Competition – Matt Deller


‘Matt Deller is a Master of Wine living and working in the Napa Valley. He is the chief operating officer for TOR Wines, cult producer of single vineyard Napa Cabernet and Chardonnay. He came into that position by taking the advice of a recruiter friend who suggested that he dream up his perfect job, then go ask for it. His prior job had given him the opportunity to taste a dizzying proportion of the wines of Napa Valley, and it was the TOR wines that always haunted him for the way they truly express the sense of place of each vineyard. Thankfully, after much persuading, founder and Napa legend Tor Kenward finally relented. But only after discovering that Matt was as much of a wine geek as he is, over a long lunch with historic Napa wines from Tor’s cellar.’ His (unedited) entry in our seminal wine competition follows.The picture shows him on the left of Mary Margaret McCamic MW and David Forer MW.

The first wine that opened the Aladdin’s cave of a lifetime of infatuation, was a glass of Bollinger Special Cuvee on my fifteenth birthday. The setting was perfect, I was dining on the patio of Harbourside restaurant overlooking Auckland harbor, eating fresh seafood with my family and a friend who fancies himself as a bit of a gourmand.

Thinking back, it would have been a dream social media moment. The setting was Instagram perfect. Describing those beguiling brioche, grilled nut, button mushroom, and toffee flavors of the wine that so seduced me would have made for an ideal tweet. The whole experience would have earned vigorous engagement on Facebook. Had I not been fifteen at the time, of course, as probably drinking wine at that age may have earned an outpouring of self-righteous vitriol.

I feel blessed to look back and remember the moment the way it was. Personal, private, pure pleasure. This revolution, or revelation in this case, was not televised. It was a moment. Shared between friends and family. Seminal and inspiring, undiluted by the need to earn “likes”.

By the time I was eighteen, any hope of settling into a “real job” after university was lost. I was going to try to make a living in the wine industry, which in New Zealand in the early 1990’s was on par with busking, stand-up comedy and ski-instructing as among the more dubious of long term career prospects.

I went to work for a mail order wine company, a very strange business to look back on today. Back then, potential patrons were expected to fill out a form, insert it into an envelope with a stamp, and send it off in the blind hope that sometime within the next two weeks, a case of wine will arrive. I recently ran the wine division of an e-commerce business, obsessed about bringing its page-load time down by milliseconds, and next day shipping was considered a day too slow.

Somehow, 25 years later I manage to make a nice living for my family, including my wife Amanda, two sons and our dog Lani, by indulging my lifelong love affair with wine, triggered by that first glass of Bollinger. Synchronistically, I’ve had the good fortune to indulge in many more glasses from that admirable house through their support of the Institute of Masters of Wine.

I think that first experience burned into my psyche, influencing my prevailing wine beliefs to this day. I believe that occasion and friends enhance wine far more than any food pairing. The wines that move me are those with true sense of place, which is what inspired me to help run TOR Wines in Napa Valley, with enough diversity of climate, topography and geology to keep me constantly inspired.

I’ve travelled all over the world, judging wine competitions, speaking at various symposia, buying and selling wine; all serving only to continue to fuel a passion that may ebb and flow but never really diminish. Of course, today, I slavishly document my movements on the mandatory social media channels. I wonder now that we have become our own paparazzi, when we are putting so much out there these days, are we really taking it all in?