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Linne Calodo – Names Will Never Hurt Me

October 19, 2011 Fifty-Two Weeks 7 Comments

T H E   L I S T

It was the end of 2009 and the beginning of an ambitious project, to write about 52 California wineries in 52 weeks. I had no idea where to start.

I bought a subscription to Wine Spectator and scoured it for interesting producers to work with; highlighting the ones that caught my attention. Tablas Creek, Barrel 27, Foxen, Kosta Brown. I added them to an ever-growing list of “wineries to work with.” I knew almost nothing about the California wine industry, but if this big glossy publication liked them, that had to be worth something, right?

As my knowledge grew in early 2010, I began adding names to an “if by a miracle” list, wineries I thought it would be next to impossible to work with, legends like Ridge, The Ojai Vineyard, Sine Qua Non, and Harlan. A boy could dream.

In the months that followed, as A Long Pour took shape and I began to regularly cross off names from the “hope to work with” and add them to the “worked with” list, I was amazed at how well it was all going. Tablas Creek, check! The Ojai Vineyard, a very excited check! Barrel 27, Foxen, Jordan, check, check, and check!

I studied, I learned, I listened, and I drank. I stopped highlighting names in Wine Spectator and began working with wineries based on my own taste and interests.  I made the acquaintance of numerous winemakers who in turn gave me suggestions of their own. I took note of who inspired them, names like Randall Grahm, Richard Sanford, Paul Draper, John Alban, Helen Turley, Manfred Krankl, Justin Smith, and Matt Trevisan.

While most of these names represent pioneers and innovators who started their careers decades ago, a few of them like Justin Smith and Matt Trevisan hail from a new generation of winemakers, just now coming into their own. They are to be the next legends and myths, building on the foundation of the giants who came before.

Matt Trevisan in particular caught my attention. Even though his Linne Calodo wines are some of the highest praised in California, there was something else about him that intrigued me. Maybe it was a romanticized vision of his angular wooden winery or the picture of him sitting on a vintage BMX bike in Wine Spectator (I have spent my days on trails and concrete), but there was something that told me, this was my kind of a guy.

So I sent an email to info@linnecalodo.com. “Hi my name is Wayne, I write A Long Pour…” But no response ever came.

These things happen, things slip through the cracks. No big deal. I moved on, got busy with other stories, traveled a lot, drank a lot of wine, added more names to my list and scratched out others. But Linne Calodo never left my “maybe if by a miracle” list. Right next to Draper and Krankl and the now crossed out Tolmach and Sanford, was Trevisan, waiting for the right time, waiting for an opportunity, for a miracle.

I would get my miracle, but only by chance.

T H E   S I G H T I N G

Late this past winter, in the middle of a terrible set of storms, Damaris and I decided to visit Linne Calodo on a bit of a whim. It would be our miracle. The next day, Linne Calodo closed their doors to the public and thereafter could only be visited by appointment (you can read about Matt’s thoughts on closing his tasting room here).

As a light rain fell from a depressed winter sky, we tasted through a half dozen of Matt’s wines and made some new friends. We even caught a brief glimpse of the illusive winemaker who was lurking in the solitude of the staff lounge recovering from a recent collar bone fracture. “That’s Matt,” we were told, as we hurried by catching only a shadowy glimpse of the man.

The winery and wines were everything we hoped them to be: alluring, compelling, crafted, and thoughtful. The circumstances surrounding the sighting of Matt made the myth of Linne Calodo even more irresistible. It was the winemaker equivalent to the fuzzy shot of Bigfoot crossing the clearing, you know the one (this one). We had been in the presence of one of California’s most talked about winemakers or had we?

I was more intrigued then ever as well as encouraged by Matt’s participation with A Long Pour. And so arrangements were made, we would meet.

On a warm Saturday morning in early July, we returned to Linne Calodo. Matt was busy at work behind his tasting room, maintaining some landscaping. This was he whom I waited over a year to meet. Matt Trevisan, the so-called genius of Vineyard Drive and producer of many of Paso’s most emulated wines. I didn’t really know what to expect as I stretched out my hand. “Hi my name is Wayne…”

Up until this point, much of what I knew about Matt was rumor and idle gossip. There were stories that Matt and Justin Smith of Saxum, once partners in Linne Calodo, were something of the Hatfields and McCoys of West Paso. I knew of similar stories in the wine industry, of partnerships turned sour, so I supposed it possible. Then there were the stories about his winery, that he came into some small fortune that enabled him to build this magnificent space.

