Food & Drink

Tower of Power musician develops his own wine

Land Park resident and Tower of Power keyboardist Roger Smith with the first vintage of his new Bordeaux blend, Bump City Red. He and business partner Mike Smolich have plans for two new wine releases in the spring.
Land Park resident and Tower of Power keyboardist Roger Smith with the first vintage of his new Bordeaux blend, Bump City Red. He and business partner Mike Smolich have plans for two new wine releases in the spring.

There’s no old saying about travel deepening the palate but any wine drinker knows it’s true. Drink some Italian wine in Italy, Spanish wine in Spain, or Amador County wine in Plymouth. It will open you up. When noted keyboardist and Land Park resident Roger Smith drank French wine (Château Lafite-Rothschild 1967) in Germany, his horizons expanded greatly, and they haven’t shrunk since.

The exposure helped put Smith on the road to creating his own wine experiences with some private bottlings with friends through an Amador winery. This weekend Smith and business partner Mike Smolich go public with the release of their Bump City Red, made at Larson Family Winery in Sonoma. The winery will host an official release party Saturday.

The 2012 vintage wine approaches a classic Bordeaux blend profile with 58.58 percent cab sauvignon, 23.25 percent cab franc, 14.67 percent merlot, 3.50 percent syrah. A 750-ml bottle retails for $29.99.

“We wanted a big red but not the mouthy tannins that go with them,” Smith said while sipping a glass of the wine in his backyard.

“My thing was to knock down those tannins, but keep the wine sophisticated. That was the challenge in part to us and the winemaker.”

Smith and Smolich are working with Larson Family winemaker Carolyn Craig. The grapes were all sourced from the Larson vineyards in Sonoma County and custom crushed for the Bump City label.

Smolich said it took some work by Craig before the wine had the accessibility they wanted. Craig created blends that he and Smith would taste from the barrel.

“It took us about five times up there to get the blend we wanted – the tannins, the palate, the finish,” Smolich said.

Born in Dallas, Texas, Smith has lived in Sacramento for 40 years, the last 10 in Land Park with his wife of 33 years, Kathleen, a managing supervisor at Runyon Saltzman & Einhorn.

Smith travels often for his job, so his exposure to a variety of wines is constant. For 16 years he has played keyboards, primarily the Hammond B3 organ, for the legendary Tower of Power. The horn-centric East Bay funky rhythm and blues band is on the road 150 to 200 days each year, regularly going to Europe and Asia. “Bump City,” the title of the group’s 1972 second album, contains some of its classic repertoire: “Down to the Nightclub,” “You’re Still a Young Man,” and “You Got To Funkifize.”

The band formed in 1968 when saxophonists Emilio Castillo and Stephen “Doc” Kupka joined forces in Oakland to create a signature sound. Such longevity is rare in popular music. The group continues to tour, most recently with fellow Bay Area veteran rock acts Journey and the Steve Miller Band. After Tower of Power toured with the Dave Matthews Band in the summer of 2012, Smith was asked to record with that group, and he’s the only guest artist on its “Away From the World” album.

He has played, recorded and toured with locally based groups including the Michael Gregory Band, Charlie Peacock, and his own group. His career as a professional musician has spanned several genres, with a variety of artists including Gladys Knight, Jeff Beck and Willie Nelson. Smith’s solo work includes “Off the Hook,” which reached No. 1 on Billboard’s Contemporary Jazz singles chart in 1999 and stayed on the top 10 chart for 17 weeks. That year he was named Radio & Records’ Breakout Artist of the Year.

“Bump City” obviously references Smith’s ties to Tower of Power, but he doesn’t want the label thought of as a celebrity-driven vanity project.

“When we came up with the name “Bump City” I didn’t want it to be a caricature,” Smith said. “I wanted something we could brand so we chose that cityscape because to me San Francisco is the ultimate Bump City. It’s a destination place. You see that skyline and you automatically think of fun, bumping around town,” Smith said.

Smith said they’ve already accomplished a major part of the mission he and his partner had in mind – to make wine they liked and wanted to drink. Now Smith and Smolich have plans for spring releases of chardonnay and pinot noir.

“We’re not a typical wine company startup,” Smith said. “This is homegrown everything; we’re totally boutique. We’re hoping regionally, locally, some of the people we know will carry a bottle or two on their shelves,” Smith said.

“We feel like we’re putting out a good product, not just working on a name,” Smolich said. “People will enjoy the wine – that’s what we’re after.”

Call The Bee’s Marcus Crowder, (916) 321-1120.

Bump City Red release party

When: 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday

Where: Larson Family Winery, 23355 Millerick Road, Sonoma

Information:, (707) 938-3031