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Pioneering Grape Growing in a New Region: Spotlight on John Giguiere, Dan Cederquist, and Pat Kane of Matchbook Wine Company

Six generations ago, the Giguiere family began farming in the Dunnigan Hills in Yolo County, a region that was long known for ranching. When it came time for John Giguiere to continue his family’s farming tradition in 1983, he boldly pioneered the development of a vineyard and winery on his family’s land. Alongside his wife and brother, he grew this business to a 750,000 case production before overseeing the sale of the company to Vincor International in 2000.

In 2005, he founded Matchbook Wine Company, and it’s still rooted in Dunnigan Hills along with his family’s history.

Recently, Tastry had the pleasure of sitting down to chat with three key members of the Matchbook team: Owner John Giguiere, Winemaker Dan Cederquist, and President & CEO Pat Kane. In this conversation, we explore how this team learned how to grow grapes and create a winery in a region not known for winegrowing, overcoming many unique challenges.

Dan’s wine making journey stems from his love for the outdoors and his artistic family. At UC Davis, he studied winemaking where he found a way to express his artistic self while being a part of agriculture. He crossed paths with John while he was the winemaker at DeLoach Vineyards in Napa, and then joined Matchbook as the Head Winemaker 17 years ago.

Pat has 25 years of experience as a wine and spirits executive. He found his place at Matchbook as the President and CEO in 2017 where he gets to work alongside his old friend and colleague, John. At Matchbook, his primary goal is to find solutions that will continue to promote company growth.

Today Matchbook Wine Company produces 8 labels and is distributed by more than 70 companies inside the United States and beyond. Sticking to their roots and embracing the land that they farm has driven their success for generations.

What is the hardest thing about winemaking?

Dan: Logistics. It’s the timing of everything. You only have one shot at getting everything right. With beer making, you have the ability to do batch after batch. Since winemaking is seasonal, we only have one chance to get it right while having mother nature to wrestle with. There is variation from year to year and you never know what the weather has in store. You always have to be ready and know how to prepare for certain grapes to come in. You have to let mother nature dictate the outcome of your fruit to some degree, but knowing how to respond to that is critical.

The average consumer isn’t aware of all of the inputs, decisions, and variables that go into a bottle of wine. What’s most important to them is whether it tastes good or not.

John: There’s an incredible amount of factors that are responsible for what’s inside each bottle of wine. The process of creating a wine begins in the vineyards. Vineyards are complex because, as Dan said, mother nature can make decisions that we don’t anticipate. Each year we reset and evaluate what is coming at us which allows us to continuously learn. Putting everything together can be a challenge, but making a bottle of wine for someone to enjoy a couple years down the road makes it an awesome challenge.

What’s the most rewarding part of your career?

John: There are a lot of things that I find rewarding. It’s exciting when we get a truckload order of our product. Seeing something you have put a lot of work into becoming successful is a win and feels incredible. For example, we are currently working on increasing the levels of organic matter in our soil. This is tough to do long term, but it is an important part of healthy soils. When we see that we have exceeded the benchmarks we have set, that’s great.

Dan: When I’m talking to someone out in the public about wine discussing Tempranillo and they say, “Tempranillo? I had the best Tempranillo and it was called Tinto something…” and I say “Tinto Rey? As a matter of fact I made that one!” Things like that tickle me to no end. Walking into a wine shop or restaurant and seeing our wines on the list is always a prideful moment. And, when a server recommends our wine without knowing who I am or what I do, it’s an epiphany that I’m on the right track.

What sets your winery apart from other wineries?

Dan: We’re creative and reactive. We always seem to be on the cutting edge of something. This trek we’re on with regenerative agriculture has been fabulous. I think we’re going to be trend setters in that. I was truly shocked when I learned that there was only one winery in Napa that was Certified Regenerative Organic. Knowing that that’s the path we’re on, it feels like we are going to be the mavericks in the industry.

John: Place also separates us. We’re sitting in the Dunnigan Hills where we have pioneered the region’s viticulture. What’s exciting and separates us from other wineries is that we have gone through the journey of increasing wine and grape quality in a region that was new.

What makes your wine unique?

Dan: Many different things. For one, we have very creative dynamic packaging and haven’t followed the typical packing or label. Our labels are exciting, interesting, and artistic. The wines themselves are trendsetting, I think.

We have developed a nice synergy between traditional winemaking while embracing the current trends. What really sets our wines apart is taking both tradition and innovation and marrying them together seamlessly.

