Matthiasson: Napa wines are like a Ferrari

Napa Valley wines are like a Ferrari whose power you can ramp up as much or as little as you like, according to local producer Steve Matthiasson of Matthiasson Wines.

Steve Matthiasson is turning down the power on California Cabernet

Speaking to the drinks business during a recent trip to California, Matthiasson, who is known for making wines of elegance and restraint, said that winemakers in Napa were free to choose which style of wines they want to make.

“Napa wines are like a Ferrari – you can drive at 200 miles an hour but you don’t have to. Some winemakers have the tendency to go over-ripe in Napa, but we have the freedom to make any kind of wines we want.

“California’s wine industry is still developing and there’s room for your own personal vision within it. We aren’t shackled by rules.

“My Cabernet is very different to your average Napa Cab – it’s more like the Cabs that were made before the Parker era as the alcohol is never above 13%. The wines in the Judgment of Paris tasting in 1976 were all around 12% alcohol.

“The fruit that goes into my Cab is very protected from the sun to avoid the grapes getting over-ripe and is picked deliberately early to retain freshness. It’s red fruit dominant with herbal accents

“There is a tremendous amount of clonal diversity in Napa Cabernet and a lot of different styles being made from different parts of the valley, and different perceptions about what is delicious.”

While Matthiasson is grateful for the freedom he has in Napa to plough his own furrow, he admits that making wines that go against the grain was a challenge at first.

“It can be a challenge being a winemaker in Napa as you can get pigeonholed as making a certain style of wine that isn’t necessarily true.

“Many Burgundy drinkers wouldn’t give Napa winemakers the time of day, and Napa lovers who go after the big lush styles won’t like my wines either.

“It took a while for me to find a lane to work in. I wasn’t able to sell my reds during the Parker era as that style of wine wasn’t popular then,” he said.

“I don’t want to replicate the Old World but I am informed by it,” he added.

Matthiasson, who was born in Canada and got a degree in philosophy before studying horticulture at UC Davis, cites the likes of The New York Times critic Eric Asimov and former San Francisco Chronicle wine columnist Jon Bonné taking an interest in and writing about his left field Napa White blend (pictured) as a turning point.

The wine is a blend Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Ribolla Gialla and Tocai Friulano. He also makes a Refosco from grapes grafted onto old Merlot vines.

Rather than the off-trade, Matthiasson is targeting small farm to table restaurants in the US and places like Sager + Wilde in London.

While there is still a thirst for bold, ripe styles of Napa Cabernet, Matthiasson believes things will start to change when Millennials increase their buying power.

“Baby Boomers have a sweet tooth as they grew up on chocolate. Millennials’ palates are very different – they like drier wines with more acidity.

“They grew up in a different atmosphere and are much more interested in where their ingredients came from. They will seek out artisan products at farmers markets and are happy to pay more for high quality produce,” he said.

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