Life Lessons with Jay Boberg of Domaine Nicolas-Jay

Jay Boberg has worked with some of the biggest names in music, but now sees the blending room as his mixing desk, creating some of the finest Pinot Noir in Oregon

Words by Adam Lechmere

Jay Boberg
Jay Boberg has worked with some of the biggest names in music, and now runs Domaine Nicolas-Jay in Oregon. Photo: Matthew Luczy

There are many parallels drawn between wine and music, but it’s usually in the form of classical music – you don’t find too many punks or rockers in the great cellars of the world.

Jay Boberg, though, brings a flavour of rock ‘n’ roll to his corner of Oregon’s Willamette Valley, where he’s making increasingly acclaimed wines with his friend Jean-Nicolas Méo of Burgundy’s renowned Domaine Méo-Camuzet, owner of grands crus and of some of the finest premier-cru vineyards of Nuits-St-Georges and Vosne-Romanée.

To say Boberg has rock credentials is to understate the case. The man who founded IRS Records in 1979 is responsible for nurturing and signing some of the greatest acts of the past 40 years, from REM and The Go-Go’s to Mary J Blige, The Roots, BB King, Buzzcocks, Black Sabbath, Jools Holland and The Beat. He brought us REM’s The One I Love, as well as Buzzcocks’ Orgasm Addict, The Stranglers’ Peaches and the haunting electronica of Gary Numan; he produced The Damned, Dead Kennedys, The Fall and dozens more seminal bands.

Gary Numan
Boberg founded IRS Records in the late 1970s and has worked with acts as diverse as REM (left) and Gary Numan

He’s known Méo since the late 1980s when the pair met in Philadelphia (“I was in town on business and my sister threw a party, and there was this Frenchman there”). While running IRS he had already worked up a serious interest in wine – he hosted wine-tasting groups for music-industry friends, held winemaker dinners with US merchant Kermit Lynch to promote bands, and owned vineyards in Calistoga in the Napa Valley.

It wasn’t until 2012, however, when Méo called Boberg and said he was thinking of setting up in Oregon, that his wine career became serious. Boberg has said he was “cautious at first” but now says one of his regrets is that he didn’t get into wine earlier.

Domaine Nicolas-Jay, as the two friends called their enterprise, owns the 13.5 acre (5.5ha) Bishop Creek vineyard, planted to 40-year-old Pinot Noir with a couple of acres of Chardonnay, and they source grapes across the Willamette Valley for a series of single-vineyard Pinot Noirs and critically acclaimed Chardonnays. The wines (the first releases were from the 2014 vintage) are imported in the UK by Berry Bros.

Pinot Noir – Jay Boberg
Domaine Nicolas-Jay produces acclaimed Pinot Noir from its 5.5ha Bishop Creek vineyard in Oregon

Two years ago they took their commitment to the next level when they bought a 22ha property in the Dundee Hills, renovating an old cattle barn on the property to include a visitor area for tastings and dinners.

Boberg defers to Méo and to winemaker Tracy Kendall on the technical minutiae of winemaking. Describing himself as the domaine’s “most committed cellar rat”, he spends half the year in the Valley, “taking samples, driving the fruit from the vineyards, sorting grapes, doing punch-downs, and whatever else needs doing without ego or reservation”.

His musical roots still run deep. Of the connection between music and wine he says, “I have always been struck by the similarities. During the creative process there are the myriad decisions to be made in music – the instruments, the drums, when does this instrument come in and so on. It’s the same for wine. The blending room is like the mixing desk.”

Milton Avery
Sleeping Nude by Milton Avery – Boberg's most expensive purchase is an artwork by the acclaimed artist

What was your childhood ambition?
To be a musician. I fell in love with music at an early age and started playing guitar – classical guitar. That passion for music continued as I grew up. I spent all my childhood earnings on records, musical instruments and stereo equipment. The first record I bought was Do You Believe In Magic by The Lovin’ Spoonful.

What exercise do you do?
At this point in life I get exercise via a steady diet of yoga, long walks and golf.

What is the character trait you most wish you could change in yourself?
An inability to slow down and work less.

What do you know now that you wished you’d known when you were 21?
How lovely it is to have children. We have two: Sebastian, 28, a software programmer at a start-up he has been with since near the beginning in Silicon Valley; Juliette, 26 is program director at a political strategic consultant in Washington DC.

What is the most expensive thing you’ve ever bought (aside from property)?
A painting by Milton Avery.

Cerro Torre, Los Glaciares National Park, Patagonia, Argentina
Le Bistrot du Paradou, Provence
Breathtaking scenery in Patagonia, Argentina – South America is on Boberg's must-visit list, while the 'extraordinary but simple' Le Bistrot du Paradou in Provence is his favourite restaurant

If you could do any other job what would it be, and why?
Secretary of State for the US. I would love to try common sense as an approach.

What is your favourite restaurant – anywhere?
Le Bistrot du Paradou in Provence. It is the essence of extraordinary via simplicity and incredible sourcing of ingredients.

What luxury item (except wine or whisky) would you take with you to a desert island?
A terrific mattress.

What achievement is still on your to-do list?
To travel for six months without coming home. South America is one of the few regions I have never been to.

If you were king or queen of the world, what’s the first law you would enact?
An acceleration of carbon-emission-creation reductions.

Blundstone boots
A pair of Blundstone boots are Boberg's must-have wardrobe item, while Jay-Z is on his dream dinner-party guest list

Whom would you invite to your fantasy dinner party?
Barack Obama, Bill Gates, [writer] Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, [European Commission president] Ursula von der Leyen, [actor and writer] Lin Manuel Miranda, [chef] Grant Achatz, [singer-songwriter] Cesaria Evora, Elon Musk and Jay-Z.

Whom do you most admire, living or dead?
Martin Luther King.

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
“Incredible” and “to be honest”.

What’s your favourite item in your wardrobe?
A pair of Blundstone boots.

Call My Agent - Jay Boberg
French comedy Call My Agent! is Boberg's favourite show

What’s your greatest regret?
Not starting a winery earlier. I wouldn’t have left music earlier as this was my true love and passion. I just have realised how slow things move with wine, especially the vineyard development. As a result, I realise that many of the steps Jean-Nicolas and I are taking at our new winery and vineyard will reach peak output when I am either very old or not here anymore.

What’s your guilty pleasure?
Ice cream.

What’s your current favourite box-set, TV programme or podcast?
Call My Agent! I couldn’t say I have a favourite character as they are all fatally flawed but Mathias Barneville actually has vision, and is passionate about what he is doing for his clients. But he can’t help himself from stepping on others as he climbs.

What time do you go to bed?
Earlier and earlier…