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Meet winemaker Matthew Delicata

With each harvest, Maltese wine is moving towards a diversity of styles, definite terroirs and flavours. Part of this passage depends on Matthew Delicata, a young winemaker who has achieved already so much with much more to offer.

Rare Viognier wine of MaltaRare Viognier wine of Malta

Harvest time is a magical, crazy time at any winery. I caught up with a sleep-deprived winemaker, complete with grape-stained hands, in Delicata’s state of the art fermentation hall permeated with the unique smell of fruit transforming into wine.

Matthew, did you roll into this business like a wine barrel into a cellar, predestined to make great wine?

As part of a centurion winemaking family running a winery, I grew up in wine cellars from the time I was a knee-high boy. As long as I remember, I have had a love for wine, but the calling to dedicate my life to Maltese wine only became personal when I made the leap from desk to wine press, from university graduate to the position of fully-fledged chief winemaker of the Delicata winery.

Our company’s story begins in 1907, more than 115 years ago, and making wine together with my father, George Delicata, and my two brothers Mario and Michael is a family’s engagement.

I was always told it requires passion but also perseverance; it calls for craftsmanship as well as hard work, and now I wouldn’t have it any other way.

With your career options open as a young man, why did you choose to go down this challenging path?

It’s true that initially it may have been the Delicata family winemaking legacy that sparked my curiosity. However, as I witnessed the Maltese wine scene transform itself, the attraction changed.

It became wanting to make great Maltese wine, maybe the finest ever, not because it is easy – in fact, it is a tough grind - but because somebody needs to do it and it needs to be done right.

The Delicata winery has always been an advocate for Maltese wine and I’m proud to have a chance at helping preserve this country’s unique vinous heritage. The history of winemaking in Malta is a long and winding road with many challenges and turns. Together, my family and our 90-person strong team of dedicated employees are initiating every day a renewed pledge to modern winemaking.

A first-class Cabernet Sauvignon bunchA first-class Cabernet Sauvignon bunch

More than any other winery, we do so in close collaboration with the Maltese and Gozitan farming community, which has Delicata’s support since we believe firmly in sustainability from the vineyard to the table.

It is very satisfying having a hand in the collective efforts of the winery and our committed vignerons making up the Delicata domaine that put our Maltese wines of distinction on the global wine map.

But why do you really make wine?

I know all this might sound steeped in romantic notion; it is true of course that wine is made to be sold. After all, no wine business is merely charitable. But, honestly I’m not the type of person that’s driven by company balance sheets at all.

A much better answer to the question ‘why make wine’ is that I am a winemaker who labours out of love for the job.

My life doesn’t resemble that of a rock star. But I do my utmost to craft quality wines that are just that: wines that rock or move you and leave an impression of what our land can bring forth. There is a great sense of privilege in working with what Mother Nature gives us each harvest.

I confess that taking the viticultural revival, started by my father George Delicata in the 1990s, to fruition in the shape of a portfolio of award-winning Maltese wines is very fulfilling. Praise by wine critics at the highest stage of wine competitions in Bordeaux, Burgundy and London are a nice feather in any winemaker’s cap, right?

During my tenure so far as Delicata’s chief winemaker the winery has amassed many gold, silver and bronze medals already. But, honestly, better still is receiving compliments from the many people that enjoy our wines. As a wise man once said, the noblest reason to make wine is to bring pleasure to those who drink it.

Which one of your wines is the absolute best?

Asking me to choose one wine out of Delicata’s portfolio of the nearly 30 Malta-grown wines we make is impossible. I’m proud of every bottle that carries the Delicata name on its label, which I hope is a trusted sign of quality.

I take comfort in the fact that all our brands enjoy the repeat custom of numerous loyal wine drinkers. Many Delicata wines have also been poured for some of the most spoiled palates in the world, including royalty, heads of state and celebrities, often upon their special request.

Admittedly, I have a special place in my heart for the wines made from the indigenous Girgentina and Ġellewża grape varieties, especially the frizzantes which are a Delicata speciality. Our family has always been the foremost supporter of the preservation of these two ultra-Maltese varieties.

Usually, vintages in Malta are challenging in that the yield or the grape crop is small, but the wines are also consistently very good. Our range made from international varieties grown in pocket-sized vineyards in Gozo really shines. The wines are fruit-driven and of astoundingly good quality and consistency, with all their authentic Gozitan charm intact. And, then there are the Rizerva wines in the Gran Cavalier range which have become sought after for all the right reasons, namely their inimitable taste.

I can’t believe it: we have just about finished bottling all the wines of the 2022 vintage and we are already well into the next harvest. With that always comes the hope for an even better than ever season.

What then makes Delicata’s wines special?

Of course, at Delicata we believe in making and marketing wine in according to the national legislation and protocols for DOK or Denominazzjoni ta’ Oriġini Kontrollata (Protected Designation of Origin) and IĠT or Indikazzjoni Ġeografika Tipika (Protected Geographical Indication).

The official Maltese appellation system has led to a new framing of the Maltese wine sector fostering a vivid search for excellence that begins in the vineyard. It authenticates the origin of the grapes and that the wine is made using recognised know-how.

But of course as a winemaker, I treat every vineyard parcel, each lot of grapes and every single wine individually as a reflection of its place of origin and vintage. I try to make them with as much as possible a hands-off approach.

This winemaking philosophy results in authentic wines that are surprisingly delicate in character worthy of the rubberstamp ‘Made in Malta by Delicata’.