Rock ‘n Roll Wine Amplified Festival offers tunes by the glass

Wine will flow and rock will roll this weekend as the sixth annual Rock ‘n Roll Wine Amplified Festival squeezes into Mandalay Bay.

The two-day event begins Friday with Bubbles & Chocolate at the resort’s Moorea Beach Club. Limited to 500 people, it will be a tasting of champagnes and sparkling wines and sweet treats from pastry chef Megan Romano and master chocolatier Vincent Pilon, plus music by OneRepublic.

Saturday’s main event will bring representatives of 50 wineries to pour 150 wines on Mandalay Bay Beach. There also will be five live performances on two stages — headlined by Train — and foods from Fleur, Aureole, StripSteak, Mix and Shanghai Lilly available for purchase. Tickets for the two events are $55 and $65, respectively, or $115 for both.

If you’re not familiar with Train, it’s a three-time Grammy Award-winning group whose "Hey, Soul Sister" is easily recognizable from TV commercials and whose "Drops of Jupiter (Tell Me)" won a Grammy — which begs the question of why they are headlining a wine event with tickets at $65.

Chris Hammond, a sommelier and founder of Rock ‘n Roll Wine, said several factors came into play. One, Rock ‘n Roll Wine’s events have built up a reputation for bringing in top-notch acts since the company’s humble beginnings in 2003, he said. Two, the company worked with Train frontman Pat Monahan for an event at Studio 54 a few years ago.

And third — and maybe most importantly — "They’re wine lovers and they make their own wine," Hammond said of the group, which also includes guitarist Jimmy Stafford and drummer Scott Underwood. Two months ago, the three released a California petite syrah, Drops of Jupiter, which will be among the wines featured at the event.

The comparatively reasonable ticket prices are part of the overall mission, Hammond said.

"When we started this, we said there are wine events and wine tastings that are $100 all over the place," he recalled. "We could get that price, but we’re not going to draw as many people, we’re not going to draw the type of people we want and we’re not going to create the energy, the vibe and the buzz that we want."

And what sort of people might those be?

"People who aren’t pretentious," Hammond said.

That sentiment stretches to Rock ‘n Roll Wine’s roots. Hammond said he and business partner Sonny Barton, who knew each other from working in the software field, were kicking around the idea of opening a wine bar and scouting locations back in 2003. Hammond was studying for his sommelier exams, and decided to have some friends over to help.

"It would make it more fun to study with people," he said. Barton said he’d invite some friends as well. Hammond would give a little lesson and everyone would taste the wine. They established 10 rules, one of which was that if someone didn’t like a wine, they should see if anyone else wanted it before pouring it out.

The first week, he said, 12 people attended. The next week, there were 35. After 17 weeks, they decided that they needed to take it out of Hammond’s house — and he and Barton realized they didn’t need to open a wine bar.

For two years, the events took place in the Arts Factory downtown, but "eventually Strip casinos started hearing about us and thought they’d start to bring us in," Hammond said.

The duo also have started making their own wine, out of a winery in Santa Rosa, Calif. The white blend is called Rhapsody, the red, The Grotto. (For sources, see www.RockNRollWine.com.) Instead of food pairings, their back labels suggest music pairings.

And the early mission has survived.

"We want to revolutionize the way wine is appreciated, perceived and enjoyed," Hammond said. "We do that by making it available to more people. That’s why the price has been relatively low for what you’re getting."

And that’s why their events draw a mix of people across the demographics, he said, "a great cross-section of professionals, younger and older," schoolteachers to lawyers and judges who all have one thing in common

"They all love wine," Hammond said. "They all love music and they all love to laugh and have a good time. If you’re going to come to one of our events, you’re going to have some fun. You’re going to taste great wine and you’re going to laugh."

Contact reporter Heidi Knapp Rinella at hrinella@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0474.

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