The Russian River Valley became an American Viticultural Area (AVA) in 1983. However, Gary Farrell – both the man and the acclaimed Russian River Valley winery that bears his name – predates its founding.
California native Farrell, a Sonoma State University grad, began planting his roots in the area quite literally in the 1970’s as an apprentice, mentee and assistant winemaker for the likes of Davis Bynum – widely regarded as the first to produce single-vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir – and Pinot Noir pioneer Joe Rochioli. By 1982, he was ready to strike out on his own, founding Gary Farrell Vineyard & Winery by using harvested grapes from Rochioli’s vines (with his blessing, of course). Renowned for their character and elegance, Farrell’s near-perfect palate and understanding of the importance of the diversity of micro-growing regions across Russian River Valley quickly became that of legend, and the winery took its rightful place as one of the top Pinot Noir and Chardonnay producers in the world.
He would sell the winery in 2004, and it is currently owned by “Billy Three Sticks” of Three Sticks Wines and partners, still as focused as ever on cementing the Russian River Valley annals of history. Today, head winemaker Theresa Heredia, a specialist in small-lot, single-vineyard Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, continues to be a steward of the best of crops from across the region (fun fact: Gary Farrell does not own its own vineyards, instead partnering just as Farrell himself did in his founding years to explore area vineyards and showcase them in a special, authentic way).
Visitors to the region are smart to see the tasting room firsthand, but note reservations are required to taste at the 21-and-over hilltop winery in person. Recently renovated, the interior ceiling towers high into the sky, showcasing exposed wooden beams, a polished look that is carried throughout the furniture and accents, complemented by rich velvet and massive marble pieces. The entirety of the interior is encased by glass, allowing for floor-to-ceiling views of the Valley down below. There is also an expansive wrap-around patio, both covered and uncovered, that feels a world away from the hustle of daily life. Vast greenery is in every direction, juxtaposing the blue sky as well as the pale yellow and gemstone-like ruby in each glass.
Speaking of glasses, there are currently two epic tasting experiences to indulge in the best glasses Gary Farrell Winery has to offer.
The Elevation Tasting is 60 minutes and $55 per person. During this experience, which is available in either the salon or on the terrace, guests will explore how the rich diversity of terroir from across the region impacts the aromatics and flavor in each varietal. Expect a good education on the core of the wine portfolio here, and there are ample experts available to answer questions and offer additional glasses for purchase by the wine or bottle. (Insider tip: ask to see the bottled samples of soil from across the region, each of which corresponds to a different wine and visually showcases how vastly different the microclimate is even underground).
The Exploration Tour & Tasting is 90 minutes and $75 per person. It is more of a behind-the-scenes look and starts with an interactive walking tour of the winery with an experienced guide. After the tour, guests are seated at the VIP communal table in a private space, still encased in glass to allow for ample views, where all will enjoy a selection of five wines, each paired with artisan cheese.
For those looking to taste at home or seeking a great gift, be sure to explore all four categories of Gary Farrell Wines. Each of the wines in the Single Vineyard Designates category speaks to the specificity of the site in which it was grown. The 2018 Hallberg Vineyard Pinot Noir ($60) is a must here for its combination of black cherries, cedar, nutmeg and cloves.
Wines that will only be made once fall under the Inspiration Series category. There are currently just two wines available to the general public (the others are for wine club members only): 2018 Bien Nacido Vineyard Pinot Noir 100% Whole Cluster ($75) and 2019 Olivet Lane Vineyard Cuvee D’oeuf Chardonnay ($60), both exquisite.
There is also the Russian River Selection, which features a select blend of barrels, blocks and vineyards to create a wine that is quintessentially Gary Farrell. In this category, there is a 2022 Russian River Selection Rosé of Pinot Noir ($45) for those who like to drink pink. It has just enough acid to stand up to the yummy notes of blood orange, passionfruit and ginger.
Finally, there are the Library Releases, which are cellared and chosen for release only when they reach perfection. Here, there is a Zinfandel available, a rarity for the Pinot/Chardonnay producer. The 2016 Grist Vineyard Zinfandel ($65) is a celebration of the nearby Dry Creek Valley and kissed with equal parts spice and fruit. The 2017 Martaella Vineyard Pinot Noir ($85) is another not to be missed. It is jammy and explodes with red and black fruits before dissolving into soft velvet on the palate ($85).
For more information about Gary Farrell Winery, visit www.garyfarrellwinery.com.
10701 Westside Rd.
Healdsburg, CA 95448