TODAY WE WELCOME A RENDEZVOUS WITH WINEMAKER THERESA HEREDIA, CHIEF WINEMAKER AT GARY FARRELL WINERY IN SONOMA’S RUSSIAN RIVER VALLEY.
I’ve been waiting to interview Theresa for a while now. Her Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays embody such elegance that I have to say I was impressed and intrigued. I’d tasted her wines and done a bit of poking around about the Gary Farrell ways. I thought, the woman who made this really has something to teach us.
I was right on the money. It turns out that Teresa was inspired to educate herself as a teacher, but found the siren of wine along the way. Her responses here expose that she is wise and articulate and is a helpful guidepost for those of us that want to understand the winemaking life.
Gary Farrell Winery
Since the early 1980’s Gary Farrell has made wine in the gorgeous Russian River Valley of Sonoma. To me, the Russian River Valley is a place that sparks the imagination. The wines are welcoming, flavorful and irresistible. (I remember a Washington DC hotel bar bill that was way too much because of a Russian River Valley Syrah that my husband fell in love with…). Gary Farrell Winery has long-standing relationships with some of the areas most seasoned and dedicated growers, and they make no secret of the pride they feel from cultivating these relationships, both old and new. For more on specific vineyard partnerships, of which the estate is quite proud, visit their website here.
The estate makes Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc and Zinfandel. These award-winning wines posses the spirit of Burgundy, and Teresa shares that she’s got Burgundian influences in her ways. Many of their single vineyard releases are spot-on specific of not only terroir but of the individual grower’s stamp. It really makes for a beautiful composition of the best that the Russian River Valley has to offer.
Lessons from a Winemaker
I like the idea of a winemaker as our teacher, after all, they are there from bud-start to bottle-finish and no matter how much exposure I get, there is so just much to learn. Theresa makes excellent wine and understands that the minds and hands required to achieve this success are blessed with a knowing, a showing… thanks to Teresa for sharing her thoughts and experience with us here.
How did you get into wine making?
I went to graduate school at UC Davis to get my PhD in chemistry because I wanted to be a university professor. While I was there, I discovered the viticulture & enology program. During my time there as a graduate student and chemistry teaching assistant, I met some graduate students from the V&E program who talked about their fun wine chemistry research. When I heard that their analytical methods were identical to mine, but their subjects were wine and grapes, I got very excited about changing my area of study from peptide synthesis to wine research. Within a few days I had transferred into the V&E program. In 2001 I did my first harvest at Saintsbury in Carneros, then I was hired by Joseph Phelps Vineyards in 2002.
Which one of your wines was the most difficult to craft and what did you learn from the experience?
We had a red wine from 2015 that just didn’t want to finish up primary fermentation and took forever to go through malolactic fermentation, in fact, it’s still not totally complete! We don’t typically have many stuck fermentations, but when we do, we’re always able to identify the problem and restart the fermentation without any major issues.
The most common cause of stuck fermentations is residual fructose, a five-carbon sugar that most yeast strains don’t like to ferment, especially at low levels toward the end of fermentation. Some other common causes are microbial competition, high volatile acidity, which the yeast and MLF bacteria don’t like and high alcohol, which can be toxic to yeast and bacteria. There are many other problems that can cause a stuck or sluggish fermentation but we looked into every possible issue, did all the necessary analysis and tried to restart it on two separate occasions, but we found absolutely no problems with the wine at all. The wine was clean and healthy, alcohol was in a tolerable range for the yeast, yet it just did not want to finish its fermentations. We finally decided to put it to barrel and keep a close eye on it to make sure it didn’t spoil. Once the weather warmed up in the late spring or early summer, the barrels began popping bungs, which is an indication that CO2 is being produced and fermentation is happening. The alcoholic fermentation finally finished and the wine tastes beautiful. Now we’re just waiting for a tiny amount of malolactic acid to get fermented away and then we can leave the wine alone while it ages in barrel for a few more months.
My learning experience from this? Wine is a natural product that is made by microorganisms, not really by human beings. Sometimes we have to allow the winemaking process to do what it wants and not try to control it too much. You just have to keep an eye on it so it doesn’t spoil in the process.
What are you most concerned about in your area? Water scarcity, soil erosion, pests…etc…
Water scarcity is always an issue in California so it’s often a concern. However, my major concern is climate change. Since I started here at Gary Farrell Winery in 2012, the onset of harvest has been earlier and earlier each year. In 2012 we started on August 31st; 2013 on August 21st, 2014 on August 15th, 2015 on August 10th and 2016 on August 9th. It’s not only the onset of harvest that’s early, it’s the early onset of spring weather and consequently, early signs of grapevine development. I’m a believer in natural cycles, so I’m hopeful that we’ll have another balancing year, meaning a long, cool growing season, sometime in the next year or two. If not, then we may start harvest in July soon!
What are your challenges making the new vintage?
The 2016 was actually a pretty breezy harvest compared to previous years so I can’t think of any big challenges, sorry!
Which vintage (yours or another vintner’s) will you drink over dinner?
2014! This was one of the most beautiful vintages that I can recall in recent years. The wines are beautifully aromatic and have a tremendous amount of verve. They’re drinking surprisingly well now, but I can tell in their youth that they will age nicely.
When you aren’t drinking your own bottles, what do you drink as your go-to, everyday drinking wine?
I actually drink white wine more often than red, so I am likely to open a German Riesling, a French Sauvignon Blanc or any tasty, cool climate Chardonnay. As for reds, I love a good Châteauneuf-du-Pape or Côtes du Rhône.
What wine region inspires you?
Burgundy, of course! However, two regions that amaze me are Alsace, on the border of Germany and France, and Alto Adige, in northern Italy, bordering Austria and Switzerland. Both regions have extremely steep hillside vineyards and challenging climates. The Pinot Noirs from these regions are quite different from those of other regions, especially California. I’m inspired mostly by the challenges that go into growing grapes there.
Is there someone that works on your estate that you’d like to highlight, thank, gush about?
Wow, I don’t think I could write about just one person. I have to give kudos to my entire winemaking team because they are all badasses!
Brent McKoy, our assistant winemaker, has been at this winery for 11 years so he knows all the ins and outs of the facility, plus, he’s an amazingly supportive, intelligent, positive, and extremely organized individual.
Mark Osborne, our enologist, has been at this winery for nearly 9 years and has been a permanent employee here since 2010. He came here from Australia and, lucky for us, he decided to stay. Mark keeps the team down to earth and offers a wealth of technical, scientific and practical knowledge to the team, while always maintaining a positive outlook on things.
Laurence Donald, our cellar/vineyard assistant, splits his time 50/50 between the cellar and the vineyards. He’s my right hand out in the field, especially during my busy work travel season. He provides an excellent background of knowledge & experience in both winemaking and viticulture that is extremely valuable to the entire team.
Can you recommend a wine book?
The World Atlas of Wine by Hugh Johnson & Jancis Robinson is fantastic and is jam-packed with information for nerdy wine people. As for a really fun, historical wine book, I love the one called Wine & War by Donald Kladstrup and Petie Kladstrup. (Mentioned here.)
Thank you to Teresa for giving us a glimpse into her world. We’ve learned a few things and now I expect everyone is ready for a glass or wine. Or perhaps, schedule a visit to Gary Farrell. Visitors that make a reservation between now and May (or when their new tasting room is wrapped up) can experience a Woodlands Tasting. Details and a video are on the website.
GARY FARRELL VINEYARDS & WINERY
1 0701 WESTSIDE ROAD, HEALDSBURG, CALIFORNIA
TASTING BY APPOINTMENT DAILY
BUSINESS HOURS 10:30 AM-4:30 PM