This month we are thrilled to feature winemaker Faith Armstrong Foster as part of our ongoing Industry Insights series. Faith makes wines under her own label, Onward Wines. She is also a partner and winemaker alongside Angela Osborne for Farmer's Jane Wine Co. With a strong commitment to sustainable farming, she seeks out superlative, earnest growers and vineyard sites that produce excellent fruit quality. Faith's wines truly reflect the unique character of their vineyard sites which are located in lesser known regions of California like Redwood Valley in Mendocino and the Suisun Valley in Solano, just east of Napa.
We were fortunate to have a visit from Faith last month and had an opportunity to taste through her wines. It's always a treat to be able to taste with a winemaker and hear firsthand why certain approaches or actions were taken. We are so appreciative that Faith took the time to provide us with some insights into her world. Her authentic and delicious wines have fully captured our attention, and we hope you will enjoy them as well!
How did your love for Pinot Noir develop? Was there a wine or moment that blew you away and made you focus on the varietal?
I have gravitated to Pinot Noir from the beginning of my wine loving days, and each year that interest just keeps growing. I feel Pinot Noir is a very diverse varietal and I love how it stands alone beautifully and also is an incredibly versatile food wine.
Thinking back, there may be a connection to Pinot Noir being the first variety I ever shoveled out of a fermentor, which was actually the day I had the “aha" moment that I wanted to become a winemaker. I was interning at a public relations firm in San Francisco for a wonderfully inspiring woman named Kimberly Charles and she had arranged for us had come up to do a “day in the cellar” at Williams Selyem (they were one of her clients). It was a truly amazing day and I absolutely fell in love with the production side of wine. They were great: they gave us hip waders and stuck us in a fermentor full of pomace. I was tired and dirty and grinning from ear to ear at the end of it. This experience sent me down the path of becoming a winemaker, and seeing as it was Pinot Noir pomace at Williams Selyem, maybe it was love at first shovel!
Great Pinot Noir wines did, of course, play an integral role as well in my love for the varietal. Just after I had finished at UC Davis, I was a single mother working full time at Frank Family Vineyads and in no position to drink good Burgundy, but I was very fortunate to have some friends that where kind enough to share. At one point we went down this amazing journey over the course of about 6 months, trying different producers' efforts from Les Amoureuses in Chambolle-Musigny; it was a glorious path, indeed! I wish I could remember the producers we tried, I am sure I have it written down somewhere, but regardless I remember how the first sip from the Les Amoureuses vineyard blew my mind, it was one of those moments that can only come from great wine; I was truly moved.
As time went on, living and working in Napa Valley, Pinot Noir became my winemakers' version of beer; after working with Cabernet Sauvignon all day I found I just didn’t gravitate to it in the evening. If I wanted red wine I always reached for Pinot Noir…and I still do!
How does being a woman affect your work as a winemaker? Do you think women inherently approach winemaking differently than men?
I think everyone approaches winemaking differently and I am not really sure how being a woman affects my style of winemaking. I do think being a parent has a big impact on how I approach winemaking. I was pregnant and had my first baby while completing my Viticulture and Enology degree from UC Davis, so with the exception of my early internship days, I have been a mom as long as I have been in this industry. I think I guide my wines, much the same as I guide my children; I try to listen to them and their individual personalities and encourage them to have their own expression. I like to have structure as a background so I can allow more freedom in their natural development. This is a big part of the reason I have gravitated to picking fruit earlier; I feel I can use a much gentler hand when working with wines that come off the vine sooner.
People often describe my wines as gentle or feminine and there could be something to my style that is inherently female, I guess I have just never been one to think of what part of my personality come from my being a woman. I feel emotionally connected to my wines, I care deeply about my relationships with all involved, customers, growers, etc., but I think most of this comes from the way I was raised more than anything else.
We are really excited that you made a Pétillant-Naturel wine. Congratulations on succeeding on your first attempt! As you know it's quite a difficult process, so what inspired you to attempt it?
Thank you—making this wine has been an amazing experience! I was primarily turned on to PetNat-style wines through my friend Jeff Verra (from Farm Wine imports my CA distributor and the only man I know who wears an "I love PetNat" t-shirt!). Drinking the wines intrigued me: they were so unique and landed nicely in the middle of the world of sparkly, refreshing bubbles but more gentle and with incredible depth of character. There were very few domestic producers, the idea was just kicking around as something that would be fun to try sometime. I was not actually thinking about doing one for harvest 2013, but I heard that there was a vineyard that had Malvasia Bianca available and the idea intrigued me. I drove to the site and the moment I tasted the fruit my heart took over, the Petillant Naturel bells went off in my head and I knew there was no looking back.
