"We started out getting drunk together," said Robert Sinskey and laughed, "but I've always appreciated Steve's out-of-the-box thinking. He's not thinking about fixing things, but about the personality of the site." Last week, Robert Sinskey and Steve Matthiasson, two of Napa's most illustrious wine growers, came to NYC together for a whirlwind four-day tour, meeting and dining with buyers and consumers, and ending with a luncheon hosted here in our Tribeca Studio. "We wanted to do this together because we're the 'other white' guys," added Sinskey, referring to the 'odd-ball' varietals that they farm, Sinskey with his Abraxas (a blend of Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Gewurztraminer and Riesling) and Matthiasson with his Ribolla Gialla, Tocai Fruliano and Sémillon. "It's a category, and once people get it, they fall in love."
"We pour our soul into it," said Steve. "But it can be scary, because we don't make garden variety stuff. You don't know if Sémillon will sell."
Friends for twelve years, with children who have grown up together and have come to collaborate on their own projects, (see the incredible portraits by Harry Matthiasson and Ella Sinskey at iamacamera_ on Instagram) Sinskey and Matthiasson have a history that actually predates their friendship.
"Twenty years ago," said Steve, "when I was in grad school, Sinskey Pinot Noir was my favorite wine. Twenty years ago, organic wine had such a bad name. If you were into organic viticulture, you knew Sinskey's name because they were at the head of it." And once Steve started consulting around Napa as a winegrower, Robert brought him on board at Robert Sinskey Vineyards.
"I hired him to come in as a set of outside eyes to review our methods and shake things up. I've always respected what he does. His do-it-yourself farming of the land and being very connected to it. His philosophy is hands off," he added, referencing Matthiasson Ribolla Gialla, Vare Vineyards, Napa 2010, which Steve left to ferment in the vineyard without a hint of temperature control. (And while the 2010 is out-of-stock, we tasted it at the duo's winemaker's dinner at L'Apicio, and it was amazing!)
Working with Robert for only a year, Matthiasson served his purpose there and left. And now that he's living with his family in the middle of their own vineyards, Matthiasson continues to shake things up. Harvesting ahead of his peers' curve, Steve began picking fruit this year on July 29th. "It was a phenomenal harvest," said Steve, "with a hot and dry spring and no significant rainfall since December." The summer cooled down and while there was an increase in humidity, there was no water, but the vines held on. "We're both in the boat of generosity from Mother Nature," he added, "having made more wine than we'd planned. It was a big harvest. We didn't mean to make so much wine this spring."
As Sinskey explained to us the night of the dinner at L'Apicio, the increased yields of 2012 correlated to increased fees from Demeter, so the membership no longer made sense and he gave up his biodynamic certification, even though he is still committed to the same practices and is still CCOF certified organic.