Thomas Fogarty in the Santa Cruz Mountains

GDP's winery visit to an undiscovered region with great potential


The Santa Cruz Mountains: not the first place that springs to mind when we think of the top appellations in California now is it? Of course, one of the reasons it remains undiscovered is that, as appellations go, it's not easy, which many might say is part of its charm.
Joy in the Journey
It’s not easy to travel through, not easy to visit, and not easy to farm. As the name implies, the appellations trenches over the Santa Cruz Mountains, meaning that roads tend to be steep and winding, towns and accommodation few and far between, and vineyards rocky, steep and low-yielding. What turns out to be a challenge for visitors and winemakers alike ends up being irresistible, almost adventurous. Winemakers struggle through and wine lovers learn to make the effort needed to visit and learn about the region.
These efforts are well rewarded.  The wines produced here are, in many cases, among the best of their types in California. Due to variance in terrain and climate, and significantly influenced by the famed coastal fogs of California, there’s room for a variety of world class wines to be produced here. It's naturally a land for the cool climate-loving Burgundian varieties such as Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, but it’s also well suited for varieties as diverse as Nebbiolo, Gewürztraminer and even Cabernet Sauvignon.
Pioneers in Temporary Obscurity
But what makes the region special, besides the topography and climate, are the people, people who bucked the odds and pioneered a winemaking renaissance here. It's actually a region with a long winemaking history, certainly stretching  to at least the mid to late 19th century, though Prohibition brought nearly all of that intensive industry to a stand still. It wasn't until the 1970s that the region began to reclaim some of its previous glory and truth be told it’s a region just now finding the fame and following it deserves.
Take for example Thomas Fogarty winery. Don't feel bad if your not familiar with their wines, with a rare exception, nearly all of the wineries here have toiled away in near anonymity for quite some time, decades in the case of Thomas Fogarty. I recently had the pleasure of visiting this beautiful property, perched on the edge of Skyline Drive, which tracks long the ridge line here at some 2000 feet above sea level.
I spent several hours touring the property and tasting with winemaker Nathan Kandler and Tommy Fogarty, son of the eponymous founder. Our tour began right outside the winery facility at the highest point on the property just below 2000 feet, a parcel known as the Windy Hill Vineyard.
Just recently replanted, in this case from Pinot Noir to Chardonnay, this vineyard of some six or seven acres represents a large chunk of the Chardonnay found on the property, 16 acres in total. As the most exposed vineyard at Thomas Fogarty, the replanting project here not only allowed for a change of rootstock (the clones are for the most part heritage clones such as Calera and Martini), it also gave the owners a chance to re-orient the vines.
Thriving in Regional Challenges
One of the issues in dealing with a vineyard this high up and this close to the coast is the weather, in particular the winds that act as a persistent threat to the rows of vines oriented perpendicular to the prevailing winds. This is not an issue exclusive to the Santa Cruz Mountains, and in fact it’s a phenomenon that occurs throughout the world. But it does help to illustrate that the region is not a vinous backwater but rather as cutting edge in vineyard practices as any region, and perhaps ahead of many due to the difficulty of growing conditions encountered here.
The weather coupled with the soil (mostly topsoil covering fractured sandstone and shale for about 18 inches, then solid shale) naturally limits yields here. It might only be my opinion, but these naturally limited vines seem to have better innate balance than many other vines where growers need to drop fruit to get yields down to, say, two tons an acre, a yield that the folks at Fogarty consider to be about the best they can do, and rarely that. Average yields are closer to about one ton per acre, probably averaging somewhere between a ton and a ton and a third each year. Minuscule yields, however, allow for the creation of some compelling wines.

