Amid alluring aromas of smoked meat, stewed berry, and peppery soy sauce, there’s a strong scent of validation coming out of the glass of a 2001 Rodney’s Vineyard syrah, the most enduring of the wines offered during my recent visit to the brand new library tasting rooms at Fess Parker Winery.
“The ’01 really has become my favorite while opening these rooms, and it’s the oldest we have in here,” said the winery’s president Tim Snider, the son-in-law of the late actor, who founded this property in 1989. “I’ve got to stop opening them, because there are not that many.”
Whether the ’01 was the very best of our flight depends on the palate of the beholder, of course, and the options for Snider, winemaker Blair Fox, and me were quite competitive: 2010 Bien Nacido and 2012 Ashley’s chardonnays, both still loaded with acidity while picking up that slight nutty tone that comes with age; 2005 Pommard clone, 2007 Bien Nacido, and 2010 Ashley’s pinot noirs, all still with structure intact, the latter barely showing any years at all; and that ’01 Rodney’s as well as the 2007, 2008, and a 2010 Big Easy, which incorporates petite sirah and grenache in the mix.
They all impressed, though the syrahs, which come from the family’s estate vineyard, showed the most unique qualities. Rodney’s sits up on a mesa above the winery’s setting on Foxen Canyon Road, so it gets hammered with cool breezes daily, yet it also bakes in warmer sunshine than is typically seen in the Sta. Rita Hills and Alisos Canyon to the west. That means cool-climate syrah qualities of cracker pepper, iodine, and smoked game are present alongside riper, richer blackberry and tobacco elements, providing a benefit-of-both-worlds combo.
Fox said he can easily pick out Rodney’s syrahs when tasting blind from big lineups, and he had plenty of practice preparing to open these rooms. With more than 200 library wines to choose from, he started with about 75 options, tasting them each to write sensory notes, suggest ongoing aging potential, and just ensure that they were worth popping. He found that “line of demarcation” between wines that were still singing and those that weren’t to be around 2001 for the syrahs and 2005 for the pinots.
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People who appreciate the nuances of properly aged wines — and, perhaps better yet, the stories that they tell — can now book these library tastings, which include five wines of your choosing (or by suggestion), come with a booklet full of relevant maps, and are served by a specially trained associate. The tastings cost $75, though the bottle prices themselves are the best deal: just $80 for older pinots that are usually $60 and $70 for syrahs that are usually $54.
The library sessions happen in one of two glass-walled cellar rooms in the middle of the hospitality center, the centerpieces of a long-desired but pandemic-triggered remodel. The five-month process, which finished with an opening on April 1, turned the old bar into a reception area and spruced up the patios, where most of the tastings occur today. (Watch out for a Funk Zone tasting room this fall, likely coming to the original Pali Wine Co. location on East Yanonali Street at Gray Avenue.)
Most dramatic was redeveloping the main interior room into a modernized version of cozy. “We wanted this to be like a hunting lodge,” said Snider. On a prominent wall across from the fireplace, a massive map of the 714-acre property is helpful both for setting the scene and finding the stables for vineyard tours on horseback.
Since many of the current generations know the name “Fess Parker” more for wine than his onscreen roles as Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone, the decor was adjusted to be a little less Fess, whose visage dominated the former scene. But he’s not totally gone: His first audition guitar, an edited “Ballad of Davy Crockett” lyric sheet, and a photo of Fess with Walt Disney on Disneyland’s opening day tastefully represent the family patriarch.
With more than 30 years of winemaking under their collective belts, the Parker family felt that sharing their older vintages with fans was always critical component to the project. “We’ve been trying to activate the library wines,” said Snider. “It’s an interesting juxtaposition of a newer, contemporary tasting room and 30 years of wines.”
Buffalo Gap Summit
This summer, Fess Parker Winery is hosting The Buffalo Gap Food & Wine Summit, an event founded by the late actor-vinter and his Texas friends who own Perini Steakhouse and Becker vineyards. Usually held in Buffalo Gap, Texas the three-day affair from July 15 to 17, which is called the Rhône Rodeo, is the first time it will be held in Los Olivos. There’s a reception, symposium, tour, BBQ lunch, multi-course dinner, and goodbye brunch for the all-inclusive price of $800. The symposium alone is $200. See buffalogapsummit.com or call 800-367-1721.