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Bob Iantosca: Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards

Artisan wines usually imply a small operation with limited production Why then did I include the large Gloria Ferrer Winery, with more than 330 acres of estate vineyards and a total annual production of 230,000 cases? The reason is that winemaker Bob Iantosca, who has been the chief winemaker at Gloria Ferrer since 1987, has a small separate still Pinot Noir program within Gloria Ferrer, a winery best known for its sparkling wines. Bob crafts about 20,000 cases of five Pinot Noirs that fill out the winery’s lineup of six sparkling wines, one Chardonnay, and one Merlot.

Gloria Ferrer was founded in 1982 by the Ferrer family, owners of the Freixenet sparkling wine empire based in Spain. The Freixenet Group includes cava producers Freixenet and Segura Viudas, Gloria Ferrer, and still wine properties in many countries including Australia. Gloria Ferrer is named after José Ferrer’s wife, who together direct their wine empire. Originally dedicated to crafting sparkling wine only, still wine production began in the early 1990s. A separate red wine production facility was built and the underground caves expanded to provide storage for both still and sparkling wines. Gloria Ferrer is located on Route 121 (Carneros Hwy) in Sonoma Carneros, a site rumored to have been inspired by Gloria Ferrer herself who picnicked on a Carneros hillside some 35 years ago.

I spent some enjoyable time with Bob Iantosca recently on a visit to Gloria Ferrer. He is a laid-back, pony-tailed and bearded character whose relaxed persona hides his tremendous winemaking experience knowledge and experience. With many of my winery visits, the winemaker just wants to get into tasting, but Bob and I sat in his office for a couple of hours just chatting about Pinot Noir before we took a stroll through the modern winery and expansive caves. We never did taste any Pinot Noir, and I frankly preferred spending the time getting to know this skilled winemaker.

We first talked about the Gloria Ferrer estate vineyards. There are two adjacent to the winery: Circle Bar Ranch and Home Ranch. The Pinot Noir for the Gloria Ferrer sparkling wines is grown on the flats of the vineyards where the loamy clay soil allows the vines to grow vigorously, producing five to six tons per acre. The Gloria Ferrer sparkling wines are all a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Up on the slopes, the soil is poorer, more rocky and volcanic, and Pinot Noir struggles to produce two to three tons per acre, perfect for still Pinot Noir of great character and deep color.

The 128-acre Circle Bar Ranch was planted in 1997 and 1998 and is comprised of 13 different blocks. There are seven different soil types and 12 clonal selections giving Bob many opportunities for interesting blending options. The Home Ranch was originally planted in 1984 and has been under continuous redevelopment since. This 207 acre original estate vineyard is comprised of nine distinct blocks, four different soil types, and planted to 15 different clones.

Bob will be the first to admit that management of the vineyards is crucial to Gloria Ferrer’s success. Vineyard manager Mike Crumly has been working with Bob for over 20 years planting clones on the estate adapted to specific sites and learning the vagaries of Carneros microclimates. As we walked the property, Bob and I had to fight to keep our caps on. Bob said that the ever-present wind makes it possible to grow grapes in this location, and is largely responsible for coaxing greatness from the region’s vines. Daily fog intrusion here helps the vines to thrive as well.

As I tasted through several Gloria Ferrer Pinot Noirs at home, I was struck by their unique and uncommon flavors. I am sure this is in large part to the unique clones used in the wines. A Pinot Noir clone trial was begun as far back as 1988 to study the viticultural differences between 13 clones. Of the 13, a handful emerged and were propagated in larger blocks that now provide the fruit for the wines. The Pinot Noir clones that have shown the greatest promise in the Gloria Ferrer estate vineyards are: Colmar 538 (an Alsatian clone), Martini (UCD 13), Wente, Wädenswil (UCD 2A), Pommard 4, and Dijon 115. Even a little Trefethen Selection shows up in some wines. The resultant wines have great interest since they are not powered solely by Dijon clones as so many California Pinot Noirs are today.

Bob uses about 25% to 50% new French oak and ages the Pinot Noirs 9 months in barrel. He feels 11 months in barrel adds too much oak intrusion into the flavors. The grapes are completely de-stemmed. Press and free run wine are kept separate. Some wines are filtered. The alcohol levels are kept quite sensible and all of the wines are medium-weighted with appealing elegance.

2005 Gloria Ferrer Gravel Knob Vineyard Carneros Pinot Noir

13.5% alc., 210 cases. · Dreamy perfume of crushed black cherries, flowers, oak and hay. Substantial raspberry attack on the palate. Softly textured throughout with powdery tannins and a clean and tangy finish. A pleasure to drink and definitely preferable to the 2004 bottling from this vineyard.

2005 Gloria Ferrer José S. Ferrer Selection Carneros Pinot Noir

13.5% alc., 1,067 cases. · Deep, dark stone fruits, cranberry and a touch of herbs on the nose. Plenty of sweet dark fruit extract with retains an appealing suppleness, Primarily fruit-driven with some earth and cedar notes. Beautifully balanced with fine-grained tannins and brisk acidity on the refreshingly clean finish.

2005 Gloria Ferrer Rust Rock Terrace Vineyard Carneros Pinot Noir

13.5% alc., 372 cases. · Very complex aromatic profile consisting of bright black cherry, marzipan, baked cookies, smoke and violets. Earth-dusted black cherry and raspberry fruit which is a touch brambly and tar-infused. Appealing fullness and richness yet elegant in the mouth. Slightly tart on the finish. This one is quite exotic and fun to contemplate.

2005 Gloria Ferrer Estate Carneros Pinot Noir

13.5% alc., 16,962 cases, 993 cases 375ml, $28. Barrel aged for nine months in 25% new oak. Made exclusively from free-run wine. · Lovely red cherry, wild herbs, earth and pine on the nose. Light but satisfying raspberry and cherry flavors with hints of tar, forest floor, herbs and char. Velvety texture, gentle tannins, clean and crisp on the finish. A nice daily drinker.

2004 Gloria Ferrer José S. Ferrer Selection Carneros Pinot Noir

13.5% alc., 1,067 cases, $36. A reserve bottling representing a tribute to the Gloria Ferrer founder, José S. Ferrer. Bob hand-selects the 43 best barrels from the estate Carneros vineyards. · Demure scents of black cherry, forest floor and dark chocolate. Beautiful black cherry core with a savory herbal sidecar. Rich but not cloying with polished tannins and a lingering finish. Similar to the Rust Rock Terrace Vineyard wine but with less elegance and more backbone. Excellent.

2004 Gloria Ferrer Gravel Knob Vineyard Carneros Pinot Noir

13.5% alc., 347 cases, $40. Sourced from a rocky part of Home Ranch with well-drained soils. Comar 538 and clone 32. · Requires some time in the glass to open revealing wild berry, black cherry, oak and hay scents. Dusty dark fruits, earth, tobacco and herbs lend interest. Very soft in the mouth. A bit sour on the finish. I could not warm up to this one.

2004 Gloria Ferrer Rust Rock Terrace Vineyard Carneros Pinot Noir

13.5% alc., 124 cases, $40. · Very seductive aromas of cinnamon dosed red cherries. Tenacious red berry and red stone fruit highlighted by carob and sweet spice flavors. Terrific Pinot delicacy in a complete package.

2003 Gloria Ferrer Rust Rock Terrace Vineyard Carneros Pinot Noir

13.5% alc., 375 cases, $40. Rust Rock Terrace consists of five blocks situated on the uppermost hillside of Circle Bar Ranch Vineyard. Clones are 115, Wente, Colmar 538, and Wädenswil. · This bottle seems slightly oxidized. The aromas are evolved to a secondary bouquet of cigar box and prune which carries over into the flavors. Soft in the mouth with a mildly dry finish. For lovers of older Pinot Noirs.

Gloria Ferrer Pinot Noirs (2004 vineyard-designates and 2005 estate) are sold at the winery and are available on the website at These are sensibly priced considering the quality. The charming mission styled visitor center at 23555 Carneros Hwy 121 in Sonoma is open daily for tasting from 10-5. Guided tours are offered daily as well. There is a small charge for tasting and tours. Private tours are available by arrangement. The facility is available for private events and weddings as well. Be sure and wear a cap, it is almost certainly to be breezy. 707-996-7256.

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