Q&A: Matt on his unbroken two-vintages-a-year record.

Q&A: Matt on his unbroken two-vintages-a-year record.

An unwavering 28 year commitment to the European harvest.

In three weeks’ time, Matt will be making his way home after completing his 28th consecutive vintage in Europe. He’ll have to complete his fortnight in pris… MIQ, but counts himself as extremely lucky to be able to secure one of the rare-as-hen’s-teeth spots. It’s this work that keeps a decades-strong consultancy contract going, and generates income and all important tax dollar for New Zealand. It’s this annual submersion in the wine culture and industry of Europe that provides all-important global perspective to our Blank Canvas wines. Harvest these past two years have certainly been the most challenging ever, not to mention risky.

We’ve put a few questions received from Blank Canvas followers to Matt to answer:

28 vintages in Europe, that’s quite a feat. What has changed in the wine industry in Europe since you started?

In some ways a heap, but in most ways it is the same; weather and always trying to get the most out of what nature provides. As a consultant life has become easier with communication methods available to rapidly send analyses, photos of vineyards and wines.

What does vintage in Europe each year bring to the winemaking of Blank Canvas?

You learn something every harvest as they are always different. The more you surround yourself with winemakers with backgrounds diverse from your own, the more opportunity there is to learn. Every time I come over here I’m immersed in European wine culture and when I come back I see things in our wines that I hadn’t noticed before. It’s almost like getting an external review done. I always gain a different perspective from being here. I see our strengths and our weaknesses. I’m aware of our opportunities and risks. Europe has made most of the mistakes we can make in the future. We can learn from them, particularly when it comes to protecting our all-important regional reputation.

Lunchtime rush at Colli Vicentini, Veneto


What’s your favourite wine to make in Europe and why?

You can’t have a favourite child and you can’t have favourite wines! That said I did get the chance to make Nebbiolo in Piemonte and I would love to do that again. Garganega is a much under-rated grape and the best sites in Soave are great fun.

Garganega ripening in Soave

How has the Covid-19 pandemic changed your consulting work?

It has made it incredibly challenging. Travel has become impossible or much more difficult obviously. Most of the people we work with over here have had it. One of the winemakers we work with up in Friuli tested positive a few days after we were there. Unfortunately you just can’t help from the other side of the world during harvest. Things happen too fast and you can’t send fermenting samples and hope them to be relevant. We usually travel as a family or couple but the risks and timing are just prohibitive to do that and that is hugely taxing.

What is your advice to young winemakers just starting out in the industry who want to get overseas experience? 

Do it, do it, do it! When you are over there immerse yourself in the wine region and culture. Taste and drink the wines as much as you can and preferably with people who can help you understand them. Embrace the experience and enjoy it. Look for the positives and don’t dwell on the negatives.

What is the best and worst thing about your job?

Jet-lag and being away from family are the worst parts. The relationships we have built with our friends and the restaurants are pretty good….

What is your take on the 2021 vintage in Europe?

The weather in the Veneto in the North of Italy where I am based has been very dry leading in to harvest. The evenings have been quite cool for the region and the acids show that which is great. 

The Pinot Grigio is all in and the wines have nearly finished fermenting. They are as good as I've seen.

We've entered a pretty unstable weather pattern but thankfully the last few days haven't been as bad as forecast. The harvest for Amarone (red wine made from red grapes that are then air dried for several months) was about two-thirds through and will be complete in the next few days weather permitting. All reports are that it is excellent. 

The Valpolicella harvest is about to start and the weather now will be important for that. Over in Soave (where the feature picture is taken), the Garganega looks excellent as does Soave Classica  and will have benefitted from the bit of rain we've had in the last 5 days. So, all looks good for now...

Yield reports are variable but the average is definitely below normal here in Italy. France is also variable but early reports are worse than the low yields anticipated as a result of the spring frosts. We will know for sure soon!

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