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Wine

Winemaker Marty Johnson and his Ruby Magdalena

Winemaker Marty Johnson is a Facebook friend of mine. We’ve been friends for a long time, it now feels like, and the exchanges have always been good. I learn from him, and he helps me to teach others; especially during my Vit 101 series.

Marty is Winemaker/Cellar Master at Eaton Hill Winery [If you click on this link, don’t be surprised to see a Chinese Website, as the winery was sold to a Chinese company.] He’s also the Co-Owner and Co-Founder of Ruby Magdalena Vineyards.

I recently saw the above image on his Facebook page, and my light bulb went off… not for other winemakers, per se; most especially for wine consumers who don’t spend their time making wine. To see a visual of an alchemist process is a privilege, so here you go, with his explanation.

A montage showing the progression of the 2015 Ruby Magdalena Vineyards Rosé of Garnacha. Samples are of unfermented juice (filtered at 3.0 micron), fermented wine before fining / final filtering (filtered to 0.8 micron) and finally finished wine, fined and filtered (polished to 0.45 micron). Last step will be to cold stabilize the wine and filter the entire lot.

Next, let’s take a look at Winemaker Marty Johnson

Winemaker Profile Questions:

  1. What is your background?
    • I was born and raised in the mountains of Northern New Mexico. I spent summers at my maternal grandparents’ farm/ranch working in the fields and orchards alongside my grandfather. I learned to drive a tractor at about age 10, well before I could drive a car. My “Abuelito” (Grandpa) used to give me a sip of Mogan David wine from time to time “to help me sleep”. Maybe that’s where I first learned to appreciate the warm feeling that wine can give one.
  2. Was it related to wine?
    • No not really. I was more interested in agriculture than wine production.
  3. When did you first realize that you wanted to become a winemaker?
    • Since I was in my teens, I have been enamored by the wine culture. I was fortunate enough to have been offered a job working with a good friend at his winery. I began as a cellar rat and assistant to the winemaker. But it wasn’t until I dipped my hand into the warm violaceous confines of an active fermentation, to pull a sample for analysis that I was enraptured with the art of winemaking.
  4. How did you get into the wine business?
    • I developed arthritis in both knees while working (for 10 years) as a letter carrier in the foothills above Salt Lake City, UT. My doctors told me that I should find a different line of work and an old friend and former supervisor of mine was good enough to bring me on board at his winery.
  5. Did (do) you have a mentor?
    • Yes, Joel Tefft. He founded Tefft Cellars in Outlook, WA. He had been planting vines and making wine for more than twenty years before I finally joined him. I spent five years at his side learning how to craft wine, learning the art of elevage and learning how to grow and to tend wine grapes.
  6. What has he done to make your life more enjoyable?
    • Because of his kindness in offering me a position within his winery, I relocated to the Yakima Valley in Washington State. There, with the help and support of my wife Ryan, we have established our own small vineyard and “nano-winery” producing about 200 cases of wine per year.
  7. Do you enjoy the spotlight? (i.e., travel, panels, judging, etc.), or do you prefer the lab?
    • I’ve got to answer that with a qualified “I prefer the spotlight”. I enjoy the appreciation when other people enjoy one of my creations. I guess I’m an approbation junkie, and I realize that time in the lab and in the library are the best means to that end. So… I enjoy both, the Spotlight, the Laboratory, and the Winery. Wait, that’s all three. Oh, and my Library. <sigh>
  8. What aspect(s) of wine do you most enjoy?
    • Definitely sharing wine with others is my favorite aspect of the wine culture.
  9. How has your job changed since you’ve started?
    • My job and my life have gotten much more complicated since I began only ten and a half short years ago. I’ve progressed from “Cellar Rat” to Owner/Winemaker/Vigneron/Cellarmaster/Office Manager/Property Manager and all around Handyman at our small vineyard and winery as well as at the slightly larger winery where I am the sole on site employee.
      • Progressions… I began my interest in wine in the late 70’s thinking it would be “tres chic” to be a wine connoisseur. So I began to taste and evaluate wine in earnest at a time when premium Bordeaux chateaux could be purchased for $35 to $40 a bottle. I was fortunate to find a retailer who was willing to order whatever wines I wanted to try. In Missoula Montana, that was no small accomplishment! After leaving college I continued to enjoy and evaluate wines from all over the world as I could afford them. Nearly a quarter of a century later, I was again blessed with good fortune. A previous supervisor offered me a position as cellar rat and apprentice at his small winery in the Yakima Valley of Washington State. As I progressed from cellar rat to Assistant Winemaker, Cellarmaster and Vigneron the winery grew from a modest winery producing 8,000 – 9,000 cases annually to one producing 25,000 cases of wine a year. Including two dozen different types of wine. The three of us in the production side of the winery made wines ranging from dry whites, sweet dessert wines, fortified wines, sparkling wines, and red wines from