Materra Wines – The Cunats – Brian, his wife Miki and their two daughters founded the label Materra in 2007 with the purchase of a 22-acre estate vineyard (50 acre property) located in the Oak Knoll district – an area of Napa long known for producing excellent Merlot (the varietal they currently focus on). The property is also planted to Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Viogner.
Brian worked on a farm during his formative years and always had an interest in agriculture. He became intrigued with French wines but didn’t have a chance to truly explore some of California’s premium wines until friends invited him out to Napa Valley in the late 1990′s for wine tasting. He continued to explore the valley as time permitted (home base is in Illinois).
While on another trip to the valley in 2007 the Cunat’s were not only wine tasting but looking for job openings for their daughter Neena at select hotels. They took a wrong turn and ended up driving by a vineyard property for sale in the Oak Knoll District. A spur of the moment decision led them to call for more information and soon they were the owners of this vineyard estate.
They have big plans for the property – designs have already been drawn up for a winery (French styled architecture) and with the current permitting process they plan to start construction sometime in mid 2013. Once completed, the winery will also have its own tasting room.
The Cunats wanted to create a name for their label that would honor the terroir or vineyard – and decided upon “Materra” which means “Mother Earth” in Latin.
Materra Wines opened their tasting room in early 2012 on Main Street in St. Helena. In fact the space Materra is using for their tasting room used to be a lobby of the hotel next door. Today an adjoining door connects the tasting room to the lobby of the Wydown Hotel. Hotel guests receive complimentary tastings and a percentage off any wine purchases. The tasting room is located in the northern part of town on Main Street. While not the heart of town this is still fairly central and within walking distance of most of St. Helena’s main street shops. The posh and beautifully renovated Wydown is certainly a complementary neighbor and a premium restaurant will be opening later in 2012 across the street.
The Cunat’s daughter Neena currently manages the tasting room. She moved to the valley in 2007 to pursue a career in hospitality and hotel management, married into a local wine family and is now the “face” of Materra wines in Napa. With no background in wine, once living in the valley she took classes at Napa Valley College and also worked for a local wine merchant.
Two winemakers share their wine making duties. Most of their fruit comes from their estate vineyard but they also source from select area vineyards. The 2010 Sauvignon Blanc saw no oak during its aging (stainless steel). This wine opens up quickly showing bright fruit – including peach, tropical undertones as well as citrus blossom. There is good acidity, decent structure (for seeing no oak) and good overall balance.
The 2010 Viognier is 100% varietal – there is not a lot of stand alone Viognier being produced in Napa. This wine shows a clean bouquet that is very floral – with aromas of white peach and hints of vanilla. Again this wine has good acidity.
With Brian’s interest in French wines – he has the Materra wines crafted to be paired with foods. Their red wines in particular are very elegant and all show good acidity. The 2007 Merlot is their most produced wine. It has a pleasing bouquet with bright red fruit, plum, red cherry, notes of blueberry and just a hint of cocoa powder. Red currant, chocolate, and cassis show on the palate anchored by a finish that is rather smooth.
The 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon has just a touch of Cabernet Franc in the blend. It shows a bit of pepper spice on the nose – and more dark fruit aromas then the Merlot including black cherry and plum. Surprisingly the palate shows more red fruit than the bouquet would initially lead one to believe. The palate is well layered – fairly smooth on the entry but finishes with some structure – both wood and fruit tannins.
Depending on the day, appointments may be necessary – but the tasting room is often open by walk-in. For current times and more information visit: www.materrawines.com