The Victory of Vogelzang

Would you call up Bill Gates and ask if he could help you set up your email account? If you did would he say, “Sure, I’ll be right over?” The fact that a newcomer to Montecito with no experience in the vineyard business and no “connections” did the equivalent with some cold calls to the Bill Gates of our wine community and with their “Sure, I’ll be right overs” succeeded in establishing one of the hottest (literally and figuratively) vineyards in the Happy Canyon corridor of Santa Ynez Valley.

Just as women were not embraced in medicine until the past several decades (there were only 15 women in my UCLA medical class of 1975), women do not have a long history of active participation in vineyard development in this country. Then, along came Mary….to be more specific, Montecito resident Mary Beth Vogelzang, developer and owner of Vogelzang Vineyards.

Mary Beth’s love of planting and orchards came from her grandfathers, both of whom were farmers in Michigan. When Mary Beth and her husband, Jim, lived in Calistoga in the early ‘80s they began collecting wines and she took viticulture and enology courses at UC Davis.

In 1997, Mary Beth’s infatuation with growing things resulted in her looking at various properties in Santa Ynez Valley. When she found the present location of Vogelzang Vineyard, she consulted another Central Coast wine star, legend and vineyard pioneer Dale Hampton (think Meridian Vineyards). Dale came right over, walked the property with Mary Beth, and was favorably impressed. Andrew Murray was another early wine star tutor for Mary Beth who recalls, “I cold-called Andrew and he took the time to educate me about Rhones.”

Later, when the Cab grapes came in, Mary Beth called Bill Wathen, legendary winemaker for Foxen Vineyards. She had no introduction and he had no shortage of grapes for his Foxen Wines, but as Mary Beth recalls, “Billy was so generous with his time and information. He talked to me about his vineyard style for growing Cabernet Sauvignon and it meshed with our vision for Vogelzang Vineyard. After that discussion, Foxen bought two acres of Vogelzang Vineyard Cabernet vines.” By 2001, Bill released the first Vogelzang Vineyard designated Foxen Cabernet and history was made. A memorable blind tasting of 2001 Cabernet and Bordeaux wines was held in April 2005 that included a Chateau Margaux and Shafer Napa Valley Stags Leap District Hillside Select Cabernet. The favorite of the group of twelve wine lovers that ranked the ten wines presented was that very 2001 Foxen Vogelzang Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon.

The Five-Year Plans

Mary Beth had a five-year plan for Vogelzang Vineyard to provide the winemakers who were purchasing her grapes with the highest quality vineyard management possible. “During those five years while the vineyard came into its own, we focused on the vines.” Jeff Newton and Ben Merz, (two more wine stars) of Coastal Vineyard Care provided exactly that kind of expertise. The fruits of Vogelzang Vineyard are now sold to the “who's who, red-carpet crowd” of Santa Barbara County wineries including Foxen, Benjamin Silver, Bonacorcci, Arthur Earl, Qupe, Margerum, Fiddlehead, and Curtis among others.

The same dedication to learning and excellence in farming is now being extended to winemaking in Mary Beth's second five-year plan. In 2006, Vogelzang Vineyard was ready to take the step into creating its own Vogelzang Vineyard Estate Wine. Again, stepping out in innovation, Mary Beth went to a top northern California winemaker, Robbie Meyer, formerly of Peter Michael and Lewis Cellars. “So many great wines were being made in the valley with our grapes; I just wanted to see if we could create something different. That led me to find Robbie, who had been making great wines in Calistoga for years.” Robbie took six tons of Sauvignon Blanc and has just released the first of the several planned estate wines.

The first is the 2005 Vogelzang Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc. Although only 200 cases were produced, you can try to get some quickly through the website (www.VogelzangVineyard.com) or when dining out at bouchon, Wine Cask, or Opal in Santa Barbara. Next up will be the Cabernet Sauvignon, harvested from Blocks K and W, to be released in the fall of either 2008 or 2009.

Mary Beth acknowledges the help people have given her at each step of her vineyard endeavor. “I feel in continual debt,” she says, “to the generosity of so many people in the Santa Ynez Valley who opened their hearts to me. I don't know if I'll ever be able to repay them.”