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Victor Magalhaes, owner of Vittorio’s Italian Trattoria with Kaitlin Hite, a Foxen sales manager. Photo by Rico Cassoni
Victor Magalhaes, owner of Vittorio’s Italian Trattoria with Kaitlin Hite, a Foxen sales manager. Photo by Rico Cassoni
ColumnsFood & WineTaste of Wine

Foxen Vineyards returns to Vittorio’s

After a hiatus due to COVID-19, it was good to see Foxen Vineyards return to Vittorio’s to kick off owner Victor Magalhaes’ 2023 Wine Dinner series. Per tradition, Kaitlin Hite, a Foxen sales manager, was out from the vineyard to narrate the dinner. The anticipation of Foxen’s return resulted in a sold-out crowd of 100 guests.

When dinner commenced, Hite shared the background on Foxen’s property and the iconic anchor logo. Foxen is named in memory of William Benjamin Foxen, an English sea captain and co-founder Dick Doré’s great-great-grandfather, who came to Santa Barbara in the early 1800s. In 1837, Foxen purchased Rancho Tinaquaic via a Mexican land grant that originally totaled almost 9,000 acres and

comprised most of what is now known as Foxen Canyon in Santa Barbara County. Sea-going Captain Foxen adopted the distinctive “anchor” as his ranch cattle brand. In tribute to its patriarch, the winery adopted the anchor as its trademarked brand. So it is very fitting that Foxen has made its home on the 2,000-acre Rancho Tinaquaic, which remains in the family’s hands. Dore started Foxen with co-founder and director of winemaking Bill Wathen.

Foxen’s first vintage was in 1985, made in the old blacksmith shop on the ranch. This building, now known fondly as “The Shack,” and the accompanying barn were Foxen’s winery and tasting room for more than 20 years. After completing Foxen’s solar-powered winery and tasting room in 2009, the historic and beloved “Shack” was renamed Foxen 7200, where they feature their Bordeaux and Italian varieties under a brand of the same name.

In addition, Foxen’s Burgundy, Rhône, and Loire varieties are showcased in the solar-powered Foxen tasting room just down the road. One of Foxen’s most important values is its sustainability efforts that permeate the winery’s core, hence the solar-powered tasting rooms.

Foxen is known for its superb Pinot Noir wines, which account for 1/3 of its production with nine different single vineyard Pinots. They source fruit from their estate vineyards and other key suppliers, including Bien Nacido, Solomon Hills, and Julia’s Vineyards, to name a few, in Santa Maria Valley. They also source fruit from vineyards in Santa Rita Hills, Los Olivos (an estate vineyard), and Santa Barbara’s Happy Canyon.

It was fortuitous that dinner guests were served two pinots. The first was a 2021 Foxen Rose paired with thinly sliced heirloom tomatoes, fresh burrata cheese, pesto, and a crostini. The second pinot noir was the 2019 Foxen Santa Maria Valley Pinot sourced from Riverbench and Bien Nacido vineyards, aged nine months in 100% neutral oak.

The fruit-forward palate of ripe red and blackberry fruits, including strawberry with some floral and baking spice notes on the nose, earned 92 points by Jeb Dunnuck. This pinot was part of the third course complementing the chicken marsala, mashed potato, and sauteed spinach entrée. In between the pinots was the 2019 Foxen “Bien Nacido Block UU” Chardonnay.

“Even though it is not estate fruit, Foxen farms this block taking care of all the viticulture tasks,” Hite said.

The chardonnay sees six months of aging in 13% new French oak and does not incorporate malolactic fermentation. This created a leaner wine with acidity and minerality than some big buttery California counterpart chardonnays. This was paired with butternut squash ravioli in brown butter sauce and was my favorite pairing of the evening.

The fourth course was grilled skirt steak alongside grilled zucchini and a creamy gorgonzola sauce paired with a 2019 Volpino sangiovese (57%) merlot (43%) blend from the Foxen 7200 collection. The wine is aged for 22 months in neutral French oak barrels. The red blend was perfect for keeping one’s tongue clean between the rich sauce.

Dinner concluded with Mission Port Style Dessert Wine, part of the Foxen 7200 collection, aged for 22 months in neutral oak and stainless steel and bottled into 375ml bottles. This was a great partner with chef’s lemon bars.

Thank you, Kaitlin, for a beautiful evening of sharing Foxen Wines and stories with guests and raffling off a bottle of each wine served at dinner. Get more information at

Coming up for Vittorio’s Wine Dinners is a Frescobaldi Wine Dinner at 6 p.m. on Feb. 23 hosted by Joseph Schegel. The main course is grilled petite filet mignon served with mashed potatoes and broccolini paired with 2019 Tenuta Castiglioni. Ted Plemmons, co-owner of Cass Winery, will be down from Paso in March. With Rockin’ Ted in the house, wine dinners are as entertaining as it gets. Cass has killer wines that are always impressive. Both dinners are $75 per person + tax/gratuity. RSVP at 858-538-5884.

— Story by Rico Cassoni

Wine Bytes

— Save the Date: OC Wine & Spirit Fest is being held from 12 to 4 p.m. on Feb. 26. It was created to bring a modern tasting experience to the people of Orange County with luxe vibes and a laid-back coastal attitude. The festival offers an experience perfect for everyone and every taste, including wine, craft beer, spirits, hard seltzers, and more.

This year’s fest will be held at Giracci Vineyards & Farms in Silverado Canyon, Orange County, surrounded by plush, scenic landscaping. The grounds offer an abundance of country elegance, with a dash of history and a touch of rustic charm, creating a tranquil, magical environment for all. The cost is $100. RSVP at Try code JUICE for a discount (not guaranteed).

— Celebrate Valentine’s Day at WineSellar & Brasserie! The chef will offer a romantic three-course prix fixe menu for the weekend and on Valentine’s Day! Days include Feb. 10, Feb. 11 and Feb. 14, Valentine’s Day. Reservations from 5 p.m. each day. Wine pairing recommendations are happily provided by their talented and knowledgeable wine staff. Cost is $85 per person + tax/gratuity. RSVP at 858-450-9557.

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