Fighting snakes and bears: Matt Mavety makes Pinot Noir in British Columbia

At the recent IPNC, I had the chance to taste a tasty pinot from British Columbia–my first! The pinot (find this wine) was from Blue Mountain Vineyard & Cellars. I caught up with Matt Mavety (pictured above with his wife, Christie) to find out about making Pinot in the North American frontier–and how he protects his Pinot from bears and rattlesnakes.

How long have you been making wine at Blue Mountain Vineyard & Cellars?

The winery has been making wine since 1991, commercial vintage. We had made wine for three years before that to figure out our direction, or focus. The vineyards were planted initially in 1971, with hybrids with high yielding varieties for sale to other wineries. Starting in 1985, we started planting vinifera and this is where we are today: 31 hectares of vineyards planted.

Sine the theme of this IPNC is sustainability, how does sustainability work for you?
For us sustainability is something we’re working on. A goal for his is to grow without chemicals, we’re having difficulty with others, we have insect pressure. We have only recently overcome our weed pressure, which took us five or six years to find the right tools for our vineyard. We haven’t used synthetic fertilizers for nearly ten years now, its all compost and some organic fertilizers. The reality is that we live on the farm, we’re there everyday, you don’t want to be spraying with insecticides and pesticides.

We’ll farm about three-quarters of the property without herbicides. We have got some topography issues where some of the vines are planted and we can’t get away with not using herbicides right now. We’ve tried mulching.

You need goats!
Yeah, goats that don’t reach up! Some differences with Oregon but that happens in parts of California is we have snake pressure. Allowing tall vegetation in the vineyard, we can’t get away with that and expect people to work in the vineyard. We are one hundred percent fenced against deer, bears, and mountain sheep but we don’t have a snake fence.

So how do you control the snake problem?
We basically don’t do any control.

They’re not rattlesnakes are they?
Oh yeah! If they just bull snake or gopher snakes, there wouldn’t be an issue. They’re not hunters and, for the most part, we can just let them be. In the worst case, we just have to move them somewhere else. That’s always a fun job.

Why is the Okanagan Valley a good place for Pinot Noir?
Because that’s where we’ve got a farm! The Okanagan valley is quite different from north to south and there are areas you should not grow pinot noir and there are other areas where you should – that goes for some of the white varietals as well. We have relatively short seasons, we do have warm temperature but we do get great day-night variation from August on, pinot noir seems to hit the ripening window not right at the end of the ripening season since that for us is frost and the leaves are gone. We basically started with a bit of a shotgun approach when it came to planting other varietals: we would have planted Riesling, Muller-Thurgau, Auxerrois, Gewurztraminer, Basically a series of cooler climate grapes. They did not work. They have basically been all ripped out. Pinot noir is the main variety that we have growing with also some gamay for reds. Then also pinot blanc, pinot gris, and chardonnay. That’s not a clear answer as to why pinot noir. People around us do ripen merlot but at the end of the day I don’t think we make any merlot that’s all that special in our valley. And you can buy better merlot out of Washington state out for less money and is consistent. But with pinot we can make something that is unique. We can grow a very fresh grape that has lots of acidity in it. We don’t need 15% alcohol. We’d be targeting 13%. And we can get ripeness at that level.

What’s one of your favorite foods to pair with your Pinot Noir?
Farm raised steak. Or lamb with minimal sauce.
Christie: I like it with simple roasted chicken–it doesn’t overpower it.

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4 Responses to “Fighting snakes and bears: Matt Mavety makes Pinot Noir in British Columbia”

  1. Yaya Blue Mountain Pinot Noir, speaking of which our restaurant basically just bought the last couple of cases of vintage until the new one comes out. I use to drink it because we sold it by the glass, good stuff, and apparently there “Stripe” Label is even better sells out in couple months.

    Poplar Grove makes good merlot from naramata bench in okanagan

    Weston Nawrocki
    A Kettle of Fish Restaurant
    Vancouver, Canada

  2. I just happened to be cooking leg of lamb for dinner last night. I wish I had read this post sooner, I can only imagine the Blue Mountain Pinot would have been a great pairing to try out. Next time.

    And as a side note to animal control–you are BRAVE to deal with rattlers. I remember when I started working the fields at our vineyard, I would run into some pretty gross caterpillars, but nothing poisonous!

    Such are the sacrifices growers make for wine!

  3. Domaine Margelle offers another good Northwestern Pinot Noir that comes from the Eastern Willamette Valley in Oregon.

  4. Great article on a fantastic sparkling wine and pinot noir producer; however, Matt and Christie are brother and sister, not husband and wife. Cheers!


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