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  • A bit puzzled by the idea these are unknown--the following list has some pretty well known wines. Thanks for the details on Thomas Fogarty a favorite.
    hlgren Vineyard
    Alfaro Family Vineyards
    Aptos Vineyard
    Bargetto Winery
    Beauregard Vineyards
    Big Basin Vineyards
    Black Ridge Vineyards
    Bonny Doon Vineyard
    Bruzzone Family Vineyards
    Burrell School Vineyards
    Byington Vineyard & Winery
    Cinnabar Winery
    Clos de la Tech
    Clos LaChance Winery
    Clos Tita Winery
    Cooper-Garrod Estate Vineyards
    Dancing Creek Winery
    Domenico Winery
    Downhill Cellars
    Fernwood Cellars
    Hallcrest Vineyard & The Organic Wine Works
    Heart O' The Mountain
    House Family Winery
    Hunter Hill Vineyard & Winery, Inc.
    Kathryn Kennedy Winery
    Kings Mountain Vineyards
    La Honda Winery
    La Nebbia Winery
    La Rusticana D'Orsa
    Loma Prieta Winery
    Martin Ranch Winery
    McCarthy Family Estate Vineyards
    McHenry Vineyard
    Michael Martella Wine
    MJA Vineyards
    Mount Eden Vineyards
    Muccigrosso Vineyards
    Muns Vineyard
    Naumann Vineyards
    Nicholson Vineyards
    Osocalis Distillery
    P M Staiger
    Pelican Ranch Winery
    Pleasant Valley Vineyards
    Poetic Cellars
    Portola Vineyards
    Regale Winery and Vineyards
    Rhys Vineyards LLC
    Ridge Vineyards
    River Run Vintners
    Roudon-Smith Winery
    Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard
    Sante Arcangeli Family Wines
    Savannah-Chanelle Vineyards
    Silver Mountain Vineyards
    Silvertip Vineyards
    Sones Cellars
    Soquel Vineyards
    Storrs Winery
    The Mountain Winery
    The Organic Wineworks
    Thomas Fogarty Winery & Vineyards
    Travieso Winery formerly Pinder Winery
    Trout Gulch Vineyards
    Villa del Monte Winery
    Windy Oaks Estate Vineyards & Winery
    Woodside Vineyards
    Zayante Vineyards

    Feb 21, 2013 at 2:50 PM

  • as above

    Feb 21, 2013 at 2:51 PM

  • Snooth User: rhw168
    635553 144

    Nice list, farmerdocwino!

    Somehow this list missed one of my favorite up-and-coming winery:
    Jason-Stephens Winery
    which is just a few miles down the road from Clos LaChance.

    Feb 21, 2013 at 3:59 PM

  • Would have to agree Jason-Stephens Winery is producing great wine for their size and both are very passionate wine makers.

    Feb 21, 2013 at 4:57 PM

  • Disappointed that this article, and the last article about the Santa Cruz Mountains, took the easy way out and picked the most well known vineyards to write about. It is like writing an article about Napa and talking about upcoming vineyards BV, Chateau Montelena, etc. Please do some research on the list that farmerdocwino posted and shed some light on some truly unknown, but great, Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyards.

    Feb 21, 2013 at 6:59 PM

  • Snooth User: napagirl68
    Hand of Snooth
    87843 2,860

    I do think Greg did a small piece on Santa Cruz Mtn Vineyards, IIRC. Otherwise, I have to agree with Snoother 1078870- so many of the real talents were missed!! Good list, farmerdocwino.

    Feb 21, 2013 at 9:10 PM

  • Snooth User: stlpm636
    496444 29

    A nice article, though I agree that 1) Santa Cruz is not an unknown area,and 2) writing about Thomas Fogarty is an "easy way out". I do wish there were pictures, however!

    Feb 22, 2013 at 10:47 AM

  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 238,748

    Come on guys, you need to chill out a little. Cop a little santa Cruz attitude!

    Do you you really think Santa Cruz is so well known across the country and that Thomas Fogarty is a well known producer? Maybe you should speak with the producers in the region. I did.

    I visited Ridge, Fogarty, Kathryn Kennedy, Soquel, Santa Cruz Mtn. Vineyards, Storrs and Mount Eden over three days along with a stop at Picchetti. P M Steiger did not respond to my requests for a visit. With the exception of Ridge, they all were of the opinion that the SCM were finally breaking through into the mainstream consciousness of American wine buyers, and its been a long time coming.

    I wrote up the Fogarty visit first but intend to follow up with some additional profiles which were chosen due to a few factors, chief among them the relative availability of the wines.

    Keeping in mind that maybe this wasn't written for people who are familiar with wines of the SCM, I would have imagined fans of the region would have been interested to see some of the more widely available wines of the region being promoted on an international level.

