The Claret Comes of Age

(Above: The 2014 Matthews Claret)

The 2014 Claret: a new vintage, a new winery, and a new label.

The 2013 Matthews Claret recently received high international recognition being named No. 27 on Wine Spectator’s prestigious list of Top 100 wines in the world.

At Matthews, we see this award as both a capstone of quality and a launching pad into a new chapter in the Claret’s history. This award, combined with many other wonderful changes at Matthews during these past 12 months, has given us a chance to reflect on how the Claret began, and more importantly, where this remarkable wine is headed in the future.

(A view of the Matthews vineyard rows along the Royal Slope, along with some 2007 photos of the cramped winemaking facility in Woodinville, WA)

A step back in time…

For many years, Matthews’ sole focus was to make one “reserve” quality wine each year. These wines achieved early success in the national market, so we decided to ramp up the volume of this “reserve” wine. That meant we needed to source grapes from more vineyard sources, and we did so, expanding to many of the early vineyard sites on Red Mountain, Royal Slope, and Horse Heaven Hills.

While the increased production of our “reserve” wine reinforced Matthews’ position as an early leader of high quality Washington wine, not all of our new vineyard sources made the cut right away and we found ourselves with great excess wine that wasn’t quite up to the “reserve” standard. Additionally, we had leftover press wine (wine that is pressed from grape skins after fermentation) that was, while youthful, still very high quality wine.

Wine from the newer vineyards and the press wine was excellent, but typically showed more fruit-forward characteristics and less elegance than the free-run juice that went into the Matthews “reserve” wine. As production grew, we quickly needed to find a home for this excess wine. For the answer, we turned to France.

In Bordeaux, many top chateaus have a second wine made up from newer vineyards or barrels of wine that didn’t make it into their final blends (see examples here, here and here).

We decided to model a second Matthews wine after this tradition, and name it “Claret” in reference to a historical term for wines in the Bordeaux region (for more about the history of the term “Claret”, read here, here, and here).

This is the origin of the first Matthews Claret: wine made up of excess barrels and press wine that didn’t make it into our “reserve” program.

The Matthews Claret quickly found a home with our fans, who love the more forward drinking wine that showcases true Washington flavor without breaking the bank on price. Restaurants and wine shops in the Seattle area began to promote the Claret as a wine to showcase the rapidly growing, but still young, Washington wine industry. In short, we had a new member of our wine family.


(Our Claret-first vineyard rows of Cabernet Sauvignon on Red Mountain in Benton City, WA)

Starting (again) in the vineyards

In 2008, we re-dedicated our commitment to making world-class wine, and the Claret was front and center in these discussions. Our central question was: how could we elevate the Claret into its next level of quality? The answers were evident: improve the vineyard sources and upgrade the winemaking facility.

We started with the vineyards and began to source grapes that were Claret-first. This decision meant that we weren’t just making a wine with second-class grapes, but were actively crafting a wine that had a character of its own. In 2008, during the economic downtown, we seized on the opportunity to secure grapes from many of the most storied vineyards in Washington State. It was a gamble, but one we hoped would pay off down the road. And, after a few vintages of growing pains, starting in 2010, the Claret began to settle into its own with these new “Claret-first” vineyard sources.

Critics took notice, and the wine scores for Matthews’ Claret began to follow: 2009: 91pts. 2010: 92pts. 2011: 90 pts. 2012: 92pts. 2013: 93 pts. Our fans also took notice, and began to make Claret a staple in their cellars, in addition to their dinner table. This quality improvement is a testament to the skill of our winemaker, Aryn Morell, but also to the dedication of our vineyard managers and their teams as well.

As mentioned, all of these efforts culminated in a Wine Spectator Top 100 award last year - a wonderful stamp of approval on all the many changes. But, there was one additional improvement we could make to enhance the Claret: our winemaking facility.

(The conical concrete tanks where many of the Claret lots are fermented, the hand-sorting table with Pellenc de-stemmer, and Aryn barrel sampling wines during his evaluation process)

The 2014 Claret, and beyond.

Even as we improved our vineyard sources, our winemaking facility lagged. This 3min video below illustrates what the winemaking was like in 2010 at our Woodinville location:


(for more videos, see here, here, and here).

We were making due with the best equipment that we could squeeze into our very cramped Woodinville space. Our entire team did their best (keeping pumps clean, staying organized, making wine in the middle of the night), but the wine quality was really limited by our winemaking facility. Out of respect for the grapes, and our of our own drive to make as high quality wine as possible, we knew our Woodinville equipment would never work.

In 2014, we moved into a custom winemaking facility designed by our winemaker Aryn, and the 2014 vintage of Claret is the first Claret fully made in this new facility. Pictured in the above photo, you can see the difference in equipment, hand-sorting, fermentation tanks, and storage. From the conical concrete tanks to the Pellenc de-stemmer and the temperature-controlled area where our Claret barrels are able to age at the right temperature, the Walla Walla facility is superior in every way.

