2020 Foxen, Chenin Blanc, Old Vines, Ernesto Wickenden Vineyard, Santa Maria Valley.
It had been a long while since tasting through the Foxen wines, so it was good to sample some of their latest stuff and while known for their Pinots and Syrah, I surprisingly enjoyed the Old Vine Chenin Blanc most of all, it really impressed for its lush textures, mineral notes and classic peachy fruit profile. This wine, coming from the Ernesto Wickenden Vineyard in the Santa Maria Valley that was planted back in 1966 and on the regions sandy loams, with a warm exposure and chilly sea breezes it is a perfect spot to make concentrated wines that retain good acidity as this Foxen Chenin shows well. The 2020 has a sunny ripe character with yellow peach, pear and lemon fruits, a touch of waxy honeycomb, tangy herbs, citrus blossom, bitter almond, leesy brioche, wet stones and a touch of wood, all in a smooth medium/full bodied wine that excellently reminds me of dry Vouvray or maybe more a richer Montlouis from the Loire Valley, the spiritual home of this varietal, which has seen a brilliant revival in the last dozen or so years. The Ernesto Wickenden Vineyard is part of Foxen’s estate and is a very coveted site for Chenin Blanc, still providing good yields and high quality grapes, as this vintage shows. Lightly golden in glass, this 2020 is a wine that delivers richness and refreshment, best enjoyed with lighter meals and or soft creamy farm cheeses, as well as sea food dishes, like scallops and swordfish, especially. This stylish Chenin was made by David Whitechair, a local who began his winemaking career at Brander Winery in Santa Ynez, but also doing stints at the legendary Cloudy Bay in New Zealand and Chalk Hill, near Healdsberg before returning to the region to join Foxen, becoming the winemaker here in 2016.
The Foxen Ernesto Wickenden Vineyard Old Vine Chenin Blanc was all hand tended and hand harvested, coming into the winery cool and was whole cluster pressed and fermented with both natural yeast and a selected culture to go all the way to dry. To ensure balance and crisp detailing, the winery used a combination of stainless steel and 500L French oak puncheon for the primary ferments here, which lasted about three or so weeks before the wine was aged sur lie for a period of about 7 months in the large puncheons with just a touch of new wood. The regime was very successful to produce an elegantly textural and fresh example of Chenin Blanc. Most of California’s Chenin Blanc was ripped out during the 1980s and or grafted over to Chardonnay, with some notable and historic exceptions like Chappellet, Casa Nuestra and Chalone, all of which continue to make very desirable versions, but some isolated places still had some good old vine parcels that led to the grape’s rebirth here in California with Daniel Gehrs and Foxen being instrumental in that effort. Foxen, founded as a winery by Dick Doré and family back in 1985 and is named for their great-great-great grandfather William Benjamin Foxen, an English sea captain, who an early settler here in Santa Barbara County in the early 1800s. Based in Foxen Canyon, where the Santa Maria Valley meets the Santa Ynez Valley. Foxen has a 9,000-acre property, which is known as the Rancho Tinaquaic and grown a wide array of grapes, including Bordeaux and Italian varietals, as well as Burgundy and Loire selections, of which Chenin is a core in Foxen’s estate white lineup. The Doré family have long been one of the great California wine families and have been real champions of the Santa Maria AVA and are continuing their success into a new era, they deserve to be recognized for their outstanding efforts they have brought to the state’s wine scene.
($26 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive