Thursday, May 11, 2017

Showcasing Diverse Single Vineyards with California's Onward Wines

Faith Armstrong Foster. Credit: Onward Wines
Faith Armstrong Foster is a UC Davis-educated winemaker who earned her winemaking chops in Napa, but the vineyards that attract her rest well off the beaten path.

Onward Wines brand, she explains, is about highlighting unique and fascinating sites in order to craft single-vineyard, single-variety wines. “The whole brand is about showcasing growers, and what they’re doing,” Faith said during a recent online chat and tasting.

It would perhaps be more accurate to describe these as “single-block” wines, as her contracts with growers relate to a specific part of each vineyard, meaning she deals with the same section of vines each vintage. “It’s about a particular part of a vineyard,” she said, which allows her to work with the grower on specific farming methods to suit the vines.

Her vineyard sources are diverse, spanning many appellations and microclimates. She makes several different Malvasias from a site called Capp-Inn Ranch in the Suisun Valley, located two valleys inland from Napa. East of Carneros, she described this site as similar in soil and climate to fruit she’s worked with in Carneros, and the result is a crisp, refreshing style of Malvasia with loads of floral and tropical fruit notes.

Faith also sources what is clearly some stellar Pinot Noir from a site called Hawkeye Ranch in Mendocino’s Redwood Valley appellation. The Redwood Valley is one of those Wild West kind of appellations, sparsely populated with vines, lacking big tasting rooms or tourist traps. I’ve traveled extensively in this area of Mendocino, and it absolutely gorgeous. Small, usually organically farmed, vineyards are nestled among untouched redwood groves, cold streams and the occasional pear orchard. She enjoys working with this site because, as she puts it, the lack of grapevine monoculture means the vineyard, “has a lot of capacity to maintain natural balance.” And she makes three different wines from this same site: a rosé, a still red and a rosé Petillant Naturel sparkling wine.

Lasty, I tasted her Casa Roja Carignan, a sandy soil site in Contra Costa County. These ancient vines, planted in the late 1800s, impart a deep sense of spicy minerality and exotic complexity. For the price, the wine is a stunning example of what this grape (an historic staple of California winegrowing) can do. Faith has several other wines in her portfolio that I haven’t tasted (but would love to) including a Cerise Vineyard Pinot Noir, a Redwood Valley Zinfandel, and a few others.

Overall, Faith’s wines take a minimalist approach, with quite low alcohol levels, brisk acidity, tart but tasty fruit, and a host of non-fruit elements that make the wines really pop. They are as delicious as they are fascinating.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

2016 Onward Wines Malvasia Bianca Petillant Naturel Capp-Inn Ranch - California, North Coast, Suisun Valley
SRP: $24
Pale lemon color with lovely faint bubbles. Complex floral aromas (baby’s breath, orange blossom, honeysuckle) on top of guava, white peach and lime zest. Crisp, bright and nervy palate with a slight salty, chalky mouthfeel and a refreshing tingle from the bubbles. Brisk and bright with orange pith, lemon wedge and so many floral elements: dandelion, orange blossom, clean laundry, potpourri. Tons of fun. (89 points)

2016 Onward Wines Malvasia Bianca Capp-Inn Ranch - California, North Coast, Suisun Valley
SRP: $20
Pale lemon color. Bursts with aromas of guava, lychee, white grape jelly and lots of spicy floral elements. Medium-bodied with crisp acidity and flavors of juicy peaches and lychee with lime drizzled on top. So many floral elements: baby’s breath, dandelion, buttercups, honeysuckle. So, so floral, but it’s not one-dimensional. Crisp finish. (88 points)

2016 Onward Wines Pinot Noir Rosé Hawkeye Ranch - California, North Coast, Redwood Valley
SRP: $22
Pale copper color. Bright and fresh aromas of yellow and white flowers, cantaloupe, lime and wild strawberry. Zippy on the palate with a bright personality but some creamy, chalky textural elements. White flower potpourri, saline and white pepper top the tart strawberry fruit. Light but not simple, this has a bright mineral presence and long floral elements on the finish. (88 points)

2013 Onward Wines Pinot Noir Hawkeye Ranch - California, North Coast, Redwood Valley
SRP: $38
Vibrant ruby color. Aromas of crisp strawberries, raspberries, rose hips, with rhubarb and mushroom notes. On the palate this is crisp and lean at 12% but shows some dusty tannic backbone and crackling acidity. Juicy cherry and raspberry fruit mixes with rhubarb, sage, tar, gravelly earth. Brisk but enough depth, personality and complexity to pull it off, makes to entice the cellar for 2-5 years. Wow. (92 points)

2014 Onward Wines Carignan Casa Roja - California, San Francisco Bay, Contra Costa County
SRP: $30
Neon purple color. Gushing aromas of black cherries, red and black currant, tart blueberry, along with loamy soil, steak rub, coffee grounds. Full-bodied with some solid grip to the tannins but the acidity really helps a lot. Roasted plum, blueberry and black cherry fruit laced with tar, roasted chestnut, charcoal smoke. Complex, savory, spicy, really beautiful stuff with a long finish. This should do cool stuff over the next 3-4 years. (91 points)

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