Of course as a Novatoan I know Jonathan Cain of the rock band Journey — he lived in our town for 30 years — but I didn’t know about his detailed knowledge of wine, his passion for the vine and his own wine label, Finale.
I did not know the name David Coverdale of the band White Snake, though everyone I mention his name to certainly does. I remember his first big band, Deep Purple, and the iconic “Smoke on the Water” (I remember thinking the Dolphin Bar in Sea Isle City, at the Jersey shore, circa 1970, might vibrate right off its foundation as the band played its best cover of that song). But White Snake, shame on me, did not ring a bell. I must have been asleep at the wheel, so I went online to do my research.
We meet with Cain first, at the De La Montanya Estate Vineyards & Winery in Healdsburg, where both musicians make their wine. He is dead-beat tired from a summer tour but perks up as soon as we begin to talk wine. He pulls up alone in a rental car, straight from the Oakland airport, and begins a blending session with winemaker Tami Collins as he prepares for his upcoming vintage. He is extremely serious about what goes into his Finale bottles and has an immediate sense of what he wants from the grapes.
A week later, Coverdale blitzes in from a private plane with what appears to be an entourage — a beautiful young woman, a chauffer and others. This is not the hard rock man from the videos I have watched online. This man embraces the entire room with warm eyes, kissing everyone on both cheeks, dropping hysterical one liners three times faster than Jay Leno in his most shining moment — all with Richard Burton’s voice. David Coverdale could charm a cloistered nun to sin in a New York minute.
First impressions can be so wrong. The entourage is his family: his lovely wife Cindy, his sister-in-law, and brother-in-law who pilots the plane that brings them in from Lake Tahoe. He is a family man. Cindy and he have been married for many years and have a 16-year-old son, who at this moment in time, they tell us, does not seem keen to sing. Cain’s daughter Madison, on the other hand, is enjoying great success as a country western singer. Cain and his family moved to Nashville in 2010, and Madison has spent much of the time since then in the studio.
Unknowingly, David Cloverdale says something so profound to me about living in the present that I hear Jerry Herman’s “The Best of Times (is Now)”, from La Cage aux Folles, up front and center in my head. Maybe it’s the extraordinary De La Montanya Primitivo we’ve been sipping, but I’ve got a surreal image of him doing a rock version of this song, and it’s a really entertaining rendition.
Both musicians are disappointed they can’t be at winery at the same time for their interviews for a documentary film, so proprietor Dennis De La Montanya has found a way to unite them.
We are led to a large white vat containing Jonathan Cain’s Novato grapes. Yep, grown right here in Novato. During red wine fermentation the skins rise to the top of the tank and form a thick “cap.” It’s important to break up the cap to increase the color and flavor. A punch down is the process of manually pushing back into the fermenting wine, using an instrument that looks like a huge potato masher.
The masher is handed to Coverdale who good-naturedly begins the punch down, suggesting to Cain via the camera, “at least Sammy Hagar lets me drink for free.”
Next, Cindy takes on a good old-fashioned Lucille Ball foot stomping, soon joined by her sister, as David takes home video shouting gleefully, “Chateau La Feet!”
Both of these men have different styles, tastes and personalities, which are reflected in both their music and their wine. However, when it comes to understanding the nature of wine in cultures throughout their world travels, they are quite alike. They have tasted the wines of many countries and have encouraged their palates to explore without prejudice.
In the end they have decided to create California wines and that’s a great bonus for us!