There are few more idyllic settings for live music than a vineyard. Picture it: you’re sitting at a table with friends, your family or a special someone. You’re sharing a bottle or two of wine made from the vines right in view while snacking from a cheese plate or enjoying an artisanal pizza. A local musician is singing some of your favorite songs. And there’s plenty of space, so you’re not sitting on top of other guests enjoying the setting, too.
For decades, New Jersey’s wineries and local musicians have enjoyed a mutually beneficial relationship.
Music is a Draw for Winery Visitors
Musicians have played at Sharrott Winery in Hammonton since its opening in 2008. It quickly became apparent that the music kept people coming through the doors.
“There’s no doubt music draws in visitors,” says Larry Sharrott, III, one of the winery’s owners. “It gives our guests another reason to come, along with the award-winning wine and chef prepared food.”
Musicians play year-round at the winery.
“We have an indoor/outdoor facility,” says Sharrott. “When the weather turns cold, we bring the party indoors.”
Nicki Sbaffoni performing at Autumn Lake Winery
Nicki Sbaffoni is one of the musicians who plays at Sharrott and several other wineries in the state, including Autumn Lake Winery, White Horse Winery, and William Heritage Winery. Originally from the Pittsburgh area, she moved to South Jersey for her job and played side gigs at wineries, restaurant/bars, and shore venues. Within a few years, she was able to leave her corporate job and play her solo, acoustic music as her main job.
During the pandemic lockdown of 2020, she – like so many other musicians – turned to virtual performances. When things started to open back up and places were able to have guests in outdoor settings, the wineries quickly brought back musicians, including Sbaffoni.
“No one was hesitant to bring music back,” she says. “Even though they had to structure [seating] differently and make changes because of COVID, no one said they would hold off on music.”
The wineries, she believes, recognized just how important music is to their guests, and that having live music as soon as they opened would add some normalcy to their guests’ lives.
Scott Donnini performing at Auburn Road Vineyard
At Auburn Road Vineyard in Pilesgrove, music is integrated throughout almost everything they do.
“Music is a huge part of the aesthetic of what we do,” says owner Scott Donnini. “Music – like wine and food and painting – is art and it accentuates and adds a layer of pleasure to the whole wine experience when it is done correctly.”
Music is so important at Auburn that the back labels of all their wines have links to curated Spotify playlists and those playlists are also the soundtrack that plays in the winery’s tasting room.
“Live music has the additional elements of community and performance that bring yet another level to the wine experience,” Donnini says.
On Saturday nights, Auburn hosts “Live! From the Vineyard Stage!” with regional acts. In the winter, where guests can warm themselves by fire pits (or watch from inside through windows), they show old moves on a big screen and featured musicians live scores the movie. And every once in a while, Donnini and other local musicians may show up unannounced as the performers on Saturday night – sometimes in disguise and using a variety of band names, most of them based on characters from Springsteen songs. Donnini sings and plays guitar and bass.
Musicians Love Winery Gigs
For Greg Jones, a musician who’s been performing for 35 years, attending a mid-day wine and chocolate pairing when a live musician was playing at William Heritage Winery in Mullica Hill several years ago gave him the idea that perhaps he didn’t have to always play bars until last call.
“This is early,” Jones said he realized. “I could be home for dinner.”
It took time, but he eventually started playing at William Heritage and now plays at several New Jersey wineries including Cape May Winery and Hawk Haven Winery.
Jones, who also plays at Pennsylvania wineries and non-winery venues, says one of the biggest upsides to playing wineries is the hours.
“I love the winery gigs,” says Jones. And the changes that many wineries have had to make because of the pandemic have inadvertently been beneficial for him. Because many wineries now have a reservations system with two-hour seating’s, he ends up playing more than one set on a weekend day.
Sbaffoni has found the same thing.
“Musicians are playing multiple sets now,” she says.
Both Sbaffoni and Jones play wineries almost every week. Like many of the local musicians who play in the vines or tasting rooms, they take requests, play songs that most of the crowd knows (although Jones will intersperse an original into his sets from time to time), and engage the winery’s guests. Sometimes, guests come to the wineries primarily because they are fans of the local musicians playing.
“We have a symbiotic relationship,” says Sbaffoni. “A lot of the wineries are my favorite venues of all. The people are good. The staff is wonderful. And they appreciate us.”
To find out when local wineries are hosting music, visit our Upcoming Events page or the individual websites and Facebook pages of the wineries. Also, join our mailing list for regular emails about news and events.