Hella Russian River Since 1982
My father always told me: Never trust a person with only one name (I believe he was mostly referring to Cher, Prince, and Madonna). Well, luckily for Gary Farrell, he’s got two. Don’t quote me on this, but I think that might be what attracted me to this beautiful winery the first time I drove down Westside Road, because you certainly can’t see it from the road. It would be easy to zoom past the reserved sign on the road, but you’d hella be missing out! Once you begin climbing the steep, winding driveway up to the top of a bluff, you start to get a hint of the gorgeous views waiting for you at the top, but it’s only once you’re in the tasting room or on the back patio that you realize that you’re overlooking the whole valley. And the winery’s location is just one manifestation of Gary Farrell’s position in the winemaking field here, as it overlooks the world-class vineyards that grow the grapes for its wine.
I feel like I should explain the origins of my wine tasting method. When I moved to the Bay Area in 2007, it was for a job, so I really neglected the fact that I was moving to a wine paradise / playground. When I finally started exploring the area, the first vacation I took away from my baby daughter was my first wine tasting trip to Napa, which as it turned out, was shockingly close by. I didn’t really know much about the wineries or how wine was made, just that there were about a million places to stop in and try wine, some of which I’d seen in the store before, but many more that were completely new to me. So the first couple years, I would just drive up or down the 29 or Silverado Trail and stop wherever, just to give it a try.
This method exposed me to a wide variety of wineries and new varietals, and it’s a fun way to explore. So lots of times, what the place looked like from the road (and the presence of an “open for tasting” sign) was a determining factor as to whether I’d stop in. By 2009 – 2010, I’d finally realized that hey! Sonoma is here too! And it’s fucking fantastic! So I started tooling around up there too, stopping in new places and finding new favorites (and developing a stronger appreciation for chardonnay). These days, we rely a bit more on recommendations from our friends and winery buddies, but we still do randomly stop by places that we haven’t tried before every other trip or so. But anyway, that’s how we found Gary Farrell Winery the first time, thank god it wasn’t a one-namer.
The winery was, in fact, founded by Gary Farrell personally in 1982, although he has since sold to different owners who wanted to carry on his winemaking tradition, which focuses on purchasing the best, hella prime grapes from the most renowned vineyards throughout the area and making them into the most hella fabulous wine they can be. And of course you know what ELSE dates back to that hallowed year…. Clifford. Yes, it’s almost as if he and the winery are twins separated at birth, but now joyously reunited. Much like Clifford, GFW is obsessed with quality and it has longstanding friendships with heavyweights in its industry. Also like Clifford, the wine is hella refined, the peak of perfection, the best representation possible of its source materials (sorry Tawny!), gooood to the last drop… … sorry, where was I?
So one of the things I find most interesting about GFDub (yeah, I can call it that, we’re bffs now, as my old boss would say) is that they’ve never grown grapes, the focus has always been on the winemaking. There must be lots of wineries like that, and I know of several in Berkeley, but of the places in Napa and Sonoma, it seems like almost everyone has at least a few vineyards. And since they don’t do the farming part, they are very particular but open about their production methods, much more open than almost any other winery I’ve looked into, and it’s all on their website. Details on process for each varietal are available, and the care taken in making these wines is obvious when you taste it.
The majority of the cases produced are single-vineyard wines, which allows the winemaker to showcase the terroir of these specific vineyards. Our last tasting trip included single-vineyard pinot noirs from Stiling, Hallberg, Rochioli, and Bacigalupi vineyards, well-known names in the valley. I had fun trying to pick a favorite for the day (because I could never commit to just one favorite here), and I think Stiling won that time, but it was pretty much a fool’s errand because they’re all amazing and treated equally carefully, and the terroir differences between vineyards only a couple of miles away from each other can be subtle. But it sure was fun to compare them and find those differences, and then name one king for the day!
The staff at GFDub are also hella welcoming and informative; we’ve learned a ton about the place in the last couple of months. Ruthanne took us, my dad, and his fiancee on an incredibly instructive tour through the grounds and the production facility, and we got to see their nice new concrete egg fermenter (hella cool), the crush pad equipment, the parking space where the bottling semi truck comes in, the lab, all the good stuff. It’s kind of amazing how small the entire winery is, but I guess when you don’t have to store farming or bottling equipment, the art of refining grapes doesn’t require quite as much space. Next to the crush pad, you’ll find the fermentation tank room, which is next to the barrel room. Across the courtyard to the left are the offices and a new private tasting salon (picture up above in the slider), and to the right is the gorgeous tasting room. The tasting bar extends across two lengths of the room, with panoramic picture windows behind it, and the view is spectacular all year round.
A recent visit included a conversation with the oenologist, Mark from Australia, in which we learned that not much modern machinery is used in the fields where the grapes are grown, and that of all the winegrowing regions of the world, the Russian River is the best place to live, even better than Australia. Vern clued us in to the Rose release coming in June and the Rochioli chard coming in September (can’t wait), and a winery cat sauntered through to survey his domain. A sight-seeing helicopter flew by as it toured the valley below. The fog lifted from the valley floor before our very eyes, and the sun finally broke through the clouds. Idyllic.