2006 Matthews Estate Claret Columbia Valley

Matthews Estate Claret Columbia Valley When Aryn Morell returned to his native Washington, he had to re-calibrate. The talented young winemaker had spent years in Napa working for Silver Oak before joining a team of enologists at a Napa Valley consultancy. When he took over at Matthews Estate, he was determined to draw the same explosive fruit from Red Mountain Cabernet. On his return, he realized that Washington viticulture was 20 years behind Napa, but he was having none of it.

Over the course of the last three decades, the top producers in Napa have taken vineyard management to an extreme, keeping plants in perfect balance, restricting yields, thus lengthening and rounding out tannins. All of the quality fruit is bought by the acre -- not by the ton -- often for staggering numbers.

The 2006 Matthews Estate "Claret" is the first wine Aryn finished at Matthews. It's made from Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot harvested from Red Mountain and the Royal Slope's most heralded vineyards -- all of the fruit was purchased by the acre, not by the ton. Even so, when Aryn first tasted the 2006 wines from barrel, his quality bar remained that of Napa. So, despite the colossal cost of grapes, he couldn't find the explosiveness he expected from a $50 bottle. So, he went to the owners, his partners, and said. "We can make a tiny bit of great wine and some good wine. Or, we can make a couple thousand cases of some very, very good wine. What will it be?"

The owners at Matthews are in for the long haul. That's why Aryn took the job. So the answer was simple -- even if the math wasn't.

Here's the arithmetic. Washington's growers want to sell by the ton. Crop levels are left naturally high. No green harvest, no restriction of yields. Tannins are often hard (that's why you find Washington's Cabernet tough!), but that's the winemaker's problem. So, the growers get 4-5 tons at $2,000 to $3,500 per ton. Enter the top winemakers, guys like Bob Betz at Betz Family Winery, Christophe Baron from Cayuse, or Aryn Morell at Matthews. They pay by the acre, but because they are the exception to the rule, they pay through the nose: as much as $14,000 acre?!?! As much as top-shelf Napa fruit.

The vineyards of Red Mountain
The vineyards of Red Mountain
Aryn won. Matthews made 1800 cases of a single wine in 2006, a wine they simply call "Claret." This is a beautifully crafted Bordeaux blend that sits somewhere between the solid structure of Medoc and, yes, the opulence that is the benchmark for any winemaker who spent time at Silver Oak. The fruit? Wonderfully aromatic and structured Merlot and Cabernet Franc from Hedges Vineyard and Cabernet Sauvignon from the steep slopes of Stillwater Creek. This one is ready to drink now or age up to 7 years -- if you can wait that long!

Tasting Notes from the WineAccess Travel Log
"Deep purple color. Deep structured cassis and red fruit aromas with a hint of tobacco. Rich and beautifully balanced on the palate. Plenty of mouthcoating concentration in perfect harmony with a solid, sturdy, firm finish. Tannins are present but ripe. Excellent freshness and vibrancy. Drink now for the bright fruit lushness or age for up to 7 years in a cool cellar."