Napa Valley's Indie Natural
Steve Matthiasson has made a name for his indie wines based on sustainable farming models and a deep respect for their terroir. We catch up with the Matthiasson Wines founder, farmer and winemaker to learn more about the private clients he helps achieve their Wine Country lifestyle.
By: Kevin Daniel Dwyer
Winemaking, for us, is a natural extension of farming. We explore classical expressions of different grape varieties. We try to respect the purity of the variety and the individuality of the site,” says Steve Matthiasson, head winemaker and founder of Matthiasson Wines, one of Napa Valley’s first indie winemakers. “People are yearning for more craftsmanship in any industry which puts a lot of attention on craft wine making. It’s a fun time to be in the wine industry.”
Matthiasson dreamt of farming his entire life. He became an avid gardener and cook while studying philosophy in college before heading back to grad school for horticulture after three years as a bike messenger/aspiring farmer. In the late 90s, he found a job working for a small sustainable agriculture consulting firm for vineyards and orchards, which provided the training and insight needed to co-author the California manual on sustainable vineyard practices.
“By 2000, I started consulting on vineyard practices for various private clients in Napa until 2003. That’s when I began to focus on our own family farming and winemaking,” says Matthiasson. “I still love the challenge of solving vineyard problems for others.”
Matthiasson Wines released its first vintage in 2003, a modest 120 cases. The wine was a red; a merlot-based Bordeaux blend. The white wines to follow were Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon Blanc, Ribolla Gialla and Fiulano.
“The entry point to acquiring land at that time was exorbitantly expensive. People thought we were crazy getting into the business as the new guys when the price of land was so high. In retrospect, this obstacle became a differentiating strategy for us and informed our business model completely,” recalls Matthiasson.
Matthiasson Wines leases its vineyards from private owners, farms them organically and assumes all the costs. If the vineyards are large enough, the winery pays a percentage of grape profits as rent. For the smaller parcels, it farms in exchange for the grapes. “This model allows us to build a portfolio of estate-farmed vineyards for Matthiasson, and the owners have the assurance of expert vineyard management as well as the satisfaction of participating in the profits in the good years, and drinking the wine any time,” says Matthiasson.
Many of the wineries’ grapes are grown on high-net-worth clientele’s gentleman’s vineyards. The owners want a retirement, second or third home in Wine Country but don’t want to think about the farming or management of their immediate surrounds. Matthiasson has become the go-to winemaker offering full service to help them with their grape escape.
“Some folks whose vineyards we lease or manage include serious heavyweights,” Matthiasson tells us as we overlook his latest privately held vineyard in the Oak Knoll District. From this vantage looking east, he begins to point out various land plots of red and brilliant orange blanketing the valley floor below. Almost every other large parcel is a client and each has a large estate amidst the rows of vines. “There are a lot of powerful, smart folks down there that we help; the global head of private wealth management at Goldman Sachs, a retired hard drive designer from Seagate Technology, a Tenet Healthcare VP, a retired eBay CFO, a few venture capitalists, a Facebook executive and a retired AOL engineer.”
Just below his winery—a modest, function-over-form operation—is 3167 Dry Creek Road, a sprawling contemporary farmhouse estate with a gentleman’s vineyard planted to Cabernet Sauvignon. The property is adjacent to Matthiasson Wines and is an easy walk down the road for the winemaker to monitor the fruit. The home hit the market this fall and sold after 30 days on market for a cool $4.35 million.
“Contemporary farmhouse vineyard estates are what everyone is looking for in the Napa Valley and so very hard to find. A vineyard farmed by Steve elevates it to an even hotter commodity and adds tremendous value,” says Jill Levy, listing agent and top producer at Golden Gate Sotheby’s International Realty. Levy represents some of the finest vineyard estates throughout Napa Valley and is one of Matthiasson’s loyal followers, having first been introduced to his wines years ago. “Steve’s raw talent, enthusiasm, knowledge of the terroir and passion to make world class wines is what makes him the rock star vintner that he is.” G
Golden Gate Sotheby’s International Realty
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