Marcus Goodfellow: Smart all over

It takes about, oh, 20 seconds of listening to Marcus Goodfellow to realize that this is one whip-smart dude. It’s not too long after that that I tumbled to how wise the Matello winemaker is. Wise, as in:

• “The vineyards I work with are all owner-operated. I want it to not just be what I want. I distinctly choose independent-minded growers. They may not be the smartest people about how grapes work, but they are the smartest people about how their grapes work.” 

• On why he makes 15 wines a year: “Part of this is the idea that wines don’t just spring up fully grown. The best way to learn is to make different wines every year.. 

• “There are two kinds of winemakers. The ranchers are basically trying to create a prize bull and working on every little aspect — colors, tannins, everything. The wildlife photographer walks out with a camera and says, ‘let’s see what goes by.’ It’s not my universe, it’s the universe.”

Happily, Goodfellow does not take himself too seriously. He has been known to write haiku on the back of labels (as a tribute to growers), and his winery bears the name of the Italian word for “little fool. 

Even more happily, Goodfellow’s wines are as thought-provoking (and often as yummy-sound-provoking) as the man crafting them. He’s got a masterful touch with whites, from viognier to chardonnay to pinot gris, his Fool’s Journey is about as beautifully northern Rhone-ish as U.S. syrah gets (and a steal at $33), and of course he has a pretty good idea what to do with Oregon’s signature grape, pinot noir.

And he’s still learning. Goodfellow has a few strong beliefs: in avoiding irrigation, in maximum time on the vine for physiological ripeness, in whole-cluster fermentation, in native yeasts (“Every two to three years I will inoculate, maybe just to see why I hate it”). But he hates dogma as much as he loves working with farmers. “The best thing about my job is talking to the growers. ”

Some of his greatest lessons came in, of all places, cocktail bars, where he concocted drinks for years. “I definitely was vocationally trained,” he said, “but all the years of bartending really helped train my wine palate. If you figure out elegance in cocktails, that really goes a long way.”

Still, perhaps his favorite lesson came from the wine world, some advice a renowned Burgundian gave to his son. “I like what Rene Lafon (left) said to Dominique: “˜Sometimes you have to have the courage to do nothing.’ “

Tasting notes
• Matello Willamette Valley Pinot Gris: vibrant, tingly, lots of lift.
• Matello Bishop’s Creek Clover Pinot Gris: big nose but light at mid-palate, gorgeous fruit and minerality.
• Matello Richard’s Cuvee Chardonnay: ripe fruit but rippin’ acidity, lush mouth-feel with tension.
• Matello Deux Vert Vineyard Viognier: classic apricot, plenty of texture and depth.
• Matello Whistling Ridge Vineyard White (left): lovely, layered fruit, citrus then pear, rich finish.
• Matello “Caprice” White: pleasant but not profound, easy-drinking.
• Matello Willamette Valley “Hommage” Pinot Noir: tobacco, brambly, not as cherry cola-ish as most Willamette pinots, rustic and rich.
• Matello Winter’s Hill Vineyard Pinot Noir: riper, hint of smoke, softens out, nice stuffing.
• Matello Fool’s Journey (83 Syrah/17 Viognier): wild herb, black and white pepper, earth/fruit combo nailed, emdless.

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