Early high-end wine efforts in Napa focused on Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay while Sonoma experimented with Chardonnay and Zinfandel. Around 1970 a few visionaries planted Pinot Noir in Russian River's cooler regions. Gary Farrell was one of them. Many assumed great Pinot Noir couldn't be produced in California, but Farrell and others delivered wines to change minds.
While early pinot plant choices (clones) were limited, newer variants were introduced which, combined with improved viticultural techniques, allowed California Pinot to become more distinctly "California" -- more intense and extracted. Given these new options, many winemakers faced their fruit forward and foremost, turning away from Pinot's Burgundian nature, and found a following for their new world approach. Farrell preferred a course of balance and finesse, and he built his eponymous brand around that ethos.
As all things new bring a yearning for the past, eventually the trend towards intensity, extraction, and ultimately the alcohol that's comes with those elements created a desire for a return to balance -- in this case, Burgundy. This is a return to an ethic Farrell never abandoned but did evolve from.
In his new wine, Alysian (new as of 2007 anyway - Gary sold his eponymous brand in 2004), Farrell has found balance between Burgundy and California.
His Chardonnay and Pinot Noir offer Burgundian character, but without the overarching acidity that makes the wines so challenging in their youth. He finds a balance between freshness and forward facing fruit, without devolving into the excessive fruit dependency of some California Pinot producers. He finds a place between California and Burgundy, a pleasant place.
Alysian Chardonnay 2009 Russian River Selection. $34
Tasting Notes: Bright in the glass with a touch of must on the nose. Slightly sharp acidity at first taste opens nicely to a soft, creamy mouthful with bright citric notes. Citrus notes range from tangerine to kumquat to meyer lemon in a creamy base. The wine has a nice weight; a solid, well built liquid. The creaminess dominates, both in flavor and mouthfeel.
Alysian 2009 Pinot Noir Russian River Selection. $40
Rich red garnet to pomegranate color. Noses bright of cheery cherry which carries immediately to the mouth. Rich with bright firm red cherries, first of the season, with a touch of citrus pith around the edges.The acidity is well integrated and more noticeable at mid- to late-palate. There's a flinty minerality, laced to the rear, as a pit to the cherry's flesh, noticeable and harder but perfectly appropriate. The wine promises ageability, and will likely began to shine in five years carrying through to ten and beyond. It's very nice now, but we'd love to try it as it develops and the components come together with age.
To learn more about Gary Farrell the man, read my interview with him in Uncorked on iPad or online.