Visiting Wine Country pt. 4
Visiting Wine Country pt. 4
Greetings everyone! I hope you have been enjoying the other installments of this series! This is the final installment of the series so please feel free to leave any comments or questions you may have at the bottom of the screen. If you missed the other installments of this series you may find them here: Visiting Wine Country pt. 1, Visiting Wine Country pt. 2, Visiting Wine Country pt. 3.
We spent the entire next day with Gallo, just divided into two separate locations. The first location we went to was Gallo’s Frei ranch. The Frei ranch property is located in the Russian River AVA and incorporates over 1400 acres into its ‘estate’. Once we pulled off the road and on to the property, it took us a few minutes just to get up to the guesthouse, this place is absolutely massive! We were greeted by our guide who was extremely knowledgeable and easy to listen to. At the beginning she told us a little bit about the background of the Gallo company and it’s roots, and how it came to acquire this particular property. Gallo started in 1933 just after prohibition ended, they started their business up in the north coast. In 1947 Gallo contracted with the Frei family to receive 100% of the fruit that the Frei ranch produced. This contract lasted until the 1970’s when Gallo purchased the property outright. The Frei ranch vineyards use drip irrigation throughout, as well as sprinkler systems to prevent spring frost. Spring frost can be absolutely detrimental to a crop, and contrary to what you might think, it affects the quantity not quality of the crop, sometimes decimating the size of the total production. An interesting fact that I learned about this particular property is that every single area of vineyard is hand harvested (save one particular area per quality standard experimentation). Every single vine in the 700 acres is touched 6 times a season and non-damaging pesticides are used at a minimum throughout. Gallo is working on being a frontrunner for the green movement, encouraging sustainable farming practices and energy saving techniques, they even employ the use of sheep and goats to cut/eat the grass around the vines instead of hand-mowing. After having a nice drive through the vineyard, Caroline showed us the massive winemaking facility. This particular facility is used to make wines such as Frei Brothers, and MacMurray pinot and chardonnay, among many others, and is capable of producing over a million cases of wine annually. Around 75-100 people work at this facility during harvest season, and that number drops drastically during the rest of the year. After viewing the massive winemaking facility, we were shown the equally impressive barrel room underground. This massive room can hold over 60,000 barrels, which equates to roughly 1.5 million cases of wine. While we were in the barrel room we had an opportunity to barrel sample two different chardonnay clones, which was a unique experience, getting down to the ‘nitty-gritty’ of wine tasting. After the tour we returned to the guesthouse for a delicious lunch and another chardonnay tasting covering several different labels from the Gallo portfolio.
The MacMurray ranch was after lunch, and this was by far the highlight of my trip, speaking in terms of natural beauty. The Gallo family was the third owners of this magnificent property. In the 1840’s the property was developed by the Porter family who were prune and green bean farmers at the time. In 1941 the property was purchased by the Hollywood actor Fred MacMurray, who further renovated the homestead; Fred used the property for sheep and cattle ranching. In 1996 (5 years after Fred’s passing) the first vines were planted on this wonderful property under the respectful care of the Gallo family and in 2001 the first vintage of the MacMurray brand wine was produced. I must say, Fred MacMurray was a lucky man to acquire such a beautiful piece of land, the total property acreage is about 1500 acres, with about 400 or so acres dedicated to vines. The views from atop the upper vineyards were absolutely breathtaking, a view which I will never forget.
After the stunning views and memorable educational experiences of Gallo, we turned back to Santa Rosa for a night of relaxation and drinking of many fine wines. The following day we all checked out of the hotel and drove back to Carneros for our last winery of the trip. We stopped at Nicholson Ranch, a small boutique style winery with very limited production. The facility itself was very beautiful, very elegant in its architectural style; it fit the scenery around it very well. Our guide was a very informative guy with an interesting sense of humor. He told us a little bit about the Carneros AVA, how political it is, and how it was established back in the 1980’s. The owners of Nicholson Ranch purchased the 160-acre property back in 1963. 30 of its 160 acres are under vine being primarily pinot noir and chardonnay with an additional 3 acres devoted to syrah and merlot, with 10 of said 30 falling within the Napa-Carneros region. Nicholson Ranch produces approximately 5,000 cases annually, with almost no outside distribution save a few local restaurants. Their production methods are very ‘green’, boasting of zero chemical additions to their crops, a fully functional gravity fed facility, as well as all native yeast strains for fermentation just to name a few. After a brief lesson on their winemaking process and facility, Charles showed us the caves underground. While we were down there he talked a bit more about the method of blending the pinot noirs. He said that Nicholson Ranch employs five different Dijon clone types, some being more fruit forward, some being more spice driven. He said that the spicier ‘funky’ clones are the ones used for blending into the fruitier cuvees. At the end of the tour we were returned to the tasting room, and I ended up purchasing a case of the estate pinot noir for a great price!
Overall, this has been one of the most fulfilling, well-rounded trips I have ever had the pleasure of attending. I wish that I could do this trip every year. I learned a lot, more than I expected to learn in fact. I look forward to furthering my wine knowledge from here on out, this trip has definitely intensified my passion for wine and everything associated with it.