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  • Janet Fullwood / Sacramento Bee

    Vineyards at the former Stevenot Winery climb the hillsides just outside Murphys on Highway 4 in Calaveras County. “I kept coming back to the foothills for the soils it has and for the chance to play in different climates because of the area’s shifting elevations,” says winemaker Matthew Rorick.

  • Randall Benton / Sacramento Bee Staff Photo

  • Mike Dunne

    Partners in Forlorn Hope are, from left, Alexandra Athens, Eleanor Athens, Matthew Rorick, holding Coco, and Lauren Colvin.

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    Matthew Rorick makes his wines in small batches, with the total output of each stated on the front label.

    This limited production, coupled with high demand for his idiosyncratic releases, means consumers had best check in regularly to his website, . (In the Sacramento area, some Forlorn Hope wines also can be found at Amador360 in Plymouth and restaurants Magpie and Hook & Ladder.)

    Current releases include:

    •  Forlorn Hope 2012 California Que Saudade Verdelho (13.58 percent alcohol, 457 cases, $24): “Que Saudade,” which translates from the Portuguese approximately as “bittersweet nostalgia,” is a ripe, rich and lustrous white wine from grapes grown at both the Dewitt Vineyard in Amador County and the Vista Luna Vineyard in the Borden Ranch appellation of Sacramento and San Joaquin counties. It’s a fairly husky wine, exotic in its hazy brassy coloring and its plump yet lively fruit..

    •  Forlorn Hope 2011 Alta Mesa Silvaspoons Vineyard Suspiro del Moro Alvarelhao (12.56 percent alcohol, 177 cases, $24): Alvarelhao, a black Portuguese grape, here yields a deeply colored, ripely flavored, leanly built wine whose tangy finish seizes just the sort of revitalizing acidity that Rorick seeks in his wines. “Suspiro del Moro” translates as “sigh of the moor.”

    •  Forlorn Hope 2012 Amador County Story Vineyard Chenin Blanc (13.17 percent alcohol, 25 cases, $30): Story Vineyard, recognized for its old-vine mission and zinfandel, also is home to a 30-year-old block of chenin blanc, which in this case yielded a fairly husky take on the varietal, with suggestions of almond complementing its pear-like fruit.

    •  Forlorn Hope 2012 Sierra Foothills Shake Ridge Vineyard L’Asino Santo Barbera (13.98 percent alcohol, 23 cases, $30): This is Rorick’s way of showing that a clean, stable wine can be made “sans soufre,” or without the addition of any sulfur whatever. The result is an unusually luxuriant barbera that nevertheless retains the varietal’s sunny, juicy and ripe fruitiness and jazzy acidity.

    • Forlorn Hope 2012 Sierra Foothills Dewitt Vineyard Mil Amores (12.80 percent alcohol, 427 cases, $25): A field blend of four Portuguese grape varieties, the Mil Amores - “thousand loves” - lives up to the line atop the Forlorn Hope label, “another rare creature.” This is one oddball wine, with flavors ranging from suggestions of dragonfruit and cherries to pecan shells and berries. It’s a love-it-or-hate-it wine, with some people apt to be put off by its unusual flavors while others won’t be happy with less than a case.

    • Forlorn Hope 2012 Los Alamos Kick-On Ranch Riesling (12.02 percent alcohol, 57 cases, $30): A peculiar take on riesling. While representatively floral and peachy, it’s also laced with diesel fumes, leather straps and a thread of bitterness. It’s certainly alluring, but not in a traditional sense for the varietal.

Dunne on Wine: Matthew Rorick and his Forlorn Hope winery

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014 - 6:19 pm
Last Modified: Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014 - 6:58 pm

Matthew Rorick, the antiques dealer in California’s vineyards, has acquired a precious family heirloom.

Rorick, whose wine brand Forlorn Hope has been generating buzz for his bold take on such dated and obscure grape varieties as trousseau gris, torrontes and picpoul, is now vested substantially in the landmark former Stevenot Winery and the old neighboring Dragone Ranch just outside of Murphys in Calaveras County.

Up to now, Rorick has been most closely identified with the Napa and Suisun valleys, but since establishing Forlorn Hope in 2005 he’s wandered widely about Northern California in search of fruit.

He, three cousins – sisters Lauren Colvin of Oceanside, Eleanor Athens of Monterey, Alexandra Athens of Napa – and his uncle Dave Rorick of San Francisco had been scouting potential vineyard sites throughout the north state when last summer they learned of the old Stevenot site, which occupies a small valley along San Domingo Creek. The family bought it for about $4.7 million.

“I kept coming back to the foothills for the soils it has and for the chance to play in different climates because of the area’s shifting elevations,” says Rorick.

He and his cousins refer to the property as the Shaw Ranch (after the original owners), though they expect to eventually come up with a new name.

“The soil is the one thing that I became so excited about with this property,” Rorick says. “It’s almost entirely schist, which provides a really fun geological profile for wine grapes, though not so much for other crops. It has this layering characteristic, like the pages of a book, and moisture gets trapped in there. The most compelling wines are grown on schist.”

With the purchase, Rorick and partners got 80 acres of vineyard planted to 18 varieties, many of them underappreciated strains like tempranillo, verdelho, albarino and graciano.

But the stand that most excites him early on is hardly unknown – chardonnay. The Stevenot block was planted in 1978, and on its own roots, a rarity. “That’s very exciting for me, to work with chardonnay of that age and on its own rootstock,” Rorick says.

After a few vintages to study how existing varieties perform and learn where he might plant additional vines, he speculates that he’ll be putting in such unheralded varieties as green Hungarian, trousseau noir, grey riesling, vermentino and chenin blanc.

Since he founded Forlorn Hope in 2005, those are the kinds of heirlooms he’s sought to salvage and revive, and he’s been successful in cultivating an enthusiastic market for his releases. “I like to get cuttings from existing pre-Prohibition vineyards and start new plantings.”

He chose the name “Forlorn Hope” to represent his commitment to unfashionable grape varieties from largely uncelebrated wine regions.

In making wine, Rorick prefers a largely non-interventionist approach. “I feel strongly about putting place first, and the best way to do that is to add little to the grapes. Sulfur is the only thing I put in, and little of that. I add no water, no acid adjustment, no cultured yeast, no nutrients, no enzymes, no malolactic cultures. My intention is for everything you need for a wine to come out of the vineyard,” Rorick says.

His wines tend to be lean, acid-driven and lower in alcohol than generally prevailing levels. Those weren’t his philosophical principles early on as he worked for wineries in New Zealand, South Africa, California and Chile after earning his degree in viticulture and enology at UC Davis in 1999. Then, he took full advantage of all the tools of modern winemaking to turn out big, ripe and concentrated wines.

“Then I began to ask myself, ‘What does this wine show off about the site? If the site is special, why fine tune this and tweak that? If you have the right spot, and if you are tending the vines well, you shouldn’t have to change anything,’ ” Rorick says.

Rorick and his partners expect to take advantage of the winery on the site, but for now, Rorick continues to make his wines at Tenbrink Winery of Fairfield.

Wine critic and competition judge Mike Dunne’s selections are based solely on open and blind tastings, judging at competitions, and visits to wine regions. He can be reached at

Read more articles by Mike Dunne

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