Russian River "Neighborhoods" Revealed through... Gary Farrell Vineyards and Winery
Neighborhoods are not AVA’s, but Represent Expressive Unique Terroir*
Gary Farrell Winery is perched on a hillside in the Russian River Valley, providing panoramic views of the forested valley below. Its wines epitomize the best of the Russian River appellation (AVA- American Viticultural Area). Gary Farrell Winery has long specialized in Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from some of the top vineyards in the Russian River Valley, and the wines stand as elegant, complex expressions of their vineyard origins. A key is the appellation’s climate: cool breezes and fog from the nearby Pacific Ocean blanket the area most mornings and evenings. The fog and wind temper summer’s heat and can reduce temperatures by 35-40 degrees at night, ensuring a long, even growing season. However, various locations within the Russian River are foggier, warmer, and have different soil structures leading to differences in the wines produced.
The Neighborhoods of the Russian River Valley
The “neighborhoods” of the Russian River are a new topic of discussion at Gary Farrell Winery. So much so, that they invited a group of wine writers this month to discuss the neighborhood differences, and taste seven single vineyard Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays from each. Note: these wines range from $55 to $70 per bottle and are only sold at the winery or online: www.garyfarrellwinery.com. Gary Farrell Winery also produces retail and restaurant distribution wines that are widely available.
These neighborhoods are notable, but are not legal AVA’s. They are areas of enough unique terroir – or sense of place – to be called out as distinctive. For instance, the Middle Ranch neighborhood near Healdsburg where Gary Farrell Winery is located has some of the oldest vines. It is a warmer neighborhood, and has older, diverse heritage clones of grapes including Pommard (Burgundy) clones. Rochioli Vineyards are located here. Conversely, the Sebastopol Hills neighborhood near the town of Sebastopol is the coolest subregion nearest to the Petaluma Gap with its early morning winds and fog. The fog burns off in late afternoon, the last of all the Russian River neighborhoods keeping the grapes cool. McDonald Mountain Vineyard lies in this neighborhood and the acclaimed full-bodied Pinot Noirs grown here have just the right amount of lively acidity.
Full Disclosure: I have been a fan of Gary Farrell wines for about 20 years. At one point I was a member of their Wine Club. I became a wine writer in 2009 following my Wine Immersion graduation from the Culinary Institute of America, Greystone, Napa Valley. I subsequently and regrettably gave up all my Wine Club memberships. - Tricia Conover
In 2012, Theresa Heredia, a highly respected winemaker who has long specialized in small-lot, single-vineyard wines, joined Gary Farrell Winery and is experimenting with new techniques to elevate quality further. She came from Joseph Phelps Freestone Vineyards in the Sonoma Coast appellation, where she achieved significant critical acclaim, including “Winemaker to Watch” honors from the San Francisco Chronicle. Theresa believes in having a “lighter hand” in the oak influence to both the Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays, using just a light-toast barrel, and only 35% new French oak for nine months in Chardonnay aging and 40% new French oak for 15 months in Pinot Noir aging.
We put the Gary Farrell single vineyard wines to a test with four WSET** ranked Sommeliers and several other guest chefs in my home. The wines were blindly tasted with the top selections noted. When you conduct a tasting of seven wines, I believe it is important to have well-paired food choices to accompany the wines. Our food pairing choices included: Baked Brie and Raspberries in Puff Pastry, Current and Basil Cream Cheese Spread, a selection of Charcuterie and Cheese, and finally, fresh shrimp.
All seven wines were highly appreciated. But our sommeliers voted for their two favorites in each variety.
Our two highest rated single vineyard Chardonnays:
Ritchie Vineyard Chardonnay – This wine had a fragrant aroma with its hints of baked pear tart and roasted hazelnuts with an opulent mouthfeel, yet lively acidity. The Ritchie Vineyard is regarded as one of the best sites for Chardonnay in California.
Rochioli Vineyard Chardonnay – This wine was the most lush of the group with flavors of roasted Meyer lemon, ripe peaches, and crème brulée aromas. The grapes from Rochioli Vineyard are from some of the oldest vines in the Russian River.
Our two highest rated single vineyard Pinot Noirs:
Martaella Vineyard Pinot Noir – This wine has abundant blue fruit – plum and blackberry – aromas with a touch of rose petal fragrance. It boasts spicy flavors or baked wild-berry tart with a silky, mouth-coating texture that lingers. The Martaella vineyard has Pinot Noir clones that are considered an “heirloom selection” with small berry clusters and a planting density similar to that of Burgundy.
McDonald Mountain Vineyard Pinot Noir – This wine was my personal favorite with deep and complex flavors of licorice and cranberry and tobacco leaf aromas with a long, lingering finish. The McDonald Mountain Vineyard has cool temperatures, fog, and a diverse clonal selection of Pinot Noir grapes contributing to the wine’s complexity.
*Terroir –What is Terroir? Terroir is a French term representing the special combination of climate, soil, geography, elevation, and growing conditions that are unique to a vineyard that can impart characteristics to a wine. Does this wine express the aromas, body, and flavor unique to its terroir? Does this wine have a “sense of place?” The good ones often do.
**WSET -Wine and Spirits Education Trust, London England. Certified levels of wine experts include Levels 1 – 4 (Diploma of Wine)
Thank you to the Hatsfield (2) and Davis sommeliers who participated in this tasting along with the chefs: Ryan, Clegg, and Spina.
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