own thing – lets keep that in the theater. I’ve started these Thursday and Friday night traditions. Saturday and Sunday is all kinds of stuff.”

The Jazz Legends Night will also include special guests Eric Marienthal and David Benoit.

The Friday Night Funk Night on June 13 begins with a silent auction benefitting the GRAMMY Foundation and complimentary wine tasting for all attendees. The auction will be followed by performances by The Ohio Players and special guest comedian Keenen Ivory Wayans.

Culbertson is very clear about why he wanted to produce such an event.

“I wanted to create one that was unique and different and that’s what I did,” said Culbertson. “A typical jazz fest goes something like this - You show up, there are 10,000 people sitting outside, nine acts come on, they play and then they leave. Mine is not like that whatsoever. Ours is an intimate show in theaters each night. Everyday we have an outdoor party then go to a winery and play in a wine cave. We hang out at night with artists and fans. Last year on Friday we played golf. We also had a cigar event at a port winery. It’s just all these different, interesting things. Everybody that comes gets an access card – a two for one tasting.  Come and do some wine tasting. There’s food, wine and golf. We’re doing it Napa lifestyle. It’s not a jazz festival, it’s a lifestyle event. It’s completely unique. No one else is doing anything like it.”

Like the Pinot Noir he formulated, Culbertson is convinced he’s hit on just the right recipe to make his jazz getaway a success.

“When I came up with this concept, it was about being creative, being awesome and creating stimulating experiences,” said Culbertson. “It’s about a hearing, sight, taste and sensory overload for five days.”

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