Frei Brothers Winery in Dry Creek Valley wasn’t affected by the wildfires, but a significant number of its employees lost their homes.

“Sonoma County has been our home for more than 125 years,” said Scott Johnsen, director of winegrowing. “These last few weeks have been among some of the most devastating in our history.”

Frei Brothers’ parent company, E.J. Gallo Winery, recently donated $1 million to aid the fire recovery effort. The money will be divided among the American Red Cross California Wildfires Relief Fund, the Community Foundation of Sonoma and the Napa Valley Community Foundation. In addition, Gallo is matching employee donations two-for-one.

In Northern California people have suffered tremendous losses, Johnsen said, adding he’s grateful for the firefighters and emergency crews who worked to keep everyone safe.

The director of winegrowing is behind our wine-of-the-week winner, the Frei Brothers Reserve, 2014 Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon at $27.

This caliber of cab is a steal for the price. It’s layered with notes of blueberry, cassis, vanilla and cedar. The Frei Brothers has silky tannins and a lingering finish. It’s striking.

“We’re always looking to represent the place where these grapes were grown with a varietally correct clarity of flavors,” Johnsen said. “For Alexander Valley cabernet sauvignon, that means getting the rich, ripe dark fruit flavors as well as the layered earthy, herbal notes, balanced by the great acidity and tannin structure.”

What happens behind the scenes is some meticulous blending, Johnsen explained.

“Adding a bit of merlot to the blend gives the Frei Brothers cabernet sauvignon a bit more richness and complexity, adding a bit more acid and blueberry character in particular,” he said. “A touch of petite sirah adds hints of dark fruit and enhanced structure.”

Johnsen said he was groomed to be a winemaker.

“I’m a fourth-generation Californian and grew up in a family that emphasized both science and art, which is a perfect combination for a winegrower,” he said. “My dad worked at NASA, and my mom was a teacher. We were raised in a very scientific, education-driven house, but we were also given the freedom to explore our creative sides, through art, music, sports and gardening. I keep that with me.”

Johnsen, 38, graduated in 2002 from the University of California at Davis with a bachelor’s degree in Crop Science, specializing in wine grapes.

“I love the feel of dirt on my hands,” he said. “There’s nothing I’d rather be doing than working with the vineyards we farm, growing amazing wines.”

Wine Writer Peg Melnik can be reached at 707-479-3880 or