Our April issue takes you on an expert-led wine journey around the world.

By Nilou Motamed
Updated May 24, 2017
© Chris Loupos

A jet-black German Shepherdbounded 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.

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.

Four years later, my eyes still light up when I spot Matthiasson wines on restaurant lists (which happens increasingly often). Meanwhile, Steve and Jill’s farm-focused approach to winemaking has gained adherents across the state. In “California Wine Country Now,” Ray Isle looks at a bevy of iconoclastic winemakers—the Matthiassons of the future—and turns us on to the up-and-coming California regions every wine lover should know.

Another emblem of the state’s earthy new guard: SingleThread, a genre-defying farm, restaurant and inn in Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley that looks to Japan as much as to Europe for inspiration. Launched last December by a married chef-farmer duo, it’s one of the most impressive openings we’ve seen in years. Our exclusive behind-the-scenes look starts on page 72.

These are just a few of the surprises you’ll find in this month’s special issue, devoted to one of our favorite subjects here at F&W. In the magazine, we uncover a nascent sparkling wine scene in—no joke—the verdant English countryside. In Portland, Oregon, we check in with acclaimed sommelier Dana Frank, whose visits to the natural-wine bars of Paris inspired her remarkable restaurant Dame. I love the energy of her new place, as well as the tantalizing spring menu she’s shared with us.

Back in 2015, we named Dana one of our Sommeliers of the Year. Her blend of curiosity and playful innovation is on equal display in this year’s winners, spotlighted in the issue. These days, a great somm can make a restaurant’s reputation as assuredly as a brilliant chef can—and sommeliers are collaborating ever more closely with their knife-wielding colleagues in the kitchen, as we discover in “Sip, Cook, Repeat," which you'll find on page 20.

Long before joining this team myself, I was an avid reader of Food & Wine, not least for the sage counsel of F&W’s resident wine whisperer, Ray Isle. It’s thanks to Ray that I discovered Matthiasson, along with countless other now-favorite winemakers. And it’s thanks to him that so many readers turn to F&W—to decipher arcane winespeak, to steer you to our latest discoveries and to deliver, in a clear and engaging way, the insider advice you rely on. I raise a glass to Ray, and, of course, to you. I hope you’ll enjoy this special issue as much as we enjoyed putting it together. Cheers!

Follow Nilou Motamed, Editor in Chief of Food & Wine, at @niloumotamed