Foxen Vineyard was founded by Bill Wathen and Dick Doré in 1985. They still operate it today. Bill is responsible for winemaking and viticulture, Dick is general manager and runs sales. Their wines are made from Bordelais, Burgundian, Rhone, Loire and Italian varieties.
The winery is located in the southeast corner of the Santa Maria Valley AVA, on Foxen Canyon Road. It lies within the 2000-acre Rancho Tinaquaic. Dick’s great-great grandfather, William Benjamin Foxen, purchased that land—actually 9,000 acres at the time—with a Mexican land grant in 1837. The whole area eventually became known as Foxen Canyon in his honor.
Dick was born and raised on Rancho Tinaquaic. Bill and Dick planted their estate Tinaquaic Vineyard there too, in 1989. They started with just 10-acres, using canes sourced from other vineyards in the area. They have added acres and vines since. Today, the vineyard has 15 acres of Syrah, 15 acres of Cabernet Franc and 6 acres of Chardonnay.
Bill has a degree in fruit science and had extensive viticultural experience even before his 30-year stint at Foxen. He worked at the historic Tepusquet Vineyard (now Cambria) and Nelson Vineyard (now Byron) and then under Dick Graff as vineyard manager at Chalone. At Foxen, the old, own-rooted vines are carefully tended and are the only ones dry-farmed in the AVA.
Foxen Winery also has ownership in two other vineyards. The 3-acre Ernesto Wickenden Vineyard sits within the Nielson Vineyard and provides Foxen with Chenin Blanc. The Williamson-Doré Vineyard, owned by Dick and his wife Jeanne, is in Santa Ynez Valley—specifically, within the new Los Olivos District AVA. Planted in 1999, it is just under 5 acres overall and includes Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre and Sangiovese.
The winery sources additional grapes from top vineyards in the Santa Maria Valley, Santa Ynez Valley, Happy Canyon and Sta. Rita Hills AVAs. The winery’s location is ideal, not just because it’s within the estate vineyard, but because Bill can be in any of the vineyards from which they buy fruit in 30 minutes or less. This allows him to give all the vines they use regular, personal attention.
Foxen has two tasting rooms within a few hundred feet of each other in the Santa Maria Valley. The original one, now known as Foxen 7200, features Bordeaux and Italian varieties. The new tasting room, at 7600 Foxen Canyon Road, pours the rest.
On a recent trip to Santa Maria Valley, I had the opportunity to sit down with Bill Wathen and taste through many of their current releases.
2015 Foxen Chenin Blanc Ernesto Wickenden Vineyard “Old Vines” Santa Maria Valley 92 14.2% 750ml $25
Some of the grapes from the thick-trunked vines, planted in 1966, were fermented in stainless steel, the rest in 500-liter French oak. The nose is focused, offering Golden Delicious apple and lemon. The palate is nearly full-bodied with a beautiful, satin texture. It’s fresh in the mouth with tangy flavors of yellow apple, lemon, stern stone fruit and a hint of spice. The finish is very long. The 2015 Foxen Chenin Blanc is drinking very well now, but has the structure to age several years.
2015 Foxen Chardonnay Block UU Bien Nacido Vineyard Santa Maria Valley 92+ 13.4% 750ml $32
The two clones of Chardonnay used here (4 & 5) were grafted onto some of Bien Nacido’s initial plantings of Riesling (1973). They are often referred to as “own-rooted,” because they are on Vitis Vinifera rootstock. The wine is wholly barrel-fermented with native yeast in French oak. Malolactic fermentation may or may not occur, but is never induced.
The nose is attractive with pronounced aromas of white flowers, citrus blossom and green apple along with somewhat pungent pineapple and grapefruit juice. The juicy, long-lasting palate of medium+ body matches those aromas and their intensity. A unique Chardonnay and very good.
2014 Foxen Pinot Noir Santa Maria Valley 91 13.8% 750ml $35
The grapes, six clones of Pinot Noir, were sourced from the Bien Nacido, Solomon Hills and Riverbench Vineyards. The bunches were destemmed, but whole-berry fermented in open-top containers then aged in well-used French oak barrels for nine months. This style of fermentation is common to most of Foxen’s Pinots.
