Oregon revisited, part 1

Gaironn and Marcus in the Matello winery, McMinnville


Matello was the first winery visit of this, my second trip to Oregon wine country. It was a very short drive from my McMinville lodgings, because the Matello winery is in an industrial estate on the outskirts of town. Marcus Goodfellow, owner and winemaker of Matello Wines, explains that the winery building was constructed in 1970s, and he leased it in 2011. It used to be a Betty Lous factory, making confectionary bars (the Paley Bar), and was originally built to house equipment from the grain store over the road. I met with Marcus and his significant other, Gaironn, to chat and taste through the wines. It was a lovely visit, and the wines were fabulous.


Marcus is a native Oregonian who came from the restaurant business. He thinks it's an advantage being Oregonian because it helps you to understand the place, and its variable seasons. Marcus grew up on an 80 acre farm.

It was Jasper Morris, celebrated UK wine merchant, who he credits with igniting his love for wine. Through a mutual friend, Marcus was staying at Jasper's flat in London, very early on in Marcus' journey of wine appreciation. They were chatting about birth year wines: Marcus’ is 1968, which isn't great in most regions, but Jasper's is 1957. Jasper opened a bottle of the 1957 Jadot Bonnes Mares. 'This was a mind-altering moment for me in terms of what wine could be,' says Marcus.


He began making wine in 2002, and for the first four years Marcus made the Matello wines at Westry: he traded free labour at harvest for equipment and space, and for this period Matello was just about Pinot Noir. He then started branching out into white wines, and Matello found a home in two different cooperative winemaking spaces. ‘I highly recommend this if you are starting out,' says Marcus. 'It accelerates the pace at which you gain experience.'

He cites Steve Doerner at Cristom as one of his largest influences. 'A snowflake in a conversation becomes an avalanche in the cellar,' he says, referring to the way that discussions among winemakers can lead to significant changes in cellar practice. Through Steve’s influence, 'I started off using stems, no inoculation, and cold soak.'

Marcus likes the way that Pinot Noir is so different vineyard to vineyard. 'Our evolution has been a heavy focus on not impeding terroir,' says Marcus. 'We aim at wines with vineyard expression without personal influence.'


The Matello vineyard sources are strictly dry farmed fruit from vineyards where the owner is the estate manager. Currently this includes five growers all within 20 miles of each other in the northern Willamette. He likes old vineyards: 'vine age trumps everything', he says. Not irrigating makes a difference, but not as much as old vines do. In Oregon, the dry summers deplete the soil moisture to 35 inches, so young plants in dry-farmed vineyards are completely stressed. Somewhere about year 8 or 9 they get through to a deeper water source, and this is where things begin to get very interesting.

I ask Marcus what the developments were in Oregon wine. ‘There’s an overall feeling of the quality of white wines,’ he says, ‘and a strong culture of lower alcohols.’ Chardonnay now has some momentum. He mentions that with the increase in cost of Burgundy, this isn’t as big a part in the experience for up and coming sommeliers and wine buyers as it used to be. They turn to other things, and there’s now what Marcus describes as a ‘phenomenal exploratory vibe’, for things like orange wines and natural wines. The local AVAs are also getting stronger. Around 85% of producers have embraced it for labelling purposes and we are now seeing the AVA groups getting more organized and getting behind the idea.


‘Locally people support the small wineries very well,’ he says. ‘Oregon now has 550 brick and mortar wineries. The focus in Oregon will always have to be on quality. Variation in vintages is not conducive to large scale winemaking: here, one vintage is warm, one is cool. We have enough vintages where decision making has to be spot on, and this is challenging for a big winery.’

I asked him for a quick summary of recent vintages:

  • 2005 An easy vintage with lots of time to work on the details of winemaking

  • 2006 A very warm vintage – everything came in at once

  • 2007 It started to rain mid-September and never stopped

  • 2008 As easy as it gets

  • 2009 We forgot to discuss this!

  • 2010 A cool vintage

  • 2011 Coolest viticultural vintage in Oregon history

  • 2012 A warm, late spring, so people were expecting a late, cool harvest, but the summer was lovely, with cool nights so acidity was maintained. Seeking balance in the fruit was a challenge and people were worried about it being too ripe.


Matello Pinot Gris 2013 Oregon, USA
‘Pinot Gris can be fantastic,’ says Marcus Goodfellow, ‘ but people have to take it seriously for it to make serious wines: it can be just quick and easy.’ This is lively and textured with some grapey hints and a nice crystalline quality to the fruit, with good acidity. Nice freshness with some savoury, mineral notes on the finish. 89/100

Matello Chardonnay Durant 2012 Oregon, USA
The 60 acre Durant vineyard was planted in 1973, and was one of the pioneering vineyards in the region. This wine reflects a traditional approach to Chardonnay. It’s fresh with nice texture and some pear and citrus fruit. Shows restraint and some fine spiciness, with good acidity. 93/100

Matello Chardonnay Richard’s Cuvée 2012 Oregon, USA
This is from the Whistling Ridge vineyard, above Beaux Frères, and Marcus named this wine after the owner of this vineyard, Richard. It’s a plateau on top of the hill, and Matello are the only people making wine from this, so it’s a monopole. Lovely focus and freshness here: pure, linear with good concentration of pear and citrus fruit, with good acidity. Some smoothness and rounded character, but also focus and structure. 94/100

Matello Whistling Ridge 2007 Oregon, USA
This is an Alsace-style field-blend. So lively and intense with sweet, grapey, citrussy fruit. Lovely complexity with really zippy acidity. Nice precision and richness allied, with some nutty notes in the background. 93/100

Matello Hommage Pinot Noir 2012 Oregon, USA
50% whole cluster. Lovely freshness here: supple, bright with a nice savoury, spicy twist. It’s detailed and bright with lovely acidity and bright black cherry fruit. Not at all sweet, with some nice savouriness. 94/100

Matello Durant Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011 Oregon, USA
20 and 40 year old vines. Really fresh, lively, focused wine that’s bright with good acidity. Notes of red cherries and herbs with a bit of spicy grip on the finish. Savoury with a subtle sappines and good acidity. 93/100

Matello Fool’s Journey Syrah Deux Vert Vineyard Oregon, USA
This has 17% Viognier in the blend, and it’s 100% whole cluster, including the Viognier component. Lovely pepper, clove and spice with some very fresh black fruits and spicy detail. Really focused, showing sweet fruit with a bit of grip. 93/100

From 2012 a new series of single vineyard wines have been made under the Goodfellow Family Cellars label. These are for vineyards where Marcus feels that they’ve found their voice, and these are more classic wines, rooted in vineyards.

Goodfellow Family Cellars Whistling Ridge Pinot Noir 2012 Ribbon Ridge, Oregon, USA
Elegant pure nose with subtle sweet notes and lovely balance. Bright red and black cherries with precision and balance, with sweeter and more savoury notes in nice tension. 94/100

Goodfellow Family Cellars Durant Pinot Noir 2012 Dundee Hills, Oregon, USA
There’s a lovely sweetness to the fruit here, with spice and subtle herbs, sweet cherries and some berry fruit. Rounded mid-palate and nice savouriness alongside the fruit sweetness. 93/100

Goodfellow Family Cellars Bishop Creek Pinot Noir 2012 Yamhill-Carlton, Oregon, USA
Generous black cherry fruit with nice focus. Some richness but also taut structure and good acidity. Lovely precision. Hints of tar and fine herbs. 94/100

Johan Vineyards
J Christopher
Big Table Farm
Walter Scott
Antica Terra

See also:

Visiting Oregon, July 2008 (series)

Wines tasted 07/14  
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