Chris Johnson’s cowboy boots and down-to-earth demeanor belied his position as a key winemaker in the Kendall-Jackson wine empire, as well as an inner fortitude his friends said carried him through an extremely difficult year.
Despite suffering the ravages of pancreatic cancer, the 46-year-old father of two was still at work, overseeing production of the winery’s Bordeaux blends.
But after being admitted to UCSF Medical Center a week ago Friday, the Press Democrat reports, Johnson’s health deteriorated that Saturday, and that evening he died with friends and family by his side.
In a letter announcing the news to employees, Jess Jackson lamented the loss not just of an “extremely talented winemaker, but a good friend and colleague.”
Randy Ullom, head winemaker for Kendall-Jackson, said Johnson possessed a rare knowledge of both grape growing and winemaking that led to his rapid rise within the company. At the time of his death, Johnson oversaw the production of all of Kendall-Jackson’s red wines, as well as several white varietals.
But Johnson never let that go to his head, and was always willing to mentor young winemakers through the company’s viticulture/enology program.
“He was the most down-to-earth, warm, friendly, aw-shucks guy who had a sparkle in his eye and would take everyone under his wing,” Ullom said.