The winemaker at Gary Farrell allows each vineyard its particular expression. (photo by Renee Wilmeth for Wine and Whiskey Globe)

A chance to taste seven 2016 single vineyard Pinot Noirs from Sonoma’s Gary Farrell Winery, side by side—and with the winemaker? It was a wine geek’s dream. Especially since Gary Farrell is one of those rare birds, a winery sold by the original founder (the legendary Gary Farrell) to corporate ownership then purchased back by a small group of wine experts.   

I’d recently had a 2004 Rochioli Vineyard Pinot Noir from the house, the last vintage made by Gary Farrell himself. The wine was a beauty. The quality was evident and my group speculated it could have aged another five years, easily. So the winery had been on my mind.

Today, the property is owned by an investment group, a dream team that includes Sonoma heavy hitters Bill Price of Kistler and former Beringer execs Pete Scott and Walt Klenz. Their most important move? Empowering winemaker Theresa Heredia to make highly technical wines that show off each of the vineyards at their absolute best.

Heredia earned a bio chemistry degree from Cal Poly and was knee deep in a Ph.D. program at UC Davis when she figured out that her enology classmates had much better homework. She discovered wine and put her chemistry degree to work, first at Saintsbury then at Joseph Phelps Freestone, where she became winemaker in 2007. She joined Gary Farrell in 2012.

I was a fan immediately when she described how hard she works to ensure these wines aren’t overextracted. If you know Sonoma pinots, you know how easily these wines can turn into high alcohol jam bombs.  Not the case with these single vineyard offerings from Gary Farrell.

Winemaker Theresa Heredia has been given free range with the vineyards. (photo courtesy of the winery)

Heredia also pays a lot of attention to clones and her use of whole clusters. Most Pinot Noir vineyards in California contain a variety of clones bred for various characteristics from tannins to berry size. Working deftly with Pommard, Calera, Dijon 667, 777, and 151 clones, she weaves them together to ensure these wines are balanced and ageworthy.  (She even has a couple of “suitcase” clones—unidentifiable vines winemakers like to say were smuggled home from France in someone’s luggage.)  

All and all, I was impressed with the wines Heredia is making, bringing out the best these single vineyards can offer. Look for these wines for purchase via the winery, except for the second 2016 Hallberg listed here, available via retail.

2016 Bien Nacido Vineyard Pinot Noir, Santa Maria Valley, $70  The lone wine we tasted from the Santa Barbara area, this one was everything I love about cool climate pinots. Delicate, but explosive in the mouth and spicy spicy spicy!

2016 Fort Ross Vineyard Pinot Noir, Fort Ross-Seaview, $75  The Fort Ross Vineyard is said to be the closest vineyard in California to the Pacific Ocean. The fog and 1,400-foot elevation give this wine a great structure with restrained fruit.

2016 Hallberg Vineyard, Dijon Clones, Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, $60 With a deep profile, this wine is structured, a little lighter with high acid, and made with 20 to 30 percent whole clusters. Made from Dijon 667 and 777 clones only.

2016 Hallberg Vineyard Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, $55 Also from the Hallberg vineyard, this wine is a deep, dark and rich offering.  It’s what many think of as a classic Sonoma Pinot.

2016 Martaella Vineyard Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, $65 A friend called this wine a “ballet—lighter on its toes but with the complexity and texture underneath it all.” It needs a little time to open up. Rich, old world in style, and a finish for days.

2016 Toboni Vineyard Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, $55 If any of these pinots was built to age, this one might have been it. Loads of tannin and a lot of backbone; I’d lay this one down for at least five years.

2016 Gap’s Crown Vineyard Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast, $80 Located in the Petaluma Gap, the Gap’s Crown benefits from the cool ocean breezes. This was a wine I’d buy for my own cellar, a rich beauty destined to only improve with age.