By Kathy Marcks Hardesty
New Times, San Luis Obispo
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.
He started making wine after relocating to Paso Robles from Los Angeles in 2003. Degher bought his first grapes from local vineyards during the 2004 harvest and made his first wines with the help of Paso Robles veteran Marc Goldberg of Windward Winery. That year production was so small he just shared the wines with friends. But the wines were so good he began producing wines commercially in 2005.
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.
Published: Thursday, Jun. 03, 2010
Music: A blend of country and blues
Paso Robles singer-songwriter Denis Degher—who performs as Sleepy Guitar Johnson—has a long history as a recording artist and producer
He’s even recorded tracks in the barrel room of his Paso Robles winery, Domaine Degher Wines. (According to Degher, those wooden barrels “really enhance the sound.”)
Photos: DINA MANDE/JUICE MARKETING
‘For me, the only difference between country and blues is how it’s presented,’ says Denis Degher.
“You just have to be so in the moment and capture it when it’s there, because it can slip away instantaneously if you don’t grab it,” explained Degher, who goes by the stage name Sleepy Guitar Johnson.
On Saturday, the singer-songwriter will play songs from his latest album, “Cowboy Blues,” at Vinoteca Wine Bar in Paso Robles.
According to Degher, the setting is an appropriate one.
“I get my best compositions when I’ve had a couple glasses of wine,” he joked.
Born in Ohio and raised in Southern California, Degher learned how to play guitar by age 12.
“I grew up listening to everything when I was a kid,” he said, from The Beach Boys to Bob Dylan.
He gained an appreciation for “real folk blues” — artists like Big Bill Broonzy, Robert Johnson and Huddie “Leadbelly” Ledbetter— while studying literature and history at San Jose State.
After a brief stint as a “guitar-carrying vagabond,” Degher moved to Los Angeles to concentrate on music. Then, one day, he walked into Studio 76 on the Sunset Strip to record a demo.
Degher, then studying electronics and production at the Don Martin School of Radio and Television, started chatting with the studio owner about the record industry.
The next day, he said, he made the man an offer: “ ‘If I learn how to run your equipment, can I record my own songs here?’ He said. ‘Yes.’ ”
“In two or three years, I was working on major projects at big studios,” Degher recalled. “I went from zero to 100 mph.”
Degher eventually built his own recording studio, Red Zone Studios in Burbank and Santa Monica, working with the likes of No Doubt, Santana and Tupac Shakur.
Since moving to Paso Robles in 2003, Degher has dedicated his time to two passions: music and wine.
He released his first vintage in 2005 with the help of two Paso Robles winemakers, Marc Goldberg of Windward Vineyard and Stephan Asseo of L’Aventure Winery.
“I draw a parallel with the recording industry and wine,” Degher said. “It was natural. … I didn’t ask for it. It just kind of came along.”
Degher has a natural knack for music as well.
His first album, “Let’s Ride,” came out in 2001, followed by “Whiskey Town” in 2003 and “The Mojo Sessions” in 2008. Last year, Degher re-released several tracks as “Just Music: The Instrumentals.”
Released in April on his label, Powered by Mojo, “Cowboy Blues” represents a new musical direction for Degher — away from traditional blues and toward country and Appalachian folk music.
“For me, the only difference between country and blues is how it’s presented,” said Degher, who sings and plays acoustic guitar, electric guitar, slide guitar, dobro and harmonica.
Blues purists would certainly recognize songs like “3 AM and A Hundred Miles to Go,” “Sometime Lover” and “Big Assed Gal/Fine Assed Gal.”
One of the album’s more humorous tracks, “Get Off Your Cell Phone and F…ing Drive,” was inspired by a man Degher spotted driving an 18-wheeler down Highway 101.
“I got really mad at him and wrote this song,” the songwriter said with a chuckle.
Unlike most artists, who write 15 or 20 songs before heading into the studio, Degher records his songs as they come to him, he said.
He wrote and recorded “Honey Are You So Bad (Or Honey Are You Just No Good)” — inspired by a relationship gone sour — in a couple of days.
“I woke up and stuff just poured out of me,” Degher said.
After laying down guitar and vocal tracks, Degher brought in his band: bassist John Morris, drummer Daryl Voss, and Don Teschner, who plays mandolin, lap steel and fiddle.
Pianist Carl Byron played on “Going Back to California,” a song Degher originally wrote in college.
Degher estimates that it took about 18 months to put “Cowboy Blues” together. True to form, he’s already working on another album.
“I’ve already written two songs since this record’s been done,” he admitted. “I can’t control myself, I guess. I’m always writing new things.”
Music: LOCAL CD PICK
Singer-songwriter Denis Degher dedicates his latest album to country music mainstays: heartbreak, humiliation and the open road. Traditionally a bluesman, Degher – who goes by the stage name Sleepy Guitar Johnson – branches out into classic country and Appalachian folk music on “Cowboy Blues.” Songs range from romantic reveries “Vermillion Skies” to tongue-in-cheek rants (“Get Off Your Cell Phone and F…ing Drive”). But most of the album is dedicated to the fairer sex- the illicit paramour in “Sometime Lover,” and the furtive flame in “Airball (Walking Down to New Orleans).”
- Sarah Linn
SLEEPY GUITAR JOHNSON
8 p.m. Saturday June 5, 2010
Vinoteca Wine Bar, 835 12th St., Paso Robles – Free
NEW TIMES – San Luis Obispo – June 2, 2010
Wake up to Sleepy by Glen Starkey
Sleepy Guitar Johnson (aka—Denis Degher) is about to release his fifth album, a gritty collection of rootsy Americana tunes guided by his comfortable voice. Called Cowboy Blues, the recording is the culmination of all he’s learned about songwriting and recording over the years.
Born on the banks of Lake Erie, Degher cut his teeth in the “take no prisoners” Hollywood scene. Today he lives a quieter existence on his organic vineyard, where he produces his own brand of alt-country blues and award-winning wines.
Degher learned guitar from his father when he was 12, and soon after became “a guitar-carrying vagabond writing songs from Morocco to the San Francisco Bay,” he said, eventually landing in L.A. and working cutting disks at Studio 76 on Sunset Strip so he could record his own demos. Shortly thereafter he developed into a well-known producer/engineer and segued into the artist/owner of Red Zone Studios in Burbank and Santa Monica.
Check him out when he and his band—bassist John Morris, guitarist Dave Richter, and drummer Darrell Voss—play an 8 p.m. show at Paso’s Vinoteca Bar this Saturday, June 5. Buy a bottle of his MOJO wine and get a free CD!
Laurie Daniel PICK OF THE WEEK May 2, 2010 San Jose Mercury & The Tribune – San Luis Obispo
Domaine Degher 2007 Red Zone ($28) This hearty red blend from Paso Robles offers plenty of ripe, dark fruit and firm tannins. A suitable partner for a burger on the grill or a pizza.