The average person spends most of their youth trying to figure out what they want to do with their lives before having to make the ultimate decisions about college or graduate schools.
These decisions define us in today’s world. Yet more and more often, we see people changing paths after decades of study–you can even count me among them.
In fact, it’s almost become accepted that the average person doesn’t truly understand their direction in life until they’re thirty. In this train of thought, you have to wonder how many people in this world are out there doing jobs they never really wanted to do, specializing in fields they have no passion for, and producing a substandard product as a result.
The good news is that many of us have the courage to do something about it and change the course of our lives. One such person is Kelley Fox, and what she’s done with her life is really something quite special.
After completing a B.S. in Psychology, with a minor in Biology and degrees in Biochemistry and Biophysics, Kelley was admitted to the PhD program in Biochemistry from the Oregon State University–yet never completed her doctorate. Instead, she made the decision to become an Oregon winemaker, which she accomplished entirely through the experience of working in the vineyards and cellars of the region, including time spent alongside David Lett of The Eyrie Vineyards, which deeply influenced her. Starting in 2005, she began work as the winemaker at Scott Paul while also pursuing her own dream of create Kelley Fox wines, which saw its first release with the 2007 vintage.
Fast forward to today, where Kelley Fox Wines is now being talked about among collectors and critics as one of the under-the-radar producers of Oregon, making wines that transcend the region and the stereotypes of domestic Pinot Noir. Kelley now works exclusively on her own wines, crafting a number of Pinot Noir bottlings from the historic Maresh Vineyard and demeter-certified Momtazi vineyards.
What separates her from the rest is her insistence on doing nearly everything on her own and in the most natural way possible, often by hand and maintaining a coexistence between herself and the vines.
While talking with Kelley, the first thing you quickly realize is that she is the genuine article. Many natural – organic – biodynamic winemakers talk the talk, but when their hand is on the table, what you find isn’t always exactly what you expected. This is not the case with Kelley, who not only practices a completely natural approach to winemaking–but literally lives a natural approach to winemaking.
At one moment, we would be talking about the trees throughout her vineyards and how they affect each parcel, and then the conversation would swing to the strict diet that she maintains and her belief in the connection between the vineyard and the person who tends it. If for a moment you start to think this sounds like some new-age marketing, I assure you it’s not. Tasting the wines is enough to convince you that what you have in front of you is not just a product or a the result of a process–instead it is a pure expression of vineyard, fruit, and the naturally-occurring yeasts that fermented it. There’s no new wood, and the wines from the 2014 vintage on are fermented on 100% whole clusters.
Purity is the word that comes to mind with each sniff or sip from the glass. These are remarkably pretty wines with a depth that is unmatched by most. While the house specialties of Maresh and Momtazi vineyards continue to define the style, Kelley also crafts a second wine from both, which allows us to experience each terroir at a price that is incredibly fair in today’s market of Pinot Noir. Ahurani shows the earth, power and minerality of the McMinnville Foothills Momtazi, while Mirabai displays the elegance and depth of fruit found in the Dundee Hills Maresh.
That said, experimentation continues at Kelley Fox, with talk of an amphora-aged Pinot Gris and the further development of individual blocks within each of her vineyards. It’s an exciting time for her and for us, because these are very special wines at a relatively affordable cost.
My only fear is that, as word gets out, will we be able to find the Kelley Fox wines that we’ve fallen in love with? Only time will tell.
On to the tasting notes:
2015 Kelley Fox Wines Pinot Noir Mirabai (Maresh fruit) – The nose showed incredibly fresh red berry and cherry fruit, along with plum, herbal tea leaves, clove, and minerals. It was wonderfully refined on the palate yet soft with pure red berry and blue fruits, inner florals and hints of citrus zest. The long, lingering finish was redolent of mineral-tinged blueberry skins. (91 points)
2015 Kelley Fox Wines Pinot Noir Ahurani (Momtazi fruit) – The bouquet was a gorgeous display of tart red fruits, wild herbs, sweet tea leafs, and dusty spice. On the palate, I found rich dark red fruits with iron-born minerality, The finish was long with lasting minerality and lingering tart red fruits. Floral, herbal, and mineral, this Pinot is right up my alley and an amazing value. (92 points)
2015 Kelley Fox Wines Pinot Noir Maresh Vineyard – The ‘15 Maresh came across as more refined than the ‘14 next to it, with mineral-strewn black cherry, mulling spice, and over time, exotic herbs. On the palate, it was remarkably fresh with pure red fruits, soft enveloping textures, and inner floral and herbal tones. The finish was pure and lifted with florals, moist earth, and a coating of persistent dry berry extract. (94 points) M
2014 Kelley Fox Wines Pinot Noir Maresh Vineyard – The nose was intense with a mix of wildberry, strawberry and dusty cinnamon and spice, then turning more to minerals and crushed fall leaves. On the palate, I found silky, enveloping textures with ripe red fruits, hints of exotic spices, and inner floral tones. The finish was long with spicy red fruit and hints of grippy tannin. The 2014 seems to be getting better and better. (94 points) M
2014 Kelley Fox Wines Pinot Noir Mirabai (Maresh fruit) – The nose showed pure ripe fruit, fresh strawberry, sweet floral tones, and hints of savory herbs. On the palate, I found lifted bright textures, soft yet and vibrant with stunning purity, exotic inner floral tones, strawberry, hints of tannic grip. It was incredibly fresh throughout the finish, with juicy acidity and staying minerality. (91 points)
2014 Kelley Fox Wines Pinot Noir Maresh Vineyard Red Barn Blocks– The Kelley Fox Red Barn Blocks displayed a bouquet of mineral-infused cherry, with herbal hints of mint and sage, black pepper, and dusty dried flowers. On the palate, I found soft, caressing textures-much lighter than velvet, yet just as soft-with ripe black cherry, raspberry, plum, hints of subtle spice and brisk, energizing acidity. It finished fresh, floral and almost mouthwatering with lingering ripe red fruits. This is so pure and a completely honest wine with tons character. (95 points) M
Article, Tasting Notes and Label Images by: Eric Guido
Vineyard photos courtesy of Mikhail Lipyanskiy Photography
Kelley Fox Wines Website
Find Kelley Fox wines at Morrell Wine & Spirits