Dwight The Wine Doctor: MatanzasCreek Winery, "When Lavender, last in the vineyard grew"-by Dwight Casimere
Lavender, as far as the eye can see, is the first thing that strikes your eye and your senses as you approach the mountain retreat tasting room of Matanzas Creek winery in Sonoma’s rustic and secluded Bennett Valley. Lavender is one of the most aromatic and diverse flowering plants in the world. Its uses range from culinary to medicinal and cosmetic. In France, it is ubiquitous, appearing as a decorative adorment, a room deoderizer and as a featured component in bath, body and beauty products.
In France, as at Matanzas Creek winery, Lavender is in full bloom everywhere. The sight and smell is as prevalent as the vineyards that blanket the countryside. In many ways, Matanzas Creek mirrors the topography and ambiance of the French countryside, so it is no surprise that the winemaker, Francois Cordesse, is a native of Languedoc France.
"Wine is very much a product of the senses," Cordesse told The Wine Doctor at a recent lunch in the vineyards during the recent Sonoma Wine Country Weekend. "You smell, you drink, you taste. It is something very sensual.
" Wine is full of symbolism and archetype. Its very, very complex. We try to produce wine that is bold, fleshy and very aromatic. It is both a product of nature and a product of the art of the winemaker. "
The owners of Matanzas Creek became aware of Cordesse while he was head winemaker at Domaine Saint Hilaire in his native Languedoc. While at Saint Hilaire, his Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc were awarded double gold at the Grand prix d’excellence des Vinalies, a renowned international wine competition sponsored by the French Oneologist Union. This accomplishment brought François to the attention of wine producers around the world, and in 2001, he joined the team at Matanzas Creek Winery and became Winemaker in 2005.
"Matanzas Creek is truly a Grand Dame estate of California. I am honored to be a part of this special place. "
Cordesse feels he was ordained from birth to create great wine. "My mother was a teacher at the French Culinary Institute. She taught me that if you pay attention to detail, but are willing to take some risks, you will be rewarded."
The Matanzas Creek luncheon was a showcase for a selection of the winery’s current releases: 2008 Matanzas Creek Bennett Valley Rose, paired with a watermelon and calamari salad, 2005 Jackson Park Merlot with grilled skirt steak, fingerling potatoes and Sausalito Springs watercress and 2007 L’Ultime Red Dessert Wine.
"Here in the Bennet Valley, we are blessed by the God of Wine. We have three mountains here. When it is hot, the warm air goes up inside the valley. The mountains then act like a vacuum that sucks the cold air inland where it will be trapped here in the valley , which is a closed environment.
Our fruit also has an eastern exposure. The combination of cold air and warm ground creates some intensity in the grapes. The sun then dissipates the fog, which makes for some very intense fruit."
Francois also says the soil, or ‘terroir’ has a great deal to do with the complex flavors of his wine. " Here in Jackson Park, we have at least six different kinds of soil, so that gives the grapes a great deal of complexity. The combination is perfect; correct exposure, fog in the morning, very cold at night with oxidized clay. That makes the wine extra interesting and exciting."
The vineyard luncheon provided a format to showcase the full spectrum of Matanzas Creek’s award winning wines. "The Bennett Valley Rose is something new for us. It is a summertime wine, light, fun, yet complete. It has a crispness and fruitiness that lets it stand on its own, yet, it can hold up to food, especially seafood. We chose the Calamari salad to give expression to the bright fruit of the wine combined with its ability to stand up to a fish with a strong, oily back note."
Matanzas Creek Merlot has a distinctive flavor profile that makes it one of the most sought after Merlots in the Sonoma Valley. "Our blending technique at Matanzas Creek produces something that is velvety and fleshy but with a good tannic structure. It also has a dark profile that comes from the vineyard floor. We are also looking for something more mineral from our premium wine. It will be easier to match food and wine when you get that minerality. We temper the wine with a bit of Cabernet from Knight’s Valley, which is warm. We produce something that is extremely aromatic that is able to age.
"When you go back and record the history of Matanzas Creek, you will see a hint of botrytis in each of the vintages that adds to its complexity. In its younger days, Chardonnay should have flavors of white peach, green pear and a hint of honey. Then later on, it should start to develop some minerality, which makes it perfect with food. We here at Matanzas Creek make wine for food. The two should have a good synergy."
Back at the tasting room, there were a wide variety of new wine releases to sample and an opportunity to load up on gift boxes of the precious, aromatic lavender for cooking and for spreading around the house for an aromatic lift. A dizzying selection of bath and fragrance products also made for a terrific shopping experience. Combined with a few bottles of wine, the assorted bath and beauty products will make for great gift baskets during the Holidays.
I have a favorite recipe for roast duck for the Holidays. At the very end of the cooking process, I heat the oven to 500 degrees and return the fully roasted duck to the oven for ten minutes after covering the skin with a dusting of dried lavender. It not only tastes great, but gives the whole house a fantastic aroma that greats your guests, guaranteed to put them in the Holiday spirit.