From the sound studio producing R.E.M. and Mary J. Blige to an Oregon vineyard and the wines of Nicolas-Jay: while music executive Jay Boberg has changed his focus fundamentally, the creative process is still the same. For him, the worlds of music and wine overlap. Mind you, not just any wine: Pinot Noir, of course, and a teensy bit of Chardonnay.
Jay Boberg is not the only leading music figure to make the transition over to wine. Here he explains why the two worlds are not as far apart as you might think.
What makes a In 1979 Jay Boberg co-founded IRS Records; in 2013, together with Jean-Nicolas Méo of Méo-Camuzet, he founded Domaine Nicolas-Jay in Oregon. He still is in the music business but describes his chairmanship of a digital music distribution company INGrooves as “hands-off”. When it comes to wine, however, far from being a distant investor, Boberg is very hands-on. “Ninety percent of the time is spent on wine,” he says. His dedication is clear and he jokes: “In the five weeks of harvest I must have accumulated eight million emails.”
Having nurtured countless artists in his previous career, have his ideas of the creative process been challenged by making Pinot Noir?
“In the beginning I made fewer decisions and carried out more tasks. What I observed when I was in the music business was that I was working with the artist,” he explains. “I was not making music. I’m a musician myself and understood what it was like to play and create. But in the case of working with an artist I was really there to coach them, bring out the best in them and help them realise who they were to maximise their potential. In many ways I am doing the same thing with Jean-Nicolas who already is a very gifted, talented and successful winemaker,” Boberg explains.
Five years in, he is at ease and draws clear parallels between winemaking and producing music.
“The similarities are there: decisions have to be made; they are either creative or instinctive or more logical or rational, both in the process of making music and in the process of making wine. What I have found is that there are so many places where a decision is made that have an impact on the final product. On the song-writing side, the instrumentation of the song, whether that is played by an acoustic guitar or all the way up to an orchestra and everywhere in between…”
“Song writing is almost like grape growing, you’re in the vineyard and you make many, many decisions, whether that’s canopy management, when to pick. In the cellar it’s more like the recording studio. There is a myriad of different decisions and what’s interesting is that there is no real wrong or right way, just like music. With high quality wines there is great variation and that is the result of the myriad decisions all the way through, much like when you hear a song on the radio, the same decisions have been made all the way through.”
Boberg is not fazed by ever-changing variables: “To me it’s quite comfortable, this all feels right to me and I am not in any way, shape or form intimidated by these decisions. But it also brings a lot of humility: you make these decisions and because every song, every vintage, every vineyard is different, it’s not like you can come up with a formula and apply it every time.”
“You are dealing with personalities here, too. Given my background these parallels are fascinating. Imagine you are recording and you decide the kick-drum is not loud enough. But when you raise the kick-drum it impacts the perception of all the other elements and the vocals. Moving one element has an impact on all the other elements so you cannot make a decision in isolation and the same is true of winemaking.”
What is it that challenges him?
“I think my situation in winemaking is different, I’m the rookie. I don’t have the formal education, I have lots of experience in drinking wine and working with people who have been making wine but actually doing it, I don’t have the technical education. So when I get into a situation where I am not sure I have both Jean-Nicolas and [assistant winemaker] Tracy. Because we’re a team and I have access to that expertise I am not just going to wing it.”
That the wines have a clear, elegant handwriting and classic restraint is evident. The 2016 vintage is just out now.
2016 Nicolas-Jay Pinot Noir Willamette Valley, Oregon
Sourced from seven different vineyards, all managed by Nicolas-Jay, including one third of their own Bishop Creek vineyard, this opens with both fruit and autumn leaf character and presents a picture of classic restraint.
On the palate there is beautifully ripe fruit, almost bordering on luscious for a second before gorgeously pervasive freshness frames the tart, red fruit. There’s an aromatic touch of blackcurrant leaf and a central, lively juiciness. The finish has a little grip.
All is here: fruit, structure and freshness. Just 33% of the oak was new – a great decision because it shows off the aromatic purity of the fruit.
2016 Nicolas-Jay Pinot Noir Bishop Creek, Yamhill-Carlton, Oregon
This is the single-vineyard wine from Bishop Creek and just 150 cases were made. It opens with an altogether darker aspect and shows that beautiful rained-on briar savouriness that also flickers up as delicious white pepper. That spiciness continues and surrounds the beautifully ripe notes of black cherry. This is firmer, darker, grippier.
There is more muscle here but equal elegance. 50% of oak was new and the wine can take it. Despite all the structure there also is poise.
Nicolas-Jay wines are imported and sold in the UK by Fields, Morris & Verdin.