Getting On Board with The New Wave of American Wine

This week we’re featuring four wines from three producers that are part of the new vanguard of winemakers on the West Coast. Two of the whites draw inspiration in an unconventional sense from the old world. We’re also opening up a killer skin-contact white from the finest region in all of the Willamette Valley and a red blend that prides itself on drink-ability above all.

These are the wines that represent the new wave- fresh, drinkable, enticing and exciting. We’ve got you covered, let’s dig in.

Matthiasson Tendu White

Steve Matthiasson always wanted to be a farmer, there were farmers in his extended family, but his immediate family were city folk, and after receiving a Philosophy degree from Whittier College he was splitting time between working as a bike messenger and tending to his plot in the local community garden. He eventually heard about Agricultural schools like UC Davis.

It was at Davis where he confessed to his sustainable agriculture professor that he wanted to become a farmer. As Matthiasson would recall “he looked at me and lowered his voice and said, 'You're not going to learn that here. Give anyone on this hall $100k [to start a farm] and they'll be broke in a year. You need to go work on a farm, kid.'¹"

Armed with that piece of advice, he went to work for the Community Farm Alliance as an intern, and it was there that he met his future wife, Jill.

They moved to Napa in 2002, and after a short stint of making wine with grapes sourced from friend’s vineyards, they bought their own tiny 3 acre parcel of vineyards in Napa Valley that also contained an old farmhouse, a barn, and a few fruit trees in the back of the Oak Knoll District, no small feat, even then.

While Steve and his wife are no strangers to the dominant varietals of the Valley - Cabernet, Chardonnay, and Merlot, what drew us to his wine was not only his commitment to organic and sustainable agricultural practices, but his appreciation of Italian white varietals.

He traveled with the late George Vare to the Friuli region and had a “religious experience” after tasting some of the white wines there, particularly those made with Ribolla Gialla, and was inspired to incorporate more of the Italian influence into his winemaking.

Tendu is his latest passion project - French for taut or tense, it’s a wine that is meant for the people, prizing freshness and high quality wine-making along with affordability.

The Tendu White is 100% Vermentino, and part of what makes it affordable is the crux of wine pricing in general “location, location, location”. Rather than sourcing from vineyards in Napa, the grapes for this wine comes from Woodland, CA, near Sacramento out of Windmill Vineyard. The wine is finished in large neutral barrels with no malolactic and no battonage, letting the fruit, acidity, and minerality lead the way in this easy drinking yet refreshingly complex white.

Massican Annia White

Steve Matthiasson isn’t the only producer who makes great, and unusual- white wines out of Napa, but his fingerprints are all over Dan Petroski’s Massican project. Dan, like Steve, has a long history as a wine consultant and winemaker for hire, including Larkmead, but his first trade was working for the magazine industry in New York City. As someone who worked on the wine and dine crowd, he was familiar with wine as a consumer, and had already developed a taste for wines from Piedmont and Friuli (and who wouldn’t ?) and decided to quit his job and move to Italy, talking himself into a job at the Valle dell’Acate winery in Sicily.

After returning to the United States, he briefly entertained the notion of working on the importer and sales side of the wine business, but took an offer with DuMol Winery instead and followed up that internship with a full-time position at Larkmead. He eventually worked his way up to head winemaker, but it was a California Department of Agriculture Grape Crush report that changed everything.

Dan remembers “"I came across all these Italian grape varieties,"[… ] "and thought to myself, 'Where the hell is all this stuff planted in Napa and Sonoma?²'" Steve Matthiasson connected him to George Vare, and he also managed to get his hands on vineyards of Friulano dating back to 1947.

Dan started Massican in 2009, naming the project after Mount Massico, a mountain in Campania that was familiar to his grandfather before he emigrated to the United States.

Unlike Matthiasson, Massican produces only white wines, one of the only producers in Napa to do so, and sticks to a Sauvignon Blanc, A Chardonnay, a Vermouth, and Annia, a Friuli-inspired blend of Ribolla Gialla (55%) Tocai Friulano (39%) and Chardonnay (6%).

Patricia Green Cellars “Marie” Muscat Ottonel

Patty Green and Jim Anderson started their semi-eponymous Patricia Green Cellars in 2000 with a purchase of 52 acres in the Ribbon Ridge AVA in the Willamette Valley in Oregon. They’ve since become synonymous with high quality single vineyard bottlings of Pinot Noirs from different AVAs within Willamette, but this latest project, “Marie”, is a call back to some serious old-school winemaking methods.

Orange wine is somewhat of a misnomer, even if it’s the latest craze. The secret to the science is letting the white wine grapes ferment on the skins to the extent that the grape skins impart color and a little bit of structure onto what would usually be a fresh white wine. The technique goes back millenia to the country of Georgia, where wines were often fermented on the skins in large amphora known as Qvevri, and this process didn’t allow the winemakers the ability to remove the fermenting grape juice from the skins without disrupting the entire process.

Of course, nowadays winemakers can intervene where they choose, but this traditional method is coming back into vogue, especially with the natural wine movement where people really want a wine that expresses unique qualities.

Patty Green passed away in 2017, and they released this bottling in her honor, with the cuvee given her middle name, “Marie”. Sourced from some of Willamette’s finest vineyards in the Eola-Amity Hills, this is a wine that is unlike anything else in their portfolio, expressive and dynamic in homage to their late co-owner’s spirit.

This is a wine for the wine dorks. The wine sees elvage in concrete, allowing for a really nice mineral structure to lie underneath the dominant flavors of orange blossoms and wt rocks, with just enough of the tannic structure that gives Orange wines their noticeable character.

Matthiasson ‘Tendu’ Red

Steve Matthiasson truly wanted to make a pair of wines for the people, so he couldn’t be happy with just one ‘Tendu’. The Tendu Red follows the style that make the ‘Tendu’ White so energetic and fun, with an emphasis on high-acid and fresh tasting wine, despite it’s majority use of Aglianico and Montepulciano. Steve keeps the fruit alive with just a little touch of Barbera as well, but this isn’t going to hit you over the head with massive over-extracted fruit notes. It’s lithe, racy, and everything that an everyday liter bottle should be from one of our favorite new producers out of California’s most famous valley.

Again, this ‘Tendu’ is sourced from the same vineyard as its partner, the Windmill Vineyard in Woodland, CA. The vineyard is home to pink gravelly, alluvial soils and is practicing, but not certified organic. Unsulphured and unfiltered, this is a California “Beaujolais” in the best sense - unpretentious and nice and easy. It’s 47% Aglianico, 42% Montepulciano, and 11% Barbera.

Glou Glou, Cin Cin and chuggable.

Further Reading:

Alder Yarrow of Vinography meets with Dan Petroski of Massican

Alden Yarrow alsos gets in touch with Steve Matthiasson’s roots.