This post continues the new feature to the Vine Spot blog called “Getting to know your local industry.” As mentioned before, what I have found while touring Virginia wine country is that behind every Virginia winery are generally some very down-to-earth and passionate people. My plan with this feature is to periodically have a Q&A session with some of the industry locals and post it to the blog so you, my wonderful readers and friends, can get to know the local industry a little better.
Vino Curioso: Michael Matthews & Michael Sawyers
In this post, I feature Michael Matthews of Vino Curioso, a new and exciting winery that I have seen at a number of Virginia tasting events over the past year. For those who have been curious, like myself, about Vino Curioso, read on and enjoy this wonderful Q&A session with Michael Matthews.
Dezel: Was there one special bottle that initially got you into wine? If so, what was this serendipitous find?
Michael Matthews: There wasn’t really one special bottle…more like a number of them. There are quality wines everywhere in the world and I have been fortunate enough to travel a good bit to experience wines from a great number of places. I lived in the UK for a number of years and was exposed to many of the great wines of Europe that you might not be able to experience here without spending a great deal of money. I also spent considerable time in Italy traveling for work and that brought exposure not only to Italian wines, but to wines from Eastern Europe that I am quite sure that you would never get to see here except for a couple of rare import wine shops.
Dezel: Tell us a little bit about Vino Curioso; I first saw you guys at a Virginia wine festival last year and there was a lot of buzz around your tent. The large question mark logo and catchy wine titles like Franc the Tank (Cabernet Franc) really played well to the crowd. What more is there to Vino Curioso? My readers, as well as myself, are curious to discover more about you guys.
Michael Matthews: Well, I met my winemaking partner on the golf course. We had been brought together by a mutual friend to play golf. It was the day that Hurricane Isabelle hit Northern Virginia about five years ago, hence, Isabelle’s Revenge. The hurricane came blowing through and we were forced to leave the golf course. We ended up talking about wine making as Mike had been making wine for some time and I had just planted a vineyard. A few days later, we were in my basement stomping grapes with our feet creating what would be the first Vino Curioso. That’s how it all started. Other than that, we’re just a couple of normal guys who truly enjoy creating things. Making wine can be a tremendous challenge. Actually, it’s downright difficult. We don’t take anything for granted. We try to make something that we would like to drink ourselves and then we submit it to the masses to see if it wins approval. Believe me, not everything we have created has been submitted to the masses…(smile). By the same token, when we do get it right, it feels pretty cool to have won a small battle with the forces of Mother Nature and chemistry. We both still have hectic full-time jobs and this “hobby on steroids” provides a great distraction from the everyday wear and tear of working for a living.
Dezel: Who makes your wines, and was the 2007 vintage good to Vino Curioso?
Michael Matthews: We get this question a lot. We make our own wines. There are occasions when we will blend bulk wine from another producer. This is mainly because we don’t grow any white grapes currently and we have limited fermentation space in our winery. I guess you could say I am the head winemaker and Michael is my assistant. I will guarantee you though that if I got hit by a bus tomorrow, he would know exactly what to do every step of the way. We do it all together. From the crush to the bottling, it’s all done by hand and other than the occasional family contribution, we’re pretty much a two man show. It’s a lot of fun.
Vino Curioso: A crowd pleaser at Virginia Wine Festivals
Dezel: What is Vino Curioso’s wine style? Do you aim more for Old World, New World, or somewhere in between?
