I'm Thankful for... Thomas Fogarty Wines

At this holiday season, the kind of wines I am most thankful for are those made by dedicated, small producers in relatively tiny quantities based on particular, distinctive vineyard sites. One that I visited in recent months that not only fills this bill but also makes the kind of food-friendly wines that are ideal for the holidays is Thomas Fogarty Winery.

Thomas Fogarty is one of the older wineries in my home wine region, the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA, having been established as a commercial winery in 1981. The proprietor is Dr. Thomas J. Fogarty, who has long been a professor of surgery at Stanford University and who invented the first balloon catheter used in humans. His several dozen other patented medical inventions include a line of vascular clips and clamps.

Dr. Fogarty was introduced to winemaking shortly after coming to Stanford in 1969. He initially helped a Stanford colleague with his vineyard and cellar. He then purchased property in Woodside along Skyline Boulevard, at a 2000 foot elevation. He built a small cellar there and started making wine with grapes purchased from neighboring growers. He planted his first vineyard on the property in 1978, and this parcel now consists of 325 acres, 25 of which are planted.

Tommy Fogarty

I got to tour the vineyards on this property with Dr. Fogarty's son, Tommy Fogarty. Tommy is a former professional race car driver, and himself an inventor. The ridgetop setting of the property is spectacular -- the steep vineyards are encircled by tall trees and one encounters many fabulous views of the Santa Clara Valley. There are a total of eight small vineyards planted along the hillsides there, on either southeast or east-facing slopes. Four of the vineyards -- Albutom, Damiana, Langley Hill and Portola Springs -- are planted to Chardonnay; three (Rapley Trail, Razorback and Windy Hill) to pinot noir; and one very small vineyard was planted to Nebbiolo in 1998.

The winery also owns another property about 17 miles south of these vineyards. This 100-acre parcel known as Gist Ranch sits on another ridge of the Santa Cruz Mountains at a 2300-foot elevation. Gist Ranch is more inland than the estate vineyard in Woodside, and therefore warmer. About 14 acres there are currently planted to a variety of grapes, including cabernet sauvignon, merlot, malbec, cabernet franc, syrah, chardonnay and pinot gris.

The winemaker at Thomas Fogarty since the winery's inception is Michael Martella. He studied enology at California State University at Fresno before gaining experience at some of the largest wineries in the San Joaquin Valley. Since 2004, Michael has been joined in winemaking by another Fresno State enology grad who just happens to share Michael's birthday (March 29), Nathan Kandler.

Winemaker Michael Martella

During my visit, I got to taste barrel samples with Tommy and Nathan, and a wonderful series of older wines and representative newer wines with Tommy, Nathan and Michael. The quality overall is impressive and the older wines we tasted fully demonstrated their ageworthiness. I was particularly taken by the Chardonnays, with their distinctive characteristics deriving from the different vineyard sites, and by the pinot noirs, which in some vintages are bottled as vineyard, or even vineyard block, designates, and in other vintages are simply blended into an estate and an appellation bottling.

Albutom Vineyard

The oldest chardonnay we tried was a reserve bottling from 1992. It was one of my two top wines of the day, and wonderfully complex and rich, with saffron, clarified butter and hazelnut flavors. Also quite wonderful were 2009 bottlings from each of the Woodside estate's separate chardonnay vineyards. My favorite of these, for its complexity and long finish, was from the Albutom vineyard, a tiny one-quarter acre parcel. Also very appealing was the Langley Hill Vineyard bottling, a 5.25-acre vineyard that often has to be picked three or four times due to uneven ripening. I also very much enjoyed both the 2009 and 2008 bottlings from the two acre Portola Springs Vineyard.

The pinot noirs we tasted dated back to 1991. A four-year vertical of the estate bottlings from 1991 to 1994 included the wonderfully complex 1994, with its firm tannins and a long finish -- my other top wine of the day. All of these older pinots showed well, however, like many of the mature pinot noirs from the Santa Cruz Mountains I've had the privilege to taste over the years.

Associate Winemaker Nathan Kandler tasting 1990s pinots

We also tasted individual block bottlings of pinot noir from the five and half acre Rapley Trail Vineyard from the few vintages (2002, 2007 and 2008) when they felt this vineyard's individual blocks merited featuring separately the middle section (Block M) from its lower one (Block B). The 2007 bottlings for both blocks were the most impressive of this flight for me, with their distinctive spiciness.

Other notable reds from this winery include a meritage called Lexington, made from the Bordeaux varieties grown on their Gist Ranch property, as well as some purchased fruit; and a very tiny quantity of Nebbiolo from the Woodside property -- one of the best domestic Nebbiolos I've ever sampled.

A final treat at our tasting were two vintages of the Gewürztraminer they have made for years from purchased fruit. A 1996 bottling was delightful -- full of geraniums, old roses and spice -- and the current, 2009 bottling was likewise full of floral notes and minerality. Either would make for a wonderful pairing alongside a holiday turkey.

The tasting room at the Fogarty vineyards in Woodside has wonderful views and rustic charm. It is open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday, and from noon to four on Mondays. I highly recommend a visit.

For my tasting notes on all the wines I tasted there, see the complete report on my blog here.