2008 Starr Ridge Vineyard Pinot Noir
Pinot Noir •Starr Ridge Vineyard
California: Sonoma County: Russian River Valley
What we say
SUPERIOR WINE ALERT:
Today’s wine, from one of the founding fathers of Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, is a truly exceptional wine, earning it this special alert – which we issue whenever a selection rises above our already-high standards for quality.
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Mission Codename: Purity of Purpose
Operative: Agent Red
Objective: Infiltrate Gary Farrell’s new winery, Alysian, and secure a stellar Russian River Valley Pinot Noir – from the founding father of RRV Pinot.
Mission Status: Accomplished!
Current Winery: Alysian Wines
Wine Subject: 2008 Alysian Pinot Noir – Starr Ridge Vineyard – East Terrace
Winemaker: Gary Farrell
Winemaker Backgrounder: Considered by most to be a founding father of Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, Gary Farrell rose to fame in the early 1982, when his inaugural Russian River Pinot Noir release garnered the highest praise of the vintage. Gary was mentored, early in his career, by Joe Rochioli, Robert Stemmler, Davis Bynum and Tom Dehlinger. If you’ve been following our reviews, you’ll recognize these names as some of the most influential in California winemaking. After years running his namesake winery, Gary launched Alysian Wines with the goal of producing atrisnal Pinot Noir in extremely limited quantities.
Backgrounder: The Russian River Valley, in Sonoma County, produces Pinot Noir of remarkable distinction. The cooler maritime conditions of the region make the Russian River Valley ideal for growing Pinot Noir. The Russian River Valley in Sonoma is particularly well suited to producing exceptional Pinot Noir. This AVA was officially designated in 1983, but many of the wines in the region used the designation as early as the 1970s (early in California’s wine history) with the many of the vines having been first planted in the early 1900s.
Wine Spies Tasting Profile:
Look – Brilliant ruby red, with perfectly even coloration from heart to edge, where a find pink band runs around the edge of the glass. After spinning the wine, all is quiet for about thirty seconds. Then, tall columns of pencil-thin legs form high up on the glass, before gliding slowly downward.
Smell – Bright, lush and fragrant, led by black cherry, spiced blackberry candy, black raspberry, earthy dried fall leaves, bramble. Fresh fennel and a hint of hard leather emerge after some time in the glass.
Feel – Soft and round on entry, then quickly mouth-filling as the wine takes on a medium weight at the mid palate. As the wine settles onto the palate, plush, integrated tannins and a vibrant acidity give the wine a wonderful complexity.
Taste – Bright and lively, bursting with juicy red fruit, with cherry and young strawberry in the lead. These sit atop softer flavors of tart red plum skin, subtle spice, flint and subtle hints of cedar and black pepper.
Finish – Very long, very flavorful and ultra-clean, with long-lingering red fruit that gradually yields to soft spice, flint, subtle sweetwood and a hint of lingering black pepper at the very end.
Conclusion – A fantastic Pinot Noir, in a style that is classic Gary Farrell. Bright, austere, intriguing and delicious, this wine turned out to be a real conversation piece among or tasting panel. We found ourselves swirling and inhaling the engaging aromatics of this wine, log before sipping. When we finally did take our first sips, each of us was instantly enamored with the fine feel of the wine. It was, at once, austere and plush, giving it an intriguing feel. After sipping and enjoying the bright flavors of the wine, then began the debate over what to best pair the wine with. In the end we all agreed that a wild mushroom risotto would be just perfect. Or a grilled lamb dish. Or a herb roasted chicken. Or a….. You get the point; This wine is very food friendly, and very easy to pair with. Of course, we also enjoyed sipping this wine all on its own! If you want to taste the origins of RRV Pinot Noir, this is one wine that you don’t want to miss.
WINEMAKER INTEL BRIEFING DOSSIER
SUBJECT: Gary Farrell
AGENT RED: Greetings, Gary. It is an honor to have the opportunity to show 2008 Alysian Wines Pinot Noir Starr Ridge Vineyards East Terrace today. Thanks so much for taking some time to answer questions for our Operatives today.
GARY FARRELL: Thank you, Agent Red.
RED: Was there a specific experience in your life that inspired your love of wine?
