This is part of a series introducing you to interesting people in the wine industry. For many, the journey into wine is not only intriguing but often quite an adventure. These talented individuals are what make the wine industry what it is today so follow this series to meet this group of passionate people who have dedicated their lives to wine.
Why Wine? An interview with Matt Berson of the Portland Wine Company and Love & Squalor Wines
Michele Francisco: Was there a specific wine, moment or place that unlocked your passion?
Matt Berson: I was definitely excited when I first tasted the Oregon Rieslings from Ransom and Brooks, and Patty Green’s Pinots. But I just wanted to drink them and meet the people who made them, not make my own. Then fate intervened and I was hanging out with those same winemakers and cleaning their barrels and washing tanks and I was bit with the bug and was in the perfect place to pursue my new passion.
A lot of winemakers have an “aha” wine. Interestingly, it is usually a style or varietal that they are no longer fond of. Mine was a right bank Bordeaux that some tech guys brought into one of the restaurants I worked at and they shared with me. I had never had a merlot like that before. It was delicious and intriguing. I wish I could say it was a Dagueneau or Nuits St. George, but in any case it did the trick.
MF: What did you study in school and what were you doing before you started in the wine industry?
MB: I was a restaurant manager. I came up in the San Francisco food scene of the 90’s. My degree in Modern American Culture from UC Berkeley and my thesis on The History of Disco did little to prepare me for the vinous life. However, my food service experience has been crucial to my success.
MF: How has being in the wine industry changed you?
MB: I always wear grubby clothes and rarely comb my hair. Really it’s made me more connected to the world. At least to the cycles of nature, and to the experiential world. To go from the mud of a vineyard to a consumer drinking and talking about the wine – usually all in the course of one day – is a very full and connected thing.
MF: What’s your favorite part of being in the wine industry?
My favorite part of making wine, and owning my own business, is the continual learning and growth. Rarely a day goes by that I don’t learn something new. My favorite part of being a winemaker is the response I get when someone at a party asks me “ So, what do you do?”
MF: Looking back, was there something in your past that led you to wine?
MB: There is no doubt that growing up with a wide variety of foods on our table, and a mom who loves to cook, and seeing wine on the table too, and travel, lots of travel, and foreign foods. And the VW camper bus breaking down in Bordeaux and then breaking down once again in Champagne. It may all be coincidence, but here I am.