The nose is moderately intense and fruit-forward, with aromas of red cherry and raspberry complemented by attractive, sweet herb. The palate is medium-bodied and gently fresh with very fine, soft, velvety texture. Flavors match the nose and go on for some time.
2014 Foxen Pinot Noir Block 8 Bien Nacido Vineyard Santa Maria Valley 93 14.3% 750ml $62
Block 8 was planted for Foxen by Bien Nacido in 1996. It features five clones of Pinot Noir: 113, 115, Mt. Eden, 2A/Wadenswil and Pommard. Each clone is harvested and fermented individually. The wine aged in French oak for 16 months.
This is a lovely Pinot, generally fruit-forward but with attractive, non-fruit notes adding complexity. Aromas and lingering flavors include wild cherry, tangy herb, dried flowers, spice and wood. The palate is medium-bodied with very fine texture giving the sensation of slippery silk.
2014 Foxen Block 43 Bien Nacido Vineyard Santa Maria Valley 93 14.5% 750ml $58
Below Block 8 in the Bien Nacido Vineyard, the 2.5 acre Block 43 was planted to equal counts of Dijon clones 667 and 777 for Foxen in 2006.
The Block 43 Pinot Noir is fuller, darker and more intense in the mouth than it’s Block 8 counterpart, but less complex for the moment. It offers medium+ body with aromas and long-lasting flavors of deep red cherry, Bing cherry and spice. Tannins are on the generous side of medium with very fine, soft texture.
2014 Foxen Pinot Noir Solomon Hills Vineyard 93 13.4% 750ml $58
From Block 50 in the Solomon Hills Vineyard, this Pinot shows off the site’s extremely cool-climate, maritime nature with its sand dune soil, ocean breezes and long hours under the marine layer. Alcohol is a full point lower than the Bien Nacido wines and the flavors are tangier as well.
Generous aromas and flavors of tangy red cherry, tangerine pith, and sweet spice. Medium-bodied, fresh and gently structured in the mouth with very fine, soft texture and a long finish.
2014 Foxen Pinot Noir Julia’s Vineyard Santa Maria Valley 93 14.2% 750ml $65
The fruit here is all Pommard clone from block B3 in the Julia’s Vineyard. That vineyard is part of the much larger Cambria Vineyard and essentially across the street to the south from Bien Nacido.
This is a lovely Pinot, with medium body pushing medium+ and nice juiciness in the mouth an a long finish. Aromas and flavors feature red cherry, leather and spice.
2014 Foxen Pinot Noir John Sebastiano Vineyard Sta. Rita Hills 94 13.7% 750ml $48
The John Sebastiano Vineyard is toward the eastern edge of the Sta. Rita HIlls AVA. Being relatively warm therefore in the AVA, it’s typically the first Sta. Rita Hills site Foxen harvests. The grapes in this wine come from four blocks planted about eight years ago. The thick limestone topsoil is a challenge for new plantings and these vines are just beginning to hit their stride.
The nose and palate show the AVA’s “trademark” red cherry fruit, along with grenadine and pretty herb. Body is medium+ and there’s nice intensity to the flavors. The finish is very long and juicy.
2014 Foxen Pinot Noir Melville Vineyard 93 13.5% 750ml $64
The fruit for this wine comes from Melville’s C Block, which is located behind the Melville winery. The soils are of very fine, “sugar sand” and Corralitos loamy sand. The clones are Dijon 115 and 777.
This is a delightful Pinot Noir with pure, focused, red cherry flavors and aromas. It approaches full body but remains mouthwatering. The finish is quite long.
2014 Foxen Pinot Noir Fe Ciega Vineyard Sta. Rita Hills 94 12.9% 750ml $66
This vineyard, owned by local winemaking pioneer Rick Longoria, is located low on the southern slope of the central spine of hills in the AVA. To the south, across the Santa Ynez River and Santa Rosa Road, sits the La Encantada Vineyard. The clones are 115, 667 and Pommard. Winemaker Bill Wathen says that both the Fe Ciega and La Encantada wines “take a little time to come around.”
