Catching Up with Winemaker Matt Parish
Not only does our Winemaker, Matt Parish, have a loyal Lula following, but he also has fans all the way in Pennsylvania! We’d like to give a shoutout and special thanks to Paul Vigna at PennLive for his recent interview and recognition of Matt.
Matt has an incredible reputation as a top-tier Winemaker in the U.S. and around the world, bringing more than two decades of winemaking experience to our team.
So, sit back and relax, grab your favorite bottle of Lula, and get to know our world-class Winemaker.
Read the full story below, or click here.
30 vintages in, Lula Cellars’ Matt Parish excited by a ‘learning curve that keeps going up’
Matt Parish joined Lula Cellars in the summer of 2017, taking over the winemaking at a limited production, ultra-premium winery situated in the “Deep End” of California’s Anderson Valley, a 2 1/2-hour drive north up the coast from San Francisco.
It’s located outside the town of Philo, in Mendocino County, 25 minutes from the Pacific coast.
A New Zealand native, Parish brought with him a portfolio packed with experience as a winemaker and wine executive. That includes winemaking roles at Constellation Wines US and various companies in France, Italy, Spain, Argentina, Australia, and New Zealand, and as vice president and chief winemaker for the Americas at Treasury Wine Estates, which featured Beringer, Stags’ Leap Winery, Chateau St. Jean, and Etude.
Prior to joining Lula Cellars, he was chief winemaker for NakedWines.com, where he continues to sell his “Matt Parish” brand. “I’m looking forward to continuing the great tradition that founding winemaker Jeff Hansen started at Lula,” he said at the time. Hansen, who worked in the wine industry for 28 years, named Lula Cellars for his maternal grandmother Lula, who was born in 1879 and lived to the age of 89. It opened in 2010 with one goal: produce quality, world-class wines of great value and sell them directly to consumers through their tasting room and mailing list.
Colleague Elizabeth Smith, a well-known journalist who works as the freelance communications and social media specialist for Matt Parish Wines and Vinture LLC. wrote a feature on Parish last summer at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic’s first surge. She noted the variety of tasks that occupy his time as a father, husband, winemaker and consultant. “Family, the kids’ schoolwork, clients, Zoom tastings, bottling, vineyard checks, harvest preparation, and everything and anything else, depending on the day,” he told her, adding that it is “one big juggling act to be honest.”
Here are answers to questions from PennLive that Parish took the time to answer and send back, covering topics such as the winery and vineyard, its acclaimed Pinot Noirs, and the part he’s playing in growing the brand.
Q, I read an interview you did back in the summer about your crazy schedule, trying to get your work done so you can be with the kids or help with their homework. I’m just curious what the fall was like doing the multiple jobs you do and I assume having your kids home from school? Just overall, I guess, how much has the pandemic changed your day-to-day routine?
A, Honestly, my schedule has always been a little hectic. But the 2020 harvest was particularly brutal with the pandemic, kids home-schooling, and then the fires; more so for my wife as I needed to be in the vineyards and wineries every day over harvest.
Just like for everyone else, the pandemic has changed our daily lives. Before, our home was quiet during the day and even on weekends, with everyone at work, school, sports, and other activities. Now home is a busy hive of activity, with each of us dotted around the house doing our thing. While it still feels strange, with harvest out of the way, and our kids part-time at school, the daily rhythm has become a little more relaxed and manageable. The upside is we see a lot more of our kids, and our chocolate lab Rocket is loving the constant company.
With vineyards and wineries considered essential services, I’m still able to keep on top of the vines and wines for the Lula and Matt Parish brands, both of which have seen great growth and success over the last 12 months. But I try and limit my time in the vineyards and wineries to one or two days a week, so I can be at home to help out. On the other hand, my International projects in France, Spain, and Portugal have been a little more challenging for practical reasons. While I miss the places, people and wines, it’s been nice to take a break from airports and long-haul flights and that’s also given me more time.
Q, When did you begin working with Pinot? What do you know about working with it now that you didn’t when you started?
