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Fogarty winemaker: Great grapes key to great wine

By By Stan Torgerson / wine columnist
May 22, 2002
If price and quality really do go hand in hand, Thomas Fogarty wines are high on the list for both. Their wines appear on the Mississippi state list although, frankly, they are not well known except to those who can afford them. In other words, these are not everyday drinking wines.
Fogarty's best cabernet sauvignon retails for about $60 per bottle. Their merlot is priced at about $35. Fogarty chardonnay is in the $25 class. You don't serve wines in that price range to people who think an $8 bottle of wine is as good as it gets.
We had the opportunity recently to visit with the Thomas Fogarty's winemaker, Michael Martella, during his visit to the Silver Star for a winemakers' dinner. He has been directing their wines since 1980, so we asked him the secret of his and the wines' success.
We asked if he makes his wines to compete with other wine makers in similar price ranges and the answer was no.
The winery is owned by Dr. Thomas Fogarty, a cardiovascular surgeon and inventor. He's age 65 right now, but when he was 25 he invented something of which the layman never heard but which became important to the process of heart surgery.
He moved to California in the late 1970s, bought properties in the Santa Cruz Mountain area and became interested in wines. He planted grapes in order to make wine at home and then decided he wanted to go commercial.
Martella had graduated from Fresno State University in 1972. Fresno State is one of two schools in California that teaches the art of winemaking. In about 1980, he met Dr. Fogarty and they have been together ever since. He concedes that every year is a risk, depending on the weather and its effect on the grapes he will be using.
Did he ever make a bottle of wine with which he was dissatisfied? Martella acknowledged he had.
But when he makes a bottle of wine that he knows is great, and he does, the reaction is what you would expect.
I told him that was understandable. After all, it's his career and his life.
The May 30 tasting
Next weeks public wine tasting (May 30) will feature eight outstanding California chardonnays, each priced at under $20 per bottle. Several are in the $14 class as we attempt to prove you don't have to spend a fortune for really good chardonnays.
Three of the wines we wrote about last week were not available at the state warehouse but we have found replacements in that same rating range of 86-89. The Monticello and Alderbrook were out-of-stock and the price for the Talley has increased enough to take it out of the $20 and under class.
But we have added three others including the highly regarded Markham 99, rated by the Wine Spectator as an 88, the Shooting Star and the Guenoc, both rated 87.
In addition, Karly Winery, maker of those terrific zinfandels that are so popular, finally shipped 30 cases of their sauvignon blanc to Mississippi and we have obtained one of them to serve as our welcome wine at the door. I've tasted it and it is superb. We will therefore, serve nine wines for the $25 per place price. That is indeed a bargain. Call 482-0930 and make your reservation.