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Paul Mathew Vineyards 

Boutiquey Valdiguié—just don'tcall it Napa Gamay

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The first thing to understand about Paul Mathew is that there is no Paul Mathew. It's a combination of names, like Kosta Browne—and that's not entirely unrelated, as you'll see.

The second thing to understand is, there is no Paul. While working as sommelier at John Ash & Co., Mat Gustafson persuaded his associate that starting a winery would be a really good idea. If this story sounds familiar, it's because when he left John Ash, Gustafson trained future Pinot Noir upstart Dan Kosta to be his replacement.

There's more to the story. While the associate, Paul, dropped out, Mat kept the name. Gustafson, experienced in wine sales and buying positions in the industry, took a winemaking position with Dutton Estate, and now manages the "gravity flow" custom crush facility at Moshin, where he also vints his product. Now, with the opening of their sunny, corner tasting room in downtown Graton, the story of Mat and Barb and a grape named Valdiguié just got a little less obscure.

The tasting room has a full-wall chalkboard for monthly wine and food seminars. Barb Gustafson says that she thinks a great winemaker is someone who understands food. "Mat's an incredible cook. To me, it doesn't come naturally," she admits. "But Mat has always loved cooking."

The 2012 Turner Vineyard Valdiguié ($20) mightn't make it to the main course. From an old, two-acre patch in Knights Valley, a survivor from the days when this obscure-sounding grape was the workhorse misnomer "Napa Gamay," it's a dark, cloudy pink, smells like a bucketful of fresh-crushed black grapes and tastes like strawberries—think Beaujolais Nouveau, although Barb says they like to think Cru Beaujolais. Different, and fun.

More familiar aromas of hard butterscotch candy jump right out of the 2010 Weeks Vineyard Chardonnay ($32) and hit the nose, while the dry, and dried herblike, slightly bitter palate demands to be taken seriously. The 2010 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($32) is a blend of lots from Horseshoe Bend, TnT and Ruxton, all small, family-run vineyards at the western edge of the AVA. It's got thyme and oregano spicing up bright raspberry flavors and a sort of sour cherry Chianti finish, while the individual vineyard releases ($45) slip progressively from hay, pine duff and bright cherry, into darker allspice, oily oak, and black cherry territory. The best recommendation? I'm told that nine out of 10 visitors choose to refund their tasting fee with a purchase. The fresh, crisp 2012 Rosé ($20) makes that choice easy.

Paul Mathew Vineyards, 9060 Graton Road, Graton. Thursday–Sunday, 10:30am–4:30pm. Tasting fee, $10. 707.865.2505.

  • Boutiquey Valdiguié—just don'tcall it Napa Gamay

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