Wines and Vineyards

It was a warm day on the Valley floor as I hummed up Highway 84 to Skyline towards Thomas Fogarty Winery in Woodside to meet some wine friends. You could see fog walling up from Half Moon Bay to the west, like a cresting wave, but when I arrived at the winery, a clear view to San Francisco spread before me, a kite unfurling towards the horizon. As I passed the onsite pond, a private group was setting up for a splendid afternoon picnic. Smart people, I thought. They must be club members here.

Blue skies and a stiffening breeze made it perfect weather for enjoying this spectacular setting, truly one of the finest overlooking the Silicon Valley. The site of so many charitable events I’ve attended or poured at in the past, Fogarty Winery is a gem, no matter what the weather or the season. Now, though, all those big fundraisers have been sidelined and brides have been forced to face the music of a smaller orchestra, and a smaller audience, some time in the murky future. But meanwhile, there is the here and now, and now, more than ever, it’s a good time for wine.

For those longing for some truly fresh air and a brisk, tastebud-tingling wine tasting experience, Fogarty is now open by reservation, for seated tasting flights daily. There are several options, with the most popular being the seated private single vineyard tasting flight of five wines for $25/person.

From the lofty Wedding Deck above the Damiana Vineyard, which was planted in 1978 by proprietor Tommy Fogarty’s father, Thomas, the famous heart surgeon, we sampled the 2016 Damiana Chardonnay, admiring the rich, creamy, yet sinewy body of this full throttle wine. There’s a touch of ginger cream along with the viscous orchard fruit, framed by graham crackers. [Tommy is pictured on the deck.]

Looking down at the vines, one has to admire their individuality. Unlike a field of wheat or barley, they are instead a collection of imperfect little trees, each one struggling to produce fruit from the thin sandy topsoil, in a microclimate constantly blasted by maritime winds. It’s tempting to name each one. Another thing you notice is the wide spacing: five feet between the rows and three feet between the vines. That’s a sure sign of a heritage vineyard, installed prior to 2000, to accommodate the tractors of the day.

Tommy shared that his Dad at first wanted to plant pomegranates here, but his friend, Dr. David Bruce, said, “No, no! Pinot Noir!” Alas, so popular was Pinot in these parts at the time, that the nursery had only Chardonnay vines – clone 4, to be exact – the old Wente clone. It makes a fine Chardonnay, but the vines are suffering from disease and don’t produce much. A replant will eventually yield a much more tightly spaced vineyard.

The next wine we sampled was the 2016 Langley Hill Chardonnay, from a younger vineyard with the same clone 4, in a different exposure. It’s pure apple pie, plush and fruity with plenty of cinnamon spice, smooth minerality through the mid-palate and a finish of butterscotch. But the acid is superb, so it never gets bogged down.

There are also two roses on the menu, the 2019 Rosalie Rose of Pinot Noir and one of Carignane from Lodi, along with an amazing twice disgorged sparkling.

We pulled a few strings to try the 2016 Walker’s Nebbiolo, a brilliant instantiation of an old world style, from its amber rosy hue to its wild herb and Amaro aromatics. Grown at the Gist Ranch Vineyard, this arresting Nebbiolo is aged in Austrian casks from a producer that has been making them since 1895.  Says winemaker Nate Kandler: “It’s the most difficult variety to grow I could ever imagine, but I love the challenge and the wine!”

Fogarty has several Pinots available to purchase, including both single vineyard and appellation blends. We tried both the 2016 Rapley Trail, which we loved for its winsome plum, cherry and spice tea notes, along with forest floor and mushroom, and the 2016 Windy Hill Pinot Noir, from a vineyard that was replanted in 2012. Although the Rapley Trail seems to always get the highest score from critics, my friends and I really loved the phenomenally earthy, ferny, cranberry and pomegranate notes of the Windy Hill, which clocks in a 12.5% alcohol – more like Burgundy than California.

Tasting here will remove you so far from the strange world we’ve suddenly entered that you might leave saying, as my good friend Janice did, “This was so great, I forgot all about Covid the whole time!” Details about visiting are available online.

In addition to the seated single vineyard tasting on the Wedding Deck, there are two other options available:

Tour and Tasting: A semi-private tour and tasting for up to 10 people, can be scheduled daily to begin at 11:00 am. You’ll see some of the highlights of this magnificent property and taste wines from the various vineyards you spy along the way.

The Fogarty Experience: If you really want to do a deep-dive into the Fogarty Winery, book this semi-private guided vineyard tour where you will learn about the winery’s history, its hand cultivated vineyard practices that employ organic, sustainable, and bio-dynamic farming, along what they’ve learned from four decades of growing Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Then you’ll pop into the cellar, for a description of Fogarty’s traditional winemaking techniques, which have always included native yeast fermentation, as begun by founding winemaker, Michael Martella, and the current winemaker, Nathan Kandler, who so aptly took the reins when Martella retired. You’ll finish with a tasting of single vineyard wines at a private table. This one involves walking uphill and down, and sometimes there’s more up than down, so wear comfortable walking shoes. No open-toed shoes, please, and no one under 21. $45 per person. Allow at least 90 minutes.

Club Members receive four complimentary tastings per visit and one complimentary Fogarty Experience Tour for a group of four guests annually. Get details about Club memberships online.

The winemaking team at Fogarty also holds online tasting sessions via Zoom and Facebook Live on Thursdays at 5:00 pm PST, featuring cheese pairings with a different selection of wines. The extraordinary cheeses are chosen by renowned cheese expert, Kent Torrey, owner of The Cheese Shop in Carmel. Highly recommended! He nails the pairings. See Thomas Fogarty Facebook page for more information.

Author Laura Ness is long-time Bay Area wine writer

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