Gary Farrell, Russian River Valley

Gary Farrell was my first stop as I wandered through Russian River Valley in search for Pinot Noir that I felt was representative of the region.  Before I continue, I feel I must inform you that their tasting is by appointment only. This creates an atmosphere of calm and serenity devoid of any noisy crowds and distractions. Combined with the hilltop view of the valley below it creates an environment ideal for focus and reflection on what you are tasting. I think for the discerning palate this presents good value as you explore this region and what it has to offer. I will surely make an appointment on my next visit to this region.

The grounds were impeccably maintained, minimalist architecture and clean balanced interior decor really complemented the overall energy and experience. The staff were very warm and courteous and although I did not have an appointment they did go out of their way to at least get me a sampling of two of their Pinot Noirs from the region. They also offered to add me to their up-coming wine tour/tasting session however I was pressed for time. Very gracious indeed.

That being said, I was perfectly content sampling two of their Pinot Noirs as this would give me and quick idea of the caliber of the wines on offer. I must say, I was not disappointed. I instantly thought to myself, “this is what I came here for”. Rich, layered, complex, structured Pinot Noir. Further review of their menu revealed more Pinot Noirs from some of the most coveted vineyards all up and down the West Coast. I selected one of their Pinot Noirs from the Russian River Valley which I will be reviewing tonight and will post my thoughts.

Have you visited this winery? What did you think?

Gracianna Winery, Russian River Valley

This weekend I finally got around to exploring the Russian River region. After a weekend of camping in Bodega Bay with friends it seemed only fitting that we make a slight detour through Russian River on our way back to Sacramento.

I have had some amazing Pinot Noir from this region and I was eager get out there and get a sense of what it is about. I wanted to personally see what it is about this region that produces such great Pinot Noir.

As I meandered through the winding back roads sometimes almost getting lost, I wished for something off the beaten path. Small, family owned and operated wineries. No sooner than the thought crossed my mind, I noticed the sign to Gracianna Winery. I did not recognize the name. It did not show up on my google map search. I thought to myself, this could be precisely what I was looking for.

The grounds were neat, uncluttered, minimalist and generally understated. The Winery sits lower in the valley and is very easy to completely overlook. As I pulled up I had no expectations whatsoever. I merely wanted to taste some Russian River Pinot. The tasting room is one of the more interesting ones (read cool) I’ve seen in a while. It is and indoor/outdoor setup, welcoming you in one side and leading you to a terrace/patio and into the vineyards where your detailed tasting happens among the vineyards.

On the tasting menu were the following wines with some of my initial notes.

  • 2018 Arozza Rosé – Rose was delicate, smooth and buttery.
  • 2018 Sauvignon Blanc – Oakey, smooth, mild acid, hint of citrus, gentle overall.
  • 2015 Chardonnay – Beautiful, delicate, buttery great floral notes, complex.
  • 2016 Pinot Noir – More Burgundian style, crisp clean nose, subtle oak, subtle acid, hint of spice, delicate balance. What I was looking for.
  • 2014 Pinot Noir – More of a big California style Pinot albeit restrained. Once opened huge earth/terrior dominates the nose, beautiful, perfect balance of jammy fruit, berry, bold tannin for a Pinot especially from this region. Rich. Should lay down a little more to fully develop. I will have to revisit this.

It is difficult to do an in-depth tasting on site while tasting other wines. So I picked up a bottle each of the Pinot Noir, one of which will be tonight’s occation and will post my thoughts shortly.

The Tasting was conducted by staff with extensive knowledge on the wines and the region at large. This really helped guide the tasting and added great perspective. The tasting was occasionally punctuated by the owner Trini who’s warm lively energy I found very reassuring as he shared the history of the winery going back generations. Equally impressive was his son’s ventures into viticulture and enology. This family is truly all about the love and passion for making great wines. It was a truly special and personal experience.

Thank you Trini, Fernando and the entire Gracianna Family. I look forward to seeing you all gain.

Dierberg, Santa Barbara

Dierberg Star Lane

There are some great wineries tucked away in these hills. Were it not for a very helpful tip from my friend and Sonoma Vintner Roger Roessler of (rogerroesslerwines.com), I would have otherwise driven by and missed this gem.