While it is fun to tell stories and speculate with friends and in wine shops, myths are seldomly grounded in reality (the reality is that Matt and Justin’s kids carpool to dance class together. Tutus and ice-cream, not shotguns and jug liquor). Besides, none of that really mattered. We were there to see what Linne Calodo and more importantly, what Matt Trevisan was all about.

Matt looked up from his work; his green eyes intense and piercing as if searching my soul for signs of ill-will, for signs of my intent, and then he shook my hand. So it began…

T H E   S I G N S   O F   D E D I C A T I O N

There is dedication and there is talent, hard work, and skill. And then, there are winemakers like Matt Trevisan, few and far between, intensely dedicated, focused, brilliant.

It is this last phrase that should give us pause, brilliance. With the passing of Steve Jobs and the recent announcement of the 2011 Nobel Prize winners, the word brilliance has been on many people’s lips latley.

Brilliance comes from all backgrounds, a Chemist from Israel, a women’s rights activist from Yemen, an adopted kid from Mountain View California, a surfer from Escondido. Some supplement natural brilliance with the best education money can buy, while others were trained by trails and struggle. But almost all of them were told at one point or another that they were wrong, that they were indeed not brilliant, but rather full of foolish ideas.

“You can’t have a crystal formed from jagged atoms”, they were told, or women’s rights! “You can’t have a personal computer in every home,” they were lectured, or create world class wines in Paso Robles!

But brilliance knows that you can and that you must do what is unorthodox in order to discover what is new.

In this regard,  Matt is dedicated to the exploration of the unorthodox, as is easily seen in his production facilities.

Linne Calodo is one of the most beautiful wineries anywhere. Located about a third of a mile up a curved roadway not far from where highway 46 meets Vineyard Drive, it is encircled by a fortress of oak trees, their twisted limbs forming a dense wall as if to obscure the beauties and mysteries they guard inside. It’s like the Temple of Doom, except no Harrison Ford and they making wine instead of mining for gems by forced labor. Plus, there are no Nazis…(wait, that was the other two Indiana Jones films. What’s the deal with all the Nazi’s in those movies?)

In all of its severe angles, perfect lines, its raw materials, and dramatic spaces, Matt had his hand.

While others would have been content to hire an Architect and General Contractor and sit back and sign checks, Matt did much of the work himself, largely because he always has.

“I have always built. If you’re into construction, than I’m into construction,” he told us, referring to my day job. Matt grew up around the trades and fondly remembers various building projects his father took on when he was a young boy.

“My uncles were masons. I remember them going through the different phases of construction, it was really cool to watch.”

It was while attending Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, where Matt studied  Biochemistry, that he was exposed to the wine industry when he met roommate Justin Smith. Justin’s parents were a few years into their project at the James Berry Vineyard and it was there that Matt saw his first vineyards and picked his first grapes.

Upon graduating, Matt took a job at Justin Winery in Paso Robles where he was exposed to winery construction.

“They had these drawings for this building on the other side of the hill,” he recalled of the then small winery. “It was a real experience watching everything from rough grading to the roads going in.”

Matt loved the work and immersed himself in it, learning as much as he could, and working incessantly.

Years later, when the time came to build his own facility, just a short distance from where he picked those first grapes, he knew he had to be involved, it was the only way. Matt oversaw the entire project, from working on the lines and angles of the building so that they were in harmony with the surrounding tree line, to traveling hours for just the right parts.

He installed 1,700’ of PVC pipe for his Edison and communication lines, sweated his own copper, and designed his own gates. Matt even designed and planted his own complex landscaping, an aspect of his property he takes particular pride in. He dedicated himself to everything that is Linne Calodo, from foundation to vines, as if it were an extension of himself. It of course is.

Then there are his wines. His barrels are his children, his “little kids,” each with its own unique personality and qualities that must be respected.

