Longtime crush comes to fruit for Queensryche singer

Queensryche singer Geoff Tate came to town this week for the bottling of his first white wine.

VICKI HILLHOUSE — Walla Walla Union-Bulletin

WALLA WALLA — The rock star stood out on the bottling line at Three Rivers Winery like a twist cap in a sea of corks.

Sandwiched into the Signature mobile bottling unit Wednesday, Queensryche frontman Geoff Tate stood out in his slacks, jacket and fedora among a T-shirt-clad crew for the bottling of his first Insania white wine. Serenaded by the humming of a furnace and compressor and the clanging of bottles moving along the automated line, the unit was a stage of sorts for a musician now finding his voice as a winemaker.

Tate inched along through each step of the process, personally taking the chance to load the bottles, monitor the wine pumped in and cap the corks.

The rock musician’s short trip to Walla Walla this week with his wife and manager, Susan Tate, ceremoniously capped the latest phase of his winemaking venture.

“You dream it up, harvest, blend. The bottling is the finishing of that phase,” said a goateed Tate, sporting a shaved head for yet another artistic venture: an upcoming role in his second psychological thriller.

For an oenophile like Tate, the partnership with Three Rivers makes good on a longtime crush. His tours and travels take him all over the world, where his love of wine has been cultivated from France to Italy.

“It’s a wonderful way to sample wine, and that’s what got me into it,” the 51-year-old singer/songwriter said at the end of the 200-case bottling.  But the partnership has also brought newfound attention to Three Rivers, said winemaker Holly
Turner.

“I think it’s opened up a whole new fanbase for us,” Turner said during a break from bottling under the sun of a brisk morning.

Loyal listeners of Tate’s music are now getting to the age where more of them are likely to appreciate a good glass of wine, she said. His shows often open with tastings.

In the case of his latest blend — sauvignon blanc and semillon that Tate describes as a floral signal to summer — the initial pour will be at the Snoqualmie Casino next month in conjunction with a cabaret style, adults-only rock show featuring aerial acts, go-go and burlesque dancers, a contortionist and more.

Where Tate’s Insania is poured, so are other blends from Three Rivers Winery.

A new batch of consumers is learning about Walla Walla wines this way, Turner said. “They’re finding it in a different way, but it’s definitely through Geoff,” she said.

Tate is not the first celebrity to join Walla Walla’s wine industry. Actor Kyle MacLachlan has partnered with Dunham Cellars in projects. Former NFL quarterback Drew Bledsoe started his own Walla Walla winery a couple of years ago.

All three have Washington roots. Bledsoe, of course, grew up in Walla Walla. For Tate, the ties to the Northwest have infused a sense of pride Washington’s wine industry.

“I kind of think of myself as a spokesman for the state’s wine industry,” he said. “I’m kind of like a relentless salesman with it.”

With the local industry in a state of infancy compared to the old world wines of Europe, Washington and Walla Walla wines are just now beginning to appear on international menus, he said.  Consequently, those pouring the wines are still learning about what the Northwestern U.S. has to offer.

For Tate, who got his start with Three Rivers bottling a red blend in 2008, the venture into wine making has show him a similarity between making music and wine that he never expected.

With wine, different people taste different things. With music, different people hear different things.  For the consumer, it’s a matter of taste. For the winemaker/musician, it’s all about providing an experience through a unique art form.

“It all starts with inspiration,” he said. “But the success of what you do is part of the craftsmanship.”

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