Matthieu Finot: The Art and Science of Winemaking

21 December, 2016

Matthieu Finot knows a lot about wine. He sees it as a combination of science and art. From watching the weather and checking the soil, to testing grapes for sugar levels and acidity and then deciding when to harvest, Finot says nature and winemaker must work together.

"So what I do is I change grapes into wine. So, that's the easy part of it. But my job is a blend of farming, of science and arts because we need Mother Nature to ripen the grapes and to make grapes good to make good wine. So, that's the natural part.

"I need science to understand all the fermentation part and the aging part and everything that happens to the wine, and I need the artistic part that is what makes each wine maker unique and what makes brings the human factors into producing wine. And that is the reason why wine is being considered, very often, as, you know, is a kind of art. And there's a sense of artistic feeling to winemaking that I really appreciate."

Matthieu Finot
Matthieu Finot

Finot comes from a family of viticulturists and wine lovers. It was a natural for him to follow that path. He began his study early on his grandparents' farm.

"I was very proud of my roots of being a farmer and that's what I wanted to be. So, coming from northern Rhône area in France in Crozes-Hermitage, and the family farm was apricots, cherries, pear and vines. That's my roots. I mean we had like goats, we had a lot of things like that in my grandmother's house. But like, you know, when I came in a bit later in age, when after high school when I had to decide what I wanted to do for a living, I was passionate about wine and that's my father's side, too. My father loves wine, and when I was a kid my father make me try good wine and I really loved that."

Finot knew studying winemaking would be a good link between his love of wine, his love of dirt and his roots in farming.

"So, I've study viticulture and oenology and I went to Beaune in Burgundy to study that. It's a school in Beaune that give you training and practice about how to take care of a vineyard and how to make wine out of it."

After graduating in 1995, Finot worked in many different wine regions around France to learn all he could about wine.

"I've traveled a lot in France to go get into plenty of different wine regions. So, I've been in the Burgundy area, I've been in the Rhône area, been in Jura, I've been in Provence. I've been in Bordeaux area. So, I've been traveling a lot in France to learn different techniques of winemaking. And, for me, traveling was a part of learning, not only learning about winemaking, but you also learn a lot about yourself and that's the best part of traveling. And you learn that not everybody thinks the way you do and you learn to listen to people, and it's not all about you. And that's a very good thing that I've learned."

Matthieu Finot has also worked in Italy and South Africa to learn about winemaking and to gain international experience. In 2003, he came to the United States and he settled in Virginia.

"I wanted to go to New Zealand. But before going to New Zealand, I wanted to come to the United States. And, that was in 2003. I was planning to stay here for six months and then go to the southern hemisphere and go to New Zealand. It happened that I'm still here 13 years after. So, I guess I've been stuck here for some reason. When I first arrived here, I didn't know where was Virginia on the map, to be honest. I'd never been to United States before. That was my first time here. I had to look where was Charlottesville on the map, too. Never heard of it. I really had no expectation. It turned out to be that I'm loving it here and it's a great place to live."

Matthieu works at King Family Vineyards. He says winemaking is new to the state of Virginia.

"So here in Virginia and at King Family Vineyards, Virginia is a fairly new wine region. So, we are still working a lot about experimenting, to try to see what fits the best (in) our climate. We are a hot and humid climate. And so it's not the most ideal weather to ripen grapes. Grapes like usually more dry, dry weather so we are still experimenting with what does well for us here. But at King Family Vineyards and in central Virginia we do like to work with white wine, we do like to work with viognier. We do like to work with chardonnay. I think that works very well for us here. And when it comes to red, most of the grapes that grows in Bordeaux, grow very well here also. So, that's what we do at King Family vineyards."

Matthieu Finot says one does not have to know a lot about wine to understand or enjoy it.

"If you go to an art show, you don't need to have a lot of knowledge to say if you like this painting or if you like this one. And you might have one that you're not going to like at all because, like all, I found that completely ugly. But, at the same time, some people would say like, ‘oh no that's wonderful. That's a nice piece of art.' With wine, it is the same. It's not because your neighbor is going to like this specific wine that you have to like it. I think people think they need to learn a lot about the wine to see if they like it or not. What really matters, on a tasting, is what do you like."

Making wine is a process. Finot says the process for making red and white wine is different for each one.

"There's basic rules. I say that on a white wine, the basic rule is you're going to press the grapes, get some juice, and then ferment the juice in liquid form. And, that you're going to change grape juice into wine white.

"The reds you want to get some tannin and the color. And tannin and color are in the skin, not in the pulp, in the skin. So, you need the skin. So, what we do for the reds, we ferment the red with the whole berries. So, this fermentation process take two or three weeks, and sometimes even more, to get the color and the tannins out of the berries. So, it's two different process(es).

"If you ask me what tannin means, tannin is what's good for your heart, and that's the reason why people saying, like, drinking wine is healthy; that's mainly the tannins that are very strong antioxidant. And what tannin is, if you don't drink wine, if you don't drink wine I hope you drink tea, and if you drink tea and if you let your tea being infused for too long, the drying sensation that you've got out of the tea leaves are tannins."

Matthieu Finot says there is something important for all drinkers to remember about wine: it is meant to be enjoyed.

"Wine is just a way to have a good time. If you lose this idea of having a good time while you're drinking wine, then what's the purpose of wine? I mean if it's not your job, like mine.

"(The) purpose of wine is just to make you happy. So, at the end it's not something serious. I mean we can take it seriously, and I make a living out of it. So, in some way, it's serious for me, but wine it's not something serious. It's just a way to enjoy life. And I think people should just drink what they like. At the end of the day you should be happy with having a glass of wine. If you force yourself to drink a glass of wine and you don't like it, don't drink it. Drink something else."

I'm Marsha James.

Marsha James wrote this story for Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor.

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Words in This Story

blend - n. something produced by mixing or combining different things

ripen - v. to become ripe (fully grown and developed) and ready to be eaten

fermentationn. the process of going through a chemical change that results in the production of alcohol

unique - adj. very special or unusual

viticulturists n. people who study grapes and the growing of grapes

passionate - adj. having or showing strong emotions or beliefs

oenology n. – the study of wines

practice - n. the activity of doing something again in order to become better at it

humid - adj. having a lot of moisture in the air

ideal - adj. exactly right for a particular purpose or situation

ugly - adj. not pretty or attractive

tannin n. a reddish acid that comes from plants, is used in making ink and leather, and occurs in various foods and drinks (such as wine)

pulp – n. the inner juicy part of a fruit or vegetable

antioxidant - n. a substance that is added to food and other products to prevent harmful chemical reactions in which oxygen is combined with other substances

infuse v. to allow something (such as tea or herbs) to stay in a liquid (such as hot water) in order to flavor the liquid