Friday, February 27, 2015

A Pair Of Big Wines From The Russian River Valley

Last year carried a double reason for celebrations at Gary Farrell Vineyards and Winery.  Not only was 2014 the 30th vintage for their wines, but it marked the first vintage with winemaker Theresa Heredia at the helm for the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir releases.

Farrell GM Nancy Bailey says Heredia "was a rising star when we hired her" in 2012, having racked up acclaim as winemaker at Freestone on the Sonoma Coast after a stint in Burgundy.  Bailey says the winemaker is a "warm, thoughtful, deeply engaged person who is helping to forge a new identity for Gary Farrell Winery."  Wouldn't we all like to be thought of so highly by our bosses?

Heredia (below, right) is understandably proud to be in charge of the wines at one of the Russian River Valley's pioneering wineries.  She says the 2012 Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are wines of elegance and balance, from a growing season that was long and sunny

The 2012 Russian River Selection Chardonnay is composed of Chardonnay grapes from nearly every quality vineyard in the region.  I tried counting them, and I had two fingers leftover, so the number must be eight.  Pressing for each vineyard was done in accordance with the fruit quality.  A special selection of the juice was left in contact with the lees - the spent yeast cells - for a fuller, rounder mouthfeel.  The grapes were harvested at slightly lower sugar levels to get more varietal character, purity, acidity and terroir from each vineyard.

Here’s how they describe the various vineyards which contributed fruit to this cuvée: "Anchored by the naturally balanced character of Westside Farms with intriguing floral and stone fruit notes from Bacigalupi Vineyard,the wine's great concentration and structure derive from the nearby Rochioli and Allen vineyards.  Olivet Lane Vineyard's Wente clone adds refreshing citrus tones and excellent acidity."  Grapes from Lazy W Vineyard, Martinelli Vineyard and McIntyre Starr Creek Vineyard were also employed.

This 100% Chardonnay wine aged for seven months in French oak barrels, 35% of which were new and therefore offered more oak influence than a previously used barrel.  The wine carries a moderate 13.5% abv alcohol content and 6,902 cases were produced, which sell for $35 per bottle.

This Chardonnay is big but not even a little bit flabby.  The oak and lees contact have given it heft and character galore, while the fruit holds its own.  Aromas that say "oak" are first from the glass.  Vanilla, smoke and earth join apricot, peach and apple for a festive nose.  The palate is about as brawny as a white wine gets.  Tropical fruit and oak toast meet in a delicious battle that neither force can win - they are too evenly matched.

Heredia employed the saignée process in the 2012 Russian River Selection Pinot Noir, removing a small amount of nearly clear juice at pressing "to maintain desired concentration, structure and balance."  Small percentages of whole clusters - stems and all - were used for structure and spice, while extended maceration kept the wine on the skins longer to benefit structure and develop more complex flavors and aromas.

The grapes also came from eight different vineyards for this 100% Pinot Noir wine.  The Bacigalupi and Floodgate vineyards are near the Russian River, so they get plenty of foggy mornings, sunny days and cool nights.  The Toboni and Nonella vineyards are in a cooler, foggier sub-region, the Santa Rosa Plains, while the Hallberg and Stephens sites are cooler still, in the Green Valley area.  Grapes from Rochioli and McIntyre Starr Creek vineyards were also used.

The 2012 vintage yielded what Heredia calls "some of the best quality fruit the winery has seen in decades."  The wine aged for eight months in French oak barrels, only about a third of which were new. Alcohol hits 14.1% abv, and 9,206 cases were produced.  The retail price is $45 per bottle.

This Pinot is fairly dark and it smells of bacon fat, smoke, rosemary, white pepper, black tea, vanilla and cafe au lait.  What an array of aromas!  The palate seems almost anticlimactic after all that.  The fruit is pretty ripe, so the classic tartness of Pinot Noir sits in the backseat - driven around by full-bodied flavors of raspberry, cherry and plum.  A savory aspect grows as the bottle is open.  The acidity is lively in the mouth, the tannins firm on the tongue.  This is bombastic, The perfect Pinot for those who prefer a full-bodied wine like Cab or Syrah.

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