Farmer turned viticulturist turned winemaker, Steve Matthiasson is one of the leading figures in the wave following Robert Parker’s era of high-octane wines. In 2013, Jon Bonné cannoned Matthiasson and his peers as the New California, the next generation of winemakers focused on balance and terroir. If there's anywhere to begin the exploration of New California, Steve Matthiasson is a good place to start!

Today, I'm happy to offer the 2017 Matthiasson Phoenix Vineyard Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.

Last August, I wrote a story for Wine & Spirits Magazine on California winemakers farming white varieties for skin contact wines. Steve’s affinity for Ribolla Gialla and other Italian varieties was at the forefront of that story, and he talked about growing Cabernet Sauvignon in comparison. While Steve allows Ribolla Gialla full sun exposure, he’s more protective of his Cabernet, keeping the vines in balance with minimal leafing, so the fruit is sheltered from Napa's Mediterranean climate. He’s also drawn to cooler sites with rocky soils for the freshness and structure they provide.

2017 was a big year for the Matthiassons. After 14 years of making wine in other wineries, they purchased a property from an elderly couple who could no longer keep up with the day-to-day tasks of farming and winemaking. With it, the Matthiassons inherited a winery and a 1982-planted parcel of old heritage field selections of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot, which has since been converted to organic farming.

The Phoenix Vineyard sits on a steep hillside above the Matthiasson winery. While most of the Napa Valley consists of volcanic soils, Phoenix Vineyard is situated on a ridge of ancient marine shale soils. Steve says it's the rock content and sea minerals here that especially attribute to the wine's aromatic, high-toned red fruits, what's intertwined with the supple tannins and structure I look for in Napa Cabernet. The wine does take some time to unwind, really blossoming on day two, so this would definitely benefit from decanting.

Napa faced dire wildfires in 2017. However, the Phoenix Vineyard ripened quickly that vintage, and the fruit was harvested and finished fermentation by the time the fires struck in October. The fruit was fermented in small, open-top tanks and punched down by hand one to three times per day depending on taste. Like all of the Matthiasson Cabs featured below, elevage was for 20 months. Only 98 cases produced!