Dierberg is a must if you are in the region. Their wines are exemplary, well built showcases. Their multi-vineyard estate spanning the greater region from Santa Rita Hills (AVA) to Santa Maria Valley (AVA) to Happy Canyon (AVA).

The winery had a certain modern contemporary minimalist, uncluttered feel that I think helped enhance the wine tasting experience. I found the staff to be very knowledgeable about the wines, estate and history as a whole. Presenting wines from both Dierberg and sister winery Star Lane Vineyard which offers some very interesting and exclusive art in a bottle.

Even though I’m not much of a white wine enthusiast, I thought their whites were very approachable, really well made and with a refreshing amount of creativity too. All their reds were exemplary, really well built wines very much in line with the wines I had tasted so far on this trip. I left with half a case of their Pinot Noir. I will be posting my thoughts whenever I open one of them. I will most definitely be visiting Dierberg next time I’m in the region.

Rusack, Santa Barbara


Another gem from my weekend exploring Santa Barbara County wineries was Rusack. I was first introduced to their wines by a fellow wine snob Dr. G at one of my wine summits. She brought a bottle of their Syrah. I can’t remember what vintage it was but I do remember enjoying it. I usually like my wines big, bold and full of character. I like my wines demanding my full attention. Pairing is nice from time-to-time, but for me a wine worth noting, is a wine that stands on it’s own. The Rusack selection did not disappoint.

So naturally I had to pay them a visit. After Sanford and Benedict Vineyards, this was next on my list of musts. The grounds were understated, neat, and homely. The patio/deck in the front, nestled under old growth California oak afforded a perfect place to setup your picnic (which they encourage) and enjoy a good vintage while immersing yourself in what it must feel like to be a gape vine on this estate. Clear warm sunlight cutting through a never ending cool crisp breeze. The climate in this region is amazing. I never wanted to leave. In fact, the tour came to an abrupt end at Rusack as I wondered if I really wanted to gamble the rest of my afternoon wandering aimlessly around the area.

But what about their wines?
Oh yeah. That! Well, I spent at least and hour in their tasting room sampling everything they had to offer. They poured and All-Star lineup. From some very creative whites typical to this region, to some big beautiful reds. The Tasting Room Manager was one of the best hosts I had yet. He was very knowledgeable and only too happy to geek-out about their wines and the region as a whole. He was gracious enough to explore  wines off the beaten path and showcase some of their more creative endeavors.  It felt more like a field trip.

I’m more of a Red wine drinker but I must say I enjoyed every one of their Whites. I found them more pleasant than expected for a California White. Buttery, complex, fruity noses and not too acidic. My favorites were their Pinot Noir and Syrah. These wine were big, bold but not overbearing. They drank well but I could tell they would be even more amazing if laid down for another 5 or more years. This is exactly what I look for in my wines. I love following a wine through it’s life, patiently waiting for that moment it is peaking and at it’s fullest expression.

The most interesting wine they were pouring was their Zinfandel. This varietal is native to the Northern California region where the climate is much more harsh, hot and dry. This makes for really hard sometimes unbearable wines with big raisin-y fruit, very high alcohol and peppery finish. We typically call them fruit bombs. I really don’t like them. So when presented with their Estate Zinfandel, I was only too curious to see how the more mild, gentle climate and rich terroir here would be expressed through the grape. I have to say it was some of the best most tame Zinfandel I’ve had yet. I love what they’ve done with it. I did not encounter any other Zinfandel on this trip. It was a nice surprise.

I big part of how I gauge value in a winery’s offering is not just a good well-built wine, but also at a compelling price point that permits me to collect at least half a case of my favorites without having to break the bank. I’m not really into buying one bottle here and there. I want to be able to follow the wine. I have to say Rusack’s offerings presented good value for the wine snob.  I was also delighted to discover a separate menu of their Library Wines. These were an assortment of Reds from the 2007 vintage most of which were priced pretty much same as their new releases. This is exactly what gets my attention! When a winery caters to those who are interested in exploring their wine even further by tasting verticals and comparing vintages while contemplating the nuances and how that affected the wines.

