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Bradley Hilltopics

Winter 2007 • Volume 13, Issue 1

Message in a bottle

Eric JohannsenA rainy drive from San Francisco into the Russian River Valley in Sonoma County reveals that gray skies cannot subdue the natural beauty of the hills, woods, and streams, even in the off-season. Barren trellises ripple along the rows of vineyards, standing as a promise that lush green vines bearing bunches of white and purple grapes will come.

Located in the heart of this fertile area is La Crema Winery, where Eric Johannsen ’97 ’98 is assistant winemaker, a career he decided to pursue while attending Bradley. He had a developing interest in food and wine and took a job as a cook at The Grill during his senior year. He learned about a winemaking program at UC-Davis and decided to pursue a master’s in food science and enology, the study of wine. For his thesis, he researched the microbiology of wine fermentations.

Johannsen worked at several wineries, including one grape harvest in Australia, while attending UC-Davis. “Since I had a lot of exposure to pinot noir and chardonnay, I gravitated toward those areas renowned for those two varietals and began to specialize,” he says.

“A lot of people don’t realize different areas are suited for different kinds of grapes and wines.”

Drawing samples of both red and white wine from the rows of oak barrels that fill the warehouse at La Crema, he explains, “The potential of wine depends on the quality of the grapes. The site, soils, climate, and cultural practices in the vineyard—how the vines are pruned, how much fruit the vine produces—all impact the quality of the fruit. Based on that, the winemaker makes decisions to create the desired finished wine.”

Tasting the grapes for ripeness of flavors and sugar and acid levels helps determine the prime time to harvest. The biochemistry of wine-making takes over from there. “We consider chemical analyses to decide how we will treat the wine as it goes through the winery. There are biological considerations, what kind of yeasts we want to promote during the fermentation process, balancing what kind of flavor profiles, tastes, and bouquets we’re trying to develop in the wine. This is the art and science of winemaking, deciding how the wine should be from a sensory perspective and from an analytical perspective. We really try to balance using sensory perceptions and artisan fashion with using technologies developed in the field of winemaking.”

Over the past 30 years, Americans have gained an appreciation for wine and fine food. “There was a bit of a revolution going on in our concept of what food is all about, and along with that, wine. They’re closely paired, especially in European culture, and we’ve come to adopt that aesthetic.”

Johannsen likes being part of something people simply enjoy. “I am integrally involved in crafting a product that adds to people’s quality of life. I derive a lot of satisfaction from that and from being a part of this evolving culture of food.”

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