Gary Farrell Vineyard & Winery is Obsessed with Single-Vineyard Terroir Expression in Russian River Valley, and Why You Should Care
It would be an understatement to say that Garry Farrell Vineyard & Winery is obsessed with single-vineyard terroir expression in Russian River Valley.
They’ve built their whole business model around this pre-occupation with parsing Russian River terroir.
Gary Farrell doesn’t own any vineyards.
They buy fruit from 36 vineyard sites across Russian River Valley which they use to produce 8 different chardonnays and 14 different pinot noirs.
Gary Farrell relies on a combination of long-term contracts with grape growers as well as handshake agreements with other wineries such as Rochioli Vineyards & Winery to source prime fruit.
At the helm of Gary Farrell’s terroir-centric enterprise is winemaker Theresa Heredia who has been guiding winemaking at Gary Farrell since 2012 bringing prior experience from stints at Joseph Phelps Vineyards in Napa Valley and Freestone Vineyards on the Sonoma Coast.
Heredia chose to come to Gary Farrell to have access to the 36 vineyards from which the winery draws fruit in order to create terroir-expressive wines.
Imagine being a baker and being offered access to 36 varieties of apples to create unique, apple-pie combinations.
Similarly, for a winemaker it’s like being a kid in a candy store to have access to a wide selection of fruit.
Why You Should Care about Single-Vineyard Terroir Expression
So, why should you care about single-vineyard terroir expression?
Because it’s rare to have the opportunity to nerd out on terroir expression within an AVA.
Gary Farrell offers wine enthusiasts the opportunity to taste how the same grape grown in different Russian River Valley subregions can produce wines with different expressive qualities influenced by varying soil composition and micro-climates among other factors.
The winery uses winemaking techniques tailored to each specific vineyard to maximize the expression of the fruit.
Gary Farrell would rather elevate the fruit than have it buried under heavy-handed winemaking.
This translates into the winery using lightly-toasted oak-barrels rather than heavier-toasted barrels to age their wines in contrast to other area wineries.
I recently had the opportunity to taste three of Gary Farrell’s single-vineyard chardonnays and four single-vineyard pinot noirs drawn from seven different vineyards from the 2017 vintage.
Gary Farrell offers a modified version of this vineyard-specific tasting experience in their winery tasting room.
Russian River Valley Subregions or “Neighborhoods”
The Russian River Valley AVA can be divided into six different sub-regions or “neighborhoods” which you can view through this interactive map.
While these “neighborhoods” don’t enjoy sub-AVA status, it’s a useful way to break up the larger Russian River Valley appellation into subregions with similar soil types and microclimates.
Below are the subregions I tasted through along with the corresponding wine reviews.
Santa Rosa Plains
Santa Rosa Plains has warm, sunny days and cold nights.
The cold air settles the grapes and creates wines with a concentrated, fruity texture and vibrant acidity.
Small, concentrated berries are produced from the fruit Gary Farrell uses from the Martaella and Olivet Lane vineyards.
- Gary Farrell, Olivet Lane Chardonnay 2017, Russian River Valley, California (Wine Casual, 91 Points)
- Gary Farrell, Martaella Vineyard Pinot Noir 2017, Russian River Valley, California (Wine Casual, 92 Points)
Laguna Ridge is known for its cool, night-time temperatures.
From the Ritchie Vineyard, Chardonnay fruit has to be carefully pressed because of the mix of large and small berries (called “hens and chicks”) resulting from the Wente Clone which produces small, low-yielding berries.
- Gary Farrell, Chardonnay Ritchie Vineyard Chardonnay 2017, Russian River Valley, California (Wine Casual, 92 Points)
Middle Reach is the warmest Russian River Valley subregion that produces succulent fruit often with tropical-fruit flavors.
Night-time temperatures are can be warm so acidity in the fruit isn’t as high as compared to other areas within the valley.
The Russian River runs through Middle Reach and pulls cooling fog down the river.
In Middle Reach Gary Farrell uses fruit from the Rochioli and Bacigalupi vineyards.
- Gary Farrell, Bacigalupi Vineyard Pinot Noir 2017, Russian River Valley, California (Wine Casual, 90 Points)
- Gary Farrell, Rochioli Vineyard Chardonnay 2017, Russian River Valley, California (Wine Casual, 94 Points)
Green Valley is cold, foggy and windy.
The temperature and weather conditions coalesce to produce fruit with small clusters.
Gary Farrell uses fruit from Hallberg Vineyard and includes some whole-cluster fruit in the fermentation process.
- Gary Farrell, Hallberg Vineyard Pinot Noir 2017, Russian River Valley, California (Wine Casual, 92 Points)
Sebastopol Hills is the coolest subregion within the Russian River Valley.
It is known for producing full-bodied pinot noir.
The fruit Gary Farrell sources from McDonald Mountain Vineyard produces wine with a distinct, black-tea quality which is a classic characteristic of whole cluster fermentation.
- Gary Farrell, McDonald Mountain Vineyard Pinot Noir 2017, Russian River Valley, California (Wine Casual, 94 Points)
Prior to this wine tasting, I’d seen Gary Farrell on restaurant wine lists without being aware of the winery’s focus on producing single-vineyard wines.
Now that I’m aware of the winery’s terroir-expressive focus and have a familiarity with the style of fruit produced in Russian River Valley’s 6 subregions, I’m excited to try more Russian River and Gary Farrell wines.