Final Day: August 5
Oh Sonoma. How do I love you? Let me count the ways …
I love your unique microclimates. I love your laid-back-yet-serious-about-wine ways. I love the roots of farming and sustainability that you hang on to. I love your beautiful surroundings. I love your wonderful downtowns of Healdsburg, Sonoma, and Geyserville. And I love all your family wineries.
As you might have guessed, I have a thing for family wineries. I love the commitment, I love the stories and traditions, I love the connectedness. Again, wine started out being all about farming. And throughout history, farming and family have gone together hand in hand. So family vineyards and wineries tend to feel good to me, which is why visiting Foppiano has been something I’ve been eager to do.
You see, Foppiano Vineyards is run and operated by the fifth generation of Foppianos to do so. The winery was founded in 1896 by Giovanni Foppiano and is one of Sonoma’s oldest continually-operated, family-owned wineries. It even survived Prohibition—by selling home winemaking kits. Pulling from their years of experience in the Russian River Valley (Foppiano Vineyards is one of the founding members of the RRV AVA), this family continues to produce solid wine. And while rooted in tradition, they’re not afraid to branch out and try new ideas. It’s this mix of old and new that really shows in their wines.
Today we met with Natalie West—Foppiano’s winemaker since 2008—a young, up-and-coming winemaker who has already brought new ideas to the winery including changing the barrel program to include new French and Hungarian oak. Natalie works closely with vineyard manager, Paul Foppiano, and between the two the process from vine to bottle has a beauty that is hard to ignore.
In talking with Natalie, we saw immediately not only her passion and knowledge for the wine she makes and the family she represents, but also a traditionalist at the core of this modern-day winemaker. She has a fondness for the old winery, and it really showed. New facilities, she explained, are great in regards to design and implements that are all about efficiencies and the latest and greatest. But working in an old, historic winery—where wine is made in some ways similar to the way it was 70 years ago—brings one back to wine roots. West noted that when you work in an older winery, you discover the key elements to making wine and realize what you truly need and what you don’t. “If it takes 20 minutes to complete in a new winery, it probably takes us 35,” she stated. But in her world that’s not a bad thing. It’s a way to stay grounded in tradition and history while continuing to make wine that also represents science and knowledge that we have now.
Our other stop today, Hopkiln, also had links to the past. The winery, which has been producing wines since 1976, is literally in an old hop kiln, where hops were dried over a century ago. The building is on the National Historic Register, and the winery has kept as much of the old building as possible. They’re about proprietary blends like Thousand Flowers and Big Red (which both have a cult following), but have begun to develop a HKG (Hopkiln Grown) line due to estate replantings. These estate grapes, in four distinct plots of land in the Russian River, are beginning to deliver and will only continue to grow and develop new nuances as they age. While HKG wines aren’t available in MN yet, I can only imagine that it’s a matter of time. At around $30 retail, they’re already well worth it.