I wasn’t sure this day was ever going to happen as it’s been a long time since I had the opportunity to “Meet a Winemaker.” But like a stormy day; the rain stopped, the clouds parted and the sun began to shine. A little over-dramatic I know but with the addition of an approachable, knowledgeable and passionate winemaker, it worked.
Who is this “bundle of joy?” (For the record she’s over 21). Her name is Courtney Foley. The youngest daughter of Bill Foley (of the Vegas Golden Knights Hockey team, along with many other titles – but this isn’t about Bill), Courtney recently took over the winemaking duties at Chalk Hill. Deciding early on in her education that becoming a lawyer was not for her, she turned to the family business, the one having to do with wine, not hockey.
At the start of her new career choice, she worked under winemaker Leslie Renaud at Lincourt and Foley Estates in Santa Barbara County and then at Roth Estate in Healdsburg. Developing her talents she moved to Foley Sonoma Winery as winemaker and general manager and as of June of 2018 she also took the reins at Chalk Hill Estate.
One of my first notable pieces of information I discovered was that Chalk Hill’s production is around 75% white wine, much more than I would have imagined. What makes Courtney’s role as winemaker a source of continued monitoring of the winery is that she herself is somewhat of a white wine fanatic (sound like someone you know – me!). One of her favorite varietals she loves working with is the Sauvignon Gris from the winery. While not one of the wines at the seminar, it is one that I will need to try and acquire as Sauvignon Gris is a heftier wine than Sauv Blanc and given they barrel-age the wine 8 months in French Oak with 31% being new wood, I don’t think I can resist.
Courtney is raring to go in her newest position. She is excited to be working with wine that will see the use of French Oak as a greater part of that production process. Sort of like a new palette with which to work. She is also embarking on developing a line of new sparkling wines. Something she mentioned her dad wasn’t that excited about. I promptly reminded her that “she’s the boss now!” Can’t wait to see what she comes up with.
Fun factoid: Established in 1972 by Fred Furth, he decided to build a pavilion for the winery. That’s not news. What Courtney did mention was that Fred was maybe a bit fanatical (who of us aren’t a little) and wanted to use Alaskan Golden Cedar in its construction. Well, in those days, and maybe even still today, he had to truck all the wood down from Alaska using Highway 101 from the Northern States to Sonoma. If you don’t know Highway 101, it ain’t that wide of a road, at least not back in those days. I can only guess he wasn’t very popular back then tying up traffic and all.
Moving on to the wines; we started with a lovely welcome wine: the Lucien Albrecht Crémant d’Alsace Rosé. Moving directly to the Chalk Hill wines, we were fortunate to try their newest line of wines, their Sonoma Coast Series. We sampled the Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, both 2017, and the Sonoma Red Blend 2016. You can tell the difference as they use a white label versus the grey on the others. Pleasant wines that are slightly lighter in style and more approachable early on and carry a pleasant price tag as well. We also had two of the Estate wines; the Chardonnay and the Estate Red, both 2016, each a bolder and more flavorful and aromatic wine than their counterparts. No surprise, I gave a slight edge to the Chard.
There was one last wine, or I should say I held it for the last wine to talk about.
The Chalk Hill - Estate Bottled - Sauvignon Blanc - Chalk Hill Appellation - 2017
Surprised? I think not!
From the moment I read that the grapes for the red wines are sorted, crushed and fermented individually, but the white wines are whole-cluster pressed and 100% barrel fermented for 3 months then aged using a combination of 65% French oak barrels, 14% new, and 35% stainless steel drums with the barrel aging continued for 7 months, I knew this was a wine I would like. The blend is also intriguing: 90% Sauvignon Blanc, 4% Sauvignon Gris, 3% Sauvignon Musqué, and 3% Semillon. What’s not to like?
While keeping its wonderful acidity, the wine brought forth a bevy of tropical fruits offset enough by the whole-cluster pressing and oak regime used to create a richness in the wine that was remarkable. So much so I just had to pick some up before leaving the seminar.
In the end, I had a wonderful time tasting through the wines, but more importantly, getting to meet a rising winemaker that given her personality, dedication, knowledge and passion (oh, I didn’t mention her love of wines comes through at her favorite time of the year in the Spring when she dons her earphones and retreats to her “lab” and sits the entire weekend blending wine) she is sure to be a force in the industry. I know I’ll be watching! In a good way, not like a stalker or anything….
Check out their wines and I’ll let you know if I secure a bottle of the Sauvignon Gris!