I am never shy about my love for New California wines. My cellar is full of them! This amazing juice is made in the style of the Old World by a dedicated group of farmers who are determined to reshape over-oaked misconceptions of California juice. Today, I’m sharing the story of Steve Matthiasson through the voice of a dear friend of mine. Steve is a leading producer of New California wines made with incredible dedication and a true love of the vine. With each visit to his family farm and new vintage released, I think how wonderful it is to know the people behind this benchmark juice. I hope you enjoy. - Kevin O. Hart - Founder, Hart & Cru
THE UNDENIABLE CHARM OF MATTHIASSON WINES
By Chris O’Hearn
California native, now transplanted Cincinnati Somm
JAMES BEARD AWARD FINALIST 2018 & 2019
WINEMAKER OF THE YEAR: San Francisco Chronicle and Food & Wine Magazine
The first time I tasted Matthiasson wines was shortly after sitting down to a vintners dinner in downtown Napa in 2011. I had just moved back to Northern California after a long stint of travel. Recently hired by a celebrated Napa producer, I was eager to get acquainted with the local wines.
Mick Salyer from Zuzu poured me a glass and casually asked if I was familiar with Steve Matthiasson and his white blend. Wanting to be taken seriously in esteemed company, I closed my eyes to hone in on the profile of the wine… But my eyes quickly popped back open. What was this wine? And how was it so good?!
The terroir of this area is another reason this place is so special. Kimmeridgian soil, a chalk & limestone combination gives the wines a dry, zingy minerality. The mouthfeel of these wines can range from spritzy meyer lemon to a more creamy lemon curd profile.
Real California Wine
“This is a real California wine,” proclaimed a revered vintner at the table, “and this is where California wine is headed.”
That statement rang true for me. Fresh and lively, Matthiasson’s wines were unapologetically Californian. The varietals themselves displayed some Old World influence, combined with the fresh outdoor aromas of my youth: the bright eucalyptus smell of camping in the Santa Cruz mountains, and the salty, minerally blast of the Pacific Ocean.
Immediately, I was hooked. I made a point of seeking out Matthiasson wines for my home cellar over the coming months and years. In particular, I always made room in my collection for Steve’s Cabernet Sauvignon. Its bright fruit and fresh herbal notes remind me of Napa wines of old, long before tannin and point-scores got out of control. When the tannins are in check and the wines are not over-ripe or extracted, Cabernet Sauvignon can be very refreshing.
A Sense of Place
It’s impossible not to enjoy a trip to visit Steve. The first thing you notice when visiting the Matthiasson Vineyard is how incredibly at home he is on the property he farms. While quick to answer any wine or viticulture questions, he is just as comfortable talking about other fruits planted on the farm. As important for biodiversity as they are delicious, these fruits are enjoyed on their own and as the jams made at the Matthiasson home farm. (editor’s note: the Meyer lemons are unreal)
While crashing one of Steve’s tours a few years ago, I was very contented walking through the vineyard when I was snapped back into reality by his statement “…over there we have some Schioppettino we grafted to old Merlot vines.” What?! A vine grown predominantly in the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region in Italy was in Southern Napa? As my head whipped around, I could tell Steve had enjoyed startling me with his unexpected approach.
A couple of years later, I returned and enjoyed lunch with Steve and Jill Matthiasson next to that same vineyard with Schioppettino vines. Alongside their beautiful Rosé was the Linda Vista Chardonnay, another white wine in their line-up that begs for food with its minerality and rich, upfront fruits. Steve grinned as he opened a bottle of the Schioppettino next for me. “I thought you’d want to try this,” he laughed. The wine was as true to the varietal as it gets, however far from its native home of Northeast Italy.
Under the shade of a large tree on a summer afternoon with good food, excellent wine and great people, it’s easy to see that Steve loves what he does. Maybe that’s why the wines are so damn good.
THE WINES OF MATTHIASSON
CHARDONNAY LINDA VISTA NAPA : In 2011 Matthiasson leased the old Chardonnay vineyard behind their house. The West Oak Knoll area where they live is one of the classic Chardonnay spots in Napa, going back to the 60s, when the climate here was considered too cool for full-bodied reds.
CHARDONNAY HARMS NAPA : Situated on a hillside above Napa’s Dry Creek Road, the beautiful Harms Vineyard radiates wholesomeness and good vibes. Organically farmed for 25 years, and biodynamic for 20 years, the healthy soils and wise older vines produce deep and complex wines.
ROSÉ NAPA : Made from a combination of Grenache, Syrah, Mouvèdre, and Counoise from the Windmill vineyard in the Dunnigan Hills, and Syrah grapes from the Hurley Vineyard in Napa Valley. It’s citrusy aromas and clean flavors will complement the wonderful spring foods that show up on the table as the weather thaws (salads, rabbit, frittatas, peas, favas, green garlic...).
PINOT NOIR SPRING HILL VINEYARD PETALUMPA GAP : The Spring Hill Vineyard is farmed by Karen London, an individual of manic energy who manages to tend around 100 Wagyu/Scottish Highland cross cattle and 20 acres of Pinot noir vines all on her own. The vineyard is perched on the top of a sandy ridge, directly in the path of the relentless wind off the sea, yielding, as a result, less than one ton per acre of teeny tiny berries.
SCHIOPPETTINO NO. 2 : Schioppettino (also called Ribolla Nera) originates in the Friuli region of Italy and Slovenia. Matthiasson’s have one of the only plantings in California. An ancient grape, Schioppettino, which means “gunshot,” was first mentioned in print in for wedding ceremonies in 1282. It is distantly related to Syrah and Pinot noir.
CABERNET FRANC : The wine is 100 percent Cabernet franc from Matthiasson’s home vineyard. Cabernet franc is particularly representative of the site where it is grown, and at it’s best it is feminine, intriguing, and difficult to understand. Beguiling.
NAPA RED BLEND : This wine is Matthiasson’s attempt at crafting a classic balanced and age-worthy red wine—wine like the wines produced and collected around the world when people like Thomas Jefferson and Winston Churchill wouldn’t have dinner without a bottle of Claret. Old school age-worthy wine with finesse but with guts, and complete from beginning to end.
CABERNET SAUVINGON NAPA : In the tradition of Cabernet sauvignon, ours includes a small amount of Merlot, Cabernet franc and Petit verdot, and is blended from six vineyards throughout the Napa Valley. The three AVAs are Coombsville for structure and black fruit, Rutherford for savory Cabernet characters, and Oak Knoll for bright fruit. It is a Napa Cab of the old school, a blended wine, age-worthy, complex, and begging for a steak off of the grill.
VERMOUTH RARE NO. 3 : First off, Matthiasson’s vermouth is primarily about the wine. The base wine. It is 100% Flora, which is a variety bred at UC Davis by the legendary Harold Olmo back in the 1950’s. The Napa Valley Sweet Vermouth No. 2 makes a great blood and sand, negroni, manhattan, or even better, can be served neat as an aperitif or to accompany dessert.