FOLEY’S 59 VINEYARDS IN ONE

Foley Estates Vineyard and Winery is the fruition of financier Bill Foley. When he first planted his vineyard seven years ago, it was Foley’s dream to produce world-class Chardonnay and Pinot Noir and participate in, as Foley puts it, “man’s tradition of over three thousand years to endeavor to extract greatness from the grape.”

Foley began collecting wine 20 years ago and developed particular affinity for the Burgundian varietals – Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. “When I came to Santa Barbara in 1998 I selected a property perfect for these varietals in the Santa Ynez Valley, which has the only east-west mountain range between Alaska and Chile,” Foley says. It turns out his selection of property could not have been better.

To find the proper location for his vineyard and winery, Foley consulted winemaker Alan Phillips. Together they used topographical maps, satellite photography, soil research and climatic data to select a parcel in the Santa Rita Hills AVA of Santa Ynez Valley, Rancho Santa Rosa. The property, formerly an Arabian horse ranch between Buellton and Lompoc, has the steep, south-facing hillsides and limestone soils that are the dreams of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay vintners.

”We have slopes, soils, drainage and elevations ranging from three hundred to one thousand feet in various sections of the vineyard, each best suited for its own grape varietal,” Phillips says. “Just as is done in Burgundy, we planted the Pinot vines on the peaks, and were gratified by the resulting wines that are colorful, intensely flavored – the quintessential iron fist in the velvet glove, with power and elegance.”

Foley and Phillips used top consultants to establish what are essentially 59 mini-vineyards on the 230-acre first planting of the 460-acre property. From the outset, each of the 59 micro-blocks were planted in 1999 and 2000 with rootstock and clones of Pinot or Chardonnay (and a bit of Syrah and Pinot Grigio) to best suit the data collected about soil characteristics, drainage and sun exposure. With the guidance of vineyard consultant, Jeff Frye, and skills of vineyard manager, Stan Johnson, they set out to farm, harvest and vinify each micro-block separately.

As we drove the vineyard with Phillips, it was fascinating to watch the characteristics of the soil change as we climbed up to the 1,000-foot peak (keep in mind that all this land was ocean floor at one time). Once the land was uplifted, years of rain washed the sand down to the lower hillsides, leaving limestone at the highest elevations. As we drove up, we first saw soft sand that looked like powdered sugar, best suited for hearty rootstock that can grow deep, seeking out water and sending shoots into the mineral-rich layers through which they penetrate. Higher up the hill the ground color darkened and the consistency thickened until the highest reaches of the vineyard, where the limestone-concentrated grounds are suitable for Pinot clones such as Pommard and Dijon.

Another obvious change evident as we drove up was the equivalent of wind-shear factor. The Santa Rita Hills AVA is noted for the cooling breezes that blow through the vineyard each afternoon. Sometimes those breezes are powerful winds that knock grape clusters right off the vines. Fortunately, what nature takes away she also gives, as the wind may take the less hearty clusters and leave behind the more uniform and intensely flavored grapes.

Within a few hundred feet at the top were separate plantings of the Pommard, Dijon and 2A Pinot Clones. Each of these micro-blocks had already produced several vintages of separately vinified and bottled single-clone Pinots. Phillips says he intentionally bottles six single clone wines so “Pinot-philes who want to taste the distinct characteristics of the specific clones can do just that.”

In addition to the Pinot plantings, Chardonnay grapes that comprise almost half of the vineyard are planted on the rolling hills surrounding the winery. There are also eight acres of Syrah planted on the western corridor where again the variety of soil type is matched to appropriate rootstocks and a broad array of clonal selections to give the winemaking team the opportunity to make wines of diversity and character.

Before leaving, Phillips toured us through the winery building at the bottom of the property that was laboriously converted from the existing ranch stables. Tremendous detail went into planning this modern winery, while honoring age-old winemaking tradition and maintaining the rural beauty of the ranch. Expense and creativity preserved the integrity of this building including the double wooden arched doorway and Spanish Mission design.

To keep to the original dimensions of the stables they built specially designed rectangular stainless steel tanks. Adjoining the winery is the Foley Ranch tasting room, another example of Foley’s dedication to preservation of Santa Barbara history and environment, with an architectural style that’s consistent with the winery.

The Foley Tasting Room (737-6222) is located at 6121 East Highway 246. It is open daily to the public from 10 am to 5 pm. For more info visit www.foleywines.com.

Sip Tip

An excellent bang-for-the-buck Bordeaux blend is the 2002 Partners’ Reserve from Lockwood Vineyard. This blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec and Petit Verdot from Monterey has the balance of black cherry fruit and toasty aromatics. It hits the high notes of its worthy Northern California competitors, and for only $20. Lockwood Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2005 ($11 range) is another smart buy for the season’s changing menus. Winemaker Larry Gomez has benefited from Monterey County’s 2005 growing season, with its generous rainfall and late harvest. We loved it with Pacific Rim-style fish and ribs. For more info visit www.lockwood-wine.com.