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Gary Farrell Vineyards & Winery: Inseparably Linked to J. Rochioli Vineyards & Winery since 1982

In 1976, Joe Rochioli Jr. engaged Davis Bynum winemaker Gary Farrell to produce 1,000 cases of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay under the Fenton Acres label at Davis Bynum Winery using grapes from the Rochioli estate. In 1979, Farrell made 50 cases of Pinot Noir using grapes from Rochioli West Block and Allen Vineyard which launched the successful Gary Farrell label. In 1982, he crafted 150 cases of Rochioli Pinot Noir at Davis Bynum Winery to launch the J. Rochioli Vineyards & Winery brand. Farrell continued to vinify Rochioli Pinot Noir in 1983 and 1984, and consulted with Tom Rochioli on the 1985 vintage. By 1986, Tom had completely assumed the winemaking duties at Rochioli.

Some historians consider Gary Farrell the father of Russian River Valley Pinot Noir because he was one of the first Pinot Noir winemakers to rise to prominence at the beginning of the Pinot Noir revolution in the region in the 1980s. Largely self-taught, but also educated through UC Davis winemaking extension courses, Farrell enhanced his winemaking skills during the mid-1970s working in the cellars of Tom Dehlinger, Robert Stemmler, and Davis Bynum. He was employed initially at Davis Bynum as a handyman and cellar worker. He was soon befriended by Davis Bynum’s son, Hampton, who hired him as a winemaker and Farrell made his first Pinot Noir at Davis Bynum in 1978. Farrell continued there as the winemaker until 2000.

Farrell started his own eponymous label in 1982, releasing a 50-case blend of Rochioli West Block and Allen Vineyard fruit. He traded grapes for his winemaking expertise for his inaugural release. He was to act as a consultant in the planning and construction of the Rochioli Winery which finished construction in 1985. Farrell would say that he got Rochioli fruit before the word got out.

The close relationship between the two wineries continues to this day (40 years) with Gary Farrell receiving grapes annually from Rochioli Vineyard, including grapes from the oldest blocks and the Allen Vineyard which was planted and managed by Joe.

In 2000, Farrell, backed by investor and vintner Bill Hambrecht, moved into a magnificent $5 million winery designed by Farrell located on a ridge at the southern end of Westside Road, a 20-minute drive from the town of Healdsburg. Production rose to 12.000 to 14,000 cases annually, over half of which were Pinot Noir. He would plant the 25-acre estate Starr Ridge Vineyard in the Russian River Valley and another 15 acres in the Green Valley of Russian River Valley appellation.

Farrell sold his label and Westside Road Winery in 2004 and the winery was subsequently bought by the Vincraft Group. He left the Gary Farrell Winery in 2006 to return to his roots as a small artisan producer, founding a new label, Alysian Wines, but in 2013 left Alysian Wines to concentrate on his hobby of buying and selling collector cars.

I met Gary on one occasion to taste his Alysian wines and found him reserved and soft-spoken but very charming and friendly. He is not one to tout his wines or go into detail about their vinification. As Gerald Asher, writing in Gourmet in 1996, noted, “For a man who produces such structured and elegant wines, Farrell is surprisingly vague when it comes to talking about them.”

Farrell did tell Asher the following. “In winemaking, there’s always an element of intuition and that’s especially true with Pinot Noir. I’m often asked by an assistant to explain why I do something, and I’m hard put to answer. With Pinot Noir, some special sensitivity, a sixth sense, is at work. You must start with good fruit and there’s not much of it. The site must be right, the clones must be right, and the vineyard practices must be right.” Asher summarized his impression after tasting Farrell’s Pinot Noir wines, saying, “All his wines are restrained. I got the impression that Farrell took from the grapes exactly what he needed - and no more.”

I began drinking Farrell’s Pinot Noirs with the 1986 vintage and his 1987 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir was one of my early epiphanic Pinot Noir experiences. I was not alone in realizing the superb quality of Farrell’s wines. Syndicated wine columnist Jerry Mead said, “Gary is one of the most talented winemakers in California, and one of America’s best when it comes to the very difficult grape Pinot Noir.”

Gary Farrell Vineyards & Winery has been in the very capable winemaking hands of Theresa Heredia since 2012. She has had the title of Director of Winemaking since the spring of 2021. Gary left behind many winemaking protocols that Theresa has used to emulate the “Farrell house style” that emphasizes elegance and balance and a bright acidic spine while putting her own imprint on the Farrell wines.

The winery has offered two very different wines based on Rochioli fruit: the Rochioli-Allen Vineyards Russian River Valley Pinot Noir is lighter weighted, more acid-driven, and features redder fruits. The Rochioli Vineyard Pinot Noir is bolder, more intensely fruited, featuring darker fruits, and a spectacularly long finish.

Theresa related to me her recollections of Joe: “Joe Rochioli was one of the sweetest men I’ve known. I can picture him now with his eyes gleaming and a big smile on his face. He loved to sit and talk about the old days, sharing stories about playing baseball with the local Prune Packers team as well as his Cal Poly days. He could go on for hours telling his stories. As far as I know, he never fully retired from day-to-day duties until he had a stroke at the end of 2020. Every year since I’ve been the winemaker at Gary Farrell. from 2012 until 2019, Joe and his wife Vivienne attended our annual grower appreciation dinner at the winery. Joe told us it was one of his favorite events because it took place after the harvest had settled down and before the crazy Holiday season. He really enjoyed exchanging stories with all of the other growers in attendance. He enjoyed the wines from Rochioli but also the wines from Gary Farrell’s other vineyard sources. Sadly, since 2020 we have not been able to host him at the grower dinner because of the pandemic. This year will be our first in-person grower dinner since 2019, and we were planning to honor Joe. Instead, we will honor him at the event this November by sharing memories of him with everyone in attendance. Rest in peace Joe. Your legacy will live on forever through our beautiful memories of your stories.”

Visit the winery’s website for more information and to purchase wines at Some wines are library only or available only to wine club members. If you inquire, mention this article.

2017 Gary Farrell Rochioli-Allen Vineyards Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

13.3% alc., pH 3.33, TA 0.70, 369 case, $80. Released May 2020. The grapes for this wine come from two vineyards: Rochioli vineyard and Allen Vineyard, located on opposite sides of Westside Road and both farmed by the Rochioli family. Predominantly Pommard selection planted in 1974 and 1996 from Allen Vineyard and Pommard from the Rochioli Vineyard, Primarily de-stemmed fruit with some whole cluster. 4-7 day cold soak, 7-10 day postfermentation extended maceration. Aged on the primary lees for 15 months in French oak barrels, 40% new. $80. · Moderately light garnet color in the glass. Soaring aromas of fresh cherry, strawberry, balsam, and baking spices. Light to moderate weighted style with black cherry, cola, and a hint of oak flavors driven by bright acidity. Gentle tannins with a long, quenching finish. Score: 93

2019 Gary Farrell Rochioli-Allen Vineyards Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.2% alc., $80. · Moderately light garnet color in the glass. Aromas of red cherry, oak spice and vanilla, and red rose petal. Inviting flavors of cherry, strawberry and raspberry framed by bright acidity and the slightest tannin. Satisfying, with a noticeably long finish. Score: 93

2018 Gary Farrell Rochioli Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

13.9% alc., pH 3.55, TA 0.76, 538 cases, $80. Released September 2021. 80% of the fruit was gently de-stemmed and 20% was added to the fermentation tank as whole clusters. 5-7 day cold soak 10-15 day extended maceration. Aged 15 months in French oak barrels, 40% new. · Moderate garnet color in the glass. A knockout nose with deep aromas of dark cherry, olallieberry, spice, pencil lead and toast. Fuller-bodied in style, with a richly flavored dark cherry core. Slightly earthy with a shadow of oak. A silky, Pinot-typical mouthfeel brought smiles. Outrageously long, fruitsoaked finish. Still superb when tasted two days later from a previously opened bottle. Score: 95

2019 Gary Farrell Rochioli Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.1% alc., pH 3.28, TA 0.71, 426 cases, $85. Released September 2022. Member exclusive. This wine brings together three blocks on the property, including those planted in 1974, 1995, and 2000 where some of the vines come from cuttings taken from the original mother block plantings dating to 1968. Harvest Brix 23.5º. 82% of the fruit de-stemmed and 18% added to the top of the fermenting tank as whole clusters. 7-day cold soak, 12 days of extended maceration following fermentation. Aged 15 months in French oak puncheons, 40% new. · Moderate garnet color in the glass. This nose is typical of what attracts me to Pinot Noir: aromas of dark Bing cherry, spice, dried cranberry, and pipe smoke. Well-endowed in a midweight plus style, with a flood of black cherry and raspberry goodness saturating the mid-palate. Almost meaty, yet polished, with seamless incorporation of oak and an extremely long and lip-smacking finish. A revelation and a great tribute to Joe Rochioli. Score: 98

More recently released Gary Farrell Pinot Noir:

2019 Gary Farrell Martaella Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

13.7% alc. pH 3.30, TA 0.68, 601 cases, $70. Released in September 2022. A blend of Calera, Mt Eden and Swan selections. The fruit was primarily de-stemmed. 5-7 day cold soak and 7-10 day post-fermentation extended maceration. Aged on the primary lees for 15 months in French oak puncheons, 40% new. · Moderate garnet color in the glass. The nose opens over time to reveal appealing aromas of black cherry, blackberry, baking spice, and chai tea. Mid-weight plus in richness, offering flavors of purple and black berries and black tea. Complimentary tannins and acidity with some finishing generosity. Noticeably better when sampled two days later from a previously opened bottle. Score: 93

2019 Gary Farrell Toboni Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.3% alc., pH 3.33, TA 0.69, 629 cases, $60. Released September 2022. The Toboni Oakwild Ranch is located on the Santa Rosa Plain, an area blessed with morning fog and sunny, warm afternoons that heighten the intensity of the fruit flavors. Planted in 2001 to clones 115, 667, 777, and Pommard. The fruit was predominantly de-stemmed with a small percentage added later as whole clusters. 4-7 day cold soak and 7-10 day post-fermentation extended maceration. Aged 10 months in French oak barrels, 40% new. · Moderate garnet color in the glass. Reserved aromas of ripe strawberry, blackest cherry and earthy flora. Brooding flavors of purple and black berries in a mid-weight plus style. The tannins are rather tame, a shadow of oak plies the background, and the finish delivers length with a hint of alcoholic warmth. Score: 92

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