Q&A With Benevolent Neglect’s Matt Nagy

This year, upstart producer Benevolent Neglect charmed Wine Access members with their brooding, expressive Syrah so much we’re included more of their wine’s in the September wine club. On the eve of harvest, we sat down with co-founder and winemaker Matt Nagy to talk all things wine, and Northern California.

WA: How did you get into wine?

MN: I took a Wine and Spirits appreciation class when I was in college at South Carolina, and ended up getting curious about production as a result. I took my first harvest job in New York and everything blossomed from there.

WA: Looking back, is there anything you would have done differently?

MN: I would have loved to work a vintage in Europe earlier in my career, but to be serious about making California wines it was necessary to be out here and absorb as much as possible.

WA: On any given weeknight, what are you most likely to be drinking?

MN: Usually a crisp, light white during the summertime. Or Counoise, all the time.

WA: What wines inspire you?

MN: Any wine that is alive, and can express place. Top tier white wines are incredibly hard to make and I’ve developed a serious appreciation for winemakers who get that right. On the red side, Nebbiolo is always a wonder with its longevity, tension, and brightness.

WA: How has your approach to winemaking changed over the years? How has the region you work in changed?

MN: Every year you work with a vineyard, you learn a little bit more about each site. I try and get better each year about getting the pick date right, it makes everything else so much easier over the course of the fermentation as well as elevage. Every year has been different so far, and with climate change, it is incredibly hard to predict what is going to happen year over year. Likewise, it is incredibly hard to predict how much Northern California is going to change in the next 5-10 years.

WA: What’s the most bizarre thing someone has ever said to you about your wine?

MN: Our Syrah was recently referred to as “Moreish” —a bit of english slang that I had to look up. Turns out it’s a good thing…

WA: What brings you the most joy?

MN: One of the big draws in winemaking initially was being able to work with my hands and produce a tangible product at the end. To be able to share that with people, tell the stories of the year and the personality of each wine—that is the most satisfying part.

WA: What’s the craziest thing that’s ever happened to you during harvest?

MN: Aside from fires, heat waves, and the like? Usually it involves getting a forklift stuck in the mud at the worst possible time, or broken-down trucks. Playing cricket with a bung in New Zealand while waiting for the power to come back on was surely a highlight. All of us are a little bit crazy for loving this industry and loving harvest—but the hardship is truly part of the charm.

WA: If you could make wine from any other region in the world, where would you go?

MN: I’m attracted to the fringes and new frontiers. I’m currently also working with a winery based in Colorado and absolutely loving that we have a hand in shaping the region, testing new varietals, and seeing what works best. The same mentality is what also attracts me to places like Tasmania, the U.K., and Hungary—a country which has had to rediscover their 500-year history after communism.

WA: What’s the #1 thing you want all wine drinkers to remember?

MN: That wine is supposed to be fun, and supposed to be shared with friends and family. It can be rewarding to take it seriously from time to time, but at the end of the day drinking wine is about enjoying a moment and place in time.

WA: What wine in the store would you like to drink right now?

MN: Domaine des Roches Neuves Saumur