The Tasting Panel magazine

Oct 09

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Zone hen I first came to Fire- stone in 2001, I surveyed the vineyards and knew right away that they needed some TLC," Kevin Willenborg confess- es. "We began opening canopies, per- formed the operation of shoot thinning, limiting crop yields and, ultimately, balancing the vines." Willenborg worked under the leader- ship of the Firestone family—Brooks and his son Adam—until 2007, when the winery was purchased by Bill Foley. "Brooks Firestone was a pioneer in the Santa Ynez Valley," Willenborg points out, noting that although the man was tethered to his family's tire empire, his dream was to grow grapes and make wine. "He began planting in 1972, when our quiet valley was devot- ed to cattle ranches and dairy farms." The Foley-age at Firestone: Modern Times There's no doubt that the Firestone wines have developed—and are still de- veloping—in character and style since the winery changed hands. We call it the Foley touch or Foley-age, a play on foliate, a cluster of leaves that is repre- sentative of the entrepreneur's grow- ing stable of wineries. Since Foley's purchase of Firestone, Willenborg has not only been able to upgrade tech- nology inside the winery, but has also changed gears on irrigation practices and upgraded his inventory of French oak barrels. "Bill has a thirst for high-end wine," Willenborg notes when I claim that the wines are tasting better than ever. "His renewed interest allows great things for us." One immediate project that Foley initiated was a major replanting, inte- grating more Bordeaux varieties into the mix. Approximately 125 of the 400 acres of vineyards have been replanted in recent years. Cabernet Sauvignon has tradition- ally been one varietal not associated with the Santa Ynez Valley, where the relatively moderate climate has proved particularly suited to non-Bordelais grapes: Syrah and Grenache find their sweet spot in the valley's warmer areas and Burgundian fruit thrives in its cooler climes. Willenborg divulges that Foley, however, is a fan of Cabernet Sauvignon. The notion of growing non-weedy Cabs, Merlots and their fellow Bor- deaux blenders in Santa Ynez is not off-the-wall. In fact, the concept has recently blossomed in the minds—and hence on the properties—of several lo- cal winemakers. Willenborg supports the Bordeaux- trending movement. "There's actually a Intro-Vinous Firestone Vineyards winemaker Kevin Willenborg brings us to an estate of balanced vines—a realm where art borders science, nurturing nature and a sense of place. You are now entering . . . story and photos by Meridith May The Fruiting 56 / the tasting panel / october 2009 The notion of growing non- weedy Cabs, Merlots and their fellow Bor- deaux blenders in Santa Ynez is not off-the- wall. In fact, the concept has recently blos- somed in the minds—and hence on the properties—of several local winemakers."

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