Growing up, wine played an integral part in Mathew Bruno’s life. “When I was seven or eight, my grandpa would give me 7UP with a splash of wine in it,” Bruno recently told Melier via a telephone conversation. Bruno’s grandparents immigrated from Italy, and “they made homemade wine in their root cellar,” Bruno says. “It was always in the back of my mind that wine brought food and family together.” While studying agricultural business at Cal Poly San Louis Obispo, Bruno frequently made the trip home to Modesto, where he would admire the beautiful vineyards along highways 41 and 46.
After pondering the idea for several years, Bruno finally decided to try his hand at winemaking. “I read some winemaking books, drove up to Oak Knoll, and picked cabernet fruit with a friend of mine,” he remembers. “We crushed it there, inoculated it, brought it home in a food-grade garbage can, and did primary fermentation and secondary fermentation at my house.” He was instantly smitten with the process, and Mathew Bruno, the winery, was born.
That was 12 years ago. As a small family-owned producer, Bruno has been careful to build his brand slowly. “I knew that if we were able to source the right vineyards and have the right winemaker, we could do the right thing,” he says. Thanks to a combination of excellent scores, noteworthy press, and special events, Mathew Bruno grew organically, developing a grassroots cult-like following.
When Covid hit, Bruno and his team got creative. They reached out to wine lovers directly via phone and email, upped their engagement with followers on social media, and hosted wildly successful virtual events. “We did a virtual tasting with our winemakers, and it was only supposed to go 40 minutes, and it went for two hours,” Bruno recalls. 2020 ended up being the best year yet for Mathew Bruno; they flourished with customer interaction, brought on a slew of new consumers, and had their highest sales to date.
Today, Mathew Bruno is entering an exciting new era. Next spring, Bruno and his family will open a stunningly remodeled tasting room in the heart of Napa Valley. The journey to open a hospitality center has been a long one. Bruno started looking for properties six years ago and purchased the Rutherford home two years later. Permitting and historic restorations take time, and now, four years later, the team is finally gearing up to open its doors to the public.
The tasting room will be infused with a rich history; the structure was built in 1894. It was part of the original land grant that President Lincoln awarded to George Yount when he first arrived in the valley. The property was later owned by the Hastings family of Hastings Law School. Now the Bruno family is its tenant. Bruno hired a team of historical architects who uncovered the original handmade wallpaper, preserved for 127 years and plan to display part of it. However, not everything about the facility is old. New palm and olive trees dot the landscape. The interior will feature a series of welcoming private tasting rooms, and there will be bocce courts and water elements.
Although fans of Mathew Bruno have to wait until next April to experience the tasting room, there are plenty of opportunities to interact with the brand now. On Thursday, September 23, Melier’s co-founder Greg McBeth hosts a virtual happy hour featuring Mathew Bruno’s Cabernet Sauvignon. McBeth will be conversing with Chris Voss, a former FBI hostage negotiator and best-selling author, on Fireside’s new live audio chat platform. A ticket to the event includes a bottle of Bruno’s Cab, one of Voss’s favorite varietals. “When we were approached to partner on this event, I was excited to learn more about Chris Voss and his career as an FBI Negotiator,” Bruno says. “Negotiating isn’t what people usually think of when they think about the wine industry, but it’s absolutely an important part of the business. From working with growers to distributors to finding the right spot for the home of Mathew Bruno, I’ve had to rely on my negotiating skills. I look forward to hearing from Chris Voss and learning from his years of expertise.”
As he looks toward the next phase of his company, Bruno is a humble family man, more farmer than a glorified vintner. He’s passionate about what’s to come, but more so about what is in the glass. “I love agriculture. I love the fact that you can pick fruit, manipulate it, crush it, and ferment it. You can turn this grape into something magical and magnificent for wine lovers to try,” he pauses before continuing. “Then at the end of the day, six months to two years later, you’re sitting with your family enjoying it and friends, and you can say, man, I created this.”
Feature image by Bob McClenahan.