Last month we did a deep dive into Pinot pioneer, Blue Mountain, and followed their journey from figuring out what grapes might possibly grow in the Okanagan to crafting Pinots (and others varietals) that truly can stand rounded-shoulder to rounded-shoulder with the best in the world. And if Blue Mountain represents the first wave, it's producers like Foxtrot that helped take that mantle and run with it in the all-important second Pinot wave.
I still recall the first time I heard murmuring around the mid-2000s about a new Pinot producer in Naramata that was creating a bit of a stir. For starters, notwithstanding the excellent Pinots in Okanagan Falls (from Meyer, as well as Blue Mountain), the conventional wisdom was that Kelowna and points north were where the future of Okanagan Pinot was going to be written. The new winery—called Foxtrot—was owned by an industry newcomer, the Swedish-born Torsten Allander, who from the get-go seemed hellbent on doing things differently. References to Burgundy, heretofore mostly too highfalutin' for most Okanagan vintners, were freely discussed. A serious (and seriously expensive) barrel program, again with an eye to Burgundy, was implemented. And then there was the price: over $40, crossing the monetary line that, to that date, had been to sole purview of a few Bordeaux blends (like Mission Hill's Oculus). It all seemed perfectly ripe for failure...except that everyone—somms, critics and the in-the-know public—were absolutely enchanted by the wines. They did skew more Burgundian—less cola and very ripe cherry, more earthy and lower in alcohol.
It seems quaint right now that a $45 Pinot would cause such a stir, but it was the first to create the sort of buzz among wine nerds that Black Hills Nota Bene had done years before with big reds. Seeing it on a wine list meant that the somm knew their stuff. And most importantly it freed the rest of the Pinot producers from the artificial fiscal restraints that they had been operating on. Quail's Gate could start start selling their flagship Stewart Family Reserve for a premium. It showed other Pinot producers that ripeness wasn't the only factor consumers were looking for in a high-end pinot. I think it's fair to say that without Foxtrot we would not have Mirabel or Spearhead or many other esteemed Pinot producers that have elevated our region.
And the end of the first chapter of Foxtrot couldn't be any more exciting if it were scripted. It starts in 2011 with New Yorker Doug Barzelay, one of the unquestioned world experts in Burgundy, who, with his partner Nathan Todd, were served it at a 2006 Foxtrot at a dinner. Impressed may be too small a word, because the experience put in motion a series of events (exploring the Okanagan, buying some raw land) that culminated with their purchase of Foxtrot in 2018 from the Allanders. Here's Doug's account of the process:
“In 2011, while Nathan and I were on a business trip to Vancouver, a friend and prominent Burgundy collector served several outstanding Burgundies, and one bottle whose identity he concealed. It had an elegance and complexity that reminded me of Chambolle-Musigny, but a distinctive terroir character I couldn’t place. When he revealed that it was a bottle of 2006 Foxtrot Pinot Noir, it changed in an instant my view of the potential of New World pinot. Although other business ventures kept Nathan and me busy in the intervening years, my interest in the Okanagan remained strong—an interest that Nathan, with his roots in the Valley, did not shy from encouraging. In 2017, during an extensive exploratory trip, I became aware that this was one of the few remaining places in the world where ungrafted pinot noir thrived. Shortly afterward, we decided to purchase land in Naramata and found what seemed to be the perfect plot: right next door to Foxtrot! Asking Foxtrot to make the wine for us from our newly christened Sandcastle Vineyard seemed like the obvious choice. We were quite surprised when the owners of Foxtrot told us of their decision to retire and offered to sell us the winery. We recognized that we had been given a remarkable opportunity and contacted a small group of friends who were similarly intrigued. With this investor group, in August of 2018 we became the proud new owners of Foxtrot.”
Ironically, at $47 for their The Waltz Pinot, Foxtrot is now at the lower tier of the high-end Pinots in the Valley. I had a chance to re-taste it recently (well, months ago) at the 30th Anniversary BCVQA tasting and what a treat: it's actually a touch riper than I remember, but there's plenty of earthy and spicy reminders to keep it interesting and complex. And it has a welcome tightness to it that suggests it's built for the long haul.