Marriage of Minds, Wines

Michael Davies and Anna Matzinger of Matzinger-Davies Wines.

By Karl Klooster

Winegrowing and winemaking are careers in which success is dependent on the mastery of specific, demanding disciplines.

The notion of growing great grapes to create wondrous wine is wrapped in a cachet bordering on the romantic. But in reality, it represents an ongoing effort to gain knowledge, acquire experience, overcome obstacles and strive for perfection. Success requires a patient and abiding attitude, along with long hours and a lot of hard work.

As a result, it’s relatively rare to encounter two halves of a couple who have both risen to positions of respect and admiration for their achievements as winemakers. Winery-owning couples who carry out responsibilities complementing each other are far more common.

How Anna Matzinger and Michael Davies manage to remain on parallel tracks has the makings of a case study in compatibility. Consider what these two, both in their early 40s, have already accomplished:

Matzinger worked at Archery Summit in the Dundee Hills for 14 years. Along the way, she was promoted from assistant winemaker to head winemaker and co-general manager.  During that time, Archery Summit established a reputation as one of Oregon’s top Pinot Noir producers. Heaped with accolades and awards year after year, the brand has truly reached the “summit.”

Meanwhile, Davies was rising to the top at Oregon’s largest winery, A to Z Wineworks/Rex Hill (REX HILL) Vineyards in the Chehalem Mountains. He accepted the head winemaker reins from owner Sam Tannahill and now oversees production of nearly 300,000 cases a year.

In 2006, the two decided to launch their own brand, Matzinger-Davies, as a side project. They married in 2005, so you might regard it as a wedding gift to each other. But the truth is, the desire to have a wine you can call your own runs deep in the Oregon wine industry.

Scores of small, limited-production labels and brands have been developed as special projects, never intended to grow to large proportions. One might say that “This wine is mine” is a badge of honor.

But two veteran winemakers working side by side to create the best product they can, at a point where they no longer need to prove themselves, merits special attention.

Both have devoted years of focused energy on making wines that express individual style while retaining a strong sense of place. In that regard, Pinot Noir possesses the greatest potential of all the noble grape varieties. Matzinger described their collaboration this way:

“Do we always agree? No.

“Do we always choose the path of least resistance, because it’s the easiest way to find consensus? No.

“We get there by respecting each other’s opinion and valuing each other’s contribution. With luck, the result is expressive, thought-provoking, delicious wine that we’re proud to share with others.”

They make such a limited quantity of wine under their own brand that it’s essentially a hand sell. A few selected wine merchants and restaurants backed by direct sales in the tasting room and over the Internet, does the trick.

Annually, they produce 200 cases of Pinot Noir, 220 cases of Gorge-sourced Sauvignon Blanc, 50 cases of Gorge-sourced Grenache and 60 cases of Chardonnay. The sum total of their “on-the-side” winery operation, then, runs 530 cases.

All it takes is a taste or two to know what they’ve captured in those 6,360 bottles. Each one has its own special tale to tell. In the process, they frame the narrative of the story of how this couple came together to ultimately create such enological gems.

The Pinot Noir comes from two small, family-owned vineyards in the Eola-Amity Hills AVA — Poco and Three Trees — and the blend is sublime. Fresh fruit and acidity intertwine with bramble and earthiness backed by solid but supple tannins.

Recognizing the under-appreciated yet outstanding attributes of the Columbia Gorge AVA, the couple source their Sauvignon Blanc and Grenache from Garnier Vineyards, near Mosier, 11 miles west of The Dalles.

The Sauvignon Blanc is more Bordeaux-like than Loire, displaying hints of hay and minerality, with a clean, citrusy palate and subtle but distinctive fruit.

A major surprise comes when you lift a glass of the Grenache to your nose. Grapey, juicy, jammy aromas leap out and shout “Grand Cru Beaujolais!” That is atypical and exhilarating. The experience returns to earth with a warm, textured taste that speaks of the southern Rhone.

The Chardonnay is the couple’s wild card, so to speak. Each year they seek out fruit from a different source. For 2010, it was the Chehalem Mountains, resulting in a softly varietal and well-balanced middleweight.

In the spirit that symbolizes the Oregon industry’s sharing and mutual support, A to Z’s owners have allowed Matzinger and Davies to make their wines at its winery since 2006.

The original catalyst for Matzinger and Davies uniting was — no surprise — wine. By the time they met, both were already committed to pursuing a career focused on the fermentation of great grape juice.

Matzinger grew up in Idaho. After graduating from Evergreen State College in Olympia, she worked for the U.S. Forest Service. Eventually, she found her way to California’s Napa Valley, where she landed a job at the Beringer Vineyards lab in 1994.

Davies is a New Zealander by birth and, self-admittedly, inclination. You’ll have ask him exactly what that means, but my suspicion is it has something to do with clean, green, natural, uncrowded and so forth. He spent three years in Scandinavia and the United Kingdom pursuing different interests, including running a bungee-jumping company, before returning to New Zealand. He became hooked on wine and winemaking after working the 1997 crush in Marlborough.

Matzinger traveled to New Zealand to work the 1997 crush. Davies was studying viticulture and enology at the time at Lincoln University, near Christchurch, but their paths didn’t cross in New Zealand. They met in California in late 1998, when both attended an intern party at Sonoma County’s Quivira Winery.

“I met this tall, Nordic-looking blonde,” Davies recalled. “It made me wonder why none of the Norwegian women I knew caught my attention like Anna did.”  

Matzinger had a job scheduled at Australia’s Hunter Valley for the 1999 harvest, and she persuaded Davies to join her. They then went to New Zealand to undertake some winter pruning — remember, winter runs June to September in the Southern Hemisphere.

It was on to Oregon in the fall of 1999. Thanks to Cheryl Francis and Sam Tannahill, Davies landed at Chehalem Winery and Matzinger at Archery Summit.

Six years later, in the fall of 2005, Davies had just returned from working the harvest at Gevrey-Chambertin in Burgundy. As a lark, he proposed they go camping on Mount Hood. At the campsite, he stopped and opened his backpack,” Matzinger recalled. “He pulled out a T-shirt that read, ‘Finally, he asked me.’ Then he pulled out another one that read, “She said yes.”

They now have two children, Otto, 7, and Elsa, 4. Both attend the McMinnville Montessori School, which their parents think is making them far too smart. Matzinger now fills her days further developing Matzinger-Davies Wines, a small bit of consulting and spending more time with the little ones.

“Taking care of them is my most important job,” she said.

“Sometimes, we play restaurant, and Elsa is the waitress. When she asks, ‘Would you like the Chardonnay, Mommy?’ I just crack up.”

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