January in wine country may have brought constant grey skies and steady rain, but I was delighted to brave the weather for an unforgettable tasting experience waiting for me in Sonoma Valley. I was met at the door by husband and wife team, Roger and Donna Beery, owners of J. Cage Cellars. Their tasting location, called Sugarloaf Crush, in Santa Rosa recently opened their doors, and I was excited to be their second guest since opening weekend.
I was handed an inviting glass of 2017 Rosé of Pinot Noir after removing my rain gear and settling by the fire. There’s nothing more satisfying than a splash of rosé to conjure up nostalgic summer thoughts on a dreary winter day. Roger and Donna went on to explain the specifics of the wine and I listened intently with my nose deep in the glass. This 100% varietal wine derives from the Russian River Valley and was aged 50% in stainless steel and 50% in neutral French oak barrels. It was a lovely introduction to the impressive J. Cage portfolio.
Next in my glass was a rich, cool climate Chardonnay from the Sonoma Coast. In between sips of Chardonnay, I was happy to learn more about the people behind the bottle, Roger and Donna Beery. These Austin, Texas natives are as sweet as can be with a charming accent that we don’t hear enough in Northern California. The duo followed what they call their “wine-stained dream” to Sonoma County to pursue a life in winemaking, but this cross-state move was many years in the making.
Roger recalled their first visit to Napa Valley in 1983, when he experienced his aha moment with wine after tasting Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon with winery founder, Charlie Wagner. After being awakened to wine’s enchanting affect, the Beery’s dedicated their free time to learning more about it, tasting it, and eventually writing about it. They created the well-known wine blog, Bacchus and Beery, and focused on writing about and supporting smaller, family-owned wineries. But they soon longed to enhance their role in the exciting wine industry.
“We were getting tired of writing about other people living our dream,” said Roger. While vacationing in Sonoma Valley with the family in 2014, Roger had an epiphany over his morning coffee. He called Donna and their children Conch and Whitney, who are now also in the wine industry, and said “Fuck it, we’re making wine.” They permanently moved to California in April 2017 and haven’t looked back.
Although it was Cabernet Sauvignon that first ignited the Beery’s passion for wine, today this couple is completely devoted to Pinot Noir. There are currently four Pinot Noirs in the J. Cage collection (with one delicious bottle from El Coro Vineyard newly released!). I tasted my way through Sonoma Valley without leaving my seat, starting with the 2016 Hallberg Vineyard Pinot Noir coming from the Russian River Valley. This wine is fruit forward with ripe cherry and strawberry tones and a velvety mouthfeel. Its counterpart was the 2016 van der Kamp Vineyard Pinot Noir coming from Sonoma Mountain. This is an elegant wine with fresh persistent acidity, dark fruit, and cocoa on the palate. Despite receiving the same oak treatment in the cellar, each bottle is expressively different, reflecting the specific characteristics of each vineyard.
We finished the wine tasting with a fun wine that is made up of three varieties not commonly blended together. I took a moment to try to guess the mystery red blend and was stumped. What they call their Craftsman’s Blend is a Sangiovese base blended with Zinfandel and a touch of Petite Sirah. It is an interesting red with lofty tannins and high acid that calls for a rich, Italian dish like chicken cacciatore. I went home with a bottle.
Six wine tastes and 90 minutes later, it was unfortunately time to leave. Roger and Donna walked me to the door as if I was a dear friend leaving from a house visit. I left with a true sense of who this winemaking couple is and with a feeling of inspiration to follow a similar path someday. From writers to winemakers, this couple has made their “second act” a not to miss show.