Deciding to move cross-country wasn’t an easy decision for the Lennon family. Jody and David Lennon had lived in Chappaqua for 16 years in a lovely house on Pond Hill Road and were busy raising their three sons, Spencer, Jeremy and Ethan. David worked as a commercial litigator in the city and Jody who also had a law degree had decided to take a pause from the work world to focus on raising her sons. They had many close friends and strong roots in the community.
David had a client who was based in Oregon and suggested that the family move out there for a simpler life but they were happy staying put. However, with David’s client roster becoming increasingly West Coast-based, the hectic lifestyle was beginning to take its toll. The Lennons would occasionally look at farm properties in Massachusetts and further north in the Hudson Valley as second homes but they never pulled the trigger.
Finally, in 2011 they decided to pack up their belongings and head to Oregon. As Jody says, “we flew across the country and landed on a vineyard.” The vineyard is in the Rogue Valley of Southern Oregon, an area close to the California border with green valleys producing high-quality wines. Their property contained eight acres of vineyards that had never been harvested before. With the advent of their first harvest they selected the name FENCES Winery, a name that is derived from the fact that they were feeling “fenced in” before their move.
An Education on Viticulture
“Timing is really everything but if you told me we’d be doing this years ago, I would have laughed,” says Jody, a self-proclaimed oenophile (Cabernet Sauvignon is her favorite) who handles a variety of jobs including sales, marketing, warehouse and delivery. David who still practices law focuses more on specific vineyard duties such as mowing, pruning and deciding which trellis system is best for the grapes to grow. “David really immersed himself in learning about the industry by reading viticulture course books from the UC Davis School where many leading vintners graduate from,” explains Jody.
The couple in the beginning also attended monthly barrel tastings. This is where Jody began to discover that winemaking is “really an art and science.” “It is amazing to me that from the time the grapes are harvested and then put into barrels, the winemakers can pretty much tell how it will taste in two years.”
She learned terms such as “barrel program” meaning that the type of barrel that the wine is aged in plays a large factor in the nuances of the wine’s flavor. For example, American oak barrels impart vanilla undertones whereas French oak barrels tend to add more spice, and even the “toast” of the barrel is selected to contribute different attributes to a wine’s flavor.
Ignoring the Naysayers
Besides having to learn everything about the wine industry from scratch, they also had a lot of naysayers who suggested that growing Cabernet Sauvignon was a mistake due to the climate in Oregon and that it would be best grafting over to a different varietal. But Jody exclaims with a chuckle that she was determined to “drink her way to happiness” with Cabernet Sauvignon. The grape is the last to be picked in the valley usually around the third or fourth week in October. Due to climate change, the weather has gotten warmer and they’ve been successful with their grapes.
Seven years later, they just grafted ½ acre to produce Sauvignon Blanc starting next year, and this May they debuted a limited release of 25 cases of Rosé of Cabernet Sauvignon. But Jody insists that they will stay focused on Cabernet Sauvignon. “There are wineries here producing 28 varietals and I don’t want to do that. We want to make the best wine we can and doing that requires focus.”
Accolades for Their Wines
And clearly their focus has been paying off. Wine Enthusiast Magazine, a leading authority in the industry just rated their 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon a 90 and listed it as an Editor’s Choice in their upcoming August 2019 issue. Their Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon received a 91 in the same edition.
In addition, their 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon was awarded Best of Class at the 2018 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. The 2014 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon received a Silver Medal at the 2018 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, a Gold Medal from SIP’s Best of the NW, and then a Platinum in the Wine Press Northwest Wine Competition, where it was named “one of the Northwest’s top Cabs.”
Despite the success of their small winery, the Lennons still miss Chappaqua dearly. Jody misses simple things like getting lamb chops at the local butcher to more important matters like the strong emphasis on education in our community. While the family enjoys the slower pace of life in Oregon, they still consider Chappaqua as their home.
Jody recounts a very proud moment on one of her many trips back to the 10514 she took her cabernet sauvignon to Dodd’s Liquor Shop for a wine tasting. Although their products are only available online at www.fenceswinery.com, the wine buyer at Dodd’s was very impressed with the product and offered her recommendations for distributors who could help get the product into stores. “That was the ultimate compliment!”, she exclaims.