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December 16, 2005

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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Friday, December 16, 2005

Thomas Fogarty: doctor of invention Thomas Fogarty: doctor of invention (December 16, 2005)

Founder of Woodside winery is also a surgeon, grandfather and inventor

by Dale F. Bentson

Dr. Thomas Fogarty speaks in clipped sentences. His no-nonsense medical training has equipped him to be economical with his time, focused when solving problems and to the point when engaged in conversation. And his viticultural avocation is now big business.

Yet behind the purposeful posture I discern a glint in his eyes, the satisfied sparkle of a man enjoying life.

He appears precisely on time for our appointment. The multitalented doctor is a man of precision. He is an inventor, surgeon, scholar, teacher, entrepreneur, father and grandfather. And, oh yes, he also founded the Thomas Fogarty Winery and Vineyard in Woodside.

The bespectacled Fogarty, a Cincinnati native, is nattily attired in a camel-colored sports jacket, sky-blue shirt and dark slacks. He leads me through the complex of contemporary wood buildings that make up his mountain estate. We settle into a cozy room overlooking valley and vineyard.

Earning his medical credentials at Xavier University, Fogarty completed his internship and residency at the University of Oregon before settling in the Bay Area in the 1960s. His father was a railroad engineer who died when Fogarty was 8. His mother worked in the defense industry during WWII to support her three children.

"I wanted to be a boxer as a youth; I was a pretty good amateur," Fogarty says. When he was 17 he had a match with a 23-year-old. Both boxers suffered broken bones and were bloodied in the bout that was declared a draw. "If this is a draw, I'll never lose," he remembers musing. Meanwhile, he worked part-time in a hospital, enjoyed it, and was encouraged by doctors to pursue medicine.

He became interested in wine while teaching surgery at Stanford University in 1969. Helping a colleague who owned a small winery, he became fascinated with the art and science of winemaking. He acquired 3-and-a-quarter acres in Woodside in 1978 and planted his first vines in 1981. He has slowly added to that acreage, which now totals 325 with 28 acres under cultivation.

"I planted immediately and started the search for a winemaker," Fogarty recalls. "I met Michael Martella (the winery's current viticulturist and winemaker) through my attorney. He had been making high-quality wine and shared my vision of producing ultra premium wines. It was a good match."

Each year, the winery produces about 15,000 cases, primarily of highly regarded Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. It also turns out Cabernet Sauvignon, often blended with Cabernet Franc and Merlot. There are small plantings of Sangiovese and Barbera as well. Fogarty's popular Gewürztraminer comes from grapes grown in Monterey County.

Except for the Gewürztraminer, all wines are aged in oak barrels. The oak, primarily American, imparts a trace more vanilla flavor to the wines than traditional French Limousin and Never oaks, although the winery does utilize some French oak barrels. The results are smooth-tasting, well-balanced wines, rich in fruit, often explosive in the mouth, meant to be drunk within a few years.

I ask Fogarty how he reacted to such quirks in the market as the mercurial sales of Pinot Noir after the movie "Sideways" premiered. Now it is Rhone wines that are selling fast. Before that, Syrah and Viognier were much in demand. But these trends don't affect things much at Fogarty, he says: "We ignore fads and just make good wine."

Fogarty also dismisses as wine hyperbole such notions as terroir, a French word for "taste of earth." This is the idea that there are certain characteristics imparted to wine by local topography, soil and climate.

"It's an invention of the wine aficionado," Fogarty says. "They make the wine experience too frightening. You either enjoy or don't enjoy a wine."

Fogarty does concede that wine can be affected by some aspects of terroir, such as land, sun, rainfall and drainage. But he contends that wine-making technique trumps many agricultural shortcomings.

"The art of winemaking starts in the vineyard: where to plant, what to plant. Here in the mountains, we had to carefully consider how to trellis our vines for optimal sun exposure and good drainage," he says.

Fogarty draws parallels between being a vascular surgeon and the proprietor of a winery. "Both are highly regulated with uncertain outcomes," he says. "Both are an art and a science and require imagination to make improvements, and progress is not always measurable."

He adds: "You must be ready to approach the unknown. Make use of smells, sounds and your animal senses."

While he no longer performs surgery, the septuagenarian father of four, who has been married to Rosalee for 40 years, still teaches at Stanford Medical Center. He champions endovascular procedures, a less invasive approach to vascular surgery. He invented the Fogarty embolectomy catheter, a tubular balloon that revolutionized vascular surgical procedures. In addition, he has founded six companies and holds 65 patents in surgical instrumentation.

One of these companies, Fogarty Engineering in Portola Valley, specializes in creating "'device and service': diagnoses that can be made at home rather than in the hospital," he says.

One such creation is a piece of equipment to measure sleep apnea, a condition that causes breathing to stop temporarily during sleep and has been linked to various health problems. The equipment, Fogarty says, makes it possible to monitor sleepers at home rather than over several nights in the hospital.

"Sleep apnea, in my opinion, is second only to diabetes in undiagnosed ailments causing both strokes and heart attacks," Fogarty says.

How does he have time to keep up on all these fronts? "I hire good people and give them freedom," thus freeing him for other pursuits, he says. "I insist on a certain level of excellence, though. I immediately want to know if I am wrong about something. I have a good exchange with my staff."

Then he half-smiles at me, semi-lost in his own thoughts. I suppose he is formulating another invention.

The Thomas Fogarty Winery and Vineyard is at 19501 Skyline Blvd. in Woodside. The tasting room is open Thursday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Call (650) 851-6777 or go to

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