Michael Matthews: We like to say we make wines in “OUR World”. We’re not in Europe. We’re not in Australia or South America. We’re in Virginia and we’re very proud of that. As for the winemaking style that ends up it the glass, we try to make our wines so that you can take a mouthful. Wine was created to go with meals. We make wines in a Beaujolais style. Now, before I say anything more, LET’S MAKE IT PERFECTLY CLEAR, I AM NOT TALKING ABOUT BEAUJOLAIS NOUVEAU!!! BEAUJOLAIS NOUVEAU became famous in the 80’s and was more the result of a marketing scheme than anything else. Beaujolais itself is a region in France that is famous for medium to light-bodied wines with lower acid contents and lighter tannins. A vast majority of the Beaujolais wines are made of the Gamay grape. They also use a bit of Pinot Noir which we grow as well. The nature of the grape produces a wine with the characteristics that we are trying to create. We don’t have any Gamay, but I guess you could say we make an “Our World Beaujolais.” You could look at this in contrast to the wines of the world that are thicker, heavier, more tannic, and higher in acid that require you to take small sips as opposed to a mouthful. I think you’ll find that the second glass of our wine is much more palatable than some of the New World Super-Tannic fruit bombs, but that’s just my opinion. The reason there are so many different styles and types of wines in the world is because there are so many different tastes and preferences found in the people drinking them. We just hope to find some people out there who like wines the way we make them.
Dezel: What is your favorite food and Vino Curioso wine pairing?
Michael Matthews: I know you’re looking for me to say “Chardonnay and Skittles” so there you go, I just said it. Seriously, making wine and creating pairings are worlds apart in my mind. I tend to look at wine in component form. Acid this or sugar that. I think that people don’t experiment enough with wines and the foods they drink them with. I think people would be quite surprised with a lower acid, well rounded fruity white wine with a steak for instance. At the right temperature, it is quite a pleasant surprise. I guess we just want to see people experiment more. If a wine taste good to you with whatever it is you’re eating, then it’s the right wine for what you’re eating.
Dezel: Who is responsible for your logo and the catchy wine titles? Let’s give some much deserved credit here.
Michael Matthews: The question mark came from a tech company that I have called The Curious Group. Our slogan was always, “Are You Curious Yet???” The artwork was created by an artist by the name of Debbie Malovany. She knocked out the original set of labels in literally a couple of hours and we just loved it. She sent it to me to have a look at it and I said, “Done.” “Perfect!” “We’ll take it.” If you notice there is nothing else on the front label of the bottle other than the art. That’s for Deb. They are pieces of art and we’re very proud of them. Debbie is an incredibly talented artist.
As for the wine names, we made those up ourselves. It goes like this:
Isabelle’s Revenge is named after the hurricane…I guess you could say that they are all Isabelle’s Revenge.
Franc the Tank is named after my father, Francis Joseph Matthews. Most people think that it’s named after the Will Farrell character in the movie “Old School”, but that’s not the case. When we were kids we used to ride on my dad’s back while he crawled around the house like he was an army tank. Back then my little brother Rob’s big get even was to say that he would get an army tank and blow you up. I have five brothers and as we grew older dad just became “Tank”. After your father passes you find that there are certain things that stick with you more than others as far as memories go. I can’t say the word “Frank” without “The Tank” after it - Cabernet Franc the Tank. It just fit perfectly. My dad was Irish. If you look at the colors of the label you’ll see that they are the colors of the tri-color Irish flag. That’s the shtick. It’s a tribute to my dad and to Michael’s dad as well and I suppose to dads in general. I’m sure that they would be proud of us and neither of them got to see any of this. I’m fairly sure that it was our dads that taught us to work hard and keep at it. Without those lessons, we wouldn’t be where we are today.
Chardontage: We own that word. We made it up (smile). A blend of four different Chardonnays made four different ways blended to perfection. We really like the flavor of the combination of our different yeasts and the mincing of different barrel and tank times. It creates a collection of flavors in your mouth that, if nothing else, you won’t be able to figure out. It simply tastes great and we don’t have that “is it steel or oak?” conversation with people. It’s both. How do you like the taste?
Snake’s Den: Our winery was infested with black snakes in the beginning. We literally had to transplant the snakes to a different part of the property in order to use the space that we now call our winery. Every now and again you’ll still find snake skins or see the occasional snake. They don’t hurt anyone and in fact are quite important all in all to the ecology of the landscape.
Sangiovese: We didn’t make this up. I think it’s simply the best grape in the world.
