- PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
- FINE TUNING : Renowned musician Denis Degher’s pinot noir has soul
When I first saw a bottle of Domaine Degher’s flagship blend labeled with the proprietary name “Mojo,” the only surprise about using the term was the fact that I’d never seen a vintner use it. Knowing the brand’s owner and winemaker Denis Degher is a professional musician, however, it seemed natural. The website description of his 2005 Mojo notes: “Winemaker Denis Degher’s lifelong affair with music is orchestrated in this symphonic blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Sangiovese.”
Degher explained that he works his Mojo “with intense chords of lush fruit and soft tannins that reverberate with an elegant, sustained finish.” During our interview Degher explained, “It’s good luck if you’ve got your mojo workin.’” The clever marketer added, “Got Mojo?” to his labels, business cards, brochures, and website. Yet I was more impressed by the wines.
Millennials will remember mojo, the African-American hoo-doo term, from the movie Austin Powers. Powers, played by the irrepressible Mike Myers, had his mojo stolen by “Fat Bastard,” which brought him down on his luck. Boomers, on the other hand, remember Jim Morrison singing “Mojo rising” in his hit song, L.A. Woman, inspired by Muddy Waters’ popular song, I Got My Mojo Working (Degher recommended Wikipedia.com for the best description of mojo). No doubt about it, whether you’re a man or a woman, a guitarist, drummer, or the lead singer, being a musician is one sexy job.
That’s equally true of men and women winemakers. The romance surrounding the wine industry starts at the very core of winemaking. And people who love wine treat the artisans who craft it like rock stars. When I told Degher he’s one fortunate guy—with bragging rights as a musician and a winemaker—he laughed in embarrassment and admitted, “It’s a good time to be single.”
During my interview, I sampled Degher’s wines while listening to his CD The Mojo Sessions and realized he’s quite talented at both jobs. In fact, combining music and wine makes sense. Nothing he creates is based on what he’s formerly done, but what is right for his latest version or vintage. For instance, his 2006 Mojo blend includes only Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. Strictly a red-wine specialist, Degher produces nothing but small amounts of handcrafted Bordeaux and Rhone varieties, including Mourvedre and Sangiovese.
A longtime wine aficionado, Degher remembered: “I was considering making wines when I moved here, and I was lucky enough to meet Marc Goldberg of Windward and Stephan Asseo of L’Aventure who gave me advice when I needed it.” I’ve previously written of the camaraderie among Paso Robles winemakers titled “Band of Brothers,” and find I can still commend these passionate vintners for the way they befriend each other.
Degher’s career previously was dedicated to the music business, and he earned an impressive resume. A guitarist, producer, and recording engineer who owned Red Zone Studios in Los Angeles, he has worked with many American music legends including Kenny G, Santana, and Earth, Wind & Fire. A musician all of his life, Degher is no less passionate about his wines than he is about his music. Admirably, he’s dedicated to sustainable farming: small-lot vinification with minimalist intervention to allow the vintage to “speak its own language.”
You can find Domaine Degher at such specialty shops as Cregor’s Liquors & Wines; Fermentations; 15 Degrees C; and Monterey St. Wine Co. For an interesting introduction to Domaine Degher, I recommend treating your lover to the Valentine’s Day dinner at Bernick’s steakhouse in downtown Paso Robles for a multi-course dinner paired with Domaine Degher wines on Feb. 14. ∆
You can reach New Times’ Cuisine columnist at email@example.com.