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Robert Foley on the Houston wine scene: “Houston gets it!”

Know what a dynamic and captivating speaker he is, we submitted a short email interview to legendary winemaker Bob Foley in anticipation of his visit to Vallone’s next week. His answers follow. Don’t miss this unique opportunity to meet and taste with one of America’s leading winemakers at Vallone’s next week!

robert foley winemaker napa

Robert Foley Dinner
featuring the wines of
Robert Foley Vineyards
and a five-course menu by
Tony Vallone & Scott Sulma

Tuesday, January 13
7:00 p.m.
$195 per person
not including tax & gratuity

Limited availability.

Throughout your career, you’ve always been one step ahead of the curve. How have you seen California wine styles and wine lovers’ tastes change over the last 10 years or so? Have you changed your style as your approach to winemaking as evolved?

I personally don’t go in for the fad thing, nor do I try to make wines in styles that I think will be popular or will get high scores from wine writers. Rather, my approach is to work with individual vineyard blocks (the same vines, year after year which I farm) and come to an understanding of their expression and how I can bring that to the wine glass through sensible and sensitive farming, followed by vinification and cellaring according to my palate and my winegrowing experience.

I just wrapped up my 38th vintage in the Napa Valley. In the 70s and 80s I tried to maximize extract in the red wines and overdo the Chardonnays because we winemakers thought that was made a “good wine” and the styles were popular. But like a lot of my colleagues, we watched those wines fade away in short order and came to realize that good balance makes great wine. Don’t have to have the amplifier on 11 all the time to make good music!

So the next step in my learning curve was to understand how to create balance in wines through balancing the vineyards. That has become the key for me in my work.

Vineyard balance includes understanding soils, rootstocks, training and trellising, crop levels, shade vs. sunlight balances, air flow, fruit positioning, nutritional and water stress, and how these factors influence flavor and texture development in the grape skins.

And, of course, the timing of cultural practices that address each of these factors. Ultimately, judging physiological ripeness is a chain link whose importance is paramount. Vineyards are brilliant teachers.

In the winery, I still drag hoses, fill, empty, wash and stack barrels whenever racking time comes. Each vineyard lot is aged separately so my assistant Eric and I can learn from each lot as they evolve and how our vineyard work has panned out. With about 700 barrels of wine per vintage and at least 15 different lots, there’s a ton of information there.

What appeals to you about Houston and the Houston wine scene?

People in Houston get it. They are willing to try wines, judge them on their merits, remain open-minded and make up their own minds. How refreshing! There’s a fundamental friendliness in Houston and I find a growing group of people who are becoming personal friends and we love this. I’m looking forward to being there next week!

Image via the Robert Foley Facebook.

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