Familia Mayol with Winemaker Matias Mayol
“Matias’ family are farmers first and foremost,” says Jorge, our Portfolio Director of South American Wines. “They have single vineyard holdings in the best sub-appellations, at different elevations…Matias has been the pillar, the building block of our Argentine Portfolio. In 2003, Argentina was starting to get attention. I said to TB, if we don’t move now, we’re going to miss the boat…I could see the change, that something big was going to come from those countries.”
Matias, a doe-eyed mountain biker from Mendoza was recently in town for our South American & Iberian Portfolio Tasting. As the owner/winemaker at Familia Mayol, Matias comes from a family that is deeply rooted to the vineyard. In the early 1900’s, his grandfather left his vineyards in Spain for Mendoza, where the family settled, planted grapes and lived on the land. However, when Matias’ father decided to study architecture, his grandfather sold the vineyards.
In 1989, Matias’ father bought a vineyard as an investment. He bought another in 1997, and a third in 1999. “He planned to supply grapes to my grandfather’s [bulk wine] winery, which he did for many years. As the vineyards started to produce more and more, we found different producers,” says Matias, ten in total. “We still sell. I probably use 10% of our 100ha of vines for my production.”
Outside Finca Pircas Vineyard
In 1996, Matias came to Boston to study, which is when he first tasted wines that were not from Argentina. In 2000, he came to New York to work for Dreyfus, where he learned the ins and outs of the wine business from the distribution side. After harvesting at Domaine Drouhin in Oregon, working 15-16 hours a day, he knew he’d found his calling. “I went back home,” says Matias, “and told my dad of the potential…if he was willing to give me the opportunity.”
For the first three years, Matias worked with a friend from UC Davis, the former owner of Norton Winery, Ricardo Santos. He then met the New York restaurateur Joe Bastianich who put him in contact with California winemaker, Steve Clifton. Together, they made 400-500 cases of TriTono Malbec, which they produced for three years in a row, 2004-2006. In 2004, Matias joined TEW, and in 2006, his father handed all vineyard management to his son.
In the vineyard, Matias practices sustainable farming, turning the vineyards organic, one vineyard at a time. “Mendoza has dry conditions,” says Matias, so he employs “sulfur two times a year to prevent fungus, only if it’s needed. I work a lot with leaf removal, so the clusters are completely exposed to sunlight and wind…the skins of the grapes get thicker, increasing the polyphenols. We have huge mountain ranges that stop the Pacific Ocean influence…summer rains are short and scattered. Most of the rain falls in winter…it’s like a grape’s paradise.”
Because most Argentine wines tend to be lower in acidity, Matias focuses most of his attention to the vineyard. Leaf pulling yields higher acidity, he says, which enables better food pairings. He employs drip irrigation and some of his vines have their original rootstock.
At Familia Mayol, the grapes are hand harvested and destemmed without crushing. Matias starts with natural yeasts and after the fermentation picks up, he adds selected yeasts because the sugar is so high, he wants to ensure that the fermentation finishes.
“For our higher end wines, Cuatro Primos, Pircas, Montuiri, I go for the terroir,” says Matias. “If I have them [the wine] in the bottle, and I don’t think they’re worth their value, I won’t sell them. I’d rather keep them and sell at a discounted price in the winery, and not export. Quality is our business.”
When he’s not making wine, Matias is on his bike. “There’s nothing like going on your bike after the rain. In Mendoza, when it rains, the natural flora in the mountains throws amazing aromas. When you’re riding your bike on a Saturday morning through the mountains, you smell oregano, thyme, arugula…it’s amazing.”