History has always fascinated me. I got it from my dad, who like so many kids growing up during World War II saw it as a sort of a heroic grand adventure, and it made him forever curious about the past.
Perhaps that’s why I like wineries with a good back-story. Discovering new wineries and the latest thing in wine are great fun, but I can’t resist dusty old tales about immigrants at the turn of the last century, the bare-knuckle days of Prohibition and bootleggers, family conflicts and personal feuds, decline and rebirth.
All of that came to mind the other day after I opened a bottle of Foppiano Petite Sirah Russian River Valley 2008 ($20). Now here’s a family winery with a long history, some good old stories and is in the process of reinventing itself.
The 2008 is one of the best Petites from Foppiano in a long time. It’s zesty and appealingly rustic, with blueberry, bitter chocolate, herbs and pepper. I gave it 88 points, non-blind. I’ve also tasted some charming new Chardonnays and Sauvignon Blancs from the Healdsburg winery.
The changes at Foppiano are long overdue, but sometimes tradition, history and penny-pinching get in the way.
Giovanni Foppiano, a native of Genoa, Italy, started the winery in 1896. Giovanni’s grandson Louis J. Foppiano was only 14 when his father died, leaving him and his mother to tend the ranch and winery. They barely scraped by during the Depression and Prohibition. Foppiano—Louie to some and Lou Sr. to others—remembers the day in 1926 when government agents dumped 100,000 gallons of the family's wine into a nearby creek.
Always crusty and cantankerous, not to mention tight with money, Louie is 100 years old and only fully let go of the winery reins in the past few years. His son Louis M. Foppiano, often called Lou Jr., runs it now. He brought in a new winemaker, Natalie West, a few years back and is upgrading the old cellar and investing in new oak barrels and other equipment.
The changes have been slow and steady but they’re already showing in the wine. Foppiano could join the ranks of Seghesio and Sebastiani, other old Sonoma County Italian families that have successfully rebooted their wineries. Those two families consequently attracted buyers with their revitalized brands. Only time will tell when it comes to the future of Foppianno.
Mark Lyon — Sonoma, CA; USA — June 1, 2011 1:08pm ET
Patrick Benton — Thousand Oaks, CA — June 3, 2011 3:41pm ET
Kc Tucker — Escondido, CA USA — June 4, 2011 4:35pm ET
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