Kickin’ and Corkin’, Soccer and Wine

Matt Oetinger

Purists in both camps might well argue that winemaking and soccer aren’t in the same league, that the goals of one cannot possibly be the goals of the other and, for that matter, wonder who’d even suggest such things.
But for Matt Oetinger, the differences between his vocation and avocation pale compared to similarities and what’s essential to doing both well.
Whether it’s marrying wines to create a superb finish or turning the talents of 20 girls aged 14 to 18 into a winning team, it’s all about organization, according Oetinger, 44.
The father of two and co-owner, with his wife Tiffany, of Gilroy’s Fernwood Cellars, Oetinger juggles the organizational demands of his two passions—the art and science of winemaking and crafting winning strategies as head coach of girl’s varsity soccer at Christopher High School.
In both, “If you are not organized you have a real mess on your hands,” Oetinger said Monday.
“A lot of time, work and energy goes into both, and to come out the other end is real rewarding; it’s a happy feeling that makes you feel like you made a difference, that you’ve done something worth doing.”
Youth coaches that Oetinger had growing up made a real difference in how he turned out as an adult, and doing the same for the young women he coaches is part of giving back what he received, he said.
And he does it with a characteristic dedication to others, according to friends and family.
“There are people that come to a place in their careers where they now want to give back to their youth and community and have the time to do that,” said Tiffany Oetinger, who runs the business side of Fernwood Cellars.
“Matt has an overflowing plate of responsibility, but as his wife, I see how he lights up when he talks about his team and coaching.
“I am so proud of the difference he makes and the sacrifices our family makes so he can be there for them.”
Alfredo Echauri, a defensive line coach for freshman football at Gilroy High School who’s employed by Specialized Bicycles in Morgan Hill, added: “He really looks to better young women and the community through soccer.”
Soccer and winemaking are not that odd a blend for the San Jose native and Los Gatos High School graduate, but he came to be involved in both almost by accident.
His first sports love was football, which he played well into college and coached. But after his son, Jake, 13, started playing football, Oetinger realized it was just too tough on the body. When Jake turned to soccer, Oetinger followed and became an enthusiast, then initially signed on as the CHS JV girls soccer coach a few years ago.
His first career path placed him not in a vineyard but in a veterinary pre-med course at Oregon State University.
It was a veterinarian-mentor’s reality check about income potential that steered Oetinger away from doctoring animals and lead him eventually to doctoring grape vines, fine-tuning sugar content and producing award-winning wines.
His parents also played key roles.
When he transferred to UC Davis, his father, Lew Oetinger of Placerville, had just embarked on an adventure often fraught with missteps, home winemaking, and signaled for help.
“He would urge me to take classes and teach him. So I started taking courses to give him answers and that is kind of how it all evolved,” Oetinger said.
The classes were in viticulture, the study of grape cultivation, and enology, the study of wine and winemaking.
Now, Oetinger not only makes Fernwood’s wines, with input from Tiffany for the blends, he also serves as winemaker and vineyard manager for other wineries and growers.
Oetinger’s mother’s family founded and still owns one of Gilroy’s most historic sites, Redwood Retreat, a 19th Century resort at the end of a country road by that name west of the city center at the base of Mount Madonna County Park.
The former resort is now the site of the Oetinger’s winery and tasting room, gatherings of a robust wine club, one of South County’s newest wedding venues and the location of special, themed dinners and dances, some private and some open to the public.
One themed dinner is particularly on Oetinger’s mind right now and the organizing is well under way even though it’s not until July 8.
It’s the soccer team’s annual and only fundraiser of the year, which supports the varsity and junior varsity teams.
Oetinger characterized as “enormous” the event’s importance to the sports program.
With no direct financing from the school district, the varsity team, which went to the CCS finals last season but lost to the tournament winner in the first round, must pay for its own uniforms, equipment and transportation to as many as 20 games a year. Ditto for the JV team.
So this year, the Oetingers will host the fundraiser for the 2018 soccer season, which starts in November.
That just when the Oetingers will be coming off the winery’s busiest part of the year, several months frequently 70- to 80-hour weeks and seven-day work weeks.
The event is called, the Fernwood Cellars Wine & Beer Tasting Fundraiser for CHS Girls Soccer. Food will be provided by Gilroy’s popular Milias Restaurant and wine by Fernwood Cellars.
Oetinger’s goal is to raise $8,000, enough to fund two full seasons for both teams, maybe enough to purchase a $1,500 software system.
The system lets coaches record and analyze game play and create what amounts to a crucial tool that helps in efforts to get attention from college recruiters for the players, a high priority for Oetinger.
Already, colleges are scouting some of his frosh and sophomore players, he said.
The fundraiser will include a silent action, and Oetinger is already lining up donations big and small. If you want to help, you can contact him at [email protected]com.
To make a financial contribution, email Cora Carbonel at [email protected], mention CHS Girls Soccer as the intended, tax-deductible account and cc Oetinger.