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The Long and Winding Pinot Road, Part V

My love affair with Pinot Noir was now fully engaged and I was looking for a new source I could hitch my grape wagon to. In 1989, Dan Berger wrote a glowing report in the Los Angeles Times, calling Gary Farrell a “Pinot Noir Superstar.” In the article, he listed the best Russian River Valley Pinot Noir producers at the time as Joseph Swan, J. Rochioli, Davis Bynum, Williams and Selyem, Laurier, Dehlinger, Mark West, Iron Horse and De Loach. The best of the bunch, however, he said was Gary Farrell. Berger noted that Farrell’s 1988 Sonoma County Pinot Noir ($15) was superb, but the 1988 Allen Vineyard Pinot Noir ($25) was a killer and “one of those rare treats worth the price.” In the article, Farrell said, “There are probably fewer than 500 acres of top-quality Pinot Noir vineyard land here. The Russian River hasn’t gotten the publicity of some other areas, but that’s ok. Actually, we’re trying to keep this thing quiet because of the limited acreage out there.”

I had sniffed out Farrell even before the glowing article written by Dan Berger, having made my first purchases of 1987 Gary Farrell Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($20, see label above) several months in advance of the publication. This wine was produced from 40% Howard Allen Vineyard, 40% Bacigalupi Vineyard and 20% Rochioli Vineyard, all located within a few miles of Healdsburg. The grapes were hand-harvested early, gently de-stemmed taking caution not to break the skins on approximately 50% of the berries. The grapes were fermented in small two ton lots using Ashmanchausen yeast for 8 days, inoculated with MCS ML bacteria at 12° Brix. Pressing occurred at dryness and the wine was allowed to settle for four weeks prior to barreling. The wine was then aged for 14 months in 30% French oak barrels.

I became a steady customer of Gary Farrell Pinot Noirs as the wines accumulated numerous accolades and medals over the years. I was thoroughly charmed by their enticing aromas, lush and broad fruit flavors, modest tannins and sweet oak highlights. My loyalty never wavered, but there was another Russian River Valley producer who stole my heart away in the early 1990s. To be continued… … ..

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