We take a tremendous amount of pride in making a wine that is distinctly Washington, yet is enjoyed all over the country. Here’s how Aryn sees the new winemaking facility and its impact on the 2014 Claret:

“The Claret was fermented in 63% concrete and 37% stainless steel tanks. Aged in 45% new French oak for 21 months. The new facility is ideally equipped to further the Matthews style of ripe wines with remarkable restraint. The ability to control extraction and increase fruit presence has really helped, and the Matthews wines will see some of the major benefits of the increased but refined extraction.”

As always, the Claret is blended with traditional Bordeaux varietals: 54% Cabernet Sauvignon, 23% Merlot, 13% Cabernet Franc, 6% Malbec and 4% Petit Verdot, all sourced from our top vineyard sources. As for the 2014 Claret tasting notes, here’s what Aryn has to say:

“Fresh and polished red and black fruits, hints of black tea and vanilla bean open the nose. Swirling adds blackberries, red and black currants and a penetrating floral note, reminiscent of a ripe blackberry bush. The palate is densely fruited with sleek tannins and a vibrant finish. Blackberry, plum skin, dark chocolate and some dried herbs carry all the way through.”

The 2014 Claret marks the end of one chapter of Claret, and a start of another. If we were to graph the Claret’s history one chart, it would look like this:

In wine years, that is a considerable amount of change in a very short period of time. But, the vintage isn’t the only thing that is new. After 11 years, we’re featuring a new label on the 2014 Claret.

(The evolution of the Claret label)

An updated Claret label to reflect who we are

With all these transitions and awards, we took time this past year to reflect where the Matthews brand has been, but more importantly, where we are going.

As we worked with Shore (a Seattle design firm) to update the Matthews label, three words kept resonating in our discussions: approachable, confident, welcoming. After a year of design meetings, late night discussions, and yes, lots of food and wine, Shore developed a new label that anchored Matthews to these three words.

The new label is striking. It looks great in your cellar, on a candle-lit table, or sitting on a shelf in a wine shop. It also reflects the type of wine you will enjoy inside the bottle. We are thrilled about it, and are so appreciative of the team at Shore that led us through this process as a brand.

So with a new vintage and a new label, we turned our eyes on making it as easy as possible for our fans to get this wine into their hands, and ultimately, into their glass.

How to order the Claret

There are several ways you can order the Claret for yourself.

First, if you haven’t joined the Matthews Wine Club, we recommend doing so today. It ensures that you’ll receive all of our wines and it features a host of benefits, which you can read about here. If you love what we’re doing, a Wine Club membership guarantees an allocation of all our wines and helps you stay connected with the winery. All Wine Club members receive free ground shipping on all wine purchases throughout the year, including the Claret.

If you are not a Wine Club member and would like to order the Claret, there are several ways to do so:

1. Order the Claret in our Woodinville tasting room. Stop by our Tasting Room + Farm to enjoy the wine in a serene farm setting alongside local charcuterie. We are open everyday, 12noon - 6pm. (Google Maps link)

2. Order the Claret in our online store. Anyone can order the wine from our online store. We will ship the wines to you, right away.

Note: Wine Club members receive free ground shipping on all orders of 3 bottles or more.

3. Ask your local wine shop to carry the Claret. We work with some of the top distribution companies in the United States. Wondering if Matthews is available in your state? Click here for a list of states and our distributors to find out. Simply provide the name of our distributor or your local wine shop and they will be able to source the wine for you. Or you can…

4. Order the Claret on Amazon. We want to make it as easy as possible for our fans to get their hands on the Claret. We know many of you are already using Amazon, sometimes daily. Click here to add the Claret to your cart.

(Please note: all shipments are weather dependent, in order to protect the wine. We will try to ship as fast as we can, but we won’t ever put your wine at risk for heat or cold damage.)

(Also note: due to Amazon’s charges, we’ve had to price the Claret slightly higher on Amazon than it is priced in our webstore. We would prefer you purchased it in our tasting room or on our website, but we love how easy it is to purchase wine in Amazon, and wanted to make this an option for our fans as well.)

In honor of our newest Claret vintage, we’ve made short video that shows all meticulous decision that go into making this wine.

Finally, we would like to say a huge thank you to our winemaking team, our tasting room staff, and all of our fans. We love making wine for you. We hope you enjoy the new vintage of Claret, and look forward to sharing a glass and spending time with you soon.

Cheers,

- Matthews Winery

P.S. We want to celebrate our Claret and share it with many of you. As a way of spreading the love, we’re offering a complimentary vertical wine tasting of the Claret (the 2012 Claret, the 2013 Claret and the 2014 Claret) to anyone who shares this article in any of their social networks (Facebook, Twitter, etc). The tastings will be available until July 31st, 2017. Email hello@matthewswinery.com to line up a tasting. We’ll be using the honor system for these reservations. We are very excited about this new Claret vintage, and while the previous vintages are extremely limited, we want to share them with our most passionate fans. Of course, must be 21 yrs old. All tastings will be held at our tasting room in Woodinville: 16116 140th Pl NE, Woodinville, WA 98072.