I said to a friend “the grapes made me do it” and it is true. I just got excited and started running, which in the end was probably key; if I had taken the time to stop and think it through I might have reconsidered. This wine was such a journey to make, I feel the Malvasia Bianca comes shining through with the bounty of floral aromas and yet, the fermentation esters that were captured in bottle add complexity and layers, creating a sensory journey that is reminiscent of her path. The stunning natural acid is a wonderful balance with the floral nose; night blooming jasmine, citrus blossom, melon rind, warm Kefir lime scones.
This, my friends, is my fifth child and it is fair to say that she kept me up at night just as much, if not more than, some of my children. She was a logistically challenging wine to make, but I still have all ten fingers and toes and my heart has grown bigger!
Besides Onward Wines, you have another label, Farmer's Jane, which you share with friend and winemaker, Angela Osborne. What do you think is the key to success in such collaborative endeavors? Do you have any advice for aspiring collaborating winemakers?
Angela and I have been friends since both of our first wine internship and we had always talked about doing a project together, it has been really amazing having that dream turn into a reality. Both Angela and I started our own brands before starting our partnership and I think that was probably a good order of progression for us. Clearly, this may not be the case for everyone, but it gave us both an opportunity to learn a lot about what worked and what didn’t, for us personally, and we were able to have solid open dialogue about what it means to own and operate a wine brand. Our previous experience also helped us further develop our own styles, personal values, and what we were and weren’t willing to compromise on. For us, open communication has been essential to our business relationship; which has added depth to our friendship. A key thing that we have learned was to make time for our friendship; starting a business takes every waking moment and we realized one of the things we missed most what just talking as friends and not having every conversation be about the company. So we have changed that, we now also make time to just be friends and not talk about our work.
One of the themes behind Farmers Jane is about finding balance, including that balance between work and life outside of work, something that I am always striving for. I joke a bit when I say it because seeing that I am a mother of four and the owner of one company, and partner in another, balance is hard to achieve in my life, but it is something that I strive for daily and I think it is incredibly important in our fast-paced world. So I guess my point is, no matter what you are trying to do, whether it be starting a wine brand on your own or with a friend or colleague, or any type of job, I think it helps if you keep communication open and try to maintain balance in your life.
We are excited to carry both the Cerise Vineyard Pinot Noir and the Hawkeye Ranch Pinot Noir as well as the Malvasia Bianca Pétillant-Naturel. Do you recommend any specific food pairings for each of these?
One of the most important personal goals I have as a winemaker is trying to achieve balance in the wines I make. I feel this balance is important for many reason, one being this it helps the wine pair with a wider verity of foods; my rule of thumb is if you like the food and you like the wine go for it! But, that being said, I do pop different bottles depending on what is on the table…here are a few of my personal favorite combinations:
Onward Petillant Naturel, Malvasia Bianca ~ this wine is a great companion to eggs, a fresh garden frittata for Sunday brunch or an Asparagus and Gruyere quiche for dinner, it goes marvelously with white bean and smoked ham soup, and is also nice with stuff that has a kick to it: spicy Thai noodles etc. or anything curry, also a great with Cioppino and seafood in general and oh yes, yummy with raw oysters!
Onward Hawkeye Ranch Pinot Noir ~ this is a great accompaniment to cedar plank salmon, and pork done almost anyway. I was especially pleased with a meal that was Mangalitsa pork (raised by my brother) and we stuffed the roast with apples, garlic and thyme - the richness of this flavor with this type of pork was a great match. It is also great with tuna tartare or grilled tuna and puttanesca and pesto too…oh man, my mind just flipped forward to tomato/basil season, this wine goes great with the freshness of the California garden…summer here we come!
Onward Cerise Vineyard Pinot Noir ~ this wine has the depth to stand up to the bigger meals, if it is rib-eye you are in the mood for this is your girl, just about any juicy flavorful cut and you are in good shape, it’s also incredible with lamb. We made lamb burgers not that long back and Cerise was great with them. Cerise also handles the deep roasted veggies, winter roots and nutty roasted squash as well as the darker greens such as kale and collards, however while it can handle the bigger earthy flavor it is still a lovely match with pork, salmon and summer veggies too.
Interested in Faith's wines? Email us to snag a bottle or two!