The Sea and Santa Maria - Wine & Spirits Magazine

The Sea and Santa Maria

Dick Doré and Billy Wathen have owned Foxen since 1985.  (Photo: Jeremy Ball)

On the Foxen label you’ll find an anchor, a symbol that resonates on several levels, starting with the obvious one: the sea. The Foxen Vineyard, just north of Los Alamos, lies squarely within the transverse valleys of Santa Barbara County, where daily ocean breezes sweep across the vine rows for a unique climatic imprint.

William Benjamin Foxen purchased the land in 1837, a Mexican land grant he called Rancho Tinaquiac. Foxen was a sea captain, and to distinguish his cattle from others, he marked them with a brand in the shape of an anchor—the same image that now adorns the winery label. 

Foxen’s great-great-grandson, Dick Doré, founded the vineyard and winery with his friend, Bill Wathen, in 1985. Today, the Foxen Boys, as Dick and Billy are known, make a dizzying number of wines from most of the county’s subregions, including the Sta. Rita Hills, Happy Canyon, the Los Olivos and Santa Ynez Valleys, many single vineyard wines, even a few block selections. They’ve also sourced pinot noir for decades in the Santa Maria Valley, where they draw from vineyards including Bien Nacido, Julia’s, Solomon Hills, and their two own-rooted estate vineyards, Tinaquiac Alta and Bajita.

Winemaker David Whitehair (Photo: Jeremy Ball)

In 2016, Billy handed day-to-day winemaking duties over to his longtime assistant David Whitehair, who makes pinot noir in the same way it’s been made since the winery’s founding. These are pinots whose flavors and structures deliver an oceanic savor, clinging to the fruit like a tendril of fog that won’t lift. There are pleasing sea-wrack, kombu-like accents to counterbalance dark brambly fruit, even in Foxen’s well-priced appellation pinots, like this one from the Santa Maria Valley. Not surprisingly, the fruit sourcing here is impressive: nearly two-thirds comes from the Bien Nacido Vineyard, with vines planted in the mid-nineties; the rest of the fruit comes from Riverbench (planted 1973) and Solomon Hills (planted 1998). This 2020 has mellowed nicely from some years in the bottle. It leads with a mulled spice scent, with flavors of dark cherry and cherry skin. The wine is ripe and supple, with a seductive contour for game, like a spit of wild quail dispatched from a forested hillside in the Santa Ynez Mountains.


Foxen 2020 Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir

Every week, our editors highlight a wine that intrigued them in our blind panel tastings, expanding on their tasting note in this space. These are entirely editorial choices; there are no paid placements. Subscribers can also access the original tasting note by searching here.

Patrick J. Comiskey covers US wines for Wine & Spirits magazine, focusing on the Pacific Northwest, California’s Central Coast and New York’s Finger Lakes.

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