Gary Farrell wines have been exemplars of Russian River Valley Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from their first release in 1982. The winery, which opened in 2000 and offers stunning views of the valley and forest below, was an immediate hit as well.
Ownership, facilities, and winemaking have changed over the decades. And, recently, the tasting environments were dramatically remodeled and the visitor experiences updated. I was invited up to check them out and came away very impressed. The wines and the customer experience at Gary Farrell Winery are better than ever.
Gary Farrell Winery in the Russian River Valley
Theresa Heredia, pictured above, joined Gary Farrell Winery in May of 2012. She came from Joseph Phelps’ Napa and Freestone Wineries where she made their cool-climate, Sonoma Coast Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Heredia has led a gradual evolution of the wines at Gary Farrell and updating facilities and equipment, including a basket press and even improved cooling in the barrel room.
From the labels earliest days, the wines have tended more toward site expression than house-style. Now, they are even more elegant and portray each vineyard with nuance. They dance in the mouth, carrying themselves lightly and with freshness—much more so than the listed alcohol percentages might imply—but the aromas and flavors still arrive plenty of intensity.
New oak influence has been dialed back. More neutral barrels are in play, as are large, wood puncheons and concrete vessels eggs. Heredia also includes a percentage of whole clusters in some of the Pinot Noir fermentations, adding highlights of flowers and spice along with subtle texture.
Visiting Gary Farrell Winery
The tasting rooms at Gary Farrell now have a much more open feel. Floor to ceiling windows allow unimpeded views of the valley. The decor and seating are extremely attractive, yet comfortable. Upon arrival, visitors are welcomed by a concierge who answers any immediate questions and then connects people with the host for their chosen experience.
There are three primary options, all appointment-only:
- The Elevation Tasting is self-paced tasting for people who just want to relax or chat with friends while they taste. The host provides brief information and answers questions while pouring but lets people enjoy the wines and atmosphere on their own. These tastings last roughly an hour and can be done inside or out on the patio. A selection of cheeses is included. ($35/person)
- The Inspiration Tasting is a 90-minute, sommelier-hosted tasting of six vineyard-designate Pinot Noir, including library wines and limited releases. The wines are paired with three tasty bites prepared by the winery’s chef. This focused tasting takes place in the lovely, lounge-like central room which has a variety of seating options. ($75/person)
- The Exploration Tasting and Tour, which also lasts about 90 minutes, starts with a guided tour of the winery and barrel room and includes detailed explanations of the winemaking process. The tasting takes place at a communal table in the quiet Meadow Room and features five single-vineyard wines, along with cheeses, nuts and one paired bite. The host offers as much, or as little, commentary as the visitors like. ($55/person)
The winery is located in the Russian River Valley at 10701 Westside Road
Healdsburg, CA 95448
2016 Gary Farrell Rosé Green Valley of Russian River Valley 91 750ml (limited release, club only)
Made from whole-cluster Pinot Noir, this fetching rosé attracts with its shiny, light peach color and pretty nose of tart strawberry, melon, dried flowers and herb. Those flavors recur on the medium-bodied palate, which is nicely juicy with delicate, fine-grained texture. Let’s hope they make more next year!
2014 Gary Farrell Chardonnay Olivet Lane Russian River Valley 93+ 13.3% 750ml $45
A lovely and very elegant RRV Chardonnay offering aromas of cream, pretty baking spices, toasted oak, yellow apple, pear, yeast and butter. It’s medium-bodied and lightly mouthwatering with very fine texture. The flavors are very long-lasting and include lemon, green and yellow apple, toasted almond, bread, baking spice and saline minerality.
2014 Gary Farrell Chardonnay Rochioli Vineyard 93 13.6% 750ml $60
A subtle, pretty Chardonnay that’s juicy in the mouth with good tension between fruit, freshness and texture. The nose coyly offers pear, baking spice and apple skin. Body is medium and the flavors are lemon, pear, tart yellow apple, baking spice and tarragon. This wine should blossom further with decanting or a few years of age.
2014 Gary Farrell Chardonnay Cuvée d’Oeuf 94 13.5% 750ml $55
This experiment with concrete egg fermentation and aging deserves an encore. It’s absolutely lovely on the nose with white flowers and yellow apples, both ripe and underripe. The palate has medium body with a vibrant and silky presence. The flavors are very long and include tart yellow apple, green apple, lemon, apple skin and pear.
2015 Gary Farrell Chardonnay Durell Vineyard 94 12.8% 750ml $65
This is a superbly drinkable wine. Look for smoky mineral, lemon, yellow and green apples, and a touch of stone fruit on the nose. The palate is riper and there’s a kiss of oak. It’s long and tangy in the mouth with medium body.
2014 Gary Farrell Pinot Noir Rochioli Vineyard Russian River Valley 95 14.0% 750ml $75
There’s great intensity, but the wine carries itself with elegance. Aromas of dried flowers, red cherry, cola, raspberry, sarsaparilla and dry herb lead into a very finely textured palate of medium+ body with long flavors of red cherry skin and raspberry.
2014 Gary Farrell Pinot Noir Fort Ross Vineyard, Fort Ross-Seaview 92+ 14.0% 750ml $70
Ripe red cherry and pomegranate aromas are accented with baking spice. This Pinot is fruit-focused, yet nuanced, on the palate with very fine, grippy texture and medium-plus body.
2014 Gary Farrell Pinot Noir Hallberg Vineyard, Russian River Valley 94 14.1% 750ml $55
The nose with gentle with pretty red fruit and flowers. The palate serves up perfectly ripe fruit with hints of dry herb, spice and caramel. Excellent balance between texture and juiciness. Lovely.
2014 Gary Farrell Vineyard Pinot Noir McDonald Martini Vineyard Russian River Valley 95 14.0% 750ml $65
The nose is gorgeous—wild red berries, dry herb, spice, flowers and a trace of tangerine. Medium-plus body in the mouth with great intensity and length. Flavors include raspberry, strawberry, huckleberry, exotic spice and oak.
Copyright Fred Swan 2018. Photos courtesy of Gary Farrell Winery. All rights reserved.