The Tasting Panel magazine

May 2015

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28  /  the tasting panel  /  may 2015 OVER THE TABLE B ack in 2008, Kevin Clayton, the owner of Village Wine and Coffee in Shelburne, Vermont, placed a bottle of Engel Family Merlot in my hand. I remember being wildly skeptical of a pricey (upper $40s) Merlot, but Clayton convinced me to try it. That bottle changed my life. I can still recall the wine's rich, velvety, dark berry and cocoa notes, which held me captivated, confounded and eager to learn more. Clayton said that the winemaker was a guy making wine up on Howell Mountain who also made Pride, Switchback and his own label—Robert Foley Vineyards. In 2009, I purchased a few bottles of Foley's Napa Valley Merlot from Damian Gutierrez at Cabrini Wines in Manhattan. I returned the wines days later convinced something was wrong—and something was, but not with the wine. Damian pointed out that I was storing my wine glasses in the worst way possible (hanging from a rack in the kitchen, collecting grime from cooking, which was literally spoiling the wine). That chance encounter and revelation sparked the fire to take wine seriously. In late 2009, with support from friends, I launched The Noble Rot—a "traveling wine saloon" and spent three years hosting clandestine wine-tasting experiences all over New York City—a self-education trial-by-fire. Life came full circle in 2011 while working harvest in Napa. I was invited to help bottle wines with "Bob" Foley at his crushpad up on Howell Mountain, and subsequently got to see one of the hardest working wine- makers in Napa in action. The Howell Mountain AVA is a special place, established in 1983 and defined by contour lines at 1,400 feet—high above the fog-line where vineyards generally bask in the sun and enjoy cooler growing temperatures. "I moved up here in 1989, and never looked back," Bob told me over a recent email exchange. Now into his 39th vintage as a Napa winemaker, Foley has farmed mountain fruit from Mount Saint Helena down to San Francisco Bay, which he admits is challenging, but incredibly rewarding. Three major soils are found on Howell Mountain. Aiken stony loam, described by Foley as "rust red with a little clay content, which imparts a chocolaty feel to Cabernet Sauvignon"; volcanic tuff, "yellow-white and chalky looking, sometimes mistakenly called 'tufa' by locals, which cranks in the firmness of tannin"; and Forward loam, "formed from the decomposition of the natural fir, pine, madrone, laurel and oak forest deposits, which allows for more mid-palate," explained Foley. Foley also speaks of the AVA's "mountain aerosol" created by the sur- rounding natural flora, the aforementioned trees as well as manzanita, toyon, tarweed and "a zillion flowering plants, which create these airborne aromas that interact with the waxy substance on the skin of the grapes, trapping these compounds and imparting the spiciness that Howell Mountain wines are noted for," explained Foley. If you're heading up Howell Mountain, Robert Foley Vineyards recently became permitted to host visitors by appointment ( or call 707-965-2669), and if you want to taste what the mountain has to offer, it's worth a stop. Foley also produces Switchback Ridge, Padis, Shelter, Dos Lagos, Engel Family, wines for Red Hook Winery in Brooklyn, New York, a private label for the Del Frisco's Restaurant Group in California, and is work- ing to develop a small vineyard property on Atlas Peak. The King of Howell Mountain (or How I Got into the Wine Business) REVISITING WINEMAKER ROBERT FOLEY IN NAPA VALLEY by Jonathan Cristaldi PHOTO COURTESY OF ROBERT FOLEY VINEYARDS Bob Foley, winemaker and master forklift operator.

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