Gary Farrell Visits Artisan. Plus Christine’s Chardonnay Challenge

Gary Farrell Winery Gary Farrell Visits Artisan. Plus Christine’s Chardonnay Challenge
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For the rest of your wine-crafting days, if you could only make wine from one red grape variety what would it be? Pinot Noir, of course. 😉

Well, not Gary himself. The winery, however, was well-represented via winemaker Theresa Heredia. More on Ms. Heredia later. But for now this quote from an interview at Winetable.com will do nicely. →

There were two events Friday, July 1. In addition to Gary Farrell, Artisan was hosting their annual “Christine’s Chardonnay Challenge.” Christine Tran, co-owner of Artisan, assembled a dozen chardonnays in the traditional brown paper bags. We swirled, inhaled, tasted and made many notes. Stay tuned for our recommendations.

Gary Farrell Wines

James and Christine Tran, owners of Artisan Wine Depot, were kind enough to invite us to this special tasting. The Gary Farrell Winery has been around forever, at least as long as we’ve been visiting Sonoma County. We’ve dropped by occasionally but the wines have historically been big, loaded with tannins and oak. Those wines had incredible aging potential. But we’re not generally that patient.

According to the website, tasting at Gary Farrell is now by appointment only.  Contact them at 707-473-2909 or concierge@garyfarrellwinery.com.  You can also book through the website.

Artisan was pouring four Gary Farrell wines, two chardonnays and two pinot noirs. We’ll dispense with the chardonnays quickly. The style is oak and butter, although not as excessive as we’ve experienced in the past.

But the pinot noirs were very nice. The 2013 “Russian River Selection” Russian River Valley ($38 at Artisan) is pretty with earthy notes. Aromas of strawberry and rhubarb lead to a fruit bomb palate typical of RRV pinots. The mouth feel is lush and tangy.

Farrell’s 2013 “Hallberg Vineyard” Russian River Valley ($42) is lighter, with aromas of forest floor and cherries. Blackberries and herbs on the palate with a long finish. We actually liked the blend a bit more and picked up a couple of bottles.

Winemaker Theresa Heredia

Theresa Heredia and Tony Gary Farrell Visits Artisan. Plus Christine’s Chardonnay Challenge

Theresa Heredia and Tony

Ms. Heredia was happily working on her Ph.D. in chemistry at U.C. Davis when the wine bug gave her a big, wet kiss. She worked for several years in the vineyards of Burgundy, learning from the source. Among her accomplishments, producing the first vintage at Freestone wines stands out. Following that she was named a “Winemaker to Watch” by the San Francisco Chronicle. Here’s what she has to say about working at Gary Farrell:

Accepting the role of winemaker at Gary Farrell has been the experience of a lifetime! This winery has a deeply rooted historical significance in the Russian River Valley, and I am honored to be at the helm of the evolution of these critically-acclaimed wines.

We hope Theresa’s career at Gary Farrell is long and prosperous. And we’re happy to add Farrell pinots to our recommended list.

Christine’s Chardonnay Challenge

Every year Christine selects a dozen chardonnays for a blind tasting. One objective is to see how the infamous Rombauer chardonnay stands up against others. The specific Rombauer was their 2014 Carneros ($34). There were eleven others ranging from standards like Kendall Jackson to newcomers such as Gregory Graham. After tasting, making copious notes, and rating the wines, Christine told us which was which. The Rombauer was oaky with a fair bit of malolactic fermentation, but better fruit than most. The other eleven wines had similar structures with oak and butter. Which means we didn’t like any of them very much.

But, having said that, we’ll reveal our notes on four that we found pretty good. These are in the order in which we tasted them.

Kendall Jackson’s “Grand Reserve” 2014 Central Coast ($16) is a bargain. With less oak than most of the others and a hint of acid balance, this rates as a bargain.

Pahlmeyer’s “Jayson” 2012 North Coast ($45) is not a bargain, but we rated it quaffable. Vanilla with hints of lemon and apples and some oak on the palate.

The aforementioned Gregory Graham “Wedge Block Vineyard” 2013 Lake County ($22) features a nice nose (mango!) with peaches and melon on the palate. A long butterscotch finish makes this another bargain.

We have attended the Santa Lucia Highlands Wine Festival for several years. This event is held at the Mer Soleil Winery at the base of the mountains. It happens that Mer Soleil’s “Reserve” 2014 Santa Lucia Highlands ($27) includes an unusual honey palate and a bit too much oak. We recommend saving this one for dessert.

Full marks to Christine Tran for crowdsourcing chardonnay rankings. And, no, the Rombauer did not make our top four.

About the author

Tony Lima has been a California wine fan since arriving in California from the east coast in 1974. He's lived the growth and expansion of the industry first hand. He's seen the fickle California Wine consumer fads pop up and burst... the craze for Zinfandel, then oaky Chardonnay, then Merlot, now Pinot Noir. His day job was Professor of Economics at California State University located in Hayward. (He retired in 2016.) His undergrad degree in chemical engineering (MIT) and his MBA ( Harvard) and Ph.D. Economics (Stanford) are the root of his interest in the Business of Wine. He is a card-carrying member of the AAWE - American Association of Wine Economists.

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