Sony Music Nashville
A decade ago at the height of his career with duo partner Ronnie Dunn, Kix channeled some of his boundless creative energy into a side project with a few fellow investors, a vineyard just outside of Nashville. With no expectations aside from the hope of making a little money and having some fun, he launched Arrington Vineyards and put his first grapes in the ground. Since its official opening in 2007, the winery has become a hugely popular destination for both locals and tourists, and has surpassed all of his wildest dreams. Although Kix spent countless hours on-site working and tending the business, he had never officially performed a show on his own vineyard grounds. So it's no wonder on this particularly gorgeous sunny day in Nashville he's especially excited as he prepares to step onstage to perform at the first annual Harvest Party, a benefit he created especially for the Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt.
Kix and his wife Barbara have been avid supporters of the hospital for 20 years, so when the opportunity arose to marry his love of music, wine, hot air balloons and helping children in need, the singer-songwriter-entrepreneur jumped at the chance. Throughout the afternoon at the inaugural event, he would be called on to give a private vineyard tour to Vanderbilt VIPs, meet, greet and play host to crowds of fans, and perform songs from New to This Town, his solo CD (out today, Sept. 11) for the thousands who flocked to the unique festival. For someone who's experienced just about every career high imaginable, Kix still seems to possess an enviable passion and enthusiasm for everything he's involved in, from music and movies to wine. His eyes dance as he explains the winemaking process to the small group of hospital executives and VIPs on hand for the day's special tour.
"We're really excited you're here," Kix says, addressing the group just after receiving a special plaque from the hospital honoring his work with them through the years. "I know a lot of you have contributed to the hospital in different ways, so if you'd like, we thought it might be fun to give you a private tour of the winery. Our fifth anniversary was July 1, and our business plan and dream starting out was about 5,000 cases. This year we'll be getting close to 20,000 cases. But with that comes a lot of very interesting challenges ... winemaking is a time issue as far as the product. Red wine takes over two years to make. The way we've grown, now we have that challenge of trying to figure out in 2015 how much wine we're gonna be making. So from a business perspective, it's one of the most challenging and fun things I've done. We know the growth can't continue at least at this rate, so we don't want to make too much or too little. That's the real thing for us right now."
Walking through the operation with a glass of Cabernet in his hand, Kix runs a group of about 30 through a quick Winemaking 101 class, explaining everything from tannins to the importance of the barrels that house his wines. It's clear the Louisiana native knows his way around wine just as he does around a hit song, and he cracks jokes with the group as he describes how the vineyard continues to expand, now even producing its own champagnes and sparkling wines along with 18 varieties of wine.
"Our wine spends 24 months in French oak barrels and that's when it mellows and changes and becomes that wonderful thing," Kix says, his eyes lighting up as he describes the intricate process. "That's the difference between the wine that we make and what might be that three-dollar wine you get on an airplane. We make port here, too. That is my favorite! It's the most complicated. We have a great port if you get a chance to try it. We distill the wine like whiskey to 160 proof -- we don't have a license to do that, but we do it! [laughs] It's white lightning y'all! It's sweet, high in alcohol content, and will keep for a year, because of all that alcohol. Portuguese sailors, they would open a keg of wine and it would go bad in a week, but their whiskey never went bad. So they thought, hell, what if we put our whiskey in our wine? What a concept! And it worked, so that's where it came from."
Like a proud father showing off his kid's report card, Kix walks the group through the tank room, where 2,800-gallon tanks house all of Arrington's wine. He explains how exact the temperature has to be to help preserve the flavors, describing the six-week fermentation process in detail. As the tour proceeds to the barrel room, Kix talks of the planned necessary expansion for the room towering with barrels and barrels of Arrington's best, explaining the difficulty some of the barrels can pose.
"We're in the process of adding a room because we've outgrown ourselves," he notes. "The barrels in middle have to be checked and we can spend half a day trying to check one case of wine sometimes. All of our cases are fixing to go out ... we sell 85 percent of our wine right here in Tennessee. On Saturdays, there'll be 1,500 to 2,000 people here, all drinking wine and having picnics. If you haven't been here before you know we keep this thing very chill and very fun. We've got college kids and grandmas and bachelorette parties, and that's exactly what I wanted it to be, a point of destination where people could come and enjoy yourself and the wine. As you can see, they bring candelabras and pickup trucks and everybody does their own deal and have really taken ownership of the winery. We're very proud of what we're doing here and I'm very happy to have Vanderbilt involved now. My mission for this year was to let people become aware of what a great hospital we have here and just make this a day of celebration."
For Kix, the celebration is a perfect place to debut new music for the diehard fans who've never left his side since his departure from Brooks & Dunn. He's well aware that some fans might not understand why he and Ronnie chose to pull the plug on their ultra-successful partnership, and explains that the two may still pair up on a project or two again someday, despite rumors to the contrary.
"The fans have really been great," Kix tells The Boot. "And, of course, I've loved a lot of groups and duos over the years that have decided to go their separate ways. It's always hard for me to understand in a way, so having done it myself now, even though I did start out as a solo artist, you'd have to be a moron not to know there's gonna be people who want you to keep doing what you're doing. But we're grown men 20 years down the road that just kinda went, "Man, it's really time to let this thing rest,' and we just didn't want to wear it out and beat it up until it wasn't cool anymore.
"But there's a possibility that Ronnie and I might do anything together again. We didn't say we never wanted to see each other again -- we went on vacation after we came off the road, that's one of the first things we did! [laughs] I'm sure we'll go duck hunting again together this year. I invite him down to my Louisiana place every year. Ronnie and are brothers, we always will be. We shared a dream that people in our business ... you can't even fathom. I think that's why we were together so long, because we never intended it to happen. We never thought it would happen. But when it did, we'd been around long enough to know just how fortunate we were, and we rode it as long as we felt like was comfortable. It wasn't something we never wanted to force and it was fun until we decided let's take a break from this. I wouldn't be at all surprised if we write together again or if we toured together again. There's a good chance it will never happen, just because I think we're both having a lot of fun just stretching and going, 'I don't have to call Ronnie today to find out if we could do this,' and I know he feels the same way [laughs]. It's just human nature. We're both pretty strong spirits and pretty strong characters, and I think we like being the boss of our lives."
From the rocking elopement encourager, "Let's Do This Thing," which he co-wrote with Leslie Satcher, to the brand-new single, "Bring It on Home," the songs on New to This Town are already striking gold in the hearts of the fans who are singing along to all the words at Kix's shows. The host of a countdown radio show himself, Kix is content with the fact that fans dig the new songs, whether they top the charts or not.
Following the tour and a bit of down time in the barrel room, Kix heads off in a golf cart to the upstairs deck of Arrington's sales office to greet his partners and friends and the VIPs on hand for the big day. As the balloons begin filling in the field across from the vineyards and floating by overhead, he surveys the massive crowds gathered down below who are picnicking, wine tasting, lining up to purchase bottles and enjoying the beauty of the property's rolling hills. The 250 special edition bottles of white and red produced just for the Harvest Party sold out immediately and Kix plans to make the event an annual celebration, expanding its parameters even further next year onto adjacent property purchased next door.
Just minutes later, he's back in familiar territory, taking the stage with his band and smoking through a set of hits that includes old Brooks & Dunn favorites and plenty of new tunes as well. In his element in front of the hillside crowd, the country superstar shows no signs of slowing down as he rampages all over the stage, burning up the harmonica and having the time of his life playing for the adoring fans of all ages. Besides, he's got plenty of other things he plans on doing besides performing before he even thinks about hanging up his saddle.
"I think I'll always be making music," he says. "I mean, I'm gonna get old, I'm aware of that, and we, Ronnie and I, certainly had our shot. Being an artist in the music business has a shelf life. Willie Nelson could certainly argue with that but he's a rare bird. I do have a lot of other things I'm interested in. Making wine is obviously one of them, making movies is another one. There are plenty of cool parts [for someone of my age] if I really study and try hard ... because there are older people in real life. So those are things I look forward to as my life goes on. I think I'll always write songs, but I doubt I'll tour the way I am right now."
With a budding acting career, a film production company to run, a successful vineyard that is selling wine almost faster than they can produce it, a weekly radio show to host, a new album to promote and a solo career to launch, it's a wonder Kix has any time to sleep. But he couldn't envision his life playing out any other way.
"I am definitely working more now," he says, "but the word 'work' is the confusing part of that. People ask me all the time how do you fit all this stuff in, how do you schedule it? The secret is everything I'm doing is something that I really want to do. It's just like if you go to the beach for the weekend, you're gonna fit it all in. I want to go here, I want to go to my favorite place to eat, I want to ride go-karts, I want to rent wave runners, and I'm gonna sit here and put my legs up and read a book. You get all that stuff in because you want to. That's how my life is. It's like I'm running from place to place and I can't wait to get to the next one because when I show up, I -- for the most part -- kind of know what I'm doing. [laughs] It's all interesting and fun to me, and I just can't wait to do it all."
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