This month we feature winemaker Willem Johnson. Willem is the winemaker behind 4R Ranch Vineyards and Winery and was the first Texas-based winemaker to earn a Sweepstake Medal at the 2019 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. He is also one of the owners behind the upcoming Deschain Cellars. We are glad to showcase Willem Johnson as this month’s featured winemaker profile.
- What did you do before becoming a winemaker (if anything)?
I have always loved wine. I had my first sommelier gig in 1989 and parlayed that into a wonderful somm career as the original wine nomad, travelling back and forth between the Nantucket, Boston, and Vail markets for roughly 25 years.
- What is the toughest challenge about being a winemaker in Texas?
Educating the national client base on the merits of Texas wines. There are so many wonderful things happening, and so many excellent wines being made in the Texas wine industry! The single greatest challenge I see right now is waving the Texas wine flag and getting the country as a whole to take us seriously. Our time is upon us!
- Is winemaking an art or a science or both?
Yes! Longer answer, wine is the commingling of art, science, and love.
- What is your favorite food and wine pairing?
Food. And wine…
(The proper answer to this question requires at the least its own interview, and more probably a book all its own)
- If you didn’t make wine, what would you do?
Well, I would probably have to drink beer…or go back to flying helicopters and surfing.
- What first attracted you to winemaking and how long have you been doing it?
I tried a fabled wine from Alsace once, around 1990, and I can still taste it. I remember thinking sitting in the Clos Sainte Hune vineyard that I want to make something like this. That wine is the Holy Grail of my career. I have been hooked ever since!
- What is the most common question you are asked as a winemaker?
“What is your favorite wine?” stacked right up against “Should I drink red or white?”
- After a long day in the winery or vineyard, what do you do?
Head for home, crack a beer, and make a simple, fresh dinner with the family.
- What’s the greatest part about being a winemaker?
Making. And sharing the fruits of my labor with anyone with a glass and an interest.
- What is your winemaking philosophy, that is, what are you trying to achieve with your wines?
I strive to produce handcrafted wines of Old World elegance combined with New World vibrancy, wines that play well with food and that are equally suited to just sit and sip.
- Anything else you would like to add?
Yes, exciting things coming! My fiancée and I are closing in on completion of our own winery project, Deschain Cellars, in Gainesville, Texas. It is a passion project of ours, a modern, energy efficient structure built out of shipping containers in an idyllic forest setting where we will focus on beautiful, well-made wines served with Old World sensibilities of true hospitality, education, and fun!