These are exciting times for us at Matthews Winery.
We were recently awarded the highest scores in our brand’s storied history for our portfolio of Matthews wines. The scores, all from Robert Parker's Wine Advocate, ranged from 93-95 points for many of the current and upcoming Fall release wines.
These recent awards, coupled with the sheer enthusiasm that our loyal fans have for the Matthews’ brand, has given our family a chance to reflect on our journey over these past 8 years.
But to put this story - where we’ve come from and where we’re going - into perspective, let's take a step back in time to 1992.
As one of Washington State’s heritage wine brands, Matthews has roots that stretch back to 1992. Matthews was an early leader in premium Washington wine with a reputation that stretched across the country.
However, after nearly a decade of consistently fine wines, the Matthews brand began to struggle in the early 2000s. The winery had lost its focus and the quality of the wines slipped. Additionally, the business was mismanaged and the winery fell onto hard financial times.
The Otis Family (pictured above) was asked to step in to help recapitalize the business and lead the winery to a place where it had never been before. After analyzing the business, we identified 6 key areas that needed improvement in order to restore Matthews to its original promise:
- The Winemaker
- Vineyard relationships
- Harvest transportation time
- Winemaking facility
- Cooperage relationships
- Our Mission as a Winery
In 2008, we set out to improve each of these areas. It was an undertaking not for the faint of heart.
Aryn Morell named head winemaker
To make world-class wine from Washington State vineyards, all parts of the winery must work in harmony. The first step was to find a principled leader to manage our winemaking. Enter Aryn Morell.
Aryn left Napa Valley after working at Golden State Vintners, Silver Oak Cellars, and a wine technology consulting company where he worked at places such as Stags Leap, Joseph Phelps, Quintessa, Chappellet, and Vineyard 29 among others. We understood the depth of his Napa Valley education and aggressively recruited him to join our winemaking team.
It didn’t take long for Aryn to bring his Silverado Trail playbook to Columbia Valley and in 2008, he was named Matthews’ head winemaker.
There was hard work to be done. Matthews’ reputation had been built on premium Bordeaux blends, but the winery had started to incorporate other wines into its portfolio, such as Syrah, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Viognier Ice Wine.
Simply put, the winery had lost its focus on making great Bordeaux-inspired wine, and the wine quality and scores reflected it. Working closely together, Aryn and our family refocused the winery’s energy on singularly producing the best possible Bordeaux-style wines from the state’s finest vineyards.
As a result, the lineup of wines is easily understood. Our brand reputation is built on a Bordeaux heritage, so anyone familiar with the structure of Bordeaux in France easily understands what our Mission is at Matthews.
About the same time that Aryn took over winemaking duties, it became clear that we needed to quickly rebuild relationships with vineyard managers and grape growers in the Columbia Valley.
It’s all starts (again) in the vineyards
In 2008, nearly all of Matthews’ vineyard sources were in the process of cancelling their contracts because those critical relationships had been mismanaged. So Cliff Otis, his son Bryan, and Aryn headed east from Woodinville, checkbook in hand.
It was a daunting task. By mid-summer, we only had five (yes, five) of the 50-60 tons of grapes needed under contract to keep the winery in business. So we were prepared to write checks on the spot for the grapes in order to save those relationships. After spending time with each of our grower partners in the Columbia Valley, all but one grower agreed to provide us with the necessary fruit to see us through that vintage.
Without that fruit, the winery would have closed. But, perhaps most importantly, by spending time talking together, we were able to re-establish business relationships with growers that had been sorely neglected.
It was a gutsy call, one of courage and commitment. In some ways, it would have been easier to walk away and let Matthews fail. But that’s not our family's way. We felt a commitment to the people who have participated in the Matthews brand since 1992 and going forward, a commitment to doing it right.
And in 2008, with the nation entering a recession, we had some big choices to make.
Making a big bet in a down economy
As the nation’s economy wobbled into a recession in 2008-09, many Washington wineries were pulling back and cutting expenses.
Over the next two vintages, we started getting calls from growers who suddenly had magnificent blocks of grapes available. We had a unique opportunity to secure contracts on some of the finest vineyard blocks in the state – which we knew might never be available again. We decided to go all in and immediately jumped at the chance.
As a result, we secured incredible blocks of grapes in some of Washington's finest vineyards. This exceptional fruit, managed under Aryn’s deft touch and our unwavering commitment to excellence, enables us to produce the many outstanding wines you enjoy to this day.
But, we knew we couldn't just rely on better vineyard sourcing to make better wine.
Taking winemaking to a new level
With winemaking firmly set under Aryn’s guidance and excellent fruit sources secured, we shifted our focus to the winemaking facility.
