Fogarty, from the Beginning
Thomas Fogarty in the Santa Cruz Mountains
GDP's winery visit to an undiscovered region with great potential
Fogarty, from the Beginning
While it may be surprising that the region’s wineries must make do with modest yields and the modest prices relatively obscurity allows, it’s fortunate that they perservere. In fact Thomas Fogarty has been doing it for over 30 years. First bonded as a winery in 1981, the Fogarty story begins in a rather roundabout way. The land was purchased as an investment and the winery was begun as a way to help pay the bills. Yes, there was some romanticism involved, but as Tommy Fogarty related to me it was in fact all based on a series of very practical decisions.
The vineyards were planted piece by piece, with the first vines going in the ground back in 1977. Vineyards were planted where they could be planted, and once you drive around this rugged, steep, and craggy property, it’s easy to see why. Early settlers to the region had cleared what land they could for farming and grazing purposes, and while they had left these lands long before the Fogarty family purchased them, the impact of their work remained. The lands that had been cleared remained relatively open, full of scraggly greasewood bushes but obviously the easiest place to plant vines. Not “easiest” in the easy sense, of course; even today, after decades of work these vineyards remain challenging to traverse.
The plantings were finished in 1982, creating the basic outline of the current Fogarty vineyards, though a relatively recent addition of Nebbiolo, just a third of an acre on a wickedly steep slope side, shows things are not yet quite complete here. A third of an acre is a small vineyard, but on this property it’s not the only miniscule patch of vines; the Damiana Chardonnay vineyard is basically the same size, and is even bottled on its own when the vintage warrants it. The entire vineyard plantings consist of the 16 acres of Chardonnay plus nine of Pinot Noir, and the Nebbiolo garden, all spread out among eight plots that roughly range between one and five acres each.
The Fogarty family has taken advantage of the diversity these vineyards are able to produce, and since 2004 they have bottled the vineyards separately in those vintages where the vineyards express something unique and distinctive. Prior to 2004, there had been a Reserve bottling comprised of the best lots from each vineyard, but now the single vineyard bottlings are seen as a better use for that juice.
The Surprises of Diverse Terrain
Driving the property you get a clear sense of why that is--with a lot of land and just a few scattered vineyards there really do appear to have significant differences from plot to plot. Moving from that highest most exposed Windy Hill plot to a lower vineyard known as Rapley Trail, considered to be the heart and soul of the winery, and then continuing to the lowest elevation vineyard known as Razorback, one passes through a variety of soils, orientations, and of course fog lines. And the fogline here plays a critical role in how fruit ripens.
Take, for example, 2012: an incredibly warm vintage for vineyards above the fog line and yet one that was incredibly cool for those below, due to unusually thick and persistent fog that year. As you might expect, this was a reverse of the norm that typically sees cooler temperatures at higher elevation and more exposed sites, with pockets of warmth building as one moves down slope. Just another issue to deal with in what many have and will argue is just about the edge of where grapes can thrive. Of course impressions have changed, as has the weather, and newer neighbors such as Clos de la Tech and Rhys might argue that point.
I would as well, though tasting the 2012 Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir reminds us that the edge of ripeness, while not always close at hand, can make an appearance at any time, and leave you with a 12.8% alcohol Pinot Noir. A very delicious 12.8%, by the way.
The fact that the winery actually produced and bottled this 12.8% Pinot Noir, when the previous vintage clocked in at a more typical and robust 14.2%, is indicative of the overall philosophy driving Thomas Fogarty. The goal here, in the vineyard as well as the cellar, is to allow the vineyard sites and the vintages to express themselves, and in that there is no doubt they’ve succeeded.
Between Old and New Ways
The wines at Thomas Fogarty undergo a fairly typical barrel aging regimen, though the wood that's used is air-dried for three years, ensuring that its imprint on the wine is light and more to the spice end of the spectrum, and Nathan confides that he is not looking to add vanilla to his wines.
The wines are allowed to ferment on their native yeasts both for primary fermentation and malolactic, and there's very little done to the wines while they age. Even lees stirring is eschewed, being viewed as evolving the wines in negative way. The results are wines that the winemaker freely admits tend to be backwards and difficult for many a consumer to grasp, but wines that ultimately reward cellaring and remain true to the soil from which they sprang. One gets a sense that Tommy Fogarty is a bit torn over this, no doubt fully cognizant of the difficulty this style presents to the marketing and sales half of the business, but at the same time committed to sticking to his guns, and since I do like the wines quite a bit, one has to applaud him for that!