If you haven’t listened to the podcast “I’ll Drink To That” with Levi Dalton, you should. Much of the bits below about Steve came from a talk Levi had with Steve Matthiasson in February 2014.
A man of the land—who at 23 years of age was fresh off a college career of studying philosophy, a part time bike messenger, home brewing small batches of beer, and recognizing that the most rewarding part of his day was a visit to his plot at a community garden among the buildings of San Francisco. A random drive to visit UC Davis with a friend pinged Steve with a light bulb moment where he was surrounded by an entire institution that was completely committed to agriculture. He was mesmerized…and enrolled. When asked what that experience was like his response was, “Kid in a candy store.” The guy is an agriculture learning machine. A mind like a cognoscente vacuum, able to gobble up volumes of information and apply it back into practice.
Steve states, “I don’t like the excessively concentrated wines.” One of his vineyard mentors is Warren Winiarski of Stag’s Leap Winery Cellars, who Steve says delivered a bounty of metaphors on vineyards, farming, harvests, and wine. One that cemented in his mind, and obviously guides his winemaking decisions to this day, was about overpowering wine. Warren had said, “Overly concentrated wine is like, rather than watching the fireworks, it’s like having the firework right in your ear.”
Steve continues, “You feel the sensation, but you can’t even see or hear anything. If you dial the concentration back then you can actually make out the beginning, middle, and end of the wine, and hear the story. That is part of the joy with transparent wines. There is this incredible intellectual stimulation versus that more visceral thing of having a big fat wine—where you experience the power but there’s no story.”
He also doesn’t think his wines are “low alcohol” or that they are part of a fad. Wine production shows plenty of historical precedent that 12.5%-13.5% alcohol levels are the norm across most regions, for generations. If percentages went higher they were considered outliers. The contrary is that 14% alcohol and above wines on a routine basis really kicked in over recent history, over the last 20 years, and there is strong evidence a decline is happening in that category.
Steve’s voice popped with a realization… “That’s the fad right. So, what we’re seeing with the pendulum swinging back is a fad fading. We’re moving back to this really time honored, well established in many different wine regions, sense of what makes a balanced, classic wine.”
A sip of the ‘Linda Vista’ Chardonnay while sitting at their family table at 11am on a Saturday is a treat. This is an old Victorian home painted yellow that was built in 1906. In 2014, when the Napa quake shook the valley, their home broke off its foundation. When the plan came to lift the home and repair that foundation, they decided to build a new first floor and plop the original structure on top. The 5-acre property is surrounded by vineyards and when I asked, where is the ‘Linda Vista Vineyard’ Jill swiveled in her chair and pointed, “Right there, beyond our property line.” They leased the 14 acres of vines from the owners in 2011, all planted to Chardonnay. They bottle most but sell off a portion of blocks to two other producers, one being Donkey & Goat, the other, a long-standing contract with Chateau Montelena, as one of the vineyards that contributed to the winning 1973 Paris tasting Chardonnay. The grapes are picked at five different times throughout the harvest season which builds complexity, completeness, and balance. The wine is aged in barrels with two or three vintages of use and is not racked, fined, or cold stabilized. They suggest oysters and roast chicken as two favorites to pair with this Chardonnay…plus big smiles.