A jet-black German Shepherd bounded up to our rental car, tongue wagging, paws kicking up a cloud of golden dust. He sprinted alongside as we pulled up the gravel drive to a yellow clapboard farmhouse. A flock of chickens scurried out of sight.
It was early spring 2013, and we’d arrived at the Napa wine estate of Steve and Jill Klein Matthiasson, owners of Matthiasson Wines, whom Food & Wine had recently named Winemakers of the Year. Estate seemed too grandiose a term for this rustic spot—a five-acre patch of sun-dappled farmland on the outskirts of the town of Napa, all of it faithfully guarded by Koda, the vineyard dog, whose main defense against intruders seemed to be exuberant face-licking.
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Steve had made his name as a much-in-demand viticultural consultant for top California wineries. Now he was applying that expertise to his own vines—planting lesser-known grapes like the fragrant Ribolla Gialla, a quirky native of Friuli rarely seen in California soil. As Steve and Jill walked me through their property, it was clear that this was a working farm. And as we tasted their refreshing whites, it struck me that theirs was a radical vision of what Napa wine could be.