I feel like Monterey is one of the most under-rated AVAs in California. In fact I just got into a heated discussion with someone about whether or not the minutiae of the appellations (in regards to soil, climate, etc) vary as greatly as the famed Napa Valley. Not really a fair question — two different regions with two completely different things going on geographically. Take the Santa Lucia Highlands — most notably affected by its proximity to the Monterey Bay and Pacific Ocean. And while they’re no Mayacamas Mountains, the vineyards of the Highlands, planted along terraces of the Santa Lucia mountain range, can reach to as high as 3,000 feet in elevation. Thus it seems obvious to say that vineyards planted way up high facing the water are going to have their own unique microclimate compared to those even just a few hundred feet below them facing the opposite direction. So are their as many variances in Monterey’s SLH as the craggy mountain rages of Napa? Probably not. It’s a smaller appellation, but the variances here are no less important.
Fun Fact: The Santa Lucia Highlands is home to one of the vineyards named a California “Grand Cru” by Wine Enthusiast Magazine, recognizing that this location can produce some of the highest-quality wine grapes.
I learned about Matthes Vineyard through winemaker-friend Cynthia Cosco of Passaggio, who sourced her Grenache Blanc and Marsanne grapes from Henry Matthes for her 2016 vintage of Grenache Blanc. In fact, she didn’t just source those grapes, she struck a deal with Henry — in exchange for his exclusive fruits to use for her own Grenache Blanc, she would help him make his 2016 vintage. The difference between the Passaggio and Matthes styles is that Henry prefers to age his Grenache Blanc in oak, whereas Cindy prefers all stainless. So it takes more time for the Matthes Vineyards estate wines to be ready for release. So, today I present to you a sneak peek at Matthes Vineyards 2016 Grenache Blanc.
According to Henry Matthes, owner and proprietor of Matthes Vineyards, this Rhône-style blend is a bit of an anomaly. His intention is to always focus on Grenache Blanc, using just enough Marsanne to give the wine some backbone and structure. But due to a difficult growing season in 2014 in which much of the Marsanne failed, Henry and his vineyard team ended up grafting Grenache Blanc onto much of the Marsanne rootstock. Somehow, as Henry says, “The remaining Marsanne grew with unexpected vigor, yielding a huge crop of perfect fruit.” And so it is that he was able to create, for his portfolio, this unique white blend. “A serendipitous event for sure,” he adds.
“Our wine business is the smallest licensed/permitted Vineyard/Winery in Sonoma Valley,” says Henry Matthes, proprietor of Matthes Vineyards. It must be true, the Matthes Vineyards sits on a 1/3 acre parcel of land with just shy of 700 vines on the property. Though Henry started out as a grape seller, his modest vineyard now produces between 100 – 150 cases under his own name. Small-lot, indeed, so it was a privilege when Henry invited me to taste his wines.
When it comes to white wines, Cellars 33 is all about Grenache Blanc sourced from California’s Lodi AVA. When asked about this Rhône-style white blend, which includes a significant amount of Viognier and a trace amount of PicPoul, John Fones (owner and winemaker of Cellars 33) said that it’s simply a chance to create a “different expression” of the varietal he’s come to love. Oh, and if you’re wondering about the name, just remember “The Betty” is a white wine.