Friday, November 12, 2010

Stellar juice: Wine world wallflower Foppiano Vineyards starts turning heads

Posted By on Fri, Nov 12, 2010 at 5:00 PM

click to enlarge Foppiano_Bottle_PS_RGB

Let’s face it. Bullshit sells. I’m talking about the stories marketers tell us to get us to buy stuff.

Chances are that pricey skin moisturizer redolent of wild lavender with the French name was actually fabrique aux Etats-Unis. In Cleveland, no less.

Tales told about wines and the folks who make them often are especially refined excrement.

Which is why it was such a nice surprise when I recently tried Foppiano Vineyards’ very good – and blessedly b.s.-free – wines.

Like a lot of California’s pioneering wineries, Foppiano was started by immigrants – in this case, Giovanni Foppiano, who was little more than a kid when in 1896 he left Genoa, Italy, bound for California with a bad case of gold rush fever. When prospecting didn’t pan out, Giovanni bought a vineyard in Healdsburg and started making wines.

Over the years, control of the 160-acre winery changed hands but stayed in the family. Year in, year out, the winery produced solid but not stellar juice, along with some fine petite syrah.

Meanwhile, neighboring Russian River Valley wineries stepped up their game, making better wines – and more money. Which is why several years ago patriarch Louis J. Foppiano, who turns 100 this month, decided that if the winery was going to survive – let alone prosper – they’d need help from outside the family.

On a recent evening, I joined Foppiano’s new president, Todd Arterburn, for a tasting of the winery’s newest vintages in Tampa. Todd may come from the marketing side of the industry, but is happiest among wine geeks.

Todd acknowledges that rejuvenating Foppiano won’t be easy. You don’t spend decades as a wine world wallflower and turn heads overnight. However, with a talented new winemaker, Natalie West, and, yes, some marketing mojo, Todd sees big things for Foppiano. And if the quality of their newest wines is any indication, it won’t be long before wine lovers come calling.

Among the wines we tried that evening was their 2009 Estate Bottled Sauvignon Blanc (about $18 a bottle). By way of full disclosure, I’m not usually a fan of sauvignon blanc. And it’s not just the grassy Australian stuff that turns me off. Just about all of I does. However, I have to admit this wine could change my mind. It’s bright and nicely acidic, and pleasantly non-grassy.

Foppiano’s 2009 Estate Bottled Chardonnay ($20) was also very nice, with some nifty pear and apple hints.

But it was the reds that really shown. The 2008 Estate Bottled Pinot Noir was a riot of cherry, with lovely earthiness. It did seem to run a little hot on alcohol at nearly 15 percent. At $28 a bottle, it’s a steal of a pinot noir.

I could see why the Foppiano family was partial to petite syrah. Dark as ink, the 2008 Estate Bottled Petite Syrah was plain wonderful. A berry-palooza, with some nifty spiciness. And worth every cent of its modest $20 price. Foppiano also makes a Reserve Petite Syrah, which runs around twice the price.

Though I didn’t get a chance to try this night, Foppiano also makes a rosé from petite syrah and pinot noir grapes that Todd says is lovely and a mere $15 a bottle. You can order this wine, as well as the others, online at foppiano.com.

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