Food & Wine

Art and Science

by Ed Schwartz

Gary Farrell’s Theresa Heredia, a winemaker worth following

In an alternate universe, Theresa Heredia—the ascendant Latina winemaker at Gary Farrell Winery—never abandoned her pursuit of a PhD in biochemistry from UC Davis. And in that alternate universe, the world is a duller place for lovers of exceptional pinot noir and chardonnay.

Luckily for us, Heredia followed her passion, driven by her burgeoning interest in Burgundian-style wines and some quality time spent at France’s Domaine de Montille and Comte Arnand. There she observed the old-world, hands-off winemaking philosophy that would serve her so well in the future. At Davis, fellow teaching assistants from the famed enology department introduced her to excellent wines, further stoking the fire.

Heredia’s entry into the wine world came in 2001, working the harvest at Saintsbury in the Carneros district, noted for its pinot noir. She learned that Phelps was looking for a research chemist and landed the job. At the time, Joseph Phelps winery was developing an expansive (and expensive) vineyard and winery operation near the Sonoma Coast in the tiny town of Freestone, expressly to make world-class pinot noir and chardonnay. The winery, having achieved great success with gems such as Insignia and Backus cabernets, gave Heredia the plum job as winemaker in 2007.

2012 was a remarkable vintage year and a memorable one for Theresa. After notching top marks for her dramatic and expressive wines, she was named a “winemaker to watch” by the San Francisco Chronicle in January. Only months later, Heredia assumed winemaking duties for Gary Farrell. Talk about a fast track to the top.

She notes in her biography, “The grapes coming to the winery at my first harvest were exceptional—from vineyards like Rochioli, Bacigalupi, Durell, Bien Nacido and others.” The grapes from each of the many vineyard sources are vinified differently and also vary from vintage to vintage. It all comes down to a lot of experience, a lot of dedication and—with pinot noir especially—a bit of luck.

Heredia’s love of chardonnay and pinot noir matches the winery’s house style, established by founder Gary Farrell in 1982.

Today, Gary Farrell Winery is owned by successful wine veterans: Bill Price, the managing partner of Kistler Vineyard and owner of Three Sticks, Lutum and Durell; Gap’s Crown Vineyards; and a group of investors including Pete Scott, the former CFO of Beringer Wine Estates, and Walt Klenz, former president and CEO of Beringer Wine Estates.

The label’s management appreciates Theresa’s special talent. As a scientist, Theresa could easily have made wines “by the book,” but great winemakers make wines that have distinction and “soul.” Her stated goal is to make wines that are unique to the winery: bright, balanced, complex and elegant—no easy trick when working with finicky pinot noir.

Pinot noir is difficult to tame. Because it tends to bud early, it can be hurt by early spring frosts. Grape skins are thin and can be vulnerable to viruses. Add to this the fact that there are more clones of pinot noir than of any other wine grape variety, which can produce many different flavors and textures. Making great pinot noir is such a challenge that it is often called “the holy grail” of winemaking. And that is exactly why Theresa isn’t content to stand on her already impressive laurels. You’ll still find her experimenting and pushing the envelope in new and creative ways. 

Now for the tasting!

• 2014 Gary Farrell Chardonnay, Russian River Selection. Sharply focused like a tasty laser beam of expressive fruit and lip-smacking acidity. Vibrant tones of green apple and citrus. Nice and tight, just the way chardonnay should be. $35

• 2014 Gary Farrell Chardonnay, Bacigalupi Vineyard. Lots of complexity—pear, apple, pineapple (which I love) and minerality all add up to a wonderful texture. Again, top acidity at the finish. $50

• 2014 Gary Farrell Chardonnay Rochioli Vineyard. Heaps of lovely fruit with nice notes of crispy lemon offset by honey. Long finish with a lovely grