Cabernet and Acoustic Guitar

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This guest post comes to us from Mira Advani Honeycutt, author of California’s Central Coast, The Ultimate Winery Guide: From Santa Barbara to Paso Robles. She frequently contributes wine and travel pieces to the Good Food Blog.

Grenache grapes awaiting harvest

It’s not often that I find myself tasting wine and listening to acoustic guitar music – both creations of the same person.

But that’s the experience we had at Domaine Degher/Mojo Cellars, enjoying Dennis Degher’s luscious red wines at the tasting bar in his kitchen. Degher’s vineyards and the miniscule winery (annual production a mere 400 cases) are located in San Miguel on the west side of the 101 Freeway, a few miles north of Paso Robles. San Miguel, home to a dozen wineries, falls under the Paso Robles appellation.

“This was a naked hilltop when I moved here in 2003,” says Degher, pointing to his 12-acre hillside ranch that offers a view of the San Miguel Mission in the distance. Degher is also a passionate musician and previously owned Red Zone, a music production company in Santa Monica. He’s worked on recordings of such stellar names as Santana, No Doubt and Kenny Loggins.

Denis Degher's method of decanting wine.
Denis Degher’s method of decanting wine. (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

But his love for wine led him to the Paso Robles wine region. “With this new technology, I knew the music business was coming to an end,” admits Degher. However, his lifetime love for music continues. Next to the barrel room is a professional recording studio, where he composes and records his own musical creations under the name of Sleepy Guitar Johnson.

Back to our wine tasting. Degher practices organic farming on the 3 1/2 acres planted to Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Grenache and Mourvedre. The bottling is done under two labels — Old School and Mojo, both featuring the red guitar logo.

After tasting a line-up of six wines, it was evident that Degher works his mojo with bold harmonies and lush tannins that sing. The purist winemaker begins the tasting by ‘seasoning’ our glass with a wine rinse. “These glasses pick up smells in the cabinet,” says Degher.  After uncorking, he turns the bottle upside down into a decanter and empties the contents to aerate the wine.

Domaine Degher Cabernet wines from the hillsides of San Miguel.
Domaine Degher Cabernet wines from the hillsides of San Miguel. (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

We start with the 2009 Old School, a silky blend of Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre. This was the first vintage produced from estate fruit. It nabbed a gold award from the San Francisco Chronicle. Degher’s first few vintages starting in 2004 were produced from sourced fruit from local Paso vineyards. The 2010 Old School with a larger percentage of Syrah in the blend had a round mouth feel and a soft finish.

We continued with a reverse vertical tasting of three vintages of Mojo — a Cabernet/Syrah blend from the years 2008/’07/’06. While the ’08 and ’06 were 50/50 Cabernet/Syrah, the ’07 had a third each of Cabernet, Syrah and Grenache. All three were balanced and well structured. The ‘06 with a few years of age showed well-rounded, supple tannins.

The voluptuous 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon with lush tannins is amongst my favorite Degher wines and incidentally this was the wine that first got me introduced to this label a few months back.

Degher walks us around the bocce court alongside a small row of Grenache vines that are not quite ready for harvest. He expresses the symbiosis of music and winemaking this way: “There are a lot of similarities. It’s taking something that is constantly changing and making it classic and enjoyable.”