Onward Wines: Loving Hands & A Feminine Touch
Faith Armstrong-Foster’s story is quite an endearing one for a winemaker. She began her career as the
Tasting Room Manager at Ironstone Vineyards, later working in marketing and promoting wine events in San
Francisco. She hatched a plan to attend University of California at Davis, become a winemaker, and return to
her native British Columbia. She did attend University of California at Davis on a full Regents Scholarship and
graduated in 2006 with highest honors. However, her marriage to Sean Foster, now the Senior Winemaker at
Merryvale Vineyards, derailed her plans and she settled into life in Napa.
After graduation, Faith became a Lab Technician for Frank Family Vineyards, quickly moving up to Enologist
and then Assistant Winemaker. In 2009 she launched her own label, Onward Wines, when she was offered
fruit from Cerise Vineyard. Since early 2011 Faith has focused on her own wines while consulting for Napa
Station. This sounds easy enough, except that she has three boys and a new baby girl. During the 2010
harvest, she delivered the girl between harvesting grapes from two of her major Pinot Noir vineyard sources.
The name, Onward, comes from the name of a childhood dinghy that was her family’s primary mode of
transportation including her trips to school growing up on Victoria Island. The label pictures the stern of that
boat upon which vineyard sites are listed like a boat’s hailing port.
Faith has crafted many varietals but loves to make and drink Pinot Noir. She usually produces about 600
cases annually of Onward Rosé and Pinot Noir from two excellent vineyard sources. In the 2010 vintage, total
output was 150 cases of Cerise Vineyard Anderson Valley Pinot Noir and 250 cases of Hawkeye Ranch
Redwood Valley Pinot Noir. Cerise Vineyard is well known for its superb fruit. This steep hillside vineyard sits
at 650 to 1000 feet and is sustainably farmed using organic and biodynamic principles (I wrote a feature on
Cerise Vineyard: www.princeofpinot.com/article/1223/). Ten clones of Pinot Noir are planted on seven
rootstocks. Soils are thin, hard and marginal with resulting yields in the range of 1 ton per acre. The vines at
Hawkeye Ranch are 35-year-old Martini clone. The vineyard is fifth generation family owned and the resident
winegrowers are good friends with Faith, working closely with her to satisfy her farming preferences.
I met Faith at Starmont Winery in Napa Carneros where she custom crushes her wines, and tasted barrel
samples and finished wines. The Pinot Noirs are crafted with loving attention beginning with a long cold soak,
100% de-stemming without crushing, and aging in 25% new French oak barrels with gentle lees stirring every
three weeks when the barrels need topping off. After 10 months of maturation in barrel, the wines are bottled
without fining or filtration. The low use of new oak and gentle handling at every stage leads to true vineyard
expression. The Cerise Vineyard Pinot Noir typically is slower to reach a desirable drinking window so she advises more patience with this bottling. Faith would like to hold back the wines longer, but economical
considerations and consumer and restaurant demands dictate that she release them sooner.
The 2013 vintage Rosé from barrel was tasted from both vineyards. The juice was bled over 3 days from tank fermented
Pinot Noir that had been racked to barrel and was undergoing aging. Both wines were high-spirited,
fine examples of Rosé. The 2012 is the current release ($18). Both vineyard Pinot Noirs were tasted out of
barrel with the 2011 vintage more elegant and delicate, the 2012 vintage more intense and pleasurable,
especially the Cerise. Clearly, these wines reflect impeccable winemaking.
The finished 2010 wines were tasted from bottle. The 2010 Onward Hawkeye Ranch Redwood Valley Pinot Noir ($38) is a fine example of
Martini clone Pinot Noir. Darkly fruited with a savory, earthy component, admirable balance and reasonable
approachability. The 2010 Onward Cerise Vineyard Anderson Valley Pinot Noir ($58) is an exceptional wine that shows its breeding. Light in color, but
exceedingly flavorful, with a delicious core of raspberry and cherry fruit framed by hints of spice and oak, and
clothed in soft tannins. I tasted this wine also the following day from a previously opened bottle and it had
blossomed further, and was one of the better Pinots I tasted on this road trip.
Onward wines are sold through a mailing list at www.onwardwines.com and may be purchased by contacting
email@example.com. The wines have some distribution in restaurants and the states of
California, New York and Texas. Why should you buy these wines? Pinot Noir responds to gentle, attentive
care and small scale production, both of which Faith’s loving winemaking exemplifies. Any woman that
can manage a family of four small children and a household, and still produce wines of this caliber deserves
admiration and support. She definitely impressed me. Onward and upward!