Bringing the chemistry laboratory to the winery

University chemistry professor Tom Stevens has been bottling wine in his garage at his West Eugene home for 28 years. (Alex McDougall/Oregon Daily Emerald)

University chemistry professor Tom Stevens has been bottling wine in his garage at his West Eugene home for 28 years. (Alex McDougall/Oregon Daily Emerald)

Posted by Megan Sanderson on Thursday, May. 17 at 1:28 pm.

A University chemistry professor and postdoctoral researcher together have found unique ways to apply their science skills: winemaking.

Professor Tom Stevens and University biology researcher Micah Bodner have created their own wine using skills they learned as scientists. The former has been making his wine for 28 years in his garage at his home in Eugene, while the latter converted a barn in Eugene two years ago for making wine.

Stevens made a few different wines from his first batch in 1984 — some reds and a chardonnay.

“A couple of the reds turned out bad,” he said. “The chardonnay was good.”

He picks his own wine and crushes the grapes himself. After the fermentation process, he bottles his wine in his garage at his Eugene home.

Stevens’ science background provided a lot of help in his own winemaking process. He has focused his research on yeast proteins because the process of winemaking uses yeast in the fermentation process. His science background has also helped him know how to keep the oxygen out of the wine: If oxygen gets into the wine, it destroys the finished flavor.

Although he enjoys the whole process, he said his favorite part is picking grapes in October. He usually picks them on a Saturday afternoon with friends and family in the west foothills of the Willamette Valley.

He bottles wine every year but has no desire to become a commercial wine maker because he wants to focus on his job as a professor.

But Bodner hopes to make a name for himself in the community. Bodner, who is a research associate in the University’s Institute of Molecular Biology, has been making wine out of his converted barn for two years. His interest came from his dad, who made wine noncommercially. As a kid, Bodner had always been around it and loved it.

His science background helped him with the setup and the process. Having that science background has also given him more confidence in the whole process.

When Bodner told University chemistry professor John Keana two years ago he was going into winemaking, Keana was a little surprised until he explained why.

“Micah is an outstanding and versatile young chemist who is very capable of practicing both chemistry and winemaking — or marrying the two,” Keana said.

Bodner also picks his own grapes and bottles. His first batch produced 60 cases of wine. In 2011, Bodner produced 30 cases of Rieslings and 300 cases of Pinot Noir. This year, he’s looking at getting 400 cases. His eventually wants to produce 2,000 cases.

With a goal to commercialize, he and his wife have been selling their brand, called Bodner Wine Co., to stores in Eugene. Their wine is sold at several Market of Choice locations and at Sundance Market, and he hopes to have his wine featured in local restaurants.

“We feel good about it,” Bodner said. “We’re very optimistic.”