A, My first experience working with Pinot Noir was with my family vineyard in New Zealand. I then worked with various Pinot Noir focused brands in New Zealand, Australia, and California.
Even though I have just completed my 30th vintage, I feel the learning curve keeps going up, which is exciting. While science plays a significant role in understanding what is happening in the vineyard and winery, many learnings are iterative [cause and effect]. With Pinot Noir being so responsive to where and how produced, the learnings each year are many and often magnified, more so when working across different vineyards and regions.
I have learned to pay particular attention to clonal selection, achieving physiological grape ripeness, picking timing, managing fermentation maceration and temperature, and the careful and judicious use of movement and SO2 during barrel maturation. If I get each of these correct, the resulting wine will be vibrant, textural, and supple with plenty of power, complexity, and intensity. I also feel a lot more knowledgeable about what appeals to consumers [and doesn’t] and incorporate this into my winemaking approach.
Q, Were you always interested in Anderson Valley, and how did you get involved with Lula?
A, I have always held Anderson Valley Pinot Noir in high regard, not only because of the superb quality but also due to the taste profile or style. While the region is unique, the typical aromas, flavors, and textures are what I love and look for in a top Pinot Noir, comparing very favorably with my top wines from around the world, including New Zealand, France, and Oregon. For that reason, I was looking for an opportunity to make Pinot Noir in Anderson Valley.
In 2017 the desire to work in Anderson Valley became a reality when I met with Lula’s proprietor Ken Avery. I had known Ken for many years and a little of the Lula brand he established with founding winemaker Jeff Hansen back in 2010. Unfortunately, Jeff was retiring due to poor health, and Ken needed a winemaker. The timing for me was perfect as I had just set up my winemaking consulting business after 20 years in group and chief winemaking roles at Constellation Brands, Treasury Wines Estates, and Nakedwines.com. The timing was also right for Ken as he was transitioning out of a 35-year career as a CPA and Forensic Accountant and wanted to focus on taking Lula to the next level. We both leveraged this opportunity to really think about how best to position the Lula brand for the future. Starting with the 2017 vintage we have never looked back!
Q, What should my readers know about this brand, the gorgeous property, and the type of wines you produce?
A, Located about 2.5 hours North of San Francisco the Anderson Valley is serene. Lula’s home is a 22-acre property located in the revered “deep end” of Anderson Valley, between the town of Philo and Navarro. On the gently rolling property is our tasting room and vineyard.
The tasting room which is run by Ken, Chris, Dan, Gary, Kim, and Joni is very relaxed, informative and always a great fun experience. The 15-acre vineyard was planted in stages beginning in 2013 to various clones of Pinot Noir and a small amount of Gewürztraminer in keeping with the Alsace-inspired white prevalent throughout the valley.
Lula’s production is small and focused on Anderson Valley Pinot Noir. Every year we bottle around 6 different Pinot Noirs off the property and some neighboring vineyards from specific clones, blocks or blends. Because the Anderson Valley AVA is nestled in the greater Mendocino County AVA, we also produce a small number of single-vineyard/varietal wines from other AVAs in this region, including Mendocino Ridge and Pine Mountain-Cloverdale Peak.
It was evident early that the Lula property produced a rich, complex and vibrant style of Pinot Noir and that combined with our desire to make wines that are refined and approachable, has meant this is the overarching style for all of the Lula wines. Since the launch of our new range and branding in 2017, we are delighted to say the wines have been very well received from our customers and critics alike, including a recent award of ratings for much of the range in the low to upper 90s from established wine critics and international wine shows.
Q, Enjoyed reading on the website the makeup of the Lula vineyard. So, two questions. What was the goal of how you set up the Lula Cellars Vineyard and what kind of flexibility does it give you with the grapes you harvest from there?
A, When establishing the vineyard the goal was to produce a diverse range of top quality wines that really showcase the Pinot Noir varietal, the Lula vineyard and, of course, Anderson Valley. To do that the 15-acre Lula vineyard is divided into eight blocks, which were planted over a five-year period to eight different clones. That gives me, the winemaker, a huge advantage when it comes to creating the best wines from individual blocks or blends from multiple blocks. Often, I will also grow, harvest and make the same clone with two different approaches, which again will amplify my options around blending and bottling.