This is a dense, but gorgeous and long, wine that, for now, is all about deep, red cherry. Medium+ body and very juicy. With its intensity, pronounced acidity and overall balance, this is a wine that will age very well.
2014 Foxen Pinot Noir La Encantada Vineyard Sta. Rita Hills 94 13.9% 750ml $62
The La Encantada Vineyard, established by Sta. Rita Hills legend Richard Sanford, was one of the first vineyards in the AVA to be certified organic. It’s fairly far west in the AVA, quite far south and one of the coolest sites there.
This wine uses four clones, picked from four different blocks in the vineyard. Like the Fe Ciega wine, it is dense and flavorful with the promise of long aging. Body is medium+ and the flavors, wild cherry with a hint of raspberry, are very long.
2013 Foxen Syrah Williamson-Doré Vineyard Los Olivos District 94 14.7% 750ml $46
The nose is focused on concentrated black plum and black cherry. The very richly flavored palate holds the same fruit, but adds savory spices. Medium+ body and juicy with moderate tannins that are extremely fine, soft and well-integrated. Very long finish.
2013 Foxen Syrah Tinaquaic Vineyard Santa Maria Valley 92+ 14.9% 750ml $48
This wine, from Foxen’s estate vineyard, shows very ripe black plum and black cherry. Body is medium+ and the tannins, though moderate, very fine and soft, have chalkiness that persist throughout the lengthy finish. An earlier drinker than the Williamson-Doré.
2014 Foxen Cuvée Jeanne Marie Williamson-Doré Vineyard Los Olivos District 92+ 14.5% 750ml $40
This blend (76% Grenache, 24% Mourvedre, both Tables clone) is named after Dick and Bill’s wives. It was aged for 20 months in 500-liter French oak puncheons. It has a nose of friendly red cherries and the flavor is similar with a focus on sweet, delicious Maraschino cherry. Body is a generous medium and there’s lively acidity to balance the fruit. The flavors are both long and concentrated.
2014 Foxen 7200 Range 30 West Red Wine Happy Canyon 94 14.3% 750ml $44
This is a blend of 52% Merlot from the Vogelzang Vineyard and 48% Tinaquaic-clone Cabernet Franc from the Jack McGinley Vineyard, both in the Happy Canyon AVA. The nose and palate offer red currant, mocha, red cherry and beautiful hints of drying leaves. Medium+ body and gently fresh with great balance and a very long finish.
2013 Foxen 7200 Cabernet Sauvignon Star Lane Vineyard Happy Canyon 93+ 15.6% 750ml $50
This wine is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, clone 191, from a block near the top of the very impressive hill at Star Lane. The south-facing slope is quite steep, 30+ degrees. While Happy Canyon gets hot during the day and sees a lot of sun, this site is also extremely windy. And, because of the altitude, its highs are a bit cooler than the valley floor and it has greater exposure to late afternoon cooling from the ocean. The difference between high and low temperatures on any given day during the growing season can exceed 50 degrees, preserving acidity.
This is a full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon with aromas of sweet black currant, spice—especially cinnamon—and violets. The black currant, spice and violets of the nose show on the palate too, along with accents of oak. The alcohol is measurably high but the wine is very well-balanced in the mouth and the very ripe fruit is utterly delicious. The finish is extremely long.
2013 Foxen 7200 Cabernet Franc Tinaquaic Vineyard Santa Maria Valley 95 15.1% 750ml $48
Three clones of Cabernet Franc are complemented by a 5% dose of Petit Verdot, all of which were co-fermented. The fruit was taken from two sections of Foxen’s estate vineyard: one planted in 1989, the other in 2008.
The nose features dusty cocoa and red currant. The palate, medium+ body with underlying freshness and pronounced intensity, also shows that dusty cocoa and red currant, but adds dark cherries and some coconut. The finish seems to go on for days.
Copyright Fred Swan 2017. Tinaquaic Vineyard photo courtesy of Foxen Vineyard. All rights reserved.