Woodinville had always been home to our winemaking operations. Sadly, by 2010, the convenience of our location - proximity to Seattle - was limiting the quality of the wines.
By 2010, the Matthews brand had outgrown the production capabilities in Woodinville. The facility was cramped and not conducive to making world-class wine. Moreover, it was hundreds of miles from the vineyards.
Grapes harvested early in the day reached the vineyard nearly 10 hours after they were picked. We believed this long transportation time negatively affected the quality of the finished product.
Grapes were being transported across Washington State and arriving at the winery many hours after being harvested. Once on site, the grapes were processed immediately, which meant winemaking occurred at all hours, night and day.
Long, late nights of winemaking during harvest are romantic once or twice, but not every night for two or three months.
Additionally, with how far away the vineyards are from Seattle, it was challenging to inspect for adjustments needing to be made throughout the growing season.
So we were faced with a big decision. Should we invest in a new facility in Woodinville or do we find an alternate solution closer to the vineyards? To honor the integrity of the grapes, the choice was clear: we needed to move our winemaking to be closer to the vineyards.
The production of a very large percentage of our wines, moved to a custom crush facility in Walla Walla, starting with the 2010 vintage. Aryn moved to Walla Walla in 2011 and, as a result, the winemaking process became seamless.
This was a huge improvement. It also became obvious that with the investment in better equipment, our wines were able to go to the next level.
So, in 2014, we moved our production once again – just down the road to a new, state-of-the-art facility in Walla Walla that Aryn designed and built specifically for his clients.
This new winemaking facility is a sight to behold. Everything is first class, from the conical concrete and stainless steel tanks, to the custom berry sorter and hand-sorting tables, to the pumps, temperature systems and storage capacity of the building.
We now believe we have the best of both worlds. Our winemaker is producing our wines at one of the best production facilities in Washington State, using equipment that rivals anything in Napa, let alone the United States. And, as you might have recently read, we have a special and well-established footprint in Woodinville - a unique wine region located in the heart of a major metropolitan area.
Very few wineries, if any, can make that statement.
Now, with our vineyards and winemaking facility firmly in place, we turned our attention to where many of our wines spent their first 14-18 months: French oak barrels.
A custom French oak barrel for our Bordeaux-inspired wines
Oak is an integral part of winemaking. Yet not all oak is created equal. As we assessed our vineyard sites and winemaking operations, we took an equally ambitious charter with our cooperage relationships (our barrel makers).
Finding the right cooperages can’t be done overnight. In fact, it takes years of dedication to determine the impact of a special type of oak on wine. With this in mind, we started to evaluate which barrels will develop our wines in a way that fits the vision we have for each of our wines.
Over the past eight years, Aryn has traveled to France several times to meet with our cooperage houses to learn about their philosophy and process. Through these trips, and our careful in-house evaluation, several have stood out to us: Sylvain, Boutes, Quintessence, and Alain Fouquet among others. These coopers now make the majority of the barrels used for our wines.
In addition, after years of collaboration, Aryn has worked with with Tonnellerie O, a state of the art cooperage, to develop a custom barrel with select forests, and custom toast. We call it the “seduction” barrel because of the mystery, warmth and presence that it brings to our wines. This special barrel has been used since 2010 for all of our top-tier wines, including our Matthews Reserve, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.
Wait…come again? A Matthews Cabernet Sauvignon and a Matthews Merlot? Yes, you read that correctly.
Introducing the Matthews Cabernet Sauvignon and the Matthews Merlot
The mission of Matthews Winery is to produce premium, Bordeaux-inspired wines from Washington’s finest vineyards. While the winery may have strayed from that mission 10 years ago, we have worked tirelessly to ensure that we never lose our focus again.
With that in mind, please join us in welcoming the Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot to the Matthews family. These Bordeaux-inspired wines are in complete alignment with our brand mission and we couldn’t be more excited to share them with you this Fall.
For many years, we have been honing our ability to make a Cabernet Sauvignon-blend and Merlot-blend at Tenor, the other winery owned by our family. These wines were known as the 1:1 and the 2:2. We’ve taken everything we’ve learned during the experience in making these two wines, and we’re bringing all that knowledge to Matthews.
(Tenor has stopped making the 1:1 and 2:2 wines to focus its mission on only producing 100% single varietal wines. Click to learn more about that here.)
Matthews Cabernet is inspired by the great Cab-dominant blends of the Left Bank, and it delivers a stunning wine worthy of the Matthews name. This wine always will be at 85 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, with Merlot or Cabernet Franc making up the rest.
