Santa Maria Sun / Eats
Fess Parker Winery commemorates its founder with an anniversary celebration
WENDY THIES SELL
On Aug. 16, a day that would have been Fess Parker’s 90th birthday, his family and more than 100 friends and fans gathered in the Fess Parker Winery VIP barrel room in Los Olivos, raising their wine glasses to toast the man who passed away in 2010. But the winery toasted its founder for more than just his birthday.
“We always have these neat coincidences with anniversaries,” said winery Executive Vice President Ashley Parker-Snider, daughter of the late actor and winery and hotel owner. “This is the 25th anniversary of the winery, which went by incredibly quickly, and then the 50th anniversary of the Daniel Boone series. So, it seemed like an incredible opportunity to throw a party.”
A couple hundred people bought tickets to attend the Saturday barbecue that included a big screen viewing of two episodes of the Daniel Boone TV show, which ran from 1964 to 1970.
Several of the show’s stars were in attendance that evening: Rosey Grier, Darby Hinton, and Veronica Cartwright, in addition to the TV series’ producer Barney Rosenzweig.
The Parker family invited me to be their guest at a retrospective wine tasting earlier that day, Benchmark Wines of the Past 25 Years—a guided tour down the memory lane of Fess Parker Winery’s highest scoring wines.
Several Fess Parker wines have scored 93 points or higher from Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate, Wine Spectator, and Wine Enthusiast magazines.
The discussion panel included Parker’s son and winemaker emeritus Eli Parker, head winemaker Blair Fox, and winery President Tim Snider.
“There are some pretty serious wines coming out of the Fess Parker cellar,” Snider proclaimed to the large group gathered in the handsome barrel room.
We tasted six impressive wines from the winery library, including the big and beautiful 2008 Ashley’s Chardonnay, which earned 95 points from Wine Enthusiast; the deliciously tropical 2008 Bien Nacido Vineyard chardonnay, which earned 96 points from Wine Enthusiast; and the spicy 2005 Clone 115 pinot noir, which also received 96 points from Wine Enthusiast.
During the tasting, Eli reminisced about the early days of the winery when renowned wine critic Robert Parker first visited the winery.
“Back in 1992, I’ll never forget, we had one of our first vintages in the barrel, and he came through and we were discussing the wines and he basically said, ‘You know, if you don’t screw this up, you might actually have a decent wine here,’” Parker said.
We also tasted a decadent wine that was full of mocha and plum—the 2003 Rodney’s Vineyard syrah—that earned 93 points from Wine Advocate.
Eli called Rodney’s syrah the cornerstone of their program.
“It’s a big wine. I used to describe it back in the earlier years as a wine you can stand your spoon up in,” he said.
“I would know Rodney’s from 5 feet away,” Fox added. “There’s a funk to it: earth, tobacco, complexity. I think it’s a great wine.”
The panel talked about how Fess Parker’s 2002s and 2003s, like the ’03 syrah, were made in a bigger/higher alcohol-style.
But it is evident that by 2008 Fess Parker wines began evolving.
The winery harvests grapes earlier now, aiming for wines lower in alcohol, moving away from opulence and taking steps toward elegance.
“I encourage you to taste these wines in their current release format,” Snider suggested to the group. “And you’re going to see even more of the same, that move to elegance, brighter acidity, freshness, all of that.”
My question for the panel was directed at Fess’ son, Eli, “What was your father’s favorite wine? Tell us about Fess Parker’s palate.”
“Dad had more of a fondness for the Rhone side of the program,” Eli answered. “Depending on the company and what he was eating, he would roam around between pinot noirs and more of the red side of the spectrum, but I think he loved pinot noir as much as a bottle of his Rodney’s syrah.
“[He was] not a big fan of straying from his own portfolio, which I frequently criticized him for, because there is life beyond Fess Parker [Wines],” Eli then quipped, which elicited thundering laughter from the crowd.
“To answer your question, probably first and foremost syrah, and then pinot noir,” Eli said. “Isn’t that right, Ashley?”
“Yeah, given his druthers,” Eli’s sister answered. “He’d have a little more syrah. But he was very obliging.”
“Actually truthfully, he’d take a cold Chimay [Belgian beer] over all those,” Eli said, to more hearty laughs.
Ashley added, “That’s true! That’s true.”
Then Snider relayed a sentimental story about his father-in-law. Snider once heard a journalist ask a similar question, to which Fess responded, “Well, I prefer a Rodney’s syrah, but Marcella [Fess’s wife] enjoys pinot, so we drink more pinot.”
From my personal experiences with Fess Parker, which date back to 1998 and include several one-on-one interviews, he was an extraordinary gentleman and a fascinating, larger-than-life, yet soft-spoken man.
He was clearly loved by his family and is missed.
But they are carrying on Fess’s legacy and working together to move the winery forward.
“Definitely, definitely,” Ashley agreed. “He gave us a huge platform to operate from.”
The winery recently debuted modern wine labels.
“It’s the 25th edition anniversary label. It’s black and groovy and looks a little more edgy,” Ashley said.
Fess Parker’s grandchildren are now getting involved at the winery, too.
“This is special summer for me, because my daughter [Greer] has been working in the tasting room and working in production on our sparkling wine project,” Ashley said. “And my son, Spencer, is working harvest this year too. It’s nice; everybody’s finding their place in the family business, which is what Fess wanted all along. As much as he loved wine and the idea of being in agriculture, being in a family business was the most important thing to him. So it’s nice to see that come about.”
Sun wine and food columnist Wendy Thies Sell is a forever fan of Fess. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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