When your family is from Italy, it’s nearly a rite of passage to preside over your own vineyard. Although Brian Matranga waited until later in life to do just that, he and his wife, Hope, have planted a little bit of the “Old Country” in La Center, Washington.
With strong family roots that trace back to Sicily, Brian began life in Roseville, California and relocated to Alaska when his immediate family received a land lottery. At the tender age of four, he met Hope. Since the Matranga lineage is firmly entrenched in vines, it was always a long-term plan to plant their own grapes and manage a vineyard.
The vision began to take shape in the early 90s when the Matrangas married and purchased a nearly 9-acre parcel of land in La Center. Years went by and Brian forged a friendship with Walt Houser, owner of Bethany Vineyards. Juggling his career as a project manager in the oil fields of Alaska and his growing interest in the wine world, Brian volunteered with Bethany and other wineries to gain the knowledge he was craving. He has officially been making his own wine since 2014.
Before opening their cellar door, though, the Matrangas sought the blessing of the California famiglia. Nearly 100 years ago, the Matranga family emigrated from Sicily to Roseville and planted a vineyard with cuttings taken from the Mediterranean island. Brian and Hope have honored that tradition by planting cuttings from his great uncle’s California vineyard that date back to the 1920s. They are in the process of investigating these Italian varietals and will be making wine from them after the fall harvest.
Today, he carries on the Matranga name in La Center and the line-up can be tasted at Hope’s antique shop, Speranza Antiques, in Woodland. It’s a homey vibe where customers can choose to Sip ‘n Shop with a half glass of wine for $3.50 or linger over the full portfolio. Locally-sourced fruit from the Woodland Bottoms gives their Strawberry Wine and Raspberry Wine a fresh profile that appeals to wine drinkers like Hope who gravitate towards sweeter wines.
Viniferous options include a crisp 2016 Chardonnay; a 2017 Dago Red that presents with bright plums and blackberries followed by baking spices and a boldness that makes it a terrific red meat wine; and a 2017 Pinot Noir Cuvée that starts with a hint of violets, pie cherry and bramble and finishes with a ribbon of black pepper.
The Dago Red is a blend of petite syrah from Bethany Vineyards and their own dolcetto while the Pinot Noir Cuvée also has a percentage of their dolcetto, a complementary Italian grape that is known for its early ripening capabilities.
As their own vines continue to age, greater local sourcing will be employed by Matranga. In La Center, the Matrangas planted pinot noir, dolcetto, riesling and muscat in 2014. In 2015, chardonnay and golubok were added. The golubok cuttings were acquired from Ridgefield winery, Stavalaura. Owners of Stavalaura, the Leadinghams, have had great success with this intense Russian varietal.
Hope noted that muscat is not supposed to do well in their growing conditions but they’ve had good fortune with it. That is a befitting report given that Sicily was once famous for dessert wines made from the muscat grape.
Matranga also purchased pinot gris cuttings from Three Brothers Vineyard and Winery — another Ridgefield winery — and planted them this spring. Since 2015, plantings of chardonnay, pinot noir and dolcetto have increased, supporting the Southwest Washington Winery Association’s aim to expand vineyard acreage as they seek AVA (American Viticultural Area) status.
Sitting at about a 165-case production, Matranga’s sweet spot is approximately 330 cases when all the vines are mature in a few years and Brian is retired from his day job. In the meantime, the couple is excited to have recently joined the SW Washington Winery Association (SWWA) and participate in the first-ever Savor SW Washington Wine, held at the Pearson Air Museum in May.
“A very good friend of ours is Beverly (Leadingham) from Stavalaura. She told me about it (SWWA) and it was kind of a no brainer. We want to be a part of the wineries in our area,” Hope said. “It’s really exciting to be around other people who do what you do and it’s our passion now.”