A Farewell to Fess Parker
The King of the Wild Frontier and pioneer of Santa Ynez Valley winemaking dies at age 85.
“Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier” to a generation of kids who saw his TV show and movies, Mr. Crockett was better known since his show business career peaked in the 1960s as a vintner in his beloved Santa Ynez Valley, where his Fess Parker wines won widespread recognition.
Mr. Parker turned to real estate development in Santa Barbara County in the 1970s, developing mobile home parks and the Fess Parker Doubletree Resort, which opened in 1985 on the Santa Barbara waterfront. A few years later, he launched his eponymous winery along the Foxen Canyon Wine Trail in the heart of the Santa Ynez Valley, in the town of Los Olivos.
The winery won early recognition for its Chardonnays. With the acquisition of vineyard land in the cooler western part of the valley (now known as Santa Rita Hills), Fess Parker’s Pinots also achieved acclaim. The winery is known additionally for Syrah and Viognier.
Mr. Parker had been in declining health for some time, but still occasionally enjoyed welcoming visitors to the tasting room, one of the largest and most popular in the region. The winery remains very much a family affair, with Mr. Parker’s son, Eli, overseeing production, daughter Ashley involved in communications, and son-in-law Tim Snider managing sales.
He was born in Fort Worth, Texas, and served in the U.S. Navy during World War II. His tall, all-American good looks won him parts in several movies, and ultimately attracted the attention of the Walt Disney Co., which cast him as “Davy Crockett” in 1954.
Fess Parker was a wonderfully polite, considerate man whose long career of fame and fortune never went to his head. A pioneer of Santa Ynez Valley winemaking, he will be missed and long remembered by all who knew him, whether personally or through his films and wines.
Below are some of Wine Enthusiast's top-scoring Fess Parker wines.
Fess Parker 2005 Ashley’s Vineyard Clone 115 Pinot Noir (Sta. Rita Hills); $50.This single-clone barrel selection takes the essence of the gorgeous, regular ’05 Ashley’s and concentrates it. Brims with sautéed Portobello mushroom, tamari, tangerine zest and black cherry preserves, leading to an immaculately rich, delicately silky, nuanced and enormously complicated Pinot. Hard to exaggerate the purity and finesse. Drink now–2012, before the lush fruit fades. - S.H. (4/1/2007) - 96
Fess Parker 2007 Ashley’s Pinot Noir (Sta. Rita Hills); $50. Tasted in March, 2009, this Pinot was dark, rich and tannic. Clearly too young to really show its best now. But it’s an ager. Give it three or four years to let all the parts come together, when the cherries, blackberries, spices and oak should begin to become silky and sweet. Will improve through 2015. - S.H. (8/1/2009) - 94
Fess Parker 1999 Marcell’a’s Vineyard Pinot Noir (Santa Barabara County); $45. Captures the essence of South Coast Pinot in its fantastic concentration and depth. Berry, smoke, tomato, chocolate and spice mingle together in a silky package that defines harmony, elegance, power and finesse. Only 300 cases made. - S.H. (12/15/2001) - 94
Fess Parker 2003 Ashley’s Vineyard Pinot Noir (Santa Rita Hills); $45. If you had to take one red wine to that proverbial desert island, this might be it. It’s simply delicious. The cherry, black raspberry, cocoa, coffee, cola and spice flavors are enormously deep and long, yet such is the acidity that the wine is filled with life and zest. Just marvelous, and probably best now and over the next year or two. - S.H. (11/1/2005) - 94
Fess Parker 2005 Ashley’s Vineyard Pinot Noir (Sta. Rita Hills); $52. Ashley’s, sold recently by the Parkers and now renamed Gaia, is a fabulous vineyard on the coolest western edge of the appellation. In this long hangtime vintage, the grapes achieved spectacularly ripe, fruity flavors, of cherries, raspberry purée and sweet, oak-infused cola. But this is no mere fruit bomb. The acid-tannin balance is amazing, and the wine has a deeply impressive, long-lasting appeal. - S.H. (4/1/2007) - 94
Fess Parker 2007 Bien Nacido Vineyard Pinot Noir (Santa Barbara County); $50. There’s a fine Pinot in here, but it’s like buried treasure. Currently locked down with tannins, the wine shows extravagant flavors of dusty Asian spices, rhubarb, pomegranate, cola, cherryskin and sandalwood. Desperately needs time, but should be very fine. Drink 2011 through 2015. - S.H. (8/1/2009) - 93
Fess Parker 2003 Ashley’s Vineyard Chardonnay (Santa Rita Hills); $26. Ashley’s is one of the cooler vineyards in this part of Santa Barbara, and you can taste the chilly winds in the brilliant acids. They tingle the taste buds and perk up the rich and pure tropical fruit flavors, leading to a clean, vibrant finish. This complex Chard is addictively good. - S.H. (11/1/2005) - 93
Fess Parker 2004 Ashley’s Vineyard Chardonnay (Santa Rita Hills); $28. Brilliant exposition of Chardonnay from a cool climate. There’s a brisk, clean, minerally moutheel, brimming with acidity, that frames exotic flavors of ripe tropical fruits, spices, peaches and vanilla-infused cream, and a finish that turns to pure apricot nectar. Just delicious. - S.H. (10/1/2006) - 93
Fess Parker 2003 The Big Easy Syrah (Santa Barbara County); $35. This wine, from the Parker vineyard in Santa Ynez Valley, shows the voluptuous mouthfeel that’s made Syrah so popular. The flavors are of the ripest blackberries cooked into a tart, and then sprinkled with butter, vanilla, cocoa and cinnamon. How good is that? A pointed reminder that high alcohol does not necessarily equal heat. - S.H. (12/1/2006) - 93
Fess Parker 1999 Bien Nacido Vineyard Pinot Noir (Santa Barbara County); $45. Huge, extracted, a giant wine. There’s an explosion of fruit, great weight and depth of flavor, with masses of berries and tree fruits, tomatoes, and herbs. Despite the size, it maintains a subtle harmony and finesse. Defines its terroir, and will soften and mellow with time. - S.H. (12/15/2001) - 93