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05.06.09

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Phaedra

Photograph by Jenn Ireland
Women and Wine: Prudy Foxx among pinot noir vines in Soquel Vineyard. She calls pinot grapes 'definitely more feminine,' with 'very specific needs.'

Foxx in the Vineyards

An afternoon with Prudy Foxx, grape goddess of the Santa Cruz Mountains.

By Christina Waters


It's possible that somewhere deep in the Santa Cruz Mountains, a vintner is hoarding the ancient formula for growing perfect grapes. For everyone else, there's Prudy Foxx.

Viticultural consultant, troubleshooter and tomboy connoisseur, Foxx knows her way around a vineyard. Armed with biochemical expertise, Foxx takes the pulse of some of the costliest produce raised anywhere in the world. She walks the vines with winemakers who want to know exactly what's going on in their vineyards, when to prune, when to weed and when to pick. "Most winemakers want a how-to guidebook to growing the grapes. But that's not how it works," she laughs.

Born into an Indianapolis family of lawyers, Foxx got her hands dirty studying organic farming in Washington State. It wasn't a huge stretch to after-hours biodynamic winemaking. And that prepared her for a life-changing move to Bonny Doon. Randall Grahm's celebrated cellars, however, turned out to be only the start of Foxx's journey, not her final destination.

"These are incredibly vigorous," she says, probing the robust pinot noir vines at Soquel Vineyards' sloping acres. Crimson clover carpets the rows of organically farmed pinot, testament to Foxx's dedication to sustainable vineyard practices like cover cropping and organic methods.

Light and air, light and air: Foxx invokes her vineyard mantra. "It's essential for disease management," she declares. She points to dappled sun and shade inflecting each almost supernaturally green leaf. "What you want is this stippled lighting. This is ideal." At least it is for pinot noir, a grape notorious for its complex, labor-intensive growing needs.

"Cabernet is a masculine grape with tough skins. It likes to just kind of hang out," Foxx jokes. "Pinot is definitely more feminine, more tender--with very specific needs."

Energetic and tanned, Foxx is also a licensed pest control adviser and mother of two tween-age sons. Managing top vineyards for over a decade, she specializes in pre-emptive viticulture. Today she's examining the progress of fast-growing pinot vines, strategizing to maintain the plant's crucial balance. "An unbalanced vine is terrible," she intones, stripping off leaves to reveal tight, chartreuse clusters of buds. "Timing is so critical in the vineyard. The plant is always busy forming itself in advance, so we're always thinking two years ahead."

Our afternoon ends at Richard Alfaro's tasting room. "He knows the grapes and he does lots of his own lab work," she says approvingly. We taste two vintages of pinot noir made from the Lester Family Vineyards, which Foxx designed and planted 10 years ago. She's satisfied with how the grapes are showing in the bottle. "There's no direct line from sugar and acid to wine," she reminds me with an easy smile. "It's a journey."

Christina Waters writes about food, wine, organics and local personalities at www.christinawaters.com A longer version of this article is available on the site.


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