John: From a varietal standpoint, we are very focused on Petite Verdot and it shows up in a lot of our products. Our focus on Petite Verdot in combination with our Spanish wines grown in California under the Tinto Rey label make us unique. By planting different varieties over the years, we have also found that Petite Sirah is unique to this region in terms of the quality because it prefers well-drained upland soils that we have here.

How has your winemaking process changed over the years?

Dan: We are always looking at new innovative solutions to harness to make us better. We have also learned how to understand the region that we’re working with. Dunnigan Hills has more heat which can lead to certain factors in the wine that we have to mitigate. We tend to have wines with a little higher pH, so we do not want to attempt to make a Russian River Chardonnay, for example. We want to embrace our region and make a Dunnigan Hills Chardonnay! You have to understand your area and get creative.

New techniques and tools are constantly being introduced into the wine industry, and John is great at bringing them to our attention. That’s where the traditional winemaking may differ from our philosophies, but we’re doing it anyway. Last year John had the idea to make a small lot of Cabernet as special as we could. We decided on doing fermentation in concrete egg fermenters. The wines turned out fantastic! By experimenting at a certain scale with a certain vessel, we produced wines that really set themselves apart. The year before last we got large wooden ovals from France for the purpose of softening the tannins of our wines. Year after year, we are doing something to enhance our winemaking processes to mitigate the viticulture in our area.

John: We’ve been working on improving mouthfeel and luscious characteristics in our wines by resolving harsher tannins that you might get from high extraction. In doing so we may stylistically be a little more skewed to a European style rather than a Napa, for example.

How have you incorporated modern technology into your winemaking practices?

Dan: In the winery, we use WineXRay. This is an analytical system that allows us to monitor the extraction of anthocyanins and total phenolics inside of our fermenting wines at any given moment. We also have systems for automated pumpovers and micro-oxygenation. This has allowed for a much healthier fermentation process and an increase in quality.

John: Beyond the winery, it is really about the vineyards and what we’re doing there. We are at various stages of regenerative organic certification. There are many factors that go into obtaining this certification. Having 100% cover crop may sound easy to achieve, but there are other variables that go into controlling plant growth under the vine. The vineyards are constantly changing and demanding new methods of doing things. If you’re going to improve wine quality, you have to start by improving your grape quality.

Pat: On the marketing side Tastry could help us identify price points and what our potential consumer base would look like. We’ve analyzed a couple of our products with Tastry, and the data indicated that our price might be too low.

Based on what we discovered from Tastry, we found that our wines would appeal to a certain consumer which could lead us to rebrand when we come out with new items.

Pat: From a marketing perspective, the AI piece intrigued me to a large extent.

Dan:. Tastry could be a super helpful technology for me to understand what exactly is causing consumers to like my wine. Is it furfurals, sweetness, oak extraction, or esters? I can then decipher how I am going to emphasize that trait in the winemaking process to create a more likable wine.

John: There’s one last thing about Tastry that really intrigued me. We have been the beneficiaries of great scores from the trade press for wines that range from the 15 to 20 dollar range. From our recent vintage, we’ve gotten 7 items that are 90+ from Wine Enthusiast. This has benefited us in stores like Costco where customers often rely on scores to dictate their purchases.

We have discussed the possibility of using Tastry data with retailers to show how we have a better likelihood of selling a wine that people are going to like based on customer palates rather than the opinion of a trade publication. We are curious to see how that plays out with key chain retailers around the country because we think we would play well in that arena.

What is one of the biggest lessons you’ve learned from winemaking?

Dan: Patience is always a good thing. You just can’t rush things. You have to do them right and you have to start with a good plan. You can’t get from A to Z without going through all the letters of the alphabet. You can’t be lazy about the steps in the process.

John: On the vineyard side, resilience. Adding resilience to your viticulture puts your vines in the optimal position to handle whatever mother nature throws at you. We value regenerative agriculture practices to create resilience which leads to a healthier vine that can better withstand heat, cold, frost events. We’ve been growing grapes in the Dunnigan Hills for 40 years, and one thing we’ve learned is that climatic conditions are changing and we have more weather events now than ever. Resilience is really the name of the game.

What is one piece of advice you would like to pass onto newer wineries that are just entering the field?

John: This question reminds me of the smaller wineries that we consider friends in Yolo County. The advice that I would give to them is to stay focused on what they do well. Do what makes you excited and keep your head in the game. Having done this for 40 years, I can say that you’ve got to have your head in the game every day of the week. And, don’t forget to stay  true to your values.

Dan: Like the saying says: “Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.” You have to keep that positive attitude about what’s in front of you. Do what is going to keep you excited. It’s that excitement that makes everything worth it.

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