Paul Mathew wines were introduced to me at boon eat+drink right here in Guerneville where Mat and Barb, the winemaker and his wife, reside. When I hosted a fundraiser dinner for our county supervisor Efren Carillo, they generously donated their time and their wines for the event. Mat and Barb were gracious enough to invite me into their home so that I could learn more about who they are and the wine they make.
Mat started his career in wine through restaurants and retail stores. He was a wine buyer at the Oakville Grocer and also worked for John Ash, a renowned chef, author, and food and wine educator, who many refer to as the “Father of Wine Country Cuisine”.
He told me, “While I liked working in restaurants what I really wanted to do was make wine. That was my dream.”
Mat started working at Oakville Ranch, which is now Miner Family and got to know and learn from Gary Brookman, the winemaker. He also began planting vineyards with his former business partner Paul, which is where the name Paul Mathew comes from.
While Paul and Mathew planted traditionally spaced 8’x 8’vineyards, they also specialized in smaller 4’x 4’ rows, which led them to the name of their company Small Vines Viticulture.
In 1999 Mat set off on his own and bought Chardonnay grapes from Dutton Ranch. He made his first Chardonnay with Erin Jordan as the consulting winemaker and winemaker for the famed Turley Wines. In 2001, he sold his share of Small Vines Viticulture and began working at Sebastopol-Dutton Estate Winery. He started making wine under Merry Edwards, as she was the consulting enologist for the winery. In 2002, he was promoted to head winemaker as Merry handed the art of the winery's winemaking to Mat.
When I asked Mat about his philosophy behind winemaking he began explaining to me the importance of ‘native yeast’. “I never add commercial yeast to wine,” he said. “Native yeast already lives on the grapes and exists in 25-30 different strains. When the yeast that handles early fermentation is done it dies off and a new strain takes over and that process slowly repeats itself until the wine has fully developed.”
According to Mat, commercial yeast, which is added to wines by most commercial winemakers, allows producers to make more wine much faster. “The problem with this,” he explained, “is that faster fermentation builds up a higher temperature and ‘blows off’ all of the delicate flavors and aromas in the wine.”
He continued, “It’s like making a stew. If you cook the ingredients for an hour the dish lacks depth, but if you let it set on the stove for hours the flavors meld together and you end up with something incredible.”
Mat is a low input winemaker. He adds very little to the wine he makes and the result is definitely something incredible. Mat also believes in making sure that he starts with the ‘cleanest’ grapes possible. He does this by field sorting, which means he actually goes out into the vineyards and cuts away what he does not want to end up in the final yield that is crushed and used to produce his wines.
“Clean grapes have no holes in them, there are no raisins and the juice is not open to the air. If they are dirty the skin is weakened and the juice gets released too early. Going into the fields and removing the dirty ones we do not want ensures that they never get into the picking bin in the first place.”
While Mat is most famous for his Pinot Noir, he also has a fine Chardonnay from the grapes at Dutton Ranch and a Rose of Pinot Noir that is a blend of three vineyards, is full of flavor and delivers a crisp and light finish.
Our evening ended with an amazing lasagna that Barb prepared with the mushrooms that Mat foraged from the hills above his house. We also enjoyed a bottle of Syrah that he made while working at Dutton Ranch. The food and wine were a reminder of how connected we are to the land around us.
Log on to Paul Mathew Vineyards to learn more and purchase his wines.