Wine Ink: Anniversary, sunshine in a bottle: Foxen comes to Snowmass
Kelly J. Hayes
It’s that time of year when a trip to California Wine Country sounds pretty enticing. Especially Santa Barbara Wine Country. But if you can’t make a trip out West in the dark days of January, the next best thing is to uncork a bottle of Santa Barbara sunshine.
That is exactly what will be happening Thursday evening in Snowmass at the Viceroy Snowmass hotel’s TORO restaurant. Dick Doré, founder and owner of Foxen Vineyards and Winery, along with his wife, Jenny Williamson Doré, who is in charge of marketing for the venerable Santa Barbara winery, will be hosting a wine dinner pairing their wines with a specially prepared meal by TORO chef Jay McCarthy. Dick and Jenny are no strangers to the region as they often come to the resort to ski, eat and drink.
“Dick and I make a trip to Aspen this week every year,” said Jenny in a recent phone interview. “We find the food scene in Aspen/Snowmass is simply the best.”
To make the event even more special, the 10th also marks the 10th wedding anniversary for Dick and Jenny, who originally met in the wine business over a decade ago. “We knew we were coming to the mountains this week and when Dick said, ‘How do you feel about a wine dinner on our anniversary?’ I thought for a minute and said ‘Sure,’” she recalled. “That’s the way it is when you’re in the wine world.”
In 1985, Dick Doré, a former banker who had a pristine plot of land and a long history in the Santa Barbara hills, paired with Bob Walthen, a viticulturist who had worked under and had been mentored by the legendary Dick Graf at Chalone Winery in Monterrey County, to found Foxen. “Dick knew his way around a balance sheet and Bill is a farmer,” said Jenny about the partnership. It was the perfect Mr. Inside/Mr. Outside relationship. Many marriages don’t endure as long as the bond that Dick and Bob have fostered and, in 2015, the winery celebrated its 30th year.
Foxen is best known for producing single-vineyard, even single-block (smaller, specific sections of vines within a vineyard), pinot noir wines. They source from their own Tinaquaic Vineyard and also have long-time contracts with many of the most prestigious vineyards in the region, including names like La Encantada (Sta. Rita Hills), Bien Nacido (Santa Maria Valley) and Vogelzang Vineyard (Happy Canyon, Santa Barbara). In fact, many of the vineyards they source owe at least part of their reputations to wines that Foxen has made using their grapes. The respect among the wine community in Santa Barbara runs both wide and deep for the “Foxen Boys.”
Bill Walthen’s winemaking philosophy is focused on soil and sun. “First and foremost, I have always been a vineyard guy,” he said. “I look at each individual vineyard and its unique terroir as the building blocks for the wines I cultivate from these sites.” Even now, three decades in, Walthen visits each vineyard, each block, on a weekly basis throughout the year. “This belief was ingrained into me during my early years as the vineyard manager at Chalone Winery,” he said. Minimalist winemaking is a mantra. Under the capable hand of David Whitehair, who was named head winemaker in 2016, all of the wines Foxen produces are unfiltered and unfined. This results in freshness and purity on the palate.
The land that hosts Foxen Vineyards and Winery is known as the Rancho Tinaquaic and was an original Spanish Land grant property. Dick Doré’s great-great grandfather, English sea Captain Benjamin Foxen, bought 900 acres of the Rancho Tinaquaic in 1837 and it has remained in the family for six generations. Basking in the sunshine, the rolling hills of the region make it one of the most picturesque winescapes in the world.
Today, Foxen produces up to 28 wines, including Rhône style and Bordeaux blends. Each harvest and production averages around 15,000 cases depending upon the bounty the vintage provides. A visit to the winery on Foxen Canyon Road provides an opportunity to not only taste a variety of exquisite wines, but also to experience the first solar powered tasting room in Santa Barbara County. Built in 2009, the “green” facility marries the technology of the times to simple ranch style building in keeping with the heritage of the property.
And just up the road is what is still called “the shack,” an old blacksmith facility that features what Jenny refers to as “our 15 seconds of fame” in the movie “Sideways.” In this tiny roadside room, guests can taste Foxen’s Bordeaux blends and Italian varietals, what they bill as their “7200” series, in an authentic atmosphere that offers an ode to a time past in California history.
January can be a cold and snowy month in the mountains, but Dick and Jenny will be bringing wines that were made in the sunshine, along with the power of their decade of togetherness.
Kelly J. Hayes lives in the soon-to-be-designated appellation of Old Snowmass. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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