All of the typical Pinot Noir clones grown throughout California are present [Pommard, 777, 115, etc.] along with some more recent selections from Burgundy [Chambertin and Vosne-Romanée]. The oldest block we call the “Rescue Block” due to the fact that when the property was being established an area of vines overgrown with blackberries was discovered. We resurrected this block and were delighted with the quality, so each year we bottle it separately. Because it’s such a limited offering it is only made available to our wine club members and sells out in no time.
Q, Is there any way to summarize the personalities of the other vineyards and how they play into the Lula portfolio?
A, We do produce several single-vineyard/varietal offerings from various AVAs in the greater Mendocino County. Where possible we try and keep a strong focus on Anderson Valley, but remain open-minded to where each variety grows best and which vineyards will create a wine of the quality, style, and personality to complement the greater portfolio. A couple of examples:
Since 2018 we have been producing a Rosé of Pinot Noir. We intended to pick early and create a delicate style with bright fruit and crisp acidity. To do that we focused on the cooler sites in the Anderson Valley and ended up sourcing the grapes from a 1976 planting of the Beaujolais clone from the Day Ranch Vineyard.
From the beginning, Lula has produced single-vineyard-designate Pinot Noirs from the Peterson and Costa Vineyards. Both are located near the town of Comptche, which is about 30 minutes drive north of Lula. These vineyards are a couple of miles apart, were planted in the late 1980s to similar clones, and are managed by the same grower. That’s where the similarities end. The Peterson Vineyard always exhibits violets, blueberries, and plums, or what I call “blue fruits,” while the Costa Vineyard exhibits more red cherry and berry fruits, or what I call “red fruits.” Both offerings give the portfolio breadth and diversity and customers get to see first-hand the influence of vineyard site on the resulting wines.
We were getting a lot of requests for a Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon, so spent a lot of time looking for vineyards that would produce wines that would complement our portfolio. After a thorough search, we started working with the Fashaeur Vineyard high up on Mendocino Ridge to produce the Zinfandel. Traditionally head-trained and randomly interplanted with Carignan, the resulting wines have a real personality and are very different from a classic Californian Zinfandel. A similar search for Cabernet Sauvignon led us to the Pine Mountain Vineyard where we source our Cabernet Sauvignon. Located in the Pine Mountain-Cloverdale Peak AVA on the Southern End of Mendocino County, this young vineyard sits at high altitude and is planted on rich rocky red soil. The resulting wines are vibrant and powerful.
Q, How much of your time do you spend in the vineyards, and is it more often at certain times of the year?
A, Never enough, I have never left a vineyard visit thinking that wasn’t time well spent.
During the growing season, I plan to be in the vineyards at least once a week. The frequency of visits increases significantly during harvest where I make maturity checks at least every two to three days. Following harvest, while the vines are dormant, then it’s probably once a month.
Q, Is the Guntly Red a blend of Pinot clones or other grapes? In that so much of what you do is single varietal, how did that one come to be?
A, The creation of the first Guntly Red did include a little happenstance. But the wine quickly became popular for those that like a silky-smooth red blend. So, over the last couple of years, we have been refining the blend. Blended to style, the wine is typically 80% Pinot Noir and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon.
Q, How old is your wine club, and how much has it evolved since it was created? Asking for anyone who might be interested in subscribing.
A, Our wine club has been operating since 2010. It is the only place you can buy our wines apart from some local restaurants, so very important to the overall brand. Throughout the pandemic, we have seen the number of club members significantly increase, which has been a real blessing. Signing up is easy through our website, and members receive plenty of benefits from tastings to exclusive wines. We would be delighted to welcome your readers!
As you can see, Matt Parish’s years of expertise, hard work, and passion for what he does has elevated our portfolio. We’re so grateful to have Matt as our Winemaker and are incredibly excited for future vintages.
Thank you, Matt, for all you do, and cheers to you!