954: I can’t tell you where this comes from. Not because I don’t know, I do. I have been sworn to secrecy. Suffice it to say that it is a formula or recipe of sorts. It has been handed down through the generations and now lies with us. We’ll teach our children and they’ll teach theirs. That’s about all I can say about that.
Coming soon we have “ERHONEOUS” and “YESTERDAY”. These are great stories as well but they’ll have to wait.
Look for this logo at Virginia Wine Tasting Events!
Dezel: It has been a very hot and humid summer, what are some of your favorite summer wines – both local and globally?
Michael Matthews: There are a lot of really good summer wines. I never use to drink white wine and lately, I can’t think of the last full glass of red that I had. I would go locally with the Reserve Chardonnay or the Pinot Gris from Ingleside. If you’re a sweet wine fan, I would look for the Sweet Shanando from First Colony. Globally, I tend to like the Pouilly-Fuissé style of burgundy wines crafted from Chardonnay. There is so much you can do with Chardonnay.
Dezel: Last time I spoke with you guys, you were in the process of building a tasting room. What is the current status and where will it be located?
Michael Matthews: Just came from a discussion this morning regarding future construction. We’ll have a tasting room in Winchester and we are working on a site in the Haymarket / Manassas area. We’re not sure yet, but you’ll be the first to know.
Dezel: In your opinion what do you think will be the breakout grape variety for Virginia?
Michael Matthews: I don’t think that there will be a “Breakout” variety of grape. Virginia spends so much time trying to brand Viognier and Cabernet Franc as their signature grapes. Viognier is always in short supply and it is really hard and time consuming to make a good varietal wine out of Cab Franc. I think the breakout of the Virginia wine industry will be based simply on the pure quantity of great wines that are being made out of all kinds of different grapes and subsequently, quality blends of those wines. I think it is short-sighted to try and corner a particular varietal. There are lots of grapes that grow well in Virginia and lots of people actively doing a great job growing them.
Dezel: Which one of your wines are you most proud of and why?
Michael Matthews: I think the wine we are most proud of is the Franc the Tank. Aside from all of the aforementioned emotion that is in this wine, there is a certain pride in being able to create such a nice wine that people like so much. It’s not just the name although that is pretty cool as well. It is a smooth drinking, powerful wine that makes people feel good when they have it. After all, isn’t that what it’s all about?
Dezel: Besides your own wines filling your glass, tell us at least three other Virginia producers whose wines you thoroughly enjoy?
Bill Swain, the winemaker at Ingleside Plantation, is by far and away one of the best winemakers in the Commonwealth if not on the East Coast or in the U.S. as a whole. He was properly trained at UC Davis and has made wine all over the world. All of the Ingleside wines are well balanced and can hold their own with any wines in America.
Michael Shaps makes wine for Virginia Wineworks. Michael spent quite a few years at King Family Vineyards and also enjoys partial ownership of a winery in France. Here again, well trained and creates wines that are thoroughly thought-out and produced according to plan. Never had a bad one!
Jim Law at Linden makes some real nice wines too. I’ve never met Jim but I hear he’s a no nonsense kind of guy. His wines are very well made. The flavors are all very clean cut and there is generally nothing left in your mouth at the end. I like that. Hard Scrabble Chardonnay is always a crowd pleaser.
Dezel: Any new summer time releases or winery news that you would like to share with readers?
Michael Matthews: We will be featuring our latest wine…ERHONEOUS…at the Virginia Wine Festival in September. As you might have surmised it is a Rhone style wine. It is based in Syrah and has been tempered with a blend of white wine. It tastes fantastic! See you there and Thank You So Much for the opportunity to have this conversation. Have a great day.
-- Thanks for your time and appearing on Virginia Vine Spot Q&A, Michael. I thoroughly enjoyed finding out more about Vino Curioso and I know readers will too. To learn more about Vino Curioso and their wines click here the link below.
Contact Info: http://www.vinocurioso.com/
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