Nov 052014
Read Part 6 of  Starting J. Cage Cellars –  A Family Winery Series

Back at the end of September, we finished barreling our wines so they can mature and rest comfortably. Donna and I then headed back to Denver. A Halloween party invitation and the wonderful Pinot on the River event in Healdsburg were enough excuse to bolt from Denver for a long weekend back in Sonoma to taste our three J. Cage Cellars wines.

J. Cage Cellars

Conch getting J. Cage Cellars Pinot Samples

I recall watching Conch and Whitney when they were young kids participating in sporting events and wondering if they might develop into world-class athletes. Of course nearly every parent does when their child kicks that first soccer goal or in our case glided down the ski racing slopes of Breckenridge. I was sure Conch was destined for the PGA when he got a hole-in-one at age 13…. But alas… it didn’t happen. A parent can dream…and probably should.

The wines that we struggled so hard to get right are, like those soccer kids, growing up and it was a pleasure to taste them after a month of maturity. Conch samples barrels almost weekly and keeps me apprised. The whites are nice and crisp and should be ready for the summer patio season. But it’s the five barrels of Pinot Noir that I’m emotionally focused upon. Continue reading »

Sep 212014
Read Part 4 of our Starting J. Cage Cellars –  A Family Winery Series

Much to my naive surprise, learning to be a winemaker (for our new J. Cage Cellars label) and seeking winemaking advice has turned out to be much like my first days of fatherhood and  seeking child rearing advice. Even the most artful winemakers hold deeply seeded conflicting opinions. As my friend Kurt Beitler of Bohème Wines told me, “Roger…What do you get when two winemakers are in a room together?…Four opinions.”

Learning to be a Winemaker I recall from my early days as a father asking different parents I respected about child rearing philosophies and techniques. As I found with winemaking, there was an inconsistency of heartfelt answers. Let the child bond by sleeping in bed with you. The child should learn independence by sleeping in another room. Let the child set their own schedule. If your child sets their own schedule, you’ll have an undisciplined child and you’ll get no rest…It’s all enough to leave your head spinning like the child, Regan, in the 1973 film The Exorcist.

Even though I had spent quite a bit of time reading about the art of winemaking, when the time came for decision making, I relied on a core group of respected winemaker friends who were happy to offer solid advice. I had assumed incorrectly, that since they produced wines in a similar style, their techniques would be nearly the same and I would have a simple plan to follow. I could not have been more wrong. Not only are many of their opinions deeply held, I was told that if I followed another’s advice…it could end badly. Like Regan…my head was and is still, though to a much lesser extent, spinning. Continue reading »

Sep 012014
Read Part 3 of our Starting J. Cage Cellars – A Family Winery Series
“I don’t know nothin’ ’bout birthin’ babies.” (Prissy from Gone With the Wind)

And that’s how it felt when we arrived at 5:15 AM to bring in our first grapes for our new family winery, J. Cage Cellars. All that I had learned in preparation for that moment seemed to evaporate in the excitement. Much like how all the hours spent in birthing classes twenty-five years earlier were reduced in the heat of the moment to “Breathe, Honey…You can do this.”

The early morning of August 27th was crisp and clear. The sun had not yet risen and the fog was yet to flow from the coast when we arrived. Dry Creek Valley was very dark. Above the vineyard, the star-filled sky twinkled in anticipation. On the hillside across the road, crews were hand-picking grapes though all I could see was their tiny headlamps sparking amongst the trees like fireflies on a summer’s eve. A tractor droned in a distant part of the vineyard bringing in fruit for another winery who was picking ahead of us. Donna and I waited patiently until I received a text from Janice, the vineyard owner that read, “walk towards the tractor sounds” and so we did.

The First Grapes ArriveAmongst the vines we found Janice and Brian Schmidt of Tzabaco Rancho Vineyards along with Kay, Brian’s sister. Brian was perched on the blue tractor pulling a trailer with three ½ ton bins for the handpicked grapes. On the trailer’s running boards stood Janice and Kay, pulling out leaves and bad clusters, tossing them to the side. The crew of Mexican vineyard workers moved quietly and efficiently slicing clusters of Sauvignon Blanc grapes off the vines, placing them in smaller bins called lugs until the bin weighed about 40 lbs. Then they would scurry to the trailer; dump the lug and run back to pick more. Each worker is paid by the lug, so they move very quickly.

The First Grapes ArriveThe crew picked our 2300 pounds of grapes in just 30 minutes. The rows that I had been babysitting and checking religiously were soon bare. While my days are now busy in the winery, I miss the vineyard. We had selected two rows for our Sauvignon Blanc and will make about 50 cases of wine. I chose this vineyard for a couple of reasons. First, I know and respect the Schmidts as both growers and people. The family has owned and farmed the property since 1856. Check out their wonderful red wines at Estate 1856. Second, I could take a mix of the common Clone 1 and the less common Musque clone that will give the finished wine a more plush mouth-feel. Continue reading »

Aug 132014
Have you ever dreamed of starting a family winery? Follow us as we embark on our wine-stained adventure at J. Cage Cellars.

When dreaming big dreams, have you wondered if the reality of living the dream would live up to the expectations of the dreamer. I am about to find out and it is a little scary. My father loved small WWII vintage aircraft. Much as he wanted to pilot, he remained always a passenger, until the day he passed in a mid-air collision of two of his beloved planes.

After the funeral I wondered aloud why my dad had never taken flying lessons so he could experience flight from the pilot’s seat. My mother responded by saying she thought it was because he was afraid the reality of being a pilot could never live up to his dream of being a pilot. He didn’t want to face that possible disappointment after a lifetime of anticipation. I don’t think my father was alone in that fear.

I’ve had a dream for much of my life that took a passenger seat to running a business, raising a family and other less engaging hobbies. My dream started in 1983 on a rainy November afternoon when my wife, Donna, I and two friends pulled into the parking lot of the then fledgling Caymus Vineyards in Napa Valley.

Roger & Charlie Wagner - circa 1983

Roger & Charlie Wagner – circa 1983

We were met by the senior co-founder, Charlie Wagner. It was apparent on that wet chilly day that Mr. Wagner really didn’t want to do a tasting for us. But instead of just sending us on our way, he challenged my group of aspiring wine enthusiasts to tour his post-harvest leafless vineyard in the cold mud and muck. We gladly took him up on the challenge even though I knew my loafers would never recover from the assault by vineyard mud.

What was supposed to be a quick tour and tasting turned into a four-hour lesson on the art, science and agriculture of winemaking. I was hooked. Still today in my office hangs a photo of a smiling Charlie Wagner in his paid shirt and me in my tweed jacket and soiled loafers, after enjoying Caymus Cabernet around the Wagner family dining room in their small farm-house that now serves as winery offices. Continue reading »

Dec 022013

Wine Blogger Roger Beery of Bacchus and Beery – Interview

I was excited to be interviewed by the premiere European Food and Fashion website, Webflakes. So if you wanted to know a bit more about the guy behind Bacchus and Beery…Here you go.

Roger Beery

Wine Blogger Roger Beery from Bacchus and Beery

This week we introduce you to Roger Beery who, along with his wife Donna, started the wine blog Bacchus and Beery, which is dedicated to tasting, enjoying, discovering, and of course, just drinking wine. 

They started their love affair with wine back in college and it is now a shared passion in their family, with both their son and daughter working in the industry. 

With years of experience, Roger is now a self-appointed Wine Evangelist spreading the Gospel of the Grape – from sharing an interest with lifelong friends to passing down his family’s passion to their children. Continue reading »