Matthiasson are run by two farmers, husband and wife Steve and Jill Matthiasson. Steve is the viticulturist and winemaker and Jill runs the business side of the operations while also farming a number of fruit trees which she sells at select farmers’ markets in Napa (Napa Valley Fruit Company). Both Steve and Jill have long been interested in farming – Steve was drawn to gardening while in college and Jill studied botany and later worked for a family farming non-profit.
Matthiasson produces a number of wines from both Napa and Sonoma. They are known for their white wines but also produce several excellent reds. This is one of those small Napa producers totally under the radar and visits are usually with the the owners, husband and wife Steve Matthiasson and Jill Klein Matthiasson
Their home vineyard (Matthiasson) is located on the western part of the Oak Knoll District just north of the city of Napa and it’s encroaching suburbs. They grow some very obscure for Napa Valley varietals here focusing on grapes found in north east Italy/Slovenia border including Refosco, Ribolla Gialla, Tocai Friulano and two rows of Schioppettino. And several traditional Bordeaux varietals including Merlot and Petit Verdot. In addition to grapes, a diversity of other crops are grown here including various fruit trees, olives and a giant avocado tree (the largest avocado tree we have seen anywhere on the floor of the valley). They manage and source from a number of other vineyards, mostly in Napa but also in neighboring Sonoma County.
Steve operates his own vineyard management consulting company and is actively involved in all vineyard decisions (including the vineyards they source grapes from). They specialize in several wines, a Napa Red, a Napa White, Chardonnay (their most produced wine) and several red Bordeaux styled wines. Total production is currently around 3,000 cases.
Matthiasson’s varietal choices and wine making philosophy is uniquely refreshing in Napa’s current more linear dominated wine making focused environment. Steve and Jill grow and produce wines from unique for Napa Valley varietals. Steve’s wines are balanced and food friendly wines – well layered and complex but not to the point of losing these more subtle nuances in favor of ripeness and higher alcohol. In addition, their judicious use of new oak ensure that the complexities found in the wines are from their vineyards not from the secondary influences of the barrels.
Their Napa Valley White is a wine you will not find at any other winery in Napa. It is a unique blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon along with two Italian varietals – Ribolla Gialla and Tocai Friulano. The dominant varietal in the 2013 vintage is Sauvignon Blanc (55%). This wine shows pale yellow in the glass with sweet aromatics including pineapple, peach/nectarine and citrus aromas and as it continues to open notes of honey show. Clean and crisp with mineralities. Similar flavors to the aromas of the bouquet continue onto the palate. Easy drinking white wine. No malolactic fermentation. Texturally this wine feels nice on the palate – with some weight.
There are merely several acres of Ribolla Gialla planted in all of California; more is planted in the Northwestern part of Italy where Steve has visited and gained additional insights into how this varietal is used.
Ribolla has been made into wine since the 13th century. The reason this esoteric fact is known is that it was mentioned on a wedding menu that dates back all these hundreds of years. White wine does have a tannic structure, even though tannins are usually not mentioned in the same breath as with whites because they are not as overpowering as you may find in some of the big reds. The tannins in this blend are light, well structured and in the several vintages we have tried – certainly noticeable on the finish.
The 2013 Ribolla Gialla is grown on their home estate (forever known as the earthquake wine) was part of a significant amount of their wine effected by the August 2014 earthquake centered just south of the city of Napa. This wine was in barrel and came crashing to the floor after the earthquake – not being lost completely but exposing it to more oxygen until they were able to “rescue” it. As a result this vintage is fairly dark amber in the glass – with sweet aromas on the bouquet leading one to possibly think it might be sweet on the palate. But not so. Notes of apricot and a slightly nutty nuance show aromatically. Slightly astringent tannins, a minerality component and a noticeable tartness lingers for some time.
Highly unusual for a Napa producer, this wine was fermented whole cluster (with total fermentation lasting three weeks on the skins). The wine was then aged in neutral barrels for 20 months.
The 2015 Spring Hill Pinot Noir (Petaluma Gap) shows very bright higher toned fruits on the bouquet – cranberry along with nuances of dried dust or first rain on dusty rock. Lively on the palate with singing acidity – fruit along with tannins that feel dusty or earthy in nature linger for quite some time. A very food friendly wine that is rich in flavor while maintaining an elegant feel on the palate.
The 2012 Red Hen Vineyard Merlot (Oak Knoll District) shows bright aromatics in the glass (cherry being the prominent fruit) framed by notes of dessert spices and chocolate aromas. Flavors of red cherry show along with a lively and engaging finish – well layered and featuring plenty of acidity.
The Matthiasson Red Wine is a Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot/Cabernet Franc blend. The 2005 blend is sourced from two hillside vineyards in Napa’s Oak Knoll district. It is an elegant wine with great aromatics. It is dark purple in color with juicy fruit and nuances of chocolate on the palate all anchored by smooth tannins.
The 2014 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon shows floral aromas with baking spices and notes of spicy red plums. Savory on both the bouquet and the palate. A lighter bodied wine of this varietal with excellent balance – it is harmonious from start to finish with bright and refreshing flavors of red cherry and noticeably textured but fine-grained tannins anchor a supple finish. Mouth watering throughout the palate. 13.4% alcohol.
An extremely uncommon product for a Napa winery is Vermouth. An even more uncommon varietal in Napa is Flora, a varietal created in the 1950’s from a cross between Semillon and Gewurztraminer. Remarkably this varietal still grows in Napa in the Yount Mill Vineyard (Oakville). The Matthiasson’s discovered this varietal and decided they wanted to produce wine from it.
They pick the fruit late and then further increase the sweetness during fermentation by adding cane sugar. The resulting non vintage drink is dark amber and orange in color. Aromatically and on the palate there are notes of orange marmalade with orange rind and mandarin notes. The front of the the palate is sweet yet the finish is dry and slightly bitter. Nice flavor and nice balance. A great dessert wine by itself.
Note their wine label – one of the more intriguing Napa winery labels we have come across on our epic project, it is an homage to both the vineyards and those who work with the vines. Images of vintage pruning shears line the label on every one of their wines – the wines with only one pruning shear on the label indicate more limited production wines. Noted graphic artist, Michael McDermott is the genius behind this design.
Matthiasson maintains decent domestic distribution in select states as well as some distribution internationally. You can find their wines locally in the Napa Valley at ACME Wine Shop in St. Helena and also at several local restaurants in the valley including Mustards Grill, Cole’s Chop House in the city of Napa and Press in St. Helena.
Those familiar with their wine for a number of years may remember their old warehouse type location (Tannery Winery) in the town of Napa. After they moved out of the tannery building, they produced their wine at Bin to Bottle, located just south of the city of Napa. And in 2017 they purchased a small existing winery (called Phoenix Winery) slightly to the west of their home vineyard located just above the valley floor (one can actually see the winery location from their home vineyard).
NOTE 1: These photos are of their old winery in the town of Napa. We keep these photos here for nostalgia purposes!