Challenging Notions of Wisconsin Wine with Steve Johnson

by Jim Schnaedter

In a previous life, I taught courses in management.  I was never sure that my students left my classes any smarter or with additional knowledge garnered from my lectures. Every time I visit Steve Johnson, owner, grape grower, and winemaker of Parallel 44 and Door 44 wineries, I know I leave a little smarter and with additional knowledge. Johnson is a great wine maker, but possibly a better teacher.

I was meeting with Johnson to discuss, and more importantly, taste, his 2022 vintage Marquette, a dry red wine which has recently been awarded Best of Class Marquette at the International Cold Climate Wine Competition in Minneapolis. I did a little research and discovered that his Petite Rose 2022 also won Best of Show Rose, and Parallel 44 was named winery of the year.

The backstory of the grape was rather simple. It was named after the great explorer, Father Marquette, to symbolize the exploring spirit of making quality wines from newly developed cold-hardy-varietals. Johnson is one of the leaders in that quest. Door 44’s 2022 Marquette was a challenge to the established pinot noirs. It had light-to-medium body, red fruit overtones, medium to high acidity, and fine tannins that are the distinct characteristics of the more recognized rival wine grape.

Steve used a mild treatment of neutral oak to round out the flavor and mellow the acidity slightly, and with my first sip, I agreed with the judges that had picked Steve’s Marquette over the 28 competitors.  

Johnson and I also discussed the similarity between wines produced from Marquette grapes and Sangiovese, the most widely grown wine grape in Italy and the basis for the highly respected Chiantis and Brunellos.   

Johnson shared a lesson he learned from a Tuscan winemaker who said he didn’t make wine to drink, he made it to serve with food. The hallmark of Sangiovese wines is how well they complement most meals. I could sense that the wine we were drinking would pair with almost any dish.

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