Spotlight on Napa Valley: Matthiasson Napa Valley Merlot “Red Hen Vineyard” 2012

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Steve Matthiasson is decidedly re-inventing Napa. Making a name for himself at stalwart cellars like Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, Spottswoode, David Arthur and Saintsbury. Matthiason’s background is in farming and he brings a delicate and thoughtful approach to vineyard management. He completely eschews high brix levels as he believes that with the proper farming physiological ripeness can occur in Napa without high sugar (i.e. Bordeaux-variety red grapes at below 24 brix). He decries what he views as the late-harvesting mantra of most growers in Napa. 2012 was a case in point. For Matthiasson it was a perfect vintage for ageworthy wines at modest alcohols. Instead, most growers kept grapes on the vine until sugars were of a level to produce final wines at 15% ABV. For Matthiasson that was a tragic approach.

The 2012 Red Hen Vineyard is the perfect example of Matthiasson’s style and his understanding of how to properly coax out greatness from vintage conditions. Red Hen is perhaps one of the best Merlot vineyards in Napa, from its Oak Knoll district, planted on alluvial loam soils over cobble. In the hands of Matthiason it makes old-world inflected Merlot that is accessible, aromatic, earthy and pliant, but also fresh – driven more by acids than tannins. It is drinking beautifully well young and its acidity can cut through fattier cuts of meat as much as provide pleasure drinking the wine with air. 13.9% ABV.

For me, Matthiasson proves what Napa Valley could be. His wines, for me the reds in particular (though he gets much attention for his whites), are hallmarks of a balanced approach to viticulture that demonstrate the greatness of Napa’s terroir. The sensibility is ideal and the pricing extremely fair. A deserved star of the valley.

$80 USD from the winery


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