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Feature Article

Prudy Fox is the Goddess of the vineyard.

Some call her Goddess of the Vineyard. Others call her a vineyard genius. You want great Pinot Noir grapes, just call her Prudy Foxx.

Santa Cruz Mountains (AVA)

Have Clippers, Will Travel:
Prudy Foxx Prunes Vineyards
to New Levels of Perfection

She would hate me saying this, but she really is the “Queen of Pinot Noir” in the Santa Cruz Mountains
~ Paul Kemp, Loma Prieta Winery

by Laura Ness
July 19, 2007

Viticulture consultant and vine expert Prudy Foxx has clones on her mind and in her blood. She’s been researching and experimenting with different clones, varieties, and rootstocks in different soils and climates for decades now. Originally from Indiana, she realized early on that her center was somewhere on the West coast: “It was a mistake that I was born in the Midwest. As a teenager I was very fortunate to have a friend who had a father that loved to collect fine wines from Burgundy. In those days it was not a crime to share wine culture with your children (not that it is now, but society has changed) and I was exposed to dinnertime sips of some wonderful wines that forever set my palate.”

Back in the 1980s, she read about Bonny Doon’s Randall Graham in the Wine Spectator (the issue where he appeared on the cover as the Rhone Ranger) and was intrigued by his story on the label for Cigare Volante. By then she had decided to pursue a higher degree in Viticulture at UC Davis and had moved to California with the intention of working and then going back to school.

Close…but no Cigare

Prudy recalls, “The more I heard about him, the more I was intrigued. I actually moved to the Santa Cruz area with the intent to go ask him for a job. I drove up to the winery but I lost my nerve to ask right then, figuring I’d go back another day.” It didn’t quite happen that way. Instead, she began tending a nearby
The Deek Park vineyard in the Santa Cruz Mountains is just of the many vineyards in the area managed by Prudy.
[Photo by Mary Lindsay]
Chardonnay vineyard owned by a friend, and rapidly caught the attention of one of the neighbors. Then one day, while she was out pruning, the selfsame Randall Graham walked up to her and offered her a job to help manage his vineyard. She happily accepted and went on to quit the exciting job with the eclectic winemaker.

A year of working at the 40 acre Bonny Doon Vineyard grounded her thoroughly in the Santa Cruz Mountains grape-growing experience. Over the past ten years, she has been involved in the planting of 80 to 100 acres of new plantings, and has additionally brought many old vineyards into the 21st century by retrofitting the trellis systems and changing canopy management and spray programs. Ask anyone in the wine industry in the Santa Cruz Mountains about Prudy, and they’ve either worked with her or asked her for advice at some point. Says Jim Schultze of Windy Oaks Estate, “Prudy has brought a consistently high level of performance to the vineyards she consults with in the Santa Cruz Mountains.”

“Prudy is the epicenter of viticultural knowledge in the Santa Cruz Mountains,” says Nick Guerrero of Gatos Locos of Vine Hill. His vineyard manager, Rachel Ormes, has benefited greatly from working with Foxx. Says Rachel, “When you ask Prudy for advice, you know it’s going to be sound. You know you can absolutely trust her. She is very open about sharing her vast knowledge with others and that is extremely helpful.”

That sentiment is echoed by Paul and Amy Kemp of Loma Prieta Winery who source some of their Pinot Noir from the Saveria Vineyard, one of Prudy’s increasingly sought after vineyards. It’s located in the Corralitos area, at the southern end of the appellation. About Prudy, Paul Kemp says succinctly, “She’s a genius! I can’t believe the great job she’s done in establishing our vineyard on this very challenging site. Plus the Pinot she gets us from Saveria Vineyard has consistently been Gold Medal winning fruit for us. She would hate me saying this, but she really is the “Queen of Pinot Noir” in the Santa Cruz Mountains!”

The Vineyard Gospel According to Prudy

Loma Prieta Winery label
The fanciful label of Loma Prieta Winery.
Foxx says that growing grapes in the Santa Cruz Mountains has always been an iffy and difficult proposition. The same conditions that make the wines so immensely concentrated can also be the most arduous and costly to mitigate: i.e., the persistent marine influence coupled with fairly high levels of precipitation. One of her mantras is, manage mildew pressure—early and regularly.

The right timing actually reduces the amount of treatment needed later in the season. She urges vineyard owners not to wait: spraying is essential when the moisture level is high and temperatures are fluctuating wildly. She also encourages growers to get away from the use of sulfur as a mildew suppressant, especially late in the season. “The vineyard is a much more pleasant experience without that pungent sulfur smell. You can savor the fragrance of the grapes in bloom and inhale the scent of their promise of great wine to come. I wish I could bottle as perfume the delicate and exotic scent of the grape blossom. It is intoxicating!” she remarks. I heartily concur: there is nothing else quite like it.

As President of the Santa Cruz Mountains Viticulture Association, she has made it a point to post recommendations for vineyard practices on the Association web site on a monthly basis and her tireless efforts at education on sustainable practices has raised the collective consciousness of an already pro-environment community. Good vineyard design, cover crop use, micronutrient application, water management and other practices create healthy vineyards that naturally resist disease and produce delicious fruit.

What single vineyard practice has made the most difference in improving the quality of Santa Cruz Mountains fruit? That’s easy, says Foxx. “Vertical Shoot Positioning is the single most important practice that has been adopted here since the late 80s,” she explains. “Getting fruit ripe here is hugely challenging and getting the fruit the right kind of light exposure is mandatory. The easiest, most consistent way to achieve this is with VSP trellising and proper canopy management.”

“With VSP, we can control the density of the canopy and the amount of sunlight, shade, and air circulation that is so vital to the proper maturation of the fruit. Other practices include canopy management in general, the adoption of better floor management (permanent cover crops), irrigation management (deficit irrigation does not mean we never water, we just are very precise about it), and
Prudy Foxx consulted on the installation of Vine Hill Vineyard which produces acclaimed Pinot Noir.
[Photo by Laura Ness].
new spray products on the market that have allowed us to get away from sulfur and sulfur residues. Now growers in the SCM can consistently produce clean and fully mature fruit. This factor will make us unstoppable as people get to know the wines and know that they can rely on them.”

Due in no small part to Prudy’s extensive influence on vineyard plantings, re-plantings and overall

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