Ferrari-Carano Vineyards & Winery

Owner(s) Donald Carano, Rhonda Carano
Web site www.ferrari-carano.com
 
Link to this site
Ferrari-Carano Vineyards & Winery

The Ferrari-Carano Vineyards and Winery in Healdsburg, California, was founded in 1981 by Donald and Rhonda Carano and was named after Don’s grandmother, Amelia Ferrari. The Caranos are both second-generation Italian-Americans from Reno, Nevada, where they own the Eldorado Hotel/Casino. On a wine buying trip to California’s Sonoma County, Don and Rhonda fell in love with the area and purchased an old farmhouse surrounded by 30 acres of wine grapes in the Alexander Valley (The pair still reside there when in Sonoma). They soon developed an interest in winemaking and began vinifying wine in their barn. Bottled under the “Carano Cellars” label, the first wines were given to friends. A serious commitment to Ferrai-Carano Vineyards and Winery began with the acquisition of 250 acres of prime Sonoma County vineyards in the Alexander and Dry Creek Valleys. George Bursick became their first winemaker (see J Vineyards and Winery story, page 1). A winery was constructed beginning in 1985, and the first wine bearing the Ferrari-Carano name (1985 Ferrari-Carano Alexander Valley Chardonnay) was released in 1987. Critical acclaim for Ferrari-Carano wines followed quickly and many wine lovers of my generation remember downing many fine bottles of Ferrari-Carano Fume Blanc and Chardonnay.

Through the years, Ferrari-Carano has dabbled in Pinot Noir, producing a Rhonda’s Reserve Pinot Noir (Pinot is Rhonda’s wine of choice). A serious Pinot Noir program was finally launched with the 2006 vintage. Essentially, a small Pinot Noir winery was started within the current white wine production facility in Healdsburg (the red wines of Ferrari-Carano are produced at the Mountain Winery Estate in Alexander Valley under the direction of Aaron Piotter). Pinot Noir vineyards were purchased in the Russian River Valley and in the Mendocino Ridge AVA high above Anderson Valley . The Mendocino Ridge property, Sky High Ranch Vineyard (previously called Hayward Ranch), is located at 1,600 feet, eight miles from the Pacific Ocean. Planted in 2003 to clones 667, 777, 828 and Pommard, yields here are minuscule (.58 tons/acre in 2006, .67 tons/acre in 2007). The name “Sky High” is ironic as the vineyard site used to be occupied by hippies who farmed another crop of some repute. Pinot Noir is also sourced from vineyards farmed by the Dutton Company in the Russian River Valley.

When George Bursick left Ferrari-Carano for J Vineyards and Winery, Sarah Quider put in charge of Pinot Noir production. Sarah told me she obtained a degree in Biology, but her first job at a marine research facility in Bodega Bay lasted only a short time because she was deterred by the smell of fish (“ugh,” she says). The smell of wine was a whole lot more appealing and she obtained a harvest internship at Ferrari- Carano where she fell in love with the aromas and the excitement of winemaking. Sarah subsequently worked at Jordan Winery and pursued a degree at University California Davis, graduating in 2003. She was hired at Ferrari-Carano as assistant winemaker, then associate winemaker in charge of the Russian River Valley white wine program, and finally, when Bursick left, became winemaker in charge of white wines and Pinot Noir at Ferrari-Carano in 2006. Her able assistant is Christine Griffith.

I recently visited the beautiful Ferrari-Carano estate and tasted through both the two current 2006 Pinot Noir releases and the two 2007 Pinot Noirs from barrel with Sarah and Christine. It was clear that these women show a nice touch with Pinot Noir and it would appear the Pinot Noir program at Ferrari- Carano is in very capable hands.

Ferrari-Carano wines are available in the Italian/Mediterranean-inspired Villa Fiore Tasting Room which is open daily from 10-5. Downstairs there is a tastefully decorated second tasting room, the Enoteca, where reserve and vineyard select wines are poured with comfortable couches and tables for relaxing. Winery tours are offered daily at 10:00 AM by appointment and four Private Tasting Programs are available also by appointment (contact the Hospitality Department at 707-433-6700). The wines are also sold on the website. Although this is a large commercial operation, visitors are welcomed and tended to with sincerity and warmth. I have never met the Caranos, but the staff shared so much personal information with me that I left feeling I knew them. There is obviously a healthy amount of respect among the staff for the Caranos and I left having acquired quite a bit of admiration for them and good memories of my entire experience.

In July, 2008, Ferrari-Carano purchased the venerable Lazy Creek Vineyards in the Anderson Valley of Mendocino County. The Philo winery will continue to operate as a separate facility.

Reviewed Wines

2012 Ferrari-Carano Anderson Valley Pinot Noir

14.3% alc., pH 3.73, TA 0.57, 1,752 cases, $34. Released March 2014. A new bottling from three estate ranches in the Anderson Valley. 100% de-stemmed, 2-3-day cold soak, fermented in small bins and open-top fermenters. Various yeast strains were introduced and the fermenters were punched down 1 to 3 times a day. Aged 10 months in 45% new and 55% older French oak barrels. · Moderate reddish purple color in the glass. The nose offers an array of aromatic delights including black cherry, red plum, raspberry and pie spice. The flavors echo the aromas with an added hint of bark and cola. The mouth feel is polished, and there is some respectable finishing persistence. Solid. Score: 89. Reviewed May 15, 2014 ARTICLE »

2012 Ferrari-Carano Middleridge Ranch Anderson Valley Pinot Noir

14.3% alc., pH 3.79, TA 0.59, 497 cases, $55. Release summer 2014. 22 acres of Pinot Noir planted at 1,600 feet elevation planted to Swan and Calera selections. 100% de-stemmed, 2-3 day cold soak, aged 10 months in 48% new and 52% older French oak barrels. Planned release later part of 2014. · Moderately dark reddish purple hue in the glass. An aromatic feast of fresh cherry, warm baking spices, sandalwood and a touch of grilled mushrooms and beef stew. Mid to full-bodied flavors of black cherry, black raspberry and spice are enticing, supported by gentle, submerged tannins. The generous fruit sap floods the mid palate with enjoyment, holding fort as well on the amazing peacock finish. Balance is impeccable. Score: 94. Reviewed May 15, 2014 ARTICLE »

2012 Ferrari-Carano Sky High Ranch Mendocino Ridge Pinot Noir

14.6% alc., pH 3.76, TA 0.59, 634 cases, $55. Release summer 2014. A vineyard perched above the fog and frost line at 1,500 feet elevation that receives early morning sun and cool afternoon breezes, never allowing the temperature to rise as high as the in the Anderson Valley below. 100% de-stemmed, 2-3 day cold soak, aged 10 months in new and neutral French oak barrels. · Moderate reddish purple color in the glass. Fresh and lively aromas of cherry tart, strawberry, and vanilla lead to remarkably delicious core of red cherry and red berry fruits that are vivid and well spiced. Elegant, with balanced tannins and a mighty finish of uncommon length. A well-crafted, provocative wine that you can enjoy now or with age. Score: 94. Reviewed May 15, 2014 ARTICLE »

2009 Ferrari-Carano Sky High Ranch Mendocino Ridge Pinot Noir

14.5% alc., $42. Grown, produced and bottled by Sky High Ranch, Philo, CA. 100% destemmed. Aged 18 months in 24% new French oak, 66% older French oak. · Medium reddish-purple color in the glass. Reserved aromatics, offering subtle scents of dark red stone fruits, brier and oak. Flavorful array of dark red cherry and raspberry flavors with hints of chicory and earth. The fruit really makes an impression. Some dry tannins provide support and the wine finishes with reasonably strong fruit high notes. Lacks a little aromatic interest, but really delivers on the flavor. Very good (+). Reviewed June 24, 2012 ARTICLE »

2007 Ferrari-Carano Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

(barrel sample). · A little more complex aromatic and flavor profile featuring candied cherries, herbs, and roseate notes. Elegant and precocious. Reviewed August 4, 2008 ARTICLE »

2007 Ferrari-Carano Sky High Ranch Mendocino Ridge Pinot Noir

(barrel sample). · Similar to the 2006 vintage except better overall weather in this vintage produced even more vibrant and juicy fruit. Still needs time to resolve some tannins, but this will be first rate when released. Reviewed August 4, 2008 ARTICLE »

2006 Ferrari-Carano Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.5% alc., $32. Clusters were de-stemmed, allowing partial whole cluster fermentation. Reductive winemaking throughout. Various yeast strains were used. Barrel aged for 9 months in 30% new French oak. · A cherry-driven wine with a pleasant compliment of underbrush and herbs. Elegant, with adequate acidity, a clean finish, and deft use of oak. Reviewed August 4, 2008 ARTICLE »

2006 Ferrari-Carano Sky High Ranch Mendocino Ridge Pinot Noir

14.2% alc., $46. · Deep reddish-purple hue. Very appealing aromas of strawberry jam and Bing cherry. Rich, sweet dark berry fruit with a citrus note. Bright acidity on a memorable and long finish. Nicely balanced from start to finish. The tannins are mildly assertive now and will soften with 6-12 months in the cellar. This wine has a lot of charisma. Reviewed June 9, 2008 ARTICLE »

2006 Ferrari-Carano Sky High Ranch Mendocino Ridge Pinot Noir

14.2% alc., $46. Winemaking as for the Russian River Valley Pinot Noir except the cold soak was extended and aging lasted 15 months in 50% new Burgundian French oak. · This wine rewards patience and contemplation as it changes constantly in the glass. Impressive core of jammy berries and black cherry with a sidecar of oak spice and chocolate, and a citrus note on the finish. Nicely composed and balanced and more richly structured than the wine above. Reviewed August 4, 2008 ARTICLE »

2006 Ferrari-Carano Sky High Ranch Mendocino Ridge Pinot Noir

14.2% alc., $46 (sold out). Released May 2008. Grapes were de-stemmed allowing partial whole berry fermentation. Strictly reductive winemaking including a 3 to 5-day cold soak in small bins. Various yeasts were inoculated and the wine was gently pressed to barrel and aged 15 months in new French oak barrels. · Deeply colored. Restrained aromas of black cherries, grilled meat and cigar box. Luscious dark red fruits on a smooth and silky frame accented by notes of spice, sawdust and citrus. The tannins have melted away and the whole package is deftly balanced. This is a special wine that gives you an emotional response. Reviewed May 26, 2009 ARTICLE »