We spent nearly a decade researching all of our vineyard blocks to find the best rows for this wine. As a result, the grapes are sourced from vineyards on Red Mountain and the Royal Slope. The vineyard sites are among the highest elevations in Washington, ensuring enough structure to delight the most ardent Cabernet lover. Aryn channeled his Napa roots to build a polished wine with structured tannins that is supple enough to be enjoyed with or without a meal.
Wine Advocate recently awarded 94 points to the 2013 Matthews Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine is extremely limited. Only 300 cases were made. Here’s what critic Jeb Dunnuck had to say about the wine:
We think you are going to love this wine and we are so excited for its upcoming release.
The inspiration for the Matthews Merlot is drawn from the refined reds of the Right Bank. Merlot makes up at least 75 percent of this wine, with the rest of the blend comprised of Cabernet Franc.
Washington Merlot delivers the incredible aromatics associated with classic Merlot, but our region also produces Merlot with equal palate weight as our Cabernet Sauvignon - a trait that is unique to this varietal in Washington. We are confident that this Merlot provides the tannins, structure, aromatics and verve to please any hardcore Merlot lover and will likely convert most Cab lovers, too. The amount of this wine is also extremely limited. Like the Cabernet Sauvignon, only 300 cases of Merlot were made.
Here’s how Jeb Dunnuck described the 2013 Merlot after awarding it a 91 point score:
We’re sure that you’ll share our excitement for these wines the moment you taste them. These wines set a high bar for the future, but as you might expect, we’ve saved the best for last.
The Matthews Reserve is reborn
This is the last year for the Matthews Reserve, but it’s not going away. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. This wine is being reborn.
Alongside Aryn, we've worked hard to create a wine that represents the pinnacle of what we can achieve as a winery. This is that wine - the Matthews Reserve. We’ve put a tremendous amount of focus on delivering on the promise that Matthews originally set out to achieve: producing premium, Bordeaux-inspired Washington wine.
Think of this as one of the final pieces of the process as we transition Matthews into its next chapter. Instead of eliminating the Matthews Reserve, it will be reborn next year as the Reserve Claret, beginning with the 2014 vintage.
Please help us celebrate this transition with the September release of our 2013 Reserve. We believe this elegant wine puts an emphatic exclamation point on our Mission, and the critics agree: Wine Advocate recently scored it with 95 points, the highest score for any Bordeaux-style wine in Matthews’ history. Jeb Dunnuck’s comments certainly emphasize the score:
Only 400 cases of the Reserve were made. We wish there was more. To get a chance to acquire these wines, join our Wine Club for an invite to our upcoming release party, along with our newly announced Farm-to-Table dinner series. These intimate dinners are sure to feature many of these upcoming wines.
What’s old is new again
The Matthews wines of today don’t look all that differently than they did a decade ago. But remove the label from your favorite bottle of Matthews wine today and everything is different.
Our vineyard sources have matured by 10 years. Our winemaking is more focused. The winemaking facility rivals any in Washington State, if not the United States. We’ve streamlined our transportation time at harvest. We’ve aligned our barrel program to perfectly match our mission of creating true Bordeaux-inspired wines. Our grapes come from many of the finest vineyards in Washington State. Our estate property in Woodinville is celebrated as one of the region’s most unique, premium wine-tasting experiences. But most importantly, the Matthews’ wines themselves are showing better than at any point in our history.
In today’s $8-billion Washington wine industry, with your support, we’ve completely resurrected a 25-year old heritage brand. Matthews Winery: Bordeaux-inspired, Washington-crafted.
As a family, we’re incredibly proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish in such a short time. It certainly wouldn’t have been possible without the constant dedication of our winemaker and his team, our tasting room staff, our farmer Alex and all the Creekside Farm crew, and most of all our extended Matthews family - those of you in the Seattle area, the state of Washington, and now across the country who have supported us in making our wines part of your life.
We’re excited to share these upcoming wines with you as you’ll be tasting the next chapter in the story of Matthews Winery. To make sure you have first access to secure these upcoming wines for yourself, signup for our Mailing List or join our Wine Club.
We couldn't have done it without you!
- The Otis Family
P.S. We want to get the word out about all these wonderful changes that we’ve made over the years. As a way of spreading the love, we are offering a complimentary wine tasting to anyone who shares this article in any of their social networks (Facebook, Twitter, etc). Email firstname.lastname@example.org to line up a tasting. We'll be using the honor system. We are very proud of our wines, and while most of them are extremely limited, we want to share them with our most passionate fans. Of course, must be 21 years old. All tastings will be held at our tasting room in Woodinville: 16116 140th Pl NE, Woodinville, WA 98072.