Say the name Fess Parker these days and you usually get one of three reactions. From people under the age of 25 you’ll get a blank stare. From folks in my generation (that would be Gen X) who happen to be wine lovers, you’ll get a polite chuckle about the winery tasting room that hosted the spit-bucket scene in Sideways. And from anyone over 50, you’re liable to see their eyes light up and hear them whistling the movie theme to Davy Crockett.
Fess Parker, now 81, became an American icon himself by playing American icons on screen. Most famous for his coonskin-cap wearing portrayals of Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett, Parker also starred in Old Yeller, Battle Cry, Thunder Over the Plains, and dozens of other films, television shows, and stage performances. Not content to simply rest on his laurels, Parker has had a second and even third career as a real estate developer, hotel and spa operator, and more germane to our discussion today, as a winery owner.
Unlike a lot of other celebrities who simply lend their name to a brand, Parker built the winery from the ground up, starting with a virgin piece of land in the Los Alamos valley near Santa Barbara. Parker’s children still operate the winery, and his son Eli is the winemaker and head of vineyard operations.
Fess Parker Winery currently produces wines from several locations in Santa Barbara County, including the Los Alamos Valley, the Santa Ynez Valley, and the Santa Maria Valley. They also have a second label called Epiphany.
I recently had an opportunity to taste through several of their current releases and present my notes below.
2003 Fess Parker “Ashley’s Vineyard” Chardonnay, Santa Rita Hills
Light yellow-gold in the glass, this wine has a perfumed nose of candied lemon drops, pastry cream, and grapefruit. In the mouth it has a nice balance and a good mouthfeel with primary flavors of pink grapefruit, citrus zest, and a hint of sweet oak in what is a surprisingly strong, long finish. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $28.
2003 Fess Parker “Ashley’s Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Santa Rita Hills
A medium garnet color in the glass, this wine has a nose of cranberry mixed with strong alcohol. In the mouth it has strong primary fruit flavors of cherries and raspberry with a hint of meatiness, which would be fine if those flavors were not followed by a wash of alcoholic heat. At 16.3% this wine is just a bit too high octane for my tastes. Score: 8. Cost: $45.
2002 Fess Parker “Rodney’s Vineyard” Syrah, Santa Barbara County
Dark garnet in the glass, this wine has a sweet nose of blackberry, blueberry, and black sherry aromas. In the mouth it is dense with spicy flavors of blackberry and oregano that linger pleasingly in a moderately long finish. Score: 9. Cost: $40.
2002 Fess Parker “Big Easy” Syrah, Camp 4 Vineyard, Santa Barbara County
Dark garnet in color, this wine has an old world nose of smoked meats and violets. In the mouth it presents a diverse medley of flavors from mulling spices to cherries, boysenberries, and even a hint of purple Kool Aid, before it transitions to a moderate finish with notes of blueberry. A substantial wine, but missing a little something to make it really fantastic. Score: 8.5/9. Cost: $20.
2002 Epiphany Cellars “Rodney’s Vineyard” Petite Sirah, Santa Barbara County
A deep inky garnet color in the glass, this wine has a dark nose of tamarind and blueberry. In the mouth it provides blueberry and black cherry flavors which seem very front loaded in the mouth, with the wine tasting a bit thin in the mid and back palate. Tannins, usually monstrous in Petite Sirah, have been held nicely in check, and perhaps even too much — the wine lacks a little stuffing to complement the nice fruit flavors. Score: 8. Cost: $25.
These and other wines are available for purchase from the winery.