By mere definition “transcendent” is surpassing the ordinary, exceptional.

Nancy and I had that “transcendent” experience when we traveled to one of our favorite places, Los Olivos located in the Santa Ynez Valley. We usually go to a number of tasting rooms in the area made famous by the movie, Sideways. Each tasting room offers a number of opportunities to taste our favorite wines, chardonnay and pinot noir. There are other varietals, of course, but we found the Santa Rita Hills region east of Santa Barbara to be a bastion of small boutique wineries featuring the afore mentioned wines.

The chardonnay and pinot noir from this region reflect a wonderful level of intensity and focus germane to this subject because of soil, climate, and technique. This trip seemed different however.

Each winery we went to (our favorites) from Brewer Clifton, Melville, to Barbieri wines seemed to be out of focus serving pedestrian wines that didn’t reflect the pedigree we had come to expect and enjoy.

Sensing our disappointment one of the cellar hosts from Melville suggested we try a small winery which offered tastings by appointment only. He said that this wine maker was making some of the best wines in the region but few outside the region knew about his expertise. He gave us the wine makers number and provided an introduction so that we could text this gentlemen, Matt McKinney.

This proved to be a game changer. I have been to many wineries in California from Mendocino, the Russian River area and other benches in Sonoma County, Napa, Lake County, Murphys (the gold country), and of course the Santa Rita Hills. Never have I experienced the quality in every varietal I tasted until I had the pleasure of meeting Matt McKinney. He graciously accepted us and gave us the instructions that were necessary to find his family’s estate.

Matt graduated from UCLA (a history major). At UCLA he played basketball for one of the most storied programs in all of collegiate sports. In addition to basketball Matt was also a world class volleyball player. To hear the story of his championship in Puerto Rico and how this led to a bet he had with his dad to plant the back part of their property in wine grapes is a story best told by Matt himself.

Matt instructed us to come to his home, drive up the gravel driveway and in the back he’d meet us next to the horse barn. Matt has converted the original horse barn into a wine making facility with as he calls it, “The World’s smallest commercial wine making equipment.”

Three converted horse stalls translate to a wine making facility and educational forum for wine enthusiasts, a storage room filled with past and present varietals, and his current living quarters. The McKinney’s fortuitously purchased what was originally a horse ranch with 10 acres in 1993.

In 2010 Matt planted a half acre which would inspire him to become an active participant in the wine world or as I like to affectionately call people of this ilk… a cork dork.

Matts gift of personality, enthusiasm, and hard work led him to work with some of the finest winemakers in the region. This coupled with a soon to be discovered talent for this art form became a mantra for excellence displayed in every bottle of wine produced.

Each wine Matt has crafted has a well thought out story which revolves around history. One story I will relate is about one of his fifteen hand crafted wines entitled, “Napoleon’s Secret”. This wine is a classic Bordeaux blend with Cabernet, Cab Franc, Petite Verdot, Malbec, and Merlot.

However, according to Matt in those times if the wine seemed lacking in the deep rich color associated with the fine wines of Bordeaux they would reach out to the Rhone region of France. They would then bring Syrah grapes (established Rhone varietal) to richen the color but would never admit to adding this varietal to the now famous Bordeaux blend. Hence the name Matt has given this wine, “Napoleon’s Secret”. In this case the Syrah comes from Matt’s own estate vineyard and is blended into the traditional Bordeaux blend.

From Rhone varietals, Burgundian, Bordeaux blends, and even Super Tuscans from Italy, Matt McKinney Family Vineyards is a winery that captures the imagination and leaves you with only one conclusion… these wines are transcendent.

You can access Matt’s wines through his web site at

I suggest you become a wine club member as Matt only sells to wine club members.

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