GARY: As a student at Sonoma State College, my buddies and I enjoyed producing small lots of exotic beers in our garages. Surrounded by vineyards in rural Sonoma County, our love for fermented beverages eventually led to the home-production of wine. This hobby inspired me to sample wines (whenever possible) produced in the region during the early 1970’s and seek “cellar jobs” as a means of supporting my education. Therefore, my career path as an artisan wine-producer in the Russian River Valley wines was a seamless and logical transition from by early successes (and failures) in home brewing and winemaking.
RED: What wine or winemaker has most influenced your winemaking style?
GARY: The local industry as a whole (at least what I was exposed to 35 years ago) had a huge influence on my winemaking … but not for the reasons you might think. So many winemakers were recklessness in their handling of wines and facilities often disregarded the need for proper sanitation. It seemed very few producers took winemaking seriously or strived to produce truly outstanding wines. As a result, my inspiration came from my observation that things could be done far better, and there was a great opportunity for those dedicated to excellence. Very few producers were targeting the “top of the market”. In particular, I wanted to showcase the Russian River Valley and prove great Pinot Noir could be produced in this region. Most thought I was crazy; arguing great Pinot Noir could never be produced in California.
If I had to point to a single person who truly shared my early commitment to excellence it would be Joe Rochioli. He was among the first growers to plant Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in the Russian River Valley. Though most questioned this decision, he eventually quieted his critics; as he is now grows the most coveted and sought-after Pinot Noir grapes in the region. With Joe, the motivation has never been profit; but rather to produce the very best grapes the valley has to offer. His passion in the vineyards has been an inspiration to all fortunate enough to produce wine from his grapes.
RED: Who do you make wine for?
GARY: This is a great question … and not one often asked. Though I acknowledge my stylistic preferences will not please everyone, I have always felt that if I satisfy my own palate, surly there would be a contingent of people who would enjoy and identify with the style of wines that I enjoy. I can’t imagine producing wines that you (personally) would not want to drink, but sadly I know winemakers who are directed by their consultants or marketing departments to do precisely this. Most often, they are asked to craft massive, highly extracted wines as an attempt to garner high marks from critics … a tactic (unfortunately) that is far too often successful.
Throughout my career as a winemaker, I have objected to the style of wine California is most often criticized for within the international wine community. Because growing conditions are often warm and early rains are uncommon, winemakers are tempted to produce riper and riper wines … simply because they can! For decades, this trend continued and was rewarded by influential critics giving high marks to massive, high alcohol wines that lacked balance or structural integrity. I have always disliked these wines and have remained committed to producing wines of elegance, finesse and balance with refreshing acidity and low pH. Though wines produced in this style may require additional aging to develop and be fully appreciated, it is this style of wine which will be most enjoyable with food and will reward those who are patient enough to cellar the wines.
RED: What is your favorite pairing with today’s wine?
GARY: Grilled fish or lamb dishes.
RED: In your opinion, what makes the Russian River Valley such a special place for Pinot Noir?
GARY: The great diversity of microclimates, soil types and vineyard orientations combine to make the Russian River Valley a very interesting and complex appellation. Due to its diversity, some micro-appellations within the region are better suited to the cultivation of Pinot Noir than others. Most of our finest offerings come from the “Middle Reach” along Westside Road. Rarely do we experience extremes of heat or cold along this stretch of the Russian River. Marine air cools the vineyards at night and daytime temperatures peak between 80 and 85 degrees. In cool growing seasons, more coastal vineyards may struggle to achieve ripeness. During warm seasons, areas to the east will ripen the fruit too quickly. The Middle Reach seems to be the “chosen spot” within the Russian River Valley, and arguably enjoys one of the most reliably optimum climates of any appellation or sub-appellation in California.
RED: What is occupying your time at the winery these days?
GARY: On November 30, we will bottle three of our designated 2010 Russian River Valley Pinot Noirs; one from Rochioli Vineyard (Allen and Rochioli blocks), one from Floodgate Vineyard (40 year-old vines; a wine we call “Origins”) and one from Hallberg Vineyard (“Crossroads” designation).
RED: How would you recommend people approach your wines and wine in general?
GARY: This would depend upon the person and the objective for tasting a wine. Most importantly, come to understand the type (and style) of wine you prefer. Far too often, consumers are led in the wrong direction by reviews. Remember, wine reviews are often the opinion of one taster. Though reviews can be helpful in selecting a wine, people should learn which critics enjoy their personal preferences in wine. By example, Robert Parker could rate a wine “95” and Dan Berger, Anthony Dias Blue (and others) might hate the wine. Why? They have very different opinions about what constitutes greatness in wine. Find the critics you trust and don’t be afraid to formulate you own opinions and drink the wines you enjoy.
RED: Thank you so much for your time, Gary. We learned a lot about you – and your wine. Keep up the great work, we are big fans!
Wine Spies Vineyard Check:
The approximate location of the Starr Ridge Vineyard in the Russian River Valley can be seen in this satellite photo.
What the winery says
About This Wine:
Gary and Debbie Farrell purchased the 23 acre estate now known as Starr Ridge Vineyard in 1996. “We were immediately drawn to this property for its breathtaking beauty and undeniable vineyard potential. The diversity of soil types, rolling topography and cool, breezy Russian River Valley location provided the ideal setting for the cultivation of extraordinary Pinot Noir wine grapes.”
Dijon and Pommard clones were matched to low-vigor rootstocks individually selected for each soil type. A variety of planting densities and watering zones were also incorporated, to best suit the needs of each vineyard block. “Considering fruit from this property would supply our own wine brand, our focus never deviated from maximizing the incredible quality potential of this site.”
Vintage Summary: 2008 was a tremendous vintage for producers favoring ﬁnesse and elegance in their wines. As you may recall, 2007 provided very bright, but highly extracted, dense wines from our region. While many enjoy this style, it is not the style of winemaking I have embraced during my career. Rather, I prefer more subtlety in my wines; with greater focus on purity of fruit, acute balance and elegance than density or power. Thankfully, 2008 provided ideal fruit composition for crafting wines of this style.
Winemaker Notes: This tightly wound wine is dominated by a complex core black cherry, spice and a touch of anise. Lavish oak brings a sense of richness to the mid-palate, as ﬂavors expand to reveal notes of dark berries and fresh plum. For those able to resist this wine’s youthful allure and charm, wonderfully integrated tannins and vibrant acidity promise even greater rewards from careful short-term cellaring.
About The Winery:
Gary Farrell sold his very successful “namesake” brand in 2004 with ambitions of “returning to his roots” as a true artisan producer of extremely limited production Pinot Noir wines. In 2007, he partnered with longtime colleagues, Bill Hambrecht and Denise Sanders, to create the ideal winemaking environment for the production of small lot, ultra-premium wines from the cooler reaches of the Russian River Valley. Consistent with Gary’s “no compromise” approach, he equipped his new Westside Road (Healdsburg) facility with the finest tools obtainable; precisely what we would expect from the winemaker who promises to “eclipse” anything he has previously produced during his three decades of winemaking.
THE WINES: Pinot Noir is the clear focus of this brand, but tiny lots of Chardonnay will also be released under the Alysian label. Gary will remain true to his “signature style” of winemaking by producing fully flavored, acutely balanced wines with a keen focus on elegance and structural integrity. Though critics often reward wines expressing excessive density, extract and alcohol, Gary continues to refute this style, favoring a more sophisticated, structurally correct and age-worthy approach to winemaking. By sourcing grapes that ripen (and reach flavor maturity) at lower sugar levels, Gary is able to produce fully flavored wines possessing lower alcohols and higher natural acidity; resulting in vibrant wines that cellar well and are great companions with food.
THE NAME: “Alysian” (of Greek origin) refers to an endeavor arising from intuitive creativity and artistic resolution. Our logo is an ancient mark, commonly referencing a return to one’s center or beginning. Others suggest a far simpler translation; “the journey.”
THE VINEYARD: In addition to the obvious contributions of veteran winemaker Gary Farrell, the Alysian wines will have another clear and distinct advantage over most other brands… access to the finest, most reputable vineyards in the Russian River Valley. Gary was one of the very first winemakers to specialize in Russian River Valley Pinot Noir during the mid-1980′s, and his long standing relationships with the region’s most elite growers will result in designated wines from Rochioli, Allen, Starr Ridge, Cresta Ridge, Hallberg and Floodgate vineyards.
Vineyard & Clones: Starr Ridge Vineyard – East Terrace
Dijon clones 115 and 777
Average brix: 24.1
Alcohol: 14.2% by volume
Titratable acidity: 6.9 gm/L
Barrel Program: 100% French oak; Francois Freres, Rousseau; 45% new; ML fermentation in barrel; 11 months in barrel