After nearly attaining cult status, Gary Farrell pinot noirs have had highs and lows during the last decade. My most recent tasting was the pleasing 2009 Gary Farrell Russian River Valley Pinot Noir.
Farrell learned winemaking in the late 1970s with Sonoma’s pinot noir specialists Robert Stemmler and Davis Bynum. Farrell made his first pinot noir in 1982, and over the next twenty years, Farrell’s name and top-flight Russian River Valley pinot noirs were synonymous.

His pinot noirs were often on my restaurant wine lists at Le Delice and Sonoma Grill, and when they weren’t, it was because he didn’t produce enough to meet demand- or I drank more than my share.

But Farrell tired of running the business and in 2004 sold it, including the name, to the British drinks conglomerate Allied Domecq. This began an 8-year long merry-go-round of corporate giants buying and selling the Gary Farrell brand. In such an environment, wine quality became less dependent on the winemaker and more on corporate whims and profit and loss statements.

The most recent buyer of Gary Farrell is an investment group led by two former executives of Beringer Wine Estate and the owner of the highly-regarded Durrell Vineyard, who is also a partner in Kistler Vineyards. This hands-on winery and vineyard experience bodes well for Gary Farrell wines.

Theresa Heredia assumed the winemaker’s position in April, but the 2009 Gary Farrell Russian River Valley pinot noir was made by Susan Reed, who joined Farrell as assistant winemaker in 2004 and was promoted to winemaker in 2006. Reed followed Farrell’s life long practice of sourcing grapes from various vineyards, including Russian River Valley’s prestigious Rochioli and Allen vineyards.

The wine has a bright cherry hue and enticing fruit and herbal aromas. It’s a basket of ripe blackberry, cherry and strawberry flavors with mild oak accents. Reed captured the fruit flavors by limiting the new French oak barrels to a third and the aging to nine months.

I decanted the wine, and after an hour of aeration the harmony of fruit, oak, tannins and acidity was symphonic. Blessedly missing was the California cacophony of alcohol and candied finish. The 2009 Gary Farrell Russian River Valley Pinot Noir recalled the pleasure of Farrell’s wines during his 20-year reign.

As for the future, there is hope- hope that Heredia, who has a degree and did post-graduate work in chemistry, doesn’t employ the chemical tricks that some winemakers use, and hope that the new owners, with their wine background, find the future in the past, instead of becoming merely the newest bean counters.

The 2009 Gary Farrell Russian River Valley Pinot Noir retails for approximately $43.