Jonathan Cain ##Photo provided

Q&A: Jonathan Cain

Recording artist, winery owner

Jonathan Cain is best known as the keyboardist for Journey; he was also a member of The Babys and Bad English. Cain was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of Journey on April 7, 2017. His songs have been recorded by a number of artists, including Michael Bolton, Sammy Hagar, Kenny Rogers, Heart and more. He’s produced seven of his own solo albums. In 2006, Cain added winemaker to his résumé, partnering with Healdsburg’s Dennis De La Montanya to release several wines to benefit Bay Area children’s charities; a third partner, Daryl Groom, joined them in 2008 to launch Finale Wines. Cain continues to record with Journey alongside Neal Schon (original member), Arnel Pineda, Randy Jackson (session member from 1986 to 1987), Narada Michael Walden and Jason Derlatka. Cain lives in Apopka, Florida, with his wife, televangelist Paula White of City of Destiny Christian Center. He is a worship leader at the non-denominational megachurch.

How did you first become interested in wine?

JC: When I moved to Marin County with Journey, it was an extraordinary opportunity to learn about the treasure — God’s gift to man, you know — that was in the foothills of Sonoma and just across the valley into Napa. ... It was probably 1981 when I was at Sebastiani and started learning about all the varietals. They seemed to have the most varied [wines] of all the wineries; they were growing Zinfandel to Barbera to Gewürztraminer to Sauvignon Blanc. You could taste all the different varietals, and they were still in the redwood tanks. It was a lovely experience. … When family and friends visited, I would take them to wine country. You taste the difference between Sonoma and Napa, and, of course, it was very obvious; there were major differences.

In Sonoma, they had this harvest fair every October. All of the great wineries would come, and you would take a glass and spend a weekend tasting wines that would normally take weeks to taste. It was so interesting. I remember the first time tasting a blend, a real blend. It was a game changer. … My palate became sophisticated quickly. I started out loving Zinfandel, and as my palate matured, I was drawn toward more acid-driven wines. It wasn’t until I tasted a really great Pinot Noir that I really fell in love [with wine]. It is still, to this day, my favorite red wine.

I’m a history guy, so I’ve studied a lot and learned about which vines are noble vines. … Of course, I’ve read about how the suitcase clones came over from France and learned about the phylloxera epidemic and even how Thomas Jefferson would travel to France to taste wines. I kind of looked at wine education as an opportunity, just being there in the foothills of both of those tremendous valleys and soaking up information and asking all the questions, even learning about the Champagne process at Chandon and at various places. I just marveled at the amount of detail it took. That’s when I realized the winemakers are artists; they are taking plant and dirt and are creating art with them. I’ve had that conversation with a lot of winegrowers, their friends of mine and Journey fans, and I will always tell them, “You guys are artists” — especially the ones making the high-end wine.

What made you want to start your own label?

JC: I was barrel-tasting in Sonoma during this fantastic annual event — you get to go to different vineyards and taste out of the barrel and out of the bottle. Anyway, I met this guy, Dennis De La Montanya, and he recognized me as a member of Journey, and I noticed right away his Pinot was exceptional … So I said, “Let’s do something together for a charity.”  I was working as director on the board of Make-A-Wish. So we raised money with the Journey label on some blended wine. We found we could raise $20,000 to $30,000 a year.

Dennis was not a big fan of celebrity labels, and Greg Norman kind of ruined it for everybody (laughing) — because the wine wasn’t any good. So what happened is that Dennis said he liked my passion for wine, and said he’d make about 20 to 30 cases of wine, and I would have to sell it. He was more of a farmer. So I took the first Pinot Noir, in 2006, and sold every last bottle of it.

Who makes the wine for your brand, Finale?

JC: Dennis makes it. When we began, we wanted to make something different than his De La Montanya brand. We try to keep a distinction. My first Pinot was a blend of his three different vineyards. It was a cuvée, similar to what they do in Burgundy. I thought with his three vineyards, we could make something extraordinary. He wasn’t a believer in blending, but he believed after that first wine because we came up with a unique product, something he didn’t sell at the time. For the Cab, we buy grapes from a Napa source. We source Chardonnay, too. So we buy a lot of the fruit for Finale, but we also use a lot of his fruit. When I do Cab from Napa, a lot of times I can use his Cab Franc or Merlot — 5%, 3%, whatever it is — to really turn it into a beautiful wine. Sometimes you have a year when the Cab is really perfect; other times it needs some Cab Franc to provide the balance. Dennis has learned a lot through our process of experimenting through blending. For a winemaker who was not a fan of blending, Dennis started making his own Bordeaux blend, which I was so proud of him for doing.

You know, we’ve made mistakes where we probably shouldn’t have done this or that. We had this one filtering disaster where it stripped all the goodness out of the vintage; it was a harsh way of [learning]. Sometimes, unfiltered and a gentler process is better. We learned over-maceration causes over-tannic wines. When you have Cabernet that is grown in the mountains, you have very thick skins that don’t need a lot of maceration; there isn’t a lot of pump-over that needs to done. You need to treat it in a gentler fashion. Being a chef — I like to cook — I understood immediately these flavors that are imparted in wines. I got to be friends with a lot of winemakers. And it’s funny how much they love my music and how much I love their art. We have this mutual admiration society.

Do you have an opinion on Oregon Pinots or Oregon wines in general?

JC: I’ve spent some time in the Willamette Valley. We’ve played in Portland and our old drummer was from Portland. So I had these golf buddies, and we were playing golf, and I told them I needed to get to Elk Cove because I just love their Pinot Gris, and I heard they had Pinot there that we couldn’t get on the shelves. So I went up there, and what a gorgeous spot. They had one of the older vineyards (bottles) for sale, so I bought a few bottles for the bus, and it blew my mind. I am a big fan of Bergström; they always seem to get it right. There are so many great vineyards. I tend to like the Pinot Gris that comes from there (Willamette Valley) and other whites, including Riesling and Gewürz. Cooler climate sites tend to make wine with a lot of acid, which is what you get, and my palate kind of craves that.

What’s the last bottle of wine that blew you away?

JC: Oh my, there are so many.

Ok, then what’s the last Pinot you really loved?

JC: I am a big fan of Patz & Hall. I’m in their wine club. The bottle they made from Pisoni (Vineyard) was a show-stopper; as soon as I got it into my mouth, I was like, “Oh, this is really, really special.” I am a big fan of Santa Barbara Pinot. I don’t know why. I like Santa Lucia Highlands a lot, too. … Anyway, the Pisoni is a big, luscious Pinot and yet had this restraint to it. I think sometimes it is hard to get the balance; it’s like too much candy in your mouth. I don’t like overripe Pinots. People in the stores buy this Meomi stuff, but it doesn’t look like Pinot; it doesn’t smell like it; it doesn’t taste like it. Pinot is a lovely lady and you cannot over-manipulate it just to make the color darker.

Do you have any new projects in the wine or music world?

JC: We are making a new Journey record. We have a single coming out. We have a new drummer and bass player now. It’s just Neal and I, who are left [from the ’80s band lineup]. And of course, I have been doing worship music. I am a worship leader at City of Destiny Christian Center. During the lockdown, I have been singing a lot to Jesus. I love it. So that’s been going on.

Wine-wise, the one varietal that I’m pretty excited about is Grenache. If I had to take on another project, I love the Paso Robles Grenache. I went down there, and it’s incredible what they’re doing with the concrete fermenters, concrete storage tanks, blending with the wood, the oak. There are some amazing young winemakers in Paso who are killing it with Grenache and GSM blends. I think Grenache is highly underrated.


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