serious Nebbiolo or Sangiovese based Italian style wines to a very popular Cab/Merlot wine-in-a-box. When the winery finally sold, and I was promoted to Winemaker/Cellarmaster, and we had grown to become the thirteenth largest winery in Washington State. After a year and a half under the new ownership, I left to help a friend with her struggling winery. There we were able to rebuild the business to a point where she could sell the winery and enjoy her retirement at 80+ years of age. I remain at the winery as the sole on site employee and produce about 2,000 cases of wine annually, exclusively for export to China. Somewhere in the past eleven years my wife and I have designed and built a house, planted a small (1 ½ acre) vineyard and started our own label producing between 150 and 200 cases annually. Our enterprise, Ruby Magdalena Vineyards, is named for my mother who always believed in me and grudgingly supported my decisions throughout my life. Hopefully, within the next few years, I will be able to retire from my position working for the Asian business group that owns the winery where I currently work, and concentrate on our own production.
  10. What is the most memorable wine you’ve ever tasted?
    • I purchased a bottle of 1993 Veuve Cliquot le Grande Dame in 1980 or ’81 while still in college. (It cost $45 back then!) We enjoyed it with friends (and prime rib) in 2008 when it was 25 years old. It was an amazing wine with so many layers of aromas and flavors, and so many tactile sensations that I was lost in my glass. I remember that no one else was getting as excited about it as I and began to doubt my grip on reality.
  11. Do you have a favorite variety?
    • To drink, I really enjoy Tempranillo. To grow and make into wine, Gamay Noir.
  12. What is it about the variety that takes your breath away?
    • Tempranillo, especially old world style Tempranillo and Tempranillo based blends tend to have an earthiness and complexity that I enjoy in the glass. Styles can range from young wines with red fruit notes, hints of herbs and a subtle nuance of spice to well-aged wines with a complexity of dried fruit, fig flavors as well as leather and earth base notes. All of this can be laced with aromas of damask rose and violets. Yummy! I really enjoy making and championing the production and enjoyment of Gamay Noir. This underappreciated cousin of Pinot Noir (twin sister from another mother?) can be a light delicate wine with bracing acidity which makes it a good table companion for food, and an enjoyable sipper on its own. When grown and vinified in the style of a Beaujolais Village or a Beaujolais Cru the wine can have moderate body married to lush red fruit and floral nuance. Frustrating and fulfilling as Pinot Noir, although not as difficult to make and grow, it has its own challenges. One of these challenges is overcoming the perception that all Gamay wines taste like Beaujolais Noveau or that Gamay Noir is the same as Gamay Beaujolais or Napa Gamay (both of which are clones of Pinot Noir). Nonetheless, Gamay Noir can be made as a very enjoyable wine that sits comfortably on the table with food and friends. After all, I’ve found that Gamay wines are some of the most easily enjoyed wines on lunch, dinner and especially picnic tables. That makes them the perfect wines to share with friends.
  13. What’s your favorite innovation in the wine industry over the past few years?
    • I don’t know if I have a favorite innovation. I am amused by the trend to revisit old, dare I say ancient techniques in wine production, and I am an old school kind of guy. But it is disturbing to me that so much equipment and so many techniques have to be “modernized” in order for people to return to them. I think artisans and craftsmen and women should be well versed in the historical techniques that are the foundation of today’s craft.
  14. What’s your favorite food and wine pairing?
    • I don’t think that I could answer that very easily. It’s like asking me what is my favorite work of art, or my favorite piece of music. Wine and food are both intrinsically
  15. What are your interests outside of the wine business?
    • I assume that reading and studying about wines and winemaking as practiced around the world wouldn’t qualify as “outside the wine business”? Otherwise, I enjoy listening to very diverse genres of music, visual arts, cooking, photography, gardening, travel, and our fur babies.
  16. Who inspires you (wine business or outside of it, doesn’t matter)?
    • My wife Ryan is my Muse. She is expanding her appreciation of wine and discovering the depth and complexity that is possible in what has been called the most complex fluid on the planet. As we explore the world of wine together I am inspired by every winemaker or artist that had a vision of what they wanted to create, the knowledge and the technique to accomplish their goal.
  17. What single project or task would you consider your most significant accomplishment in your career to date?
    • My most gratifying accomplishment has been to help an elderly friend rejuvenate the winery business she and her husband had started more than thirty years earlier, restore their vineyards to a productive level and recreate their wines to a point that recently, in their eighties, they were successful in selling their winery.
  18. For what would you like to be remembered?
    • I would enjoy most, being remembered for sharing exceptional wine with my friends.

 

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