He talks about his vineyards as though they were beloved aged relatives, still teaching him new things, still sharing their knowledge and showing him the way he should walk.

All of it is intensely personal for Matt. This isn’t his job. This is his craft. His winery is more than a workshop; it is a stage for his children’s childhood, where they will build their memories. For Matt, it goes far beyond chasing accolades and recognition; his wines are an expression of his soul, his passion, and his very love of this place in the world.

It is no surprise to me that he has an uneasy relationship with wine reviews, taking them more personally than others might (even though he generally performs exceedingly well in them).

How could anyone understand a wine after only a few moments with it he would argue, a point well illustrated by his Problem Child, a Zinfandel blend. The name, like other names he selects for his wines, wasn’t the result of a slick marketing campaign.

“These names that come on the bottles are personalities the wines have,” Matt explained as he gave us the background on a few of them (1). “It’s never been for some outside reason; it’s never been about marketing for me. That’s what I called it around the cellar when I was working on it, it was the problem child,” he says with a grin. “It just wouldn’t ferment to dryness.”

Matt tried everything to get the four barrels of Zinfandel to finish properly, at one point warming them with electric-blankets. He even jokes that he played Tool to get them going. It didn’t work. He started blending them with other wines, Syrah, some Mourvedre, eventually swelling the four barrels to ten, nearly a quarter of his then 1,000 case production. Nothing was working. The results, while not bad, were not what he was looking for, they where not the wines he wanted them to be. Dejected, annoyed, he shelved them in the back of the cellar and forgot about them, for months.

Eventually he would have to face them again. I imagine Matt removing the stopper on one of the barrels, abstracting some of its inky juice into a glass and pausing for a moment before he tried it. I imagine how he must have cracked a grin and then a full smile as he realized the wine had finished, it had returned from its errant ways like a prodigal son returning from the harsh realities of the wilderness. It was complete, it was whole, and it was beautiful. It was again Matt’s.

Yet, where would the wine have ended up if he had simply let it be what it was after a few tricks, a little blending, a little Tool? A good wine, sure, but one he could be proud of? Like a good father, this problem child required all of his effort and eventually his loving patience to save it from itself. It required his full dedication.

But absolute dedication isn’t without drawbacks.

T H E  O V E R T H I N K E R

Matt’s work is never done, it is never perfect. He is self-driven to push beyond the boundaries of what he knows as a winemaker, into a place with no guidebooks, no formulas.

To some, his refusal to find a formula that works for Linne Calodo is seen as a lack of focus. It is of course the exact opposite; a calculated choice not to fixate on one style that will find him success. After all, true brilliance should be measured not only by what is accomplished, but also by what is attempted. You must first fall to learn how to rise.

Still, no one is harder on Matt than himself.

“I am most critical of what I produce myself, I pick it apart. I am always finding things I’ve done wrong which frustrate me.”

This tendency to self-scrutinize can creep in when others might find it appropriate to put on a show. “When a journalist comes I tend to open up a wine and say ‘I don’t know, this one has CO2 or something, the tannins are a little messed up, it might be tight now. ‘ I always start with this negative thing and it drives me crazy at times, because I go back after talking for a time and think, ‘I really like that wine.’”

It is not Matt’s style to just come out and say “I love this wine. It’s exactly what I wanted!” He is both an artisan and a scientist. It is the artisan in him that compels him to fixate on the details, to labor at his craft. But the scientist in Matt urges him to question, to adjust, to be an over-thinker. It is these two characteristics that have helped mold him into one of the most gifted winemakers in California, one of a few brilliant producers. It is these same qualities that prevent him from becoming a braggart, or an otherwise slothful winemaker. Matt cannot boast in his accomplishments, it isn’t in his nature.

“I can’t say it,” he explained, “because in science it’s always the pursuit of saying, ‘that’s pretty good, but we could do a little better than that, we could tweak it a little bit. I think next year I might stir the lees a little more, I might go into a concrete tank with it to try to soften the tannins a little earlier than I did this year.’”

All of this is not to imply that Matt does not like his own wines, he in fact has a deep love and respect for each of them, but there is a reason “Overthinker” adorns one of his blends. And so his work is never finished.

