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A festival of wine and jazz comes to Longwood Gardens

Warren Oree traces the pairing of wine and jazz in Philly back to the old Blue Note club on Ridge Avenue.

Warren Oree traces the pairing of wine and jazz in Philly back to the old Blue Note club on Ridge Avenue.

"But that was wine that had one grape for every three cases," he said, laughing. "We're talking about real wine here."

Oree is artistic director of Lifeline Music Coalition, the local organization that has produced the West Oak Lane Jazz and Arts Festival for the last several years. Now Lifeline has hooked up with Longwood Gardens for Longwood's first Wine and Jazz Festival, which will feature live music, samples from local wineries and discussions on wine-related topics.

According to Graziella D'Amelio, Lifeline's executive director, the combination is a "no-brainer."

"Good wine and good music are so similar - the experience is so real and so organic. It's a natural marriage. Who would think that there would be so many wineries in an area like this, and who would think that there are so many jazz musicians in the city of Philadelphia?"

All told, 22 regional wineries will be represented at tomorrow's festival.

Longwood director Paul Redman sees a partnership between them and Kennett Square's garden showplace as tailor-made, since "the two go hand in hand, connected by the science and art of horticulture. We want people to know more about the wines that are produced in Pennsylvania and to support local agriculture."

Talks will cover topics like pairing food and wine, navigating a wine list and techniques for growing grapes. The headliner is New York Times wine columnist Eric Asimov, who will give a talk titled "No Time Like the Present: Living in an Era of Great Wines."

According to Asimov, advances in the science and technology of wine-making have made it "indisputable that there is more great wine being made today than ever before in history."

"Going back even 50 years," Asimov said, "if you were buying inexpensive wine somewhere, there was a real good chance that it was going to be not just bad, but flawed somehow. It's almost totally impossible to buy a flawed wine nowadays. The problem today is not bad wine, but boring wine."

Asimov encourages variety in wines, and Oree scheduled the day's music in much the same spirit.

"I wanted a nice, eclectic mix of sounds," he explained. "So if someone is a marathon player and they decide to stay for the whole day, they'll have different flavors, different tastes, different sounds, different colors the whole day and hopefully go away satisfied."

The day kicks off with Eric Mintel, a Dave Brubeck-inspired pianist. He'll be followed by singer Denise King, whom Oree refers to as "the take-your-shoes-off, gutbucket-blues kind of thing." Then saxophonist Lynn Riley takes over before Oree brings his own bass to the stage as leader of the Arpeggio Jazz Ensemble. In honor of Cinco de Mayo, the program concludes with Afro-Cuban ensemble Latin Fiesta.

Unlike the West Oak Lane festival, which Oree programs with more die-hard jazz aficionados in mind, the roster of acts for this show targets those who are "not quite ready for the Sun Ra Arkestra or Ornette Coleman," Oree said.

"I'm thinking of the audience who may be faintly, barely acquainted with jazz, possibly based on a lot of stereotypes they've heard and on what they think is jazz from listening to WJJZ ["smooth-jazz" station 97.5 FM]. I wanted to give them something that's not going to run them out of the park, but also something that's going to educate them."

He structured the lineup with more relaxed, traditional music at the outset, increasing in energy and complexity throughout the day. "You grab them in the comfort zone first, then start putting a little hot sauce on the meal."

This points out another common trait of jazz and wine: both, deservedly or not, have cultivated an elitist image, with casual consumers scared away by perceived snobbery. It's an image that both Oree and Asimov rail against in their respective fields.

"I think that the great myth is that you have to be a connoisseur to enjoy wine," Asimov said. "That is absolutely untrue. . . . There's no reason to know any more about wine than there is to know about air-conditioner repair or French poetry - if it's your thing, then you pursue it, but if not, you just enjoy it."

Longwood Gardens, 1001 Longwood Road, Kennett Square, 11 a.m.-6 p.m. tomorrow, $30, 610-388-1000, ext. 100,