2002 Match Vineyards “Butterdragon Hill” Cabernet, St. Helena, Napa

The more young winery owners I meet, the more I keep hearing the line “If you had asked me six years ago if I were going to be making wine right now, I would have laughed in your face.” It’s amazing how many people seem to accidentally fall into making wine. And I say that without any trace of sarcasm. I really do keep meeting people who tell me stories that make it clear that they’ve just sort of found their way there. The journeys that they relay seem to to have an aspect in common, that I have a hard time describing as anything other than a sort of Taoist serendipity. These folks find themselves in situations, like water flowing downhill, where the path that opens before them and they are drawn forward naturally, almost without effort.

Take Randy Sloan and his wife Sasha. Happily ensconced six years ago in the East Bay, working normal jobs, raising their 7-year-old son, but with a desire to have a little place they could use as a vacation home. “The traffic to Tahoe was too brutal,” says Randy, “and I love wine, so we started looking in wine country instead.” The couple figured that they would enjoy having a little place where the pace of life was slower.

As they started looking, a few hot days in the summer convinced them that they needed a place with a pool. And as they continued to look, Randy thought, just for fun it might be great to have some grapes on the property, mostly for aesthetic purposes but, hey, they could always sell them to someone, too, right?

Before they knew what was happening, they were putting a down payment on a piece of land just off of Highway 29 south of Calistoga that had the small vacation home they wanted. And 7 acres of prime Cabernet Sauvignon vineyards. After settling in, Randy was talking with some newfound friends in the valley about how he was thinking about taking his grapes and making some wine in his garage, until one of them did the math and quietly asked him, “Uh, Randy? are you planning on fitting all twenty tons of your grapes in your garage?”

Maybe it works this way: some people are born winemakers, some people strive to become winemakers, and some people, I guess, have winemaking thrust upon them. Or something like that. Of course it could also be that some people have no idea what they are getting themselves into.

After a little though, Randy and his wife, Sasha, were game to give the whole thing a try, and so, retaining the vineyard management company that was already in place for the vineyards, they set out figuring out what it would take to create a winery. They decided to name their project Match Vineyards, using Sasha’s family name.

Along the way, they met someone who might actually be one of those people who are born winemakers.

Cary Gott basically has wine running through his veins. One of the old guard of Napa County, having founded Monteviña Winery and Corbett Canyon, and been the head of both Sterling Vineyards and Mumm Napa Valley, Gott knows Napa Valley like few others. The fourth generation of his family in the California wine business, Gott now has a consulting business that helps wineries like Randy’s get started. He doesn’t, however, often make wine anymore, but after meeting Randy and seeing his fruit, it just seemed like the right thing to do.

The Butterdragon Hill vineyard, as it has been named by Randy and Sasha’s son contemplating the potential for a cross between butterflies and dragonflies, rises up at a fifteen degree slope on the west side of the Napa valley, just above Highway 29. A sunny south-east exposure makes for warm days and relatively quick ripening of the Cabernet (harvest at Match tends to be a couple of weeks earlier than many in the valley). Some of their fruit has been sold to Nickel & Nickel as well as to Joel Gott, Cary’s son who has his own wine label.

This 2002 wine is the inaugural vintage for the winery, and is the current release. After harvest, the relatively young grapes (likely to yield more complexity over the coming years) destemmed and crushed with facilities rented by the Rombauer winery. This vintage was aged in 100% new French oak for 18 months (though subsequent vintages have slightly less new oak, and they are considering increasing the barrel time). 500 cases are produced, and the winery will be releasing a second single vineyard Cabernet (yes, Randy has caught the bug) in 2007.

Full disclosure: I received this wine as a press sample.

Tasting Notes:
A deep, dark ruby in the glass, this wine has a nose of bright cherry fruit and the vanilla aromas of French oak, mixed with cola and tobacco notes. In the mouth it is balanced and full bodied, with sweet very very soft tannins supporting primary flavors of cherry, cola, some light floral notes, and a slight earthy coffee hint in its moderate finish. This wine is more “pretty” than complex, and is very accessible at the moment, which I’m sure makes it a crowd pleaser. It will no doubt stand to age for a while, but I don’t believe it needs it.

Food Pairing:
Because this wine isn’t a tannic monster, even though it has a healthy dose of new oak to it, it’s more amenable to a wider range of foods. I think it would be a great match for (and NO this isn’t some sort of commercial endorsement, they’re just damn good) Alton Brown’s Who Loves Ya Baby-Back Ribs.

Overall Score: 9

How much?: $72

This wine can be purchased online.