Dirt, Microclimate and Sustainable Wine-growing

Matt and Erin Cline, the owners and proprietors of the Three Wine Company maintain a philosophy about wine, namely, that it can be reduced to just three vital elements: dirt, microclimate and sustainable wine-growing. By sourcing fruit from old vineyards in Contra Costa, Napa and Sonoma counties and by working closely with the growers who own them, they not only supply quality wine to customers but help preserve a unique aspect of California’s agricultural heritage.

If Matt Cline is a name that rings familiar to Hotei customers, it should! The younger brother of Fred Cline, Matt studied entomology at UC Berkeley and then enology at UC Davis and went on to become Cline Cellars’ winemaker from 1985 to 2001. But from the start, Matt was involved in much more than just making Cline wines. In fact, he played a large role in discovering and helping to preserve the old vineyards that produced the fruit for some of Cline’s top wines. When Fred Cline established the winery in Oakley (in Contra Costa, along the San Joaquin River delta), it was Matt who made handshake deals with the Spinelli, Evangelho and Lucchesi families who owned such plots known as Bridgehead and Big Break. Planted by Italian and Portuguese immigrant farmers as long ago as the 1890s, the Zinfandel, Mataro (Mourvedre) and Carignan vines had managed to survive such crises as phylloxera and prohibition. Rooted in well-drained, sandy soils and farmed without irrigation, these ancient vines yielded little quantity but offered character that isn’t found in the fruit of younger vines. By recognizing the potential for these low-yielding vineyards in an unrecognized region to produce fine wine, Matt Cline managed to save them from succumbing to the next real crisis: the sprawling East Bay suburbs that were reaching northern Contra Costa County.  

In the 2000s, Matt Cline moved on from the Cline family business to found other ventures, such as Trinitas, which he sold in 2006, a brand of late harvest Riesling called S3x (small, sweet sips), and eventually the Three Wine Company. In all his ventures, he has sought out old vineyards and encouraged their owners to adopt sustainable farming and nourish these historic plots to good health. 

Three Wine Company is located in Clarksdale, California and makes wine from not only the same Contra Costa vineyards that Matt has worked with for over three decades, but heritage vineyards in the Russian River and Napa valleys as well. While some of Three’s wines are single varietals, Matt prefers the magic that occurs by blending Zin, Mourvedre, Carignan, and Cinsault, which he believes is both more historically accurate and sustainable. 





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Wines from this Winery

2018 Three Old Vines Field Blend Contra Costa County

The thick, deep purple color hits you first. The nose follows with intoxicating high-toned boysenberry, violets and earth. And a sip unleashes red berries and black fruit, wild herbs, exotic spices, and pepper. But what is it? Answer: hefty amounts of Carignane and Mataro, large dollops of Zinfandel and Petite Sirah, and a smattering of Alicante Bouschet and Black Malvoisie. This is winemaking as practiced by the immigrant old-timers, who wanted to make wines that reminded them of home and matched the cuisine they brought with them. The old, head-pruned vines in Contra Costa County grow in a well-drained, sandy soil known as Delhi Sandy Loam. And because the sand prevented infestation by the Phylloxera louse, the vines remained healthy despite being planted on their own vinifera roots – a practice virtually impossible anywhere else. Drink now or lay down for up to a decade. Decanting is recommended – or drinking some and leaving some for the next day. Enjoy with rich meat stews or roasts. 

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¥3,190 (incl. tax)
2016 Three Old Vines Zinfandel Contra Costa County

With a nose that explodes with berries and spices and dark fruit flavors that won’t quit, this wine is bottled hedonism. It’s also Zin made the way the pioneering European immigrants did over 100 years ago - as a field blend, in this case:  76% Zinfandel, 8% Carignane, 8% Petite Sirah, and 8% Alicante Bouschet. As winemakers across much of Europe know well, blending builds complexity. Here, Petite Sirah buttressed the Zin with tannin structure as well as boysenberry and pepper, while Carignane helped create a fleshy mouthfeel along with dark cherries and coffee notes. The ancient dry-farmed vines growing in the sandy loam soils of eastern Contra Costa County, produce small grape clusters and berries, but the wine made from them is deeply concentrated and rich. The embodiment of Matt Cline’s dictum of “The dirt, the micro-climate and don’t screw it up,” Three Old Vine Zin delivers a profusion of pleasure that’s easy to afford. 