I settled out on the patio/deck with a 2007 Pinot Noir. It was their last bottle. It was perfect. I also tried a 2007 Syrah. These two are what I left with. Several bottles of each, from both vintages. I look forward to posting about them in the near future.

If you’d like to learn more about them, visit their web site below:
https://www.rusack.com/

 

Sanford & Benedict Vineyard, Santa Barbara

2018Sanford_5My trip to Santa Barbara wine country this past weekend had been a long time coming. I had never visited the region before this weekend. Occasionally, a friend or guest to one of my wine summits would bring a bottle from this region to share. I was always intrigued by the fact that I had yet to sample a mediocre wine from this region and the central coast at large. Perhaps my friends just have good taste. Either way I was poised to answer this and many questions on this trip.

There is no shortage of interesting wine country to explore here in California (especially Northern California). Enough to keep the most curious Oenophile thoroughly occupied. My interest in the greater Santa Barbara wine region was really sparked by long time Sonoma vintner extraordiaire, Roger Roessler (rogerroesslerwines.com). I have been following/collecting/savoring his creations for well over a decade now. You will be seeing quite a few posts about his wines. What drew me in was his passion for Pinot Noir and the sometimes overwhelming variety of Pinot he would put out not just from Sonoma, but from all up and down the West Coast. His selection reads like a compendium of California Pinot Noirs. Each one strikingly different, unique in it’s own right. An expression of what he liked most about that region.

2018Sanford_7
Pinot Noir. Bougie Grapes…LOL

One of Roessler’s Pinots I have enjoyed over the years is his S&B Pinot. The S&B stands for Sanford and Benedict. Initially I did not quite appreciate the significance of the name. I assumed it had personal significance to Roger. Over the years as my appreciation grew and after many discussions with him about his various wines and their inspirations, I realized the true meaning of the label. As Roger shared his thoughts on the region I realized it carried profound significance.

As my visit to this region neared, I began researching and learning more about the region and it’s history. In one evening of casual reading, I realized the Sanford and Benedict Vineyard was more than just another California winery. It was a cornerstone  establishment in the larger region with a storied history, started by true pioneers (and purists) Roger Sanford and Michael Benedict. They paved the way for the region by showing what was truly possible – growing and making truly exceptional Pinot Noir.

My first stop was Sanford and Benedict Vineyards. Now owned by the Terlato Family. I left with the impression that they have done a terrific job of preserving not just it’s name and identity, but the legacy that brought it’s Pinot Noir and the region at large to notoriety. As It still felt somewhat understated. The grounds were clean and free of clutter. The buildings had a bit of a subdued presence with more of an quiet established feel. The wine list was very straight forward and to the point, all small production Estate wines. One signature Pinot, two single block Pinots and one reserve blend of a couple blocks.

All it took for me was my taste of the signature Pinot – the 2014 Sanford & Benedict Pinot Noir. It was one of the most delicate and complex California Pinot Noirs I have had and certainly deserves a post all its own. As the tasting progressed, our host was gracious enough to take us outside, show us the vines, grounds and tell us about what makes it all truly special. I also couldn’t help but notice how perfectly trimmed/pruned the vines were. I haven’t quite seen vines and grounds this immaculately maintained before. As my visit progressed it became obvious why their grapes are so sought after far an wide. I began to realize their estate wines served as a thesis, a guide and reference on how to grow and  make a Pinot Noir. Sanford and Benedict set a very high bar for all wines in the region. I spent the rest of my weekend looking back at Sanford and Benedict every time I tasted wines. A tough act to follow. A tall legacy to beat. A few came close. I finally understood why a winemaker would come this far for grapes.

If you are even anywhere remotely close to this region, Sanford and Benedict is an absolute must! It alone is worth making the trip.

I found a great write-up on their history here:
https://alumni.berkeley.edu/california-magazine/spring-2018-edibles-and-potables/back-land-richard-sanford-and-tao-pinot-noir

For more information, please visit their website here:
http://www.sanfordwinery.com/