Never mind ornate labels and attractively tapered bottles—the art of winemaking goes far beyond consumer-oriented design, according to winemakers Julie Johnson '76 and Robert "Rory" Williams. Johnson and Williams, co-owners of the Tres Sabores Vineyard in St. Helena, California visited the Bowdoin campus on Tuesday and Wednesday to give presentations on the various facets of the winemaking process.

Bowdoin alumna Johnson founded the Tres Sabores vineyard in 1999 with the inspiration of highlighting what she describes as the "three tastes" in her wine.

"Tres Sabores means 'Three Tastes' in Spanish," said Johnson. "The name is from a Mexican song, and I love that idea of getting a little closer to the heart and soul of things. The three tastes in each glass of wine are the vine, the place, and the good company with whom you share the wine."

Although the beautifully set tables and semi-formal atmosphere indicated an event designed for pure entertainment, Williams and Johnson focused their educational presentation on both their vineyard and the underlying science involved in winemaking. Johnson merged her presentation about organic farming with Williams in order to explain the chemical and biological aspects of their work.

Participants were introduced to the chemical factors of winemaking with a simple taste test.

They compared the tastes of four wine samples, each with a lowered level of acidity. However, as Williams explained, the wines with higher acidity are difficult to distinguish due to added sugar.

"It's just a fun experiment in taste to realize that in your mind the sour acidity of the wine is canceled out by added sugar," he said.

"Tasters need to trust their own taste, if they like something, then it's probably something good," Johnson said. "On the other hand, with knowledge comes more pleasure. Consumers should have an idea of where their wine comes from, its source. It's not about to understanding every detail. I don't know everything, but I've learned a lot myself just through these dialogs with Rory."

Although the winemaking duo was faced by a crowd of mostly underage viewers, the presentation was thoughtfully put together for interested students of all ages.

While no full glasses were poured for those under 21, participants on Wednesday night were offered small sips of Pinot Grigio to accompany the artful plates of cheese and grapes at each table.

A surprise awaited those participants only expecting those first sips, however. Attendees over 21 were treated to samples of 2008 Tres Sabores Sauvignon Blanc while Johnson and Williams detailed the finer points of its production.

"All of the physical features of this particular vineyard, such as climate and different nutrients in the soil, impact its terroir, or the specific taste a wine inherits from its environment," said Johnson "We're growing Sauvignon Blanc and Zinfandel in California, where it can be 90 degrees during the day and 40 degrees at night. That's a 50 degree different just overnight, which gives us a completely different terroir than those of wines grown in less drastic climates."

Another factor in taste is the perception of the taster, according to Williams and Johnson.

"A tester faced with three glasses of the same wine, where one maybe has a little red food coloring added, and one even more, an incredibly large percentage of tasters will find more complexity in the darker wines," said Johnson. "The same thing happens when tasters are clued into price."

Students from Chemistry 055, the Science of Food and Wine, who were required to attend both nights of presentation, were pleased with the many elements of the presentation.

"I was surprised by the drastic differences in character of the wines as a result of simple fluctuations in the winemaking process and natural factors during the growing season," said Johnny Joaquin Bohorquez '13.

The visit by Williams and Johnson was an important element to students' understanding of subject matter, according to Professor of Chemistry Richard Broene.

"It's the same concept as understanding the physical process of baking bread versus smelling the bread actually baking," he said. "The process of learning and seeing is what we do in class, but the difference here is that we can actually put a taste and a smell to it, and the students are able to experience it on a more visceral level."