With 8 rafting trips under his belt last year alone, you could say that Matt Hatcher of Hatcher Winery has uncorked more wine riverside than any other winemaker. For the past 6 years, he has been a familiar face on OARS’ Wine on the River trips where fine wine and gourmet food are as big of a draw as the paddling action.
I sat down with Matt at his winery in Murphys, CA, to talk about what makes Wine on the River trips so special.
Are you an outdoorsy person?
I’m probably not as outdoorsy as I’d like to be. My idea of camping is two or three days without a shower. My idea of camping is bringing enough really good food along that you ate twice as much as you would have at home. Usually camping, there’s the best wine. And I get to do that with OARS. There’s always room for the wine and the beer. I think that’s what outdoors should be. It should be a good experience. And my idea of a good experience is being comfortable.
What has been your favorite food and wine experience on the river?
I did a trip on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River last year and the chef did wild meat every night. It was 4 to 5 nights and every night was something interesting. Whether it was wild salmon, wild boar, wild elk, or wild deer, they were all done really well. It was a lot of fun to pair wine with them. And you know what, it doesn’t matter. The wine is going to taste good and so is the food because you’re out on this amazing river. You can eat peanut butter and jelly and it’s going to be the best PB&J you ever had. Chef Bob comes to mind too. It’s been talked about many times, but on the last night of the Rogue River he does a filet with a Jack Daniels sauce and he flames them up, so I think that’s pretty darn neat.
Your idea of camping is bringing really good food and wine. And OARS brings a chef along. Tell me what people might see paired with your wines on the river.
Usually it will start with cheeses and some really nice breads or crackers. I would pair that with a Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio or Viognier. Probably half way through that, there’s something coming off the fire, which might be a skewer with ridiculously large prawns or some kind of really great meat. And that would usually pair with a Zinfandel or maybe a Merlot. Something more medium bodied. When we talk about a main course we get toward our heavier wines. We make a Rhone blend, a Syrah, a Petite Syrah, Meritage and a Cabernet. All these wines are big food wines. There’s plenty of everything. I generally bring enough wine for a bottle per person per night. And then there’s usually something else extra too.
Are people surprised by Wine on the River trips?
People are usually a little apprehensive about whether or not it will be as good as what’s shown in the pictures. And they wonder where all the wine is. OARS doesn’t want you to know this, but they could bring the kitchen sink along. It just takes another raft.
You’ve been doing these trips for 6 years. What do you think makes Wine on the River trips so special (besides having killer wine each night, of course)?
Those guides love what they do. They’re having a better experience than you are. They don’t mind lugging all that stuff off the rafts, lugging it all back in the morning and then going rafting for half the day.
Do you have a favorite river?
I’ve been all three legs of the Salmon River and they’re incredible. The Middle Fork of the Salmon is supposed to be one of the most beautiful rivers and it’s incredible. The Main Salmon — which is probably my favorite — you’re talking 50-100 yard sandy beaches every night, hot springs, bigger rapids. And the Lower Salmon is similar to the Rogue where there’s some big water but also some more relaxing, lay on the raft kind of rafting. But I did the Rogue River three times one summer and I didn’t get tired of it. Each river, like a bottle of wine, has these things that are more enjoyable about them or more technical. Each one is very special. That’s the fun of it.
Matt Hatcher has been making wine in the Sierra Foothills at his namesake winery, Hatcher, since 2002. At his tasting room in historic Murphys, CA you can find a Zinfandel for every mood (he makes four), as well as a slew of other varietals (if it grows well in the region, he makes it).