Gary Farrell Vineyards & Winery

Sonoma County region

Impassioned about his wines that continue to focus on subtlety, balance and elegance


For Gary Farrell, it was simply a case of country over city---or more specifically, a life altering decision where his overwhelming choice was the beautiful Sonoma County landscape of Northern California.

Having grown up in the storied Rose Bowl setting of Pasadena much further south, the then 19-year-old Farrell decided to leave the smog and pollution behind and attend college in less populated and majestically appointed Northern California. He arrived in Sonoma on a particularly idyllic and crisp April day in 1970 and has stayed there ever since. While obtaining a political science degree from Sonoma State, he began experimenting with various types of fermentations, mostly beers, which eventually led him into the wine industry. Farrell was able to support himself during these early, formulative years by apprenticing to a number of Sonoma winery luminaries who included Tom Dehlinger, Robert Stemmler, Joe Rochioli and Davis Bynum to name a few.

By 1978, his work so impressed Davis Bynum that he was offered the winemaker position at Bynum’s bucolic facility, and where he eventually made the wines for both Limerick Lane and Rochioli wineries. His relationship with Davis Bynum continued to flourish along with his growing reputation as one of Sonoma’s premiere winemakers.

By 1982, Gary Farrell decided it was time to produce his own wine and set about to produce his first release. The initial edition of Gary Farrell Wines was a mere 50 cases of Gary Farrell Vineyards Rochioli Vineyard Pinot Noir, the first vineyard-designated wines produced from the heralded Sonoma vineyard. For the next fifteen years, Gary Farrell wines experienced what could correctly be called a modest growth rate along with an incredible degree of consumer acceptance.

“What has always been most important to me,” Farrell recently stated, “was that my wines have clearly focused on subtlety, balance and elegance. I have never really been interested in high extract or overtly jammy wines, even though a number of the leading wine critics prefer these styles of wine.”

Gary Farrell’s traditional approach to the modern wine business is quite refreshing in this age of highly stylized and sensory-perceptive wines. His favorite grape of choice is the incredibly difficult Pinot Noir that offers winemakers the ultimate challenge and which requires the gentlest handling to be successfully made.

A little over four years ago, Farrell, now 51, realized his lifelong dream and completed his new state-of-the-art winery facility located off Westside Road in Sonoma. The buildings occupy a prime ridge side site that looks south over the entire majestic Russian River Valley and directly down towards the engaging hills of neighboring Green Valley. But don’t let the postcard perfect views fool you; Gary Farrell Winery is all about winemaking ease and ultimate quality.

“Our new winery doesn’t allow for any compromise with respect of winemaking,” Farrell explained. “For instance, we hand sort our fruit at a dawdling 1 ½ tons per hour, which is probably among the slowest rates in the industry. Then, all our fruit is placed on a conveyor, rather than screw pushed. It takes a lot longer to do but is extremely gentle on the fruit. Such handling shows up in the quality of the wines.”

Farrell is impassioned about his wines that are by most standards understated and smacking of cultivated elegance. He credits the vineyards that grow the grapes for the ultimate quality his wines continuously enjoy.

Gary Farrell Vineyards and Winery currently produce around 17,000 cases, a level that was first reached in 2001 and a level with which Farrell himself is completely comfortable. Gary sees no need to increase his production (another refreshing distinction between Farrell and some of his competitors) in the foreseeable future.

“Since we are a 100% hands on winery,” he confided, “I still do most of the work without much help. I have no assistant winemaker and can still experiment whenever I feel the need or challenge. I must say it’s pretty fabulous.”

Such unbounded enthusiasm is most welcome from a man whose reputation in the wine business has always placed the consumer ahead of the wine critic regarding his wines. With his wife Debbie now also involved in the winery, Gary Farrell is that rare, fulfilled winery owner complete with a sparkling reputation among his peers.

It is with the greatest pleasure that we share this month’s Platinum Wine Club selection from Gary Farrell Vineyards and Winery with you. We know the experience will be most enjoyable!

Featured Wines

Dear Platinum Wine Club Members,

Zinfandel is often referred to as "the misunderstood varietal," as it is a wine not commonly produced in growing regions outside California. Local advocates take great pride in its origin and call it "California's Varietal"... no doubt because they cannot make such a claim about any other important grape cultivars. Nevertheless, I must admit to being a huge admirer of this wine, when made in what I consider a "classic" style from top grape sources.

As with most wines, fruit sourcing is the first (and perhaps most important) challenge to producing classic Zinfandel. Vine age seems important with this varietal, as many of the finest examples are produced from older vines. Interestingly, Zinfandel vines tend to set an uneven crop, and grapes of a particular vine may not ripen uniformity. This is especially true on some of the older "head-pruned" vines. It is, therefore, extremely important to work closely with the grower to assure that steps are taken to control or minimize this tendency.

Our style of Zinfandel focuses on full-flavored and colored wines, which are true to the varietal and favor elegance, finesse and balance, rather than the huge extraction, high tannin and excessive alcohols found in many Zinfandels today. While some of these "over the top" efforts may be interesting to taste (and may stand out in capitative tastings), they typically fatigue the palate quite rapidly and often lose their appeal after the first few sips.

Our 2000 DCV Zinfandel wine was fermented in small, open-topped fermentation tanks and aged for 9 months in the finest quality French Oak cooperage prior to bottling. This wine should continue to age gracefully through 2008 under appropriate cellaring conditions.

Sincerely,

Gary Farrell
Cary Farrell Wines Inc.


Dear Platinum Wine Club Members,

As winemakers, much of what drives our passion and stimulates our creativity is the opportunity to discover new and exciting grape sources ... and craft wines that accurately reflect the unique micro-regions from which they were grown. As a consumer, you often see such efforts with vineyard specific or vineyard designated wines.

This wine, our 1999 Encounter, affords us the opportunity and challenge to produce a unique proprietary blend from the most-noble Bordeaux grape varietals. In the crafting of this wine, we harvest small lots of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot grapes from some of Sonoma County's most exciting "mountain" properties, including: Pine Mountain (highest elevation vineyard in Sonoma County), the Forestville Ridge and the Mayacama Range (which separates Sonoma County from the Napa Valley). Which each vintage, our "Encounter" vineyard components and varietal percentages may change, depending upon the combination yielding the finest wine.

This lush, broadly structured and palate-coating effort is generously endowed with layers of black cherry / blackberry fruit and lavish oak ... and is further complimented by nuances chocolate and pepper-spice. While it is hugely gratifying for its intensity, depth, richness and amazing length, the components of completeness to the package. Clearly, this wine never suffers from the over-ripe and tannic tendencies found in many offerings of comparable size and stature, and it remains amazingly approachable for a wine of such youth. Still, its impeccable balance and classic structure leave little doubt about its amazing capacity for long-term aging under appropriate cellaring conditions.

This wine is a blend of 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 36% Cabernet Franc and 24% Merlot. All components were hand-sorted, fermented in small, open-top stainless steel tanks and aged for 18 months in the finest small French Oak cooperage obtainable. This wine is "built" for cellaring, and should continue to develop for at least 15 years (under ideal conditions) from the date of vintage.

Sincerely,

Gary Farrell
Gary Farrell Wines Inc.