S C R A T C H I N G   O U T  N A M E S

How do I tell Matt’s story? I don’t think I can. Like his wines, he is always changing, never the same, never static. Matt’s wines cannot be summed up in a few short words, or confined in a neat package. Nor can he.

Long after the unnecessary voices have faded, and many more have come and gone, there will still be Matt and his vines, sweating and bleeding into the earth like he always has. When others will be emulating, and rushing to play catch-up, to follow the leader, when others struggle to understand, he will know he is right…that it will work out in the long run. He will know to ignore those who say, “you can’t do that.”

Perhaps the most brilliant are not so differentiated because of their exceptional ability to think, but rather, their ability to ask of others and of themselves why or why not? Without innovation, without questions, without risk, there is no inspiration, no discovery. There is nothing new.

In simple terms, without my poetry of words and my long-winded ramblings, my thoughts are this: If you are not watching what Matt Trevisan is doing, you are not paying attention.

Somewhere, there is a little black book with a bunch of names written in it:

Adam Tolmach

Richard Sanford

Matt Trevisan


O T H E R   S T U F F

This is all rather gushy isn’t it? Another perfect example of me getting a man-crush on yet another winemaker. It is important to note that while Matt takes his work very seriously, he doesn’t take himself too seriously. In our next article, we will discuss Matt’s philosophy on wine in more detail as well as include more of his actual thoughts and words. I will also try to be less dramatic about the whole thing. I still think he is brilliant though!

Recommended listening to accompany your Linne Calodo:

Bon Iver {Flume}

Fleet Foxes {Mykonos}

Mumford and Son {Timshel}

And finally, a song to make these other hippies men…

Mogwai {Ratts of the Capitol}

(1)   “Sticks and Stones” was born when the name he first chose for the wine was already trademarked by another winery. As he lay in bed one night pondering what to call the wine, the play-yard taunt “sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me” popped into his head and he awoke and wrote it down.

Currently there are "7 comments" on this Article:

  1. Phil says:

    Simply one of the outstanding wineries…anywhere…period

  2. Wayne says:

    Phil, I of course agree. I will have to get some more pictures of the facility up soon. In some ways, it is a shame it is only open by appointment, but I understand and respect the reasons.

  3. Quit WINEing says:

    You know when you’re watching a really good movie and forget where you are for a second…that’s how I felt when reading this story. It’s that good.

    Wayne, I love your writing. You see the essence in a person. I’m sure he’s been interviewed many times before and people haven’t depicted him in the same light. I haven’t met this winemaker, but your story makes me love him already. I love his fight for perfection, humility, and love for his craft.

    Wine is more than a label or point score…there’s more often then not a team of people involved that spend their entire lives trying to perfect what’s in that bottle. Thanks for shedding light on a side of the wine industry that is rarely seen. Cheers my friend:-)

  4. Wayne says:

    Thank you Courtney. We have a second part coming up on Linne Calodo, but I think you are right on about Matt and really other winemakers. This is their life, it is more than something you can sum up in a few moments. Matt told me, “I spend 8 months growing it, another 18 months looking after it in barrel, and maybe even more time in bottle, all for something I might make a few hundred cases of. It means a lot more to me than it does to them.”

    That statement means a lot to me and I get what he is saying. I could never be a critic, I could never be judge.

  5. Stevie says:

    Wayne

    Can’t believe that you’re in our photo from Linne Calodo! It is a really good winery and we enjoyed our visit. I’m a bit dismayed that the tasting room is now closed to the general public. Though that’s the trend in Paso Robles it seems–I got an e-mail from Denner about the same thing a couple months ago. They’re getting too famous for the amount of wine that they can produce I suppose.

    I’m new to your site but like it. Thanks for visiting ours.

  6. Wayne says:

    Stevie, yeah I was shocked to see myself in it. That was the first time were ever there, in fact that is the time I wrote about in our post.

    The truth is, they just don’t have enough wine to support a tasting room. Plus, Matt lives on the porperty and he was concerned for his kids with all of the added vehicle traffic. It is a great winery though and sad more won’t see it.

    Keep up the good work on your end!

  7. [...] than recap all of the reasons we’re impressed with him (which are many and were well documented here), let’s just sum it up by saying: we like [...]

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