I am taking a brief break from my month-long focus on sparkling wines to focus on one of my favorite producers, Gary Farrell Winery. Since my journey into American wine began back in the mid-1990s, I have been primarily focused on Pinot Noir produced in this country. And any exploration of American Pinot Noir has to include Gary Farrell.
Gary Farrell’s first head winemaking position was with Davis Bynum back in the late 70s and soon he was making wine for Joe Rocchioli, Rick Moshin, and others. In 1982, he made the first wine under his own, eponymous label, and those wines soon became among the most coveted in the Russian River Valley.
I came a bit late to the game, but when I did, Gary Farrell quickly became one of my favorites and I would buy older bottles whenever I could a) find them and b) afford them. To this day, I list the 1992 Gary Farrell Rochiolli Vineyard Pinot Noir as the wine that changed my mind about American Pinot Noir (up until that point, I had been a decided Burgundy snob).
Not too far into my wine journey, I discovered that most sites that produce great Pinot Noir often can create outstanding Chardonnay. That is certainly true in Burgundy and it turns out to be the case in the U.S. as well, which is no doubt why Chardonnay soon started to battle Pinot Noir for space in my cellar. (At this point I should point out that it is likely not a coincidence that Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are the two most important varieties in the production of champagne, by far my favorite wine and region, but I digress.)
Gary Farrell sold the winery in 2004 and then it went through a few rough years and several owners, before being purchased by the current owners, a group led by Bill Price of Kistler fame, in 2011. Shortly thereafter, a brilliant decision was made to hire Theresa Heredia, who had been making Pinot and Chardonnay at various wineries all over the Valley.
A few weeks ago, I was delighted to partake in a Zoom call with Theresa to taste a few of the current releases from Gary Farrell while learning about the different neighborhoods that make up the Russian River Valley.
2018 Gary Farrell Chardonnay Russian River Selection, Russian River Valley, CA: Retail $35. B.A.B. (Note: this was not part of the tasting with Theresa, but I thought I would include it here nonetheless.) A blend from several vineyards across the Russian River Valley, representing the diversity in soils, exposures, and fruit flavors from one of the premier appellations not just in California, but the country writ large. Brilliant straw color in the glass, with notes of citrus (grapefruit, lemon zest) and subtle oak. The palate is pretty close to glorious with lovely fruit, a lip-smacking acidity, considerable depth & weight, and a lengthy finish that would easily rival any Chardonnay in this price range. Excellent. 91 Points.
2017 Gary Farrell Chardonnay Olivet Lane Vineyard, Russian River Valley, CA: Retail $45. B.A.B. Another historic vineyard sourced by Gary Farrell, this one planted in 1975, mostly to the Wente clone, in the Santa Rosa Plain neighborhood, characterized by its lower elevation and slightly cooler temperatures (from the fog that settles overnight). Light straw in the glass with notes of lemon rind and lightly toasted oak, full and rich. Lovely. Bright, tart, rich, and even spicy on the palate. I have been drinking Farrell Chards for a couple of decades now and Olivet Lane has always been stellar. Theresa, though, seems to have taken it to a loftier realm as it has reached an elegant, refined stature while still celebrating the incredible Russian River fruit. Excellent. 92 Points
2017 Gary Farrell Chardonnay Ritchie Vineyard, Russian River Valley, CA: Retail $60. B.A.B. From one of the oldest (and best) Chardonnay vineyards in the state (planted in 1972), located in the Middle Reach neighborhood, home to arguably the best Chardonnays in the country. Beautiful straw color in the glass with a zesty lemon and tart lemon on the nose. The palate is rich and zesty with some Meyer lemon, and various orange citrus. This is fairly exuberant and suggests it could use some time to settle down just a bit. Still, this is a fabulous Chard that will only get better in the short to mid-term. It might be tough to wait as this is wonderful now. Outstanding. 93 Points.
2017 Gary Farrell Chardonnay Rochioli Vineyard, Russian River Valley, CA: Retail $65. B.A.B. Ever since I started down the American wine path (after learning my fair share in Europe), there were a few vineyards that immediately grabbed my attention. Near the top of that list was Rochioli, a true Grand Cru in the Russian River Valley. Joe Rochioli and Gary Farrell were two of the pioneers in the Russian River Valley and I never passed up a bottle of wine that had either name emblazoned upon its label (unless, of course, it was too expensive). Thus, when I received this wine several weeks ago, I was over the moon (and no, not just because I didn’t pay for it). Very light, but a brilliant straw in the glass with plenty of tree fruit (peach), a bit of citrus (lemon mist), and just a hint of vanilla. Whoa. Yeah, this is my kind of Chard. The palate confirmed it: rich, fruity, tart, yet also reserved in a decidedly contradictory way. Sure, this is perhaps not a wine for the every day, but when one starts to feel nostalgic about the pioneers in the Russian River Valley (or one wants to drink an amazing Chardonnay), the Gary Farrell (Joe) Rochioli Chardonnay fits that charge beautifully. Outstanding. 94 Points.