Steve Matthiasson is a California winemaker and viticulturist and, it must be said, a leading player in a movement described by Jon Bonné as “New California.” New California producers share an Old World sensibility that is, in good measure, a reaction to the high-alcohol, overly-extracted Napa wines that garner big scores and even bigger prices.
Steve and his wife Jill have their own label where they work with Cabernet, yes, but also several less well-known grapes such as Ribolla Gialla, Tocai Friulano, and Refosco. In his free time, such as it is, Steve is a viticultural consultant to some of Napa’s top wineries. Present and past clients include Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, Araujo Estate, Spottswood, Dalla Valle and Hall.
Q&A WITH STEVE MATTHIASSON
Q: Describe the “aha” moment when you first fell in love with wine.
My WWII vet father was stationed on the Mosel River after the war—and used to trade diesel fuel to the farmers for Riesling wine, ham, and potatoes. He would often share these stories with family and friends over wine –which he always kept chilled in the fridge. From childhood, wine has always been for me a symbol of culture and people, farming and food, history and adventure.
Q: Do you have a philosophy of winemaking you strive to share with others?
Wine is food, a healthy part of the table. It is best when grown in healthy organic soil, made with restraint and balance, and moderate in alcohol.
Q: How has the perspective of time changed your approach to wine?
Our wines age very well. Since our start in 2003, our understanding of the ancient craft of viticulture and winemaking grows every year. The vision, however, has stayed the same: age-worthy wine for the table.
Q: Who inspires you personally — in wine or any endeavor?
Neil Young, for his reverence to his craft and following his artistic sensibility no matter what people say or think. And my WWII Dad for holding firm to his values.
Q: What is the most overrated trend in wine today?
Over-ripe flabby wines that give people headaches and turn them off to a whole world of enjoying wine around the table. Fortunately, the tide is turning, and lots and lots of winemakers are embracing freshness in their wines. Freshness does not mean losing control. Freshness honors the hard work and skill required in growing grapes and artfully harnessing the power of California soil, sun and harvest in winemaking.
Q: What new winemakers/designers/sommeliers are you most excited about, and why?
I’m enthusiastic about the new blood coming into the industry at all levels, from viticulture to winemaking to sommeliers to importers and distributors. There are a lot of new ideas right now, it’s an exciting time for the industry.
Q: If you weren’t a winemaker/sommelier what would you be doing?
Raising cattle, farming hay. Lots of work, but peaceful. Although the wine business can be a bit much sometimes, I love it.
Q: What led you to select Nomacorc Plantcorcs?
We were looking for consistency and absolute transparency, in a traditional-feeling package. The fact that we can dial in our oxygen interaction is a really nice bonus. Sustainability is also key. Nomacorc PlantCorcs delivered the Trifecta.
Q: What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Still trying to figure that out. I enjoy the satisfaction of doing a job well, spending family time, being creative. That’s not perfect happiness, but as the old saying goes, “perfect is the enemy of good,” and I’m still trying to navigate this crazy world one step at a time.
Q: What, if anything, do you leave to chance in the cellar or in life?
I don’t feel like I leave anything to “chance,” but there are lots of calculated risks in the vineyard and in the cellar. And all aspects of this business, from the vineyard to the cellar to the marketplace, require trust and teamwork. You have to allow other people to execute their unique skills. But that’s not leaving something to chance—you formed a relationship with them for who they are. When it is all humming along it’s a beautiful thing.