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¥3,630 (incl. tax)
NV Three Mendocino County Sparkling Wine

Three Wine Company’s Mendocino Brut is a classic Methode Traditionnelle sparkling wine. It consists of 68% Chardonnay and 32% Pinot Noir from the 2015 vintage. The fruit was sourced from several vineyards in Mendocino County, fermented separately in stainless steel tanks before being assembled into the blend, which included 4.5% from the 2014 vintage for added complexity. As with all classic method sparkling wines, secondary fermentation inside the bottle produces the bubbles while sur lie aging yields the creamy texture and complex flavors. The winery notes, “vivid crisp Gala apple with hints of pear and lemon lead to fresh toasted bread for an elegant dry finish.” An excellent value! Highly recommended for the holidays!

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¥3,850 (incl. tax)
2007 Three Late Harvest Riesling

Like amber honey, this late harvest Riesling is best enjoyed in Small, Sweet, Sips. Hence, the name Three S3x. One secret to producing a fine late-harvest Riesling is to pick so late in the season that the grapes begin to shrivel, losing liquid while concentrating the sugars. The other is to hope for botrytis cinerea, the “noble rot” that can infect certain vineyards under special conditions but also turns plain sweet into nectar of the gods. In 2007, Sonoma grape growers struggled with a cool and rainy spring, high temperatures in July, and early rains later in the season. While less than ideal for most grape varieties, a Riesling vineyard along the Russian River experienced enough humidity that allowed botrytis to grow in the golden bunches. If you have heard that white wines are best within a couple years of release, fear not! Riesling is among the most age-worthy of all grape varieties – especially the sweet ones. This 2007 late harvest Riesling is just beginning to acquire the tertiary notes of dried fruit, nuts and honey. Pair this wine with a pungent cheese - like a blue cheese - or a fine dessert such as crème brûlée or flan, fig, apricot or peach desserts, cheesecake or apple pie.

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¥3,960 (incl. tax)
2016 Three Petite Sirah Contra Costa County

Like Zinfandel, Petite Sirah arrived in California with the pioneers, became a significant player in California viticulture but diminished to the point of obscurity elsewhere in the world. Its inky black color, bright acids and hefty tannins made it a natural blend partner with Zinfandel, Syrah and even Cabernet Sauvignon but also led most winemakers to shy away from producing Petite Sirah as a varietal wine. In recent years, however, consumer demand for new wine experiences as well as new approaches to working with the variety, has led to a renaissance in Petite Sirah offerings. Three sources its Petite Sirah from a mature vineyard in Contra Costa County with soil about as sandy as a beach. The winery says, “due to this soil type and moderate growing conditions, the vineyard produces low yields with intense fruit flavors. This wine showcases deep blackberry fruit with a big tannin framework. For those of us who love Petite Sirah, this one will not disappoint.” They also point out this wine is so dark, it could be used  fountain pen ink! But we prefer to drink every last drop!

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¥3,960 (incl. tax)
2016 Three Live Oak Zinfandel Contra Costa County

The Live Oak Zinfandel is sourced from two small vineyard blocks planted in1885 by Italian family members, Spike and Guido Mazzoni. While the Live Oak block consists of 100% Zinfandel, the Mazzoni block has some Petite Sirah, Carignane, Mataro, and Alicante Bouschet planted among the Zinfandel vines. Why are such old vines special? Beyond preserving a corner of California agricultural history, old, gnarled vines produce fruit with a unique concentration of flavors, because clusters are few and because their roots run so deep. Even in dry years, old vines don’t need irrigation or special care. in 2016, the blend consists of 77% Zinfandel, 12% Petite Sirah, 9% Carignane, and 2% Alicante Bouschet. According to the winery, “the wine is dark black and blue color to the edge, with raspberry, boysenberry, violets, supple tannins and perfect acidity. The wine shows staggering ancient vine concentration with a briary density and silken chewiness with a velour-like texture which is classic Live Oak.”

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¥5,170 (incl. tax)