Resurrection: Matthews Winery Comes Back Strong


Right away I want to say that the four wines reviewed here are great wines. The story behind them is important, but as always it’s what’s in the bottle that counts. And what’s in these bottles is superb.

Now about that story. Matthews was founded roughly three decades ago by Matt Loso. At one time he was a leading light in the upstart Woodinville wine community. During the years I wrote the weekly wine column for the Seattle Times I regularly recommended Matt’s wines. He was also the consulting winemaker for a number of his neighbors, and one of the first in Washington to experiment with concrete eggs, wild yeasts and non-interventionist winemaking. Matt ran into some personal troubles and the winery was sold to its principal investors, the Otis family, about 15 years ago. I last tasted and reviewed the 2009 vintage. Following that there seemed to be a downward trend in scores posted by other reviewers throughout the next six or eight vintages. The new owners began a comprehensive review in order to do a complete overhaul.

A critical final step was bringing in a trio of experienced hands from Quilceda Creek. Head Winemaker Alex Stewart, Hal Iverson and Jesse Schmidt arrived shortly before crush began in 2021. Alex had been at Quilceda Creek for 17 years, starting as a Cellar Hand in 2004, then moving up the ranks through Assistant Winemaker/Enologist, Assistant Winemaker/Production Manager and finally lead winemaker from 2018 to 2021. Hal was hired full-time in early 2016 and promoted to Assistant Winemaker in 2017. 

“We were given the opportunity to completely re-imagine the winemaking at Matthews” says Stewart. “We tightened up the vineyard sourcing and farming practices and dramatically changed how the wines are being made. The stars aligned for the 2021 vintage, as well as the stellar 2022 and 2023 that we are working on now. We hope these releases represent a new benchmark for the Columbia Valley.”

Recently Jesse left Matthews to pursue his own goals. So Alex and Hal are the core team moving forward. Which brings us to the present, long-anticipated release of those re-imagined 2021 wines. Owner Bryan Otis explains that his family’s portfolio of wineries, of which Matthews is the oldest, is dedicated to showcasing the pure expression of the Columbia Valley. Over the past decade the family put every aspect of the operation under review, from the vineyards to farming to winemaking. The 2021 wines are the result. 

It pleases me, given my longstanding appreciation for the brand, that whatever troubles may have come and gone, much of the initial focus remains securely in place. Founder Matthew Loso not only gave the brand its name, he initiated its focus on Bordeaux varietal wines, both red and white, and began bottling a Claret cuvée back around 2000.

Claret is an old-fashioned term whose roots go back to the British wine trade of the 17th century. Clarets, as then defined, were good quality red wines from Bordeaux, shipped in casks to British wine merchants, who bottled them under their own labels. At least in the past most winemakers would have said that an American claret is a fruit driven wine with youthful drinkability and a modest price point.

Some years ago a “Standards of Identity” agreement between the U.S. and the European Union somewhat regulated claret and a number of other semi-generic wine names that had been appropriated by some American wineries. Any use of the term must now conform to “the trade understanding of such class and type.” That said, any current wine called Claret should be a Bordeaux blend; if not, it’s best avoided.

As I tasted through the 2021 releases I was struck by the fact that the winery draws from a stunning number of vineyard sources and I suspect that the blending trials must be a slog. I asked Alex to explain his approach to blending and defining the three different reds.

Alex:  “Since we are pulling fruit from a broad palette of AVAs /vineyards /varietals, visualizing how each piece is going to fit together from the start is vital to the success and efficiency of blending. The blending starts well before we sit down to put the wines together. As we get close to harvesting fruit, we are making qualitative notes at all different levels – ripeness, texture, intensity. Those assessments are again made throughout and post fermentation to further narrow the focus of how each blend will come together. Lastly, when we physically sit down to blend, we have tasted every barrel multiple times and have become intimate with these wines to the point that most of the decision making has been done. Our final task is to hone in on the individual components that will best complement each other to fill in any holes. It is imperative that this entire process is a collaborative effort to ensure we are challenging each other and not leaving any stone unturned, resulting in the best possible outcome. We are striving to achieve a harmonious wine experience; to have every element in balance is our guiding principle.”

I also asked Alex to weigh in on the term Claret. Given that it’s basically unregulated, I wanted to hear what it signifies to him.

Alex:  “With our history, where we cut our teeth in winemaking, Cabernet Sauvignon was everything. It was the shining star in every wine. Part of what enticed us to join Matthews was the focus on blends. After joining the team, we were given free reign on all winemaking decisions with very few guardrails. The only directive being that the Claret needed to be driven by Cabernet Sauvignon and the Cuvée was to be Merlot dominant; left bank and right bank, respectively. Looking at the vintage and the process through this lens was an exciting prospect. What does Claret mean to us? Creative freedom. Putting together a ‘Cab dominant’ blend was a new approach to winemakers who had only previously worked in singularity. Every vintage, this wine will be a reflection of our best efforts and challenging ourselves to put everything into the creative process.”

Along with the wines reviewed here, the winery just released a very limited portfolio of reserve wines from the 2021 vintage. I will review those wines in a post later this month.


Matthews 2022 Sauvignon Blanc – Immaculate and vividly flavorful, this is a terrific wine in every respect. 100% varietal, it blends grapes from several notable Columbia Valley vineyards. Principally fermented and aged in stainless, it carries an elegant hint of toast from minimal contact with neutral wood. The fruit palate has a mouth filling lushness, with apple, white peach, grapefruit and lemon zest all prominent. It trails out gracefully with suggestions of green tea, bergamot and mint. 4510 cases; 14.2%; $39 (Columbia Valley) 93/100

Matthews 2021 Cuvée – This is the Merlot-dominant bookend to the winery’s Cabernet Sauvignon – this one a right bank-ish Bordeaux blend including 27% Cabernet Franc and 8% Malbec. Following a clear stylistic path along with the winery’s other 2021 releases, this marries Bordeaux grapes from multiple clones, vineyards and AVAs, resulting in a seamless, firm and focused wine offering immediate pleasure. Red and black berries, mocha and graphite flavors are in play, backed with ripe, lightly grainy, mouth-drying tannins. 1461 cases; 14.8%; $55 (Columbia Valley) 94/100

Matthews 2021 Cabernet Sauvignon – Three quarters Cabernet Sauvignon, one quarter a mix of Merlot, Cab Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot. More a Bordeaux blend than a pure Cab. The instant impression is that careful blending has made this a more complete wine, taken off some of the edges you find with a pure varietal, and smoothed the tannins. The grapes were drawn from more than a dozen vineyards scattered across seven AVAs – unusual to say the least and labor intensive for sure. Some of Washington’s most storied Cabernets require extra cellaring to show themselves properly, but this wine hits the mark spot on. Cassis, black cherry, dark chocolate, cold coffee, touches of licorice, anise and graphite – the more you taste, the more you taste. A very impressive debut for the new winemaking team, and a fine value given the quality. 7364 cases; 14.9%; $50 (Columbia Valley) 96/100

Matthews 2021 Columbia Valley Claret – Matthews now as before specializes in Washington-style Bordeaux blends, and the Claret has long been a winery specialty. The percentages here are 34% Cabernet Sauvignon, 29% Merlot, 30% Cab Franc, 5% Malbec and 2% Petit Verdot. This is not the sort of casual ‘how many barrels do we have left?’ blending that seems to happen with multi-grape expressions from wineries that focus on single varietal wines. This type of blending is hard work, and pays off in wines of substance, detail and pedigree. The Claret is almost iconic in the way it captures the black fruits, toasted barrels, ripe tannins, focused mouthfeel and defining length of these grapes in the same way as the very best wines that this state has to offer. There is a well-defined style here – once tasted you’ll know it. It’s like hearing just a couple of notes on guitar played by Jerry Garcia or Mark Knopfler – you know it’s them. 5083 cases; 14.9%; $55 (Columbia Valley) 96/100

Paul Gregutt
Paul Gregutt
Paul Gregutt has been covering the wines and wineries of the Pacific Northwest since the mid-1980s. From 2002 to 2012 he wrote a weekly wine column for the Seattle Times and authored two critically-acclaimed editions of ‘Washington Wines & Wineries – The Essential Guide’ (UC Berkeley Press). He served as the Northwest editor for Wine Enthusiast magazine from 1998 until 2022. Early on he was an original staff member of both the Seattle Weekly and KZAM-FM. He lives with his wife Karen and his rescue dog Cookie in Waitsburg (pop. 1204), a farm community about 20 miles NE of Walla Walla. When not tasting and writing about wine he writes songs, plays guitar and sings in his band the DavePaul5 ( Follow his writing at PaulG on Wine,, and in the Waitsburg Times.


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