Distinctive Chardonnays And Pinot Noirs From Sonoma County

Viticulture 101 tells you that you plant particular grapes in the most favorable zones according to climate, among other factors. Thus in California, where much of Napa Valley is quite warm, Cabernet Sauvignon dominates; the varietal needs this type of environment to ripen properly, and you certainly can’t argue the overall results of these wines, which have become the California wine industry’s calling cards.

But there are multiple growing areas in California, with several of them having a cooler climate; this is especially true in the western reaches of Sonoma County, where Russian River Valley is an ideal area to grown grapes that require a cooler climate. So just as in Burgundy, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are the preferred cultivars in this territory.

It’s not just a cool climate of course – where early morning fog and cool breezes from the nearby Pacific Ocean help moderate conditions – that is necessary. It’s also having the proper soils as well as specific microclimates, matched with the proper rootstocks that yield such beautiful Chardonnay and Pinot Noir fruit. Theresa Heredia, winemaker at Gary Farrell Vineyards and Winery in Healdsburg, understands the special qualities of Russian River viticulture. “We have the opportunity to cherry pick the best vineyards from all over Russian River Valley and Sonoma County,” she states. “I like to talk about us as sort of on par with a high-end Premier Cru or Grand Cru negociant from Burgundy.”

That’s a lofty comparison, but having tasted several hundred examples of Russian River wines over the past three decades, I’d say that Heredia is spot on with her thoughts. Russian River Valley is truly a Burgundian wine zone, and the wines today are as special and as distinctive as ever.

Additionally, there are other zones not far from Russian River Valley that are also beneficial zones for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir; these include the Petaluma Gap, an area near Sebastopol that has been described as a wind tunnel, thanks to ocean breezes that greatly affect climatic conditions here, while the large Sonoma Coast AVA encompasses an area of vineyards not far from the Pacific; as you might imagine, cooler temperatures and fog here are a great combination for pronounced aromatics, lively acidity and excellent structure.

Here are notes on recommended new releases of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from western Sonoma County:


Gary Farrell Bacigalupi Vineyard 2019 (Russian River Valley) – Planted in 1964, the Bacigalupi Vineyard is located on Westside Road in the heart of Russian River Valley. Medium deep yellow with aromas of pear, baked apples and a touch of honey, this is medium-full with appealing golden apples and pear fruit on the palate; there is a well-balanced finish of good length and the oak notes are restrained. This displays impressive overall harmony along with signature Russian River Chardonnay character. Enjoy over the next 2-4 years. (92)

Gary Farrell Rochioli-Allen Vineyards 2019 (Russian River Valley) – Expressive aromas of lemon peel, pear and magnolia. Medium-full with very good depth of fruit, there is excellent ripeness, with oak notes that are well integrated. The finish is lengthy and there is very good acidity. This needs another year or two to show its best, but for now, it would be ideal enjoyed tonight with roast chicken or sea bass. (91)

Macrostie 2020 (Sonoma Coast) – Aromas of baked apples, Anjou pear and hazelnut. Medium-full, with ripe, lush fruit, very good acidity, rich wood notes and very good persistence. This is an appealing Chardonnay made in a style that was popularized in California in the 1970s and ‘80s and is still successful today; pair with richly favored seafood over the next 2-4 years. (88)

Pinot Noir

Macrostie 2021 (Sonoma Coast) – Aromas of maraschino cherry, red poppy and a hint of oregano. Medium-bodied, this is nicely balanced with very good varietal character, medium-weight tannins and modest wood notes. A lighter styled Pinot Noir, meant for early consumption; enjoy over the next 2-4 years. (88)

Gary Farrell Rochioli Vineyard 2019 (Russian River Valley) – Enticing aromas of cola, bing cherry and turmeric, with hints of nutmeg and oregano. Medium-full with very good concentration; there is impressive texture, lively acidity, perfectly integrated wood notes and medium-full tannins that are held in check. This offers beautiful varietal character, typicity and excellent sense of place. Enjoy over the next 5-8 years, although given the structure, depth of fruit and overall harmony, this may still be drinking well after ten years from now. (94)

Emeritus “Pinot Hill West” 2019 (Sonoma Coast) – Expressive aromas of bing cherry, clove, turmeric and a hint of coriander. Medium-full with very good to excellent concentration. There is very good acidity along with medium-full tannins and distinct brown spice notes in the finish; the wood notes are subdued. Nicely balanced, enjoy over the next 5-7 years, with poultry or duck breast. (92)

Emeritus “Pinot Hill East” 2019 (Sonoma Coast) – Rich aromas of bing cherry, turmeric and a hint of nutmeg. Medium-full with excellent depth of fruit; there is notable persistence, outstanding varietal character and beautiful complexity. The oak notes are evident and add a sensual quality to this wine; acidity is very good and the medium-full tannins and well balanced. Enjoy tonight with pork loin or wait a few years; peak in 7-10 years, Highly impressive! (95)

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