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Time-Honored Sense: Matthiasson Wines & the California Restoration

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Time-Honored Sense: Matthiasson Wines & the California Restoration


In 2012, California had an effectively perfect year for grapes. The spring was dry, which meant few problems with mildew. The growing season was long and steady, without any erratic shifts in temperature or rainfall. No blasting heatwaves, no sudden cold spells, no flash-flood rains, no drought.

Fall arrived.

Matthiasson's home vineyard

Matthiasson's home vineyard

Steve Matthiasson, after holding his breath for months, allowed his mind to form around the potential hanging in every one of the dozens of vineyards he helped manage. This, he said to himself, could be the vintage of a decade.

And yet, as the clusters plumped on his clients' vines, ripening in such a way that would allow the wines to elaborate essentially on their own -- wines that would perfectly express the vineyard, the climate, the terroir -- his clients one by one told him to hold, to wait, to let the grapes ripen to their physical limit. These clients with whom Steve consulted were some of the most prestigious names in American wine. And after two consecutive cold years, they wanted 2012 to be a return to some former glory. Bigger and badder than ever. 15+% alcohol wines from the best of Napa Valley.

He would have to settle for making his own wines, under the Matthiasson label, the way he wanted. Visions of over-ripeness would dominate his roster of clients.

In the book The New California Wine by Jon Bonné, which begins with an account of a winter afternoon in the Matthiasson family home, Steve and his wife Jill Klein Matthiasson are the heroes of a redemption story. Between the mid-1970s and sometime around the turn of this decade, California wine suffered from a serious bout of pigheadedness. Sweeping generalization? Yes, but like Bonné my interest in wine has always come from a place of subtlety and refreshment, rather than bombast or opulence. For years I could hardly look at a glass of Napa Cabernet without twitching my nose. Having been introduced to one too many overblown goop bombs, I wrote off the entire region as out of touch.

That's because I had yet to find the likes of Broc, Scribe, or, as it were, Matthiasson, et al.

Simply put, Steve and Jill Klein Matthiasson pioneered what is now a mainstream movement in California wine. Attempts to categorize this movement bound to fail. I will try to fail gracefully.

It's a movement away from that dying mentality that beset the 2012 vintage. It's a movement that sees maximal potential in physical ripeness, not in highest sugar concentrations. A movement made up of people who see balance as the highest virtue.

Matthiasson 2015 Rosé

Matthiasson 2015 Rosé

In a 2014 interview, Matthiasson laid out the long view, seeking to restore California's identity in the wine world.

"We're talking about 10-15 years where alcohols have been above 14 percent, routinely," he said. "That's the fad. What we're seeing [now], with the pendulum swinging back, is not a fad. We're seeing the fad fading. We're moving back to this really time-honored, well established sense of what makes a balanced, classic wine."

Matthiasson Wines are now available in Tennessee for the first time. Over the last six to seven years we've seen the arrival of one major New California producer after another. Year by year my perception of California wine as expensive junk food has eroded. What has been revealed is a simple truth: this is a very exciting time to be a winemaker in California.

That lost opportunity in 2012 will likely not be repeated on a large scale. Over the past four years, there have been seismic shifts in the expectations of consumers. Minerality and acidity, words the average wine drinker would have scratched her head at in 2010, are now so commonplace as to border cliché. That's a huge win for the movement championed by Steve and Jill Klein Matthiasson.

Broc Cellars, Lioco, Copain Wines, Scholium Project, Scribe Winery, Forlorn Hope. The list goes on. Matthiasson is the touchstone among them all. Now long overdue, we are very excited to present the slate of Matthiasson Wines, each on its own terms.


Matthiasson Napa Valley White 2013
Ryans Vineyard & Vare Vineyard
Sauvignon Blanc, Ribolla Gialla, Semillon, Tocai Friulano
What Steve calls an 'archetypal white wine.' Created not to express a single place, but a vision of the potential in the craft of blending. Freshness is key.

Matthiasson Napa Valley Ribolla Gialla 2013
Matthiasson Vineyard
Ribolla Gialla
The wine that put Matthiasson on the map. "The first time you make Ribolla, it's like, 'Oh, no, something's wrong here.'" Aren't we all glad he had the foresight and patience to stick with it! This wine is fermented with the skins, which imparts a soft but apparent tannin structure that is unusual for white wine. Very distinctive. Flavors tend toward the savory side, and get a big boost from the highly energetic minerality.

Matthiasson Napa Valley Chardonnay 2014
Linda Vista Vineyard
As with all of their single vineyard wines, this bottle strives to showcase the particulars of these vines on this land. For Linda Vista Chardonnay, that means brightness and leanness with small touches of deeper, creamier flavors.

Matthiasson Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2012
Oak Knoll District
Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot
From cool climate vineyards, including those in the Matthiassons' own backyard. Due to the wonderfully mild conditions of the growing season, this wine took on very accessible fruit and baking spice characteristics, with silky, even tannins that last.

Matthiasson California Rosé 2015
Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre, Counoise
"Is it refreshing?" That's the only real concern when the Matthiassons make this wine. Is it the thing we want to drink when we get home from work after a long day? Yes, Steve, it most certainly is!

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