If wine culture can be revamped, call on Kris Curran. When it comes to winemaking skills, her sensitivity goes beyond sniffing, swirling and blending. She possesses an uncanny knack for nuance that showed during her stint at Cambria Winery in Santa Maria and during her reign as the winemaker and General Manager for Koehler Winery in Los Olivos. In 2000, her talent was tapped again as head of winemaking at the Sta. Rita Hills cult Pinot Noir fave Sea Smoke. She hit that one out of the park.
When Bill Foley approached Curran with a special project to make small lots of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from his Rancho Las Hermanas property, in the westernmost section of the Sta. Rita Hills, she was intrigued. Seizing the opportunity to use heirloom clones, the ability to hand-select the fruit and to employ whole-cluster pressing and aging for almost two years in 100% new French oak, Curran’s innate talents went into overdrive; the Two Sisters project—named for Bill Foley’s daughters Courtney and Lindsay, who also gave their names to the two vineyard sites—was headed for cult status.
With Breaker and Badge by her side, Kris Curran gets ready for the 2009 harvest, her second with Foley Family Wines, at the 460-acre Foley Estates at Rancho Santa Rosa. Bill Foley’s commitment to improvements includes vineyards charged with new management and an expansion to 16─and eventually 40─open-top fermenters, housed in a pole-top barn, for the Pinot Noir. Curran believes in hand punchdown. “You have to have that interaction—paying attention to the fruit; the skins and the smells. It’s labor intensive, but it shows in that all-important end product.”
The Foley Project
When former Foley winemaker Alan Phillips left two years ago, Bill Foley asked Curran to stay on to oversee both of his Burgundian-inspired Santa Barbara County wineries: Foley Estate, based in Sta. Rita Hills, and Lincourt, headquartered in a warmer section of the Santa Ynez Valley. She was on board.
“My goal—along with Bill’s—is to continually strive to better the quality of the wines,” Curran says. “That includes revamping the winery and honestly changing the culture—that is, how the wines are perceived.”
It also means teaching her winemaking team, from the vineyard managers to those working in the cellar, to become more involved. “Maybe some people just do their job without realizing how important it is to be a cohesive group, a real team, in thinking out every aspect of what goes into making great wine. That last little step changes everything. We won’t drop the ball on the one-yard line; we’ll finish the game and make a touchdown on the end product.”
Curran brings in an entire roster of techniques to make balanced wines, blending 100 lots to find the right combination of fruit, wood aging and handling. “But mostly, it’s attitude,” she insists.
Walking through the vineyards on a late October day, Curran and assistant winemaker Colin Murphy believe that the ’09 vintage will be special. “It will surprise us all,” she says gleefully. “Colin has a great feel for the lay of this land, and the possibilities are even blowing his mind.” But Curran will push the Pinot towards fruit-driven and “extremely well-balanced” wines.
Curran manages to add an air of further mystery to an already intriguing varietal. “What’s challenging about estate-grown fruit is to shape it into different styles,” she says, “even though it’s the result of the same viticultural practices and is tended to with the same care. You have to understand the raw materials.”
The 2008 Foley “Steel” Chardonnay is racy and lean, but with surprising structure and mouth richness that accompanies its stony, oyster-shell quality. Pineapple lifts into the nose; you can sense its honeyed weight. Absolutely no ML and, yes, 100% stainless steel. SRP $28
The Foley Brand Series
|| New this year at Foley Estates is the Brand Series, which honors the relatives of proprietor Bill Foley, whose family history ties him to Texas Rangers and cattle baron Charles Goodnight, the inspiration for Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove.
Each brand—hailing from his estate properties in the Sta. Rita Hills appellation—represents a different trail taken in the creation of these unique wines. Each is distinguished by a rancher’s brand mark on the label.
Foley 2007 Lazy Bar S Ranch Chardonnay, Sta. Rita Hills (507 cases, $45)
From the cool, westernmost Courtney’s Vineyard and the steep south-facing hillsides of Rancho Santa Rosa. Toasted marshmallow combines with a crisp acidity and a tangerine-grapefruit zing.
Foley 2007 T Anchor Ranch Chardonnay, Sta. Rita Hills (445 cases, $45)
Lushly textured, with marzipan and vanilla depth. Flinty aromatics come ‘round to romance the creamy richness and some tropical notes (pineapple for one) merge with the exotic (Mandarin orange).
Foley 2007 Bar Lazy S Ranch Pinot Noir, Sta. Rita Hills (582 cases, $55)
Sourced from Lindsay’s Vineyard (part of the Las Hermanas Ranch) and Rancho Santa Rosa. Brightly lit with raspberry and rhubarb while textured with a melting creaminess of mocha and blueberry gelato and a heady hint of tobacco leaf.
Foley 2007 T Anchor Ranch Pinot Noir, Sta. Rita Hills (555 cases, $55)
From the early-ripening Pommard clone, and like the Lazy S Pinot, aged for 20 months in 100% new French oak. Begins with a nose that ranges from cola to blueberry açai, then makes a dramatic entrance on the palate. While a stoniness runs through like a winding road, the weightiness and softly textured tannins bow to the red fruits─you name it, raspberry to pomegranate.
Gilding the lily in the Santa Ynez Valley
Kris Curran, overlooking the vineyard on Lincourt’s Alamo Pintado Road property, gives thought to the future of winemaking in the Santa Ynez Valley.
|Under the winemaking guidance of Kris Curran, Lincourt Vineyards will shed its second-label-to-Foley image and take on a personality of its own. Increasing the quality of the wines will be her goal, guiding the focus toward estate vineyard fruit and taking advantage of the Santa Ynez Valley appellation.
|Lincourt 2008 Pinot Blanc, Sta. Rita Hills
From Courtney’s Vineyard in Sta. Rita Hills. Curran manages this “difficult” grape with finesse; lanolin, banana and pear/apricot nectar make for a delicious sipper.
Lincourt 2008 Sauvignon Blanc, Santa Ynez Valley
From the Lincourt estate, this Sauv Blanc sees no oak and no ML. Delicate, dewy heather, kiwi and lychee notes linger like a spring breeze after the rain. Quite ethereal.
Lincourt 2007 Chardonnay, Sta. Rita Hills
Searing acidity makes this white zippy and linear. Noting its dab of oak and partial ML, Curran offers, “This is not the full-tilt boogie” but instead, an understated jewel.
|| There’s no doubt that Bill Foley’s daughters, Lindsay and Courtney, inspired him. The Lincourt winery name combines the two, as do his Pinot Noir (Lindsay’s) and Chardonnay (Courtney’s) vineyards at Las Hermanas Ranch.