Ferrari-Carano Vineyards & Winery

Owner(s) Donald Carano, Rhonda Carano
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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 Ferrari-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. Today, the Caranos own 3,500 acres of vineyards across five appellations and produce up to 26 wines, many of them vineyard-designated.

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 Potter). 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. Total certified sustainably farmed vineyard acreage is more than 1,600 acres.

When George Bursick left Ferrari-Carano for J Vineyards and Winery, Sarah Quider was 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 the winemaker in charge of white wines and Pinot Noir at Ferrari-Carano in 2006. Her assistant was Christie Griffith.

By 2015, Quider became the Executive Winemaker concentrating on Chardonnay. Rebecca Deike oversees red wine production, and Christy Ackerman is the winemaker at Lazy Creek Vineyards.

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.

Donald Ferrari passed away in 2017.

Reviewed Wines

2015 Ferrari Carano Sky High Ranch Mendocino Ridge Pinot Noir

14.5% alc. $55. Sky High Ranch Vineyard is surrounded by towering redwoods and forest above the fog line at 1,600 feet elevation. De-stemmed, fermented in stainless steel open-top and small bins. 3-day cold soak, proprietary yeast strains, aged 11 months in French oak barrels, 53% new. · Moderate garnet color in the glass. Very sexy nose full of pheromones and spice along with fruit scents of black cherry that are knee bending. This wine really emotes, with a core of beautifully ripened black cherry fruit and gently folded in oak. Perfectly balanced with a grand finish that lasts until the next sip. This is a wine I want to spend some time with. Tasted twice including at home in usual fashion with same result. Score: 97. Reviewed July 8, 2017 ARTICLE »

2014 Ferrari-Carano Sky High Ranch Mendocino Ridge Pinot Noir

14.5% alc., 352 cases, $48. Grapes are grown high above the fog line at 1,600 feet elevation. 100% de-stemmed. Various proprietary yeast strains introduced to fermentation. Aged 10 months in a mix of 58% new and 42% older French oak barrels. · Medium reddish purple color in the glass. Aromas of blueberry-pomegranate, sarsaparilla and sous-bois lead to a very sleek and suave offering featuring a plethora of blue and black fruits accented with oak seasoning. Impeccably balanced, with fine-grain tannins and a joyful finish filled with flavors of dark chocolate coated dark fruits. Score: 92. Reviewed July 24, 2016 ARTICLE »

2013 Ferrari-Carano Fumé Blanc Sonoma County Sauvignon Blanc

13.8% alc., pH 3.32, TA 0.59, 85,000+ cases, $14, screwcap. A signature wine from Ferrari-Carano that is a blend of Sauvignon Blanc grapes from Dry Creek Valley, Alexander Valley and Russian River Valley. Whole cluster crushed and pressed into stainless steel tanks for 48 hours of cold settling. The juice is either transferred to stainless steel tanks or older French oak barrels for fermentation. The wine in barrels is sur lie aged and stirred every week for 1 month. · Pale yellow-gold color and clear in the glass. Inviting aromas of peach, kiwi and lemon lead to crisp flavors of white peach, pear and lemon drop. A nicely balanced wine with good staying power on the palate, and a sleek finish that offers notes of peach, apple, tropical fruits and subtle nutty oak. Very easy to like with no imposing grassy character found in some Sauvignon Blanc wines. I put the opened, unused wine in the refrigerator and it was still singing several days later. Widely distributed. Score: 90. Reviewed August 25, 2014 ARTICLE »

2013 Ferrari-Carano Anderson Valley Pinot Noir

14.4% alc., pH 3.72, TA 0.54, 5,197 cases, $36. Sourced from three ranches in the Anderson Valley. Heritage and Dijon clones. 100% de-stemmed, 3-day cold soak, aged 10 months in 100% French oak barrels, 37% new. · Moderate reddish purple color in the glass. Black cherry, black raspberry, cola and spice are featured in this wine which is discreetly concentrated and forward drinking. The mouthfeel is silky, the suave tannins well mannered, and oak plays a welcome seasoning role in the background. A solid Pinot for everyday drinking. Score: 89. Reviewed September 18, 2015 ARTICLE »

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 »

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