    I think it's great that so many of you are familiar with and fans of these wines, one of California's greatest terroirs, but once you get out of a rather small circle of people they really aren't very well known. My searching out the next greatest small producer in the region would be fun for you guys, and for me truth be known, but people want to buy the wines they read about now and they want to be able to do so easily. Why not give them that chance so they can become familiar with the wines before presenting them with even more obscure choices?

    Feb 22, 2013 at 2:27 PM

  • Snooth User: rhw168
    635553 144

    Hear, hear, GDP!
    I believe that we all love and appreciate what you are doing.
    We just want to push you to do more and better.

    Feb 22, 2013 at 4:53 PM

  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 238,748

    Fair enough!

    OK, so how about this idea. The week after next I'm going to Sonoma, Making my appointments on Monday. Let's add in a visit for the Snooth audience. Who do you want me to try and get an appointment at?


    Feb 22, 2013 at 5:03 PM

  • Snooth User: napagirl68
    Hand of Snooth
    87843 2,860

    I did not mean my comment at a critique on your choice of review, but rather lack of inclusion of smaller, talented wineries. Perhaps some did not respond back, but I did email you several that were worthy before your trip. That aside, I DO understand that you are speaking to a broad audience, and would like to speak to wines that are knowledgeable and somewhat accessible to more folks. However, I personally do not want to read articles of this sort. I rather be introduced to microproducers that are phenomenal on this site, than a regurgitation of what is available. sorry, not trying to be mean, just real.

    Feb 22, 2013 at 9:39 PM

  • Snooth User: napagirl68
    Hand of Snooth
    87843 2,860

    sonoma area-
    mauritson, balleto, carlisle, woodenhead, taft st., red car, MOSHIN!, Gracianna, Lioco (santa rosa),Frick winery, Quivera, Siduri.

    Feb 22, 2013 at 9:47 PM

  • Snooth User: EMark
    Hand of Snooth
    847804 8,426

    I'm glad to see that Fogarty is still producing outstanding Gewurztraminers. They have carrying the flag for quite a few years.

    Feb 23, 2013 at 2:43 PM

  • Carol Shelton, Wilson

    Feb 23, 2013 at 5:00 PM

  • Snooth User: DLS
    129018 36

    I would go with Alfaro - Richard is a character and dedicated to his wines. He has had quite a collection of great French wines from which to draw...

    Feb 25, 2013 at 9:02 PM

  • Snooth User: lillois
    1231518 33

    What happened to David Bruce? That's my favorite Santa Cruz Mountains winery.

    Mar 02, 2013 at 2:06 PM

  • Snooth User: artinhmb
    835467 9

    Been a fan of Mike's (Fogarty winemaker) for years. Love that you featured them. To put "availability" and "obscurity" into perspective, I recently went back to Illinios to visit family, and they were ever-so-excited to tell me that they were no longer supporting the mega-wineries, but had turned to buying from smaller craft wineries now. They opened me a bottle of Kendall Jackson... For them, that was a small winery. So someplace like Fogarty is probably obscure.

    On the other topic of where to go in Sonoma, try Christopher Creek Winery off of Limerick Lane. Awesome Zins, Petit Syrah, and the Viogner is wonderful if they haven't sold out yet. Another favorite is Moondance Cellars who have a Pinot that has some real flavor and body. You might need to make an appointment depending on the day you are going.

    Mar 03, 2013 at 2:44 PM

  • Snooth User: jaybird75
    100123 104

    Wow, thanks for the impressive list up top!
    But here's the thing. The ones that Greg named, that he visited, were the only ones that I have even sightly heard of. And I haven't tried most of them, as we (down here in Alabama) rarely see all of those. There's NO CHANCE we'd get some of the others. Just the same, it's good to know of all those other places that are recommended - just in case I travel somewhere that they might be available.
    Would you say that all those tiny wineries on the list are fully available in California? Do even the locals know about all these places?
    And I haven't done the first search, but what are their price-points? That's usually one of Greg's inclusions, but maybe this is simply about quality in the area, not affordability.
    Great topic nonetheless, and my connection to Fogarty's wines is not from experience, just remembering that it was where Thomas went after one of my favorite bands dissolved.

    Apr 03, 2013 at 2:20 PM

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