From Lab Coat to Grape Stains: An Unexpected Winemaking Journey

Produced in partnership by Travel Dundee and the Dundee Hills Winegrowers Association.

In the heart of the Dundee Hills, where the art of winemaking meets the rugged beauty of Oregon’s landscape, you’ll find Matt Lautze, the assistant winemaker at De Ponte Cellars. His journey into winemaking was driven by the fusion of science, artistry, and a deep connection to the land.

Matt’s story is unconventional. Originally on a pre-med track with a biochemistry major, he felt confined within the sterile walls of his research laboratory. “I wanted to get my hands dirty and have some creativity in my tasks,” Matt reflects. “But I didn’t want to fully let go of the titrations and lab work I enjoyed in school.”

A chance encounter with a winemaker in Walla Walla sparked a revelation for Matt. This winemaker had experienced a similar journey, leaving medical school after a year to pursue a career in winemaking. Inspired by this encounter, Matt left his lab and joined De Ponte Cellars in the Dundee Hills as an intern for the harvest crew. The combination of manual labor, lab science, and participating in the entire winemaking process from start to finish captured his heart.

Over the years, Matt has become an integral part of De Ponte, rising to the role of assistant winemaker under Isabelle Dutartre, the first and only winemaker in De Ponte’s history with more than four decades of experience. She leads by example, and has taught Matt the intricacies of each step in the winemaking process, knowing he’d be unable to manage a process he didn’t understand firsthand. “Becoming a winemaker isn’t something that can be rushed,” he states.

Matt is also involved in the production of Potcake Cellar’s vintages, which are made onsite at De Ponte’s winery. Working with two different labels requires extensive coordination, timely and ongoing cleaning of equipment, and a near “triage plan” during harvest to determine what gets crushed, which fermenter grapes are put into, what gets stored and where, and then meticulous labeling. 

Matt can see the influence of the unique terroir from each vineyard as soon as grapes arrive at the winery. When the grapes are in the fermenter, he can smell the differences between the two labels. There are subtleties between the two influenced by the thickness of the skins and how much of the tannins are extracted, to name a few.

As harvest season winds down, Matt looks forward to watching these wines continue their journey in the barrels. “You can see where these wines are going to be, but sometimes you have to give them a little nudge to get there,” he says. “There’s never a formula for wine.” 

Every vintage is different and winemakers always have to adapt. They listen to what the grapes are saying and then partner with nature to create incredible wines year after year. And that is what keeps Matt eagerly coming back to the lab and the winery day after day. 

Learn more about De Ponte Cellars.

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