Rocker Jim Cuddy Debuts New Wine Brand

Natalie MacLean | July 21st, 2016

Canadian rocker—and wine connoisseur— Jim Cuddy is hitting a different note with his harmony of Niagara grapes. Here, Cuddy on his new wine brand and top pairings.

Jim Cuddy, lead singer and guitarist of the Canadian band Blue Rodeo, didn’t grow up in a wine-drinking family. In fact, his first alcoholic drink of choice was beer. “When you start playing in bars, you get paid in beer,” he says. “At first, I was excited: free beer! But after five years, I couldn’t take any more beer. That’s when I got into wine.” And into it he is. Cuddy has partnered with Niagara’s Tawse Winery to create a new wine brand, Cuddy by Tawse.

“Moray and Joanne Tawse are friends,” Cuddy says. “I had played at their winery several times, their wines are top-notch and I like their biodynamic approach.”

Cuddy didn’t just lend his name to the new wine; he was involved in making it. “I thought it would be easy: just select the best grapes, blend them together and you’re done,” he says. “But it’s much more nuanced. Paul Pender [Tawse’s winemaker] showed me that one block of grapes can overwhelm another. Blending is about creating a harmonious experience.” Was he concerned about the bad rap that celebrity wines get? “You answer that concern with what’s in the bottle. I think we’ve done that.”

Cuddy’s wine education happened on the road. In 1991, he and the band’s road manager Kevin Douglas bought several wine magazines and single bottles of first-growth Bordeaux at $50 a bottle. Today, those wines sell for more than $500 a bottle. “We’d read up on the wines on the tour bus, then in the next town where we were playing, we’d go into the liquor store and buy the wine,” Cuddy says. “We’d take it to the back of the bus and pour it into plastic cups.”

Next: Jim Cuddy’s encounter with Rush’s Geddy Lee

That’s a far cry from his encounter with Geddy Lee of the rock band Rush, at Toronto’s Splendido restaurant. “I was celebrating my birthday so I took my best wines to the restaurant,” Cuddy says. “The staff lined them up along the counter, but down a bit, I could see a line of the finest vintage Burgundy and Bordeaux wines. I asked, ‘Who the hell is here?’ When I found out, I went over to Geddy’s table and we shared some great wine that night.”

Best wine advice New York wine expert Tom Eagan told Cuddy not to rate the wine, but rather appreciate its unique merits. “I prefer to understand a wine through its culture and food,” says Cuddy, “to focus on the experience of wine, rather than the price tag. When I was in Sicily, the wine was served at room temperature—30 C—with salty, oily fish. Then it all made sense how wine and food from a certain place go together.

The power of the grape Cuddy likes what happens when people share a bottle of wine. “They talk, loosen up and enjoy each other’s company.” And if he could share a bottle with anyone, who would it be? “Paul McCartney, but he’d probably want a joint,” Cuddy laughs. “I’d also like to share a bottle with Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen and Kris Kristofferson, not because they know wine but because they’re great musicians I admire.”

A true vintage Cuddy believes that music, like wine, gets better with age and thinks his own craft as a musician has evolved over time. He’s more open with his lyrics, adding: “Music is one art where they don’t kick you out when you get old.”

Natalie MacLean is the editor of Canada’s largest wine review site at www.nataliemaclean.com.

Next: Read about Jim Cuddy’s wine pairings

Jim Cuddy’s pairings
“Play the sad songs with my red wine, and the happy ones, like Kris Kristofferson’s ‘Me and Bobby McGee,’ with the white.”

Cuddy By Tawse Cabernet Merlot 2013 Niagara Escarpment, Ontario V.Q.A., Canada
A seductive mocha, espresso nose on this blend of Cabernet France, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Aged for 18 months in French oak barrels. Rich and smooth on the palate with a long, satisfying finish inflected with blackberry, dark spice and smoke. Decant 1 to 2 hours. Pair this wine with a rare steak and the band’s hit song “Try,” aptly named for tasting this new wine. Alcohol: 12.5%; Sweetness: Extra Dry; Drink: 2016-2021; Score: 93/100; Price: $25

Cuddy By Tawse Chardonnay 2013 Niagara Escarpment, Ontario V.Q.A., Canada
A rich, full-bodied Niagara Chardonnay with aromas of toasted almond, golden apple and peach. Finishes long and smooth. This wine was aged for 12 months in French oak barrels. The 2013 vintage is the inaugural release of this wine. Pair with grilled chicken while enjoying an outdoor concert. Alcohol: 12.5%; Sweetness: Extra Dry; Drink: 2016-2021; Score: 92/100; Price: $25

A version of this article appeared in the July/August 2016 issue with the headline, “Red, White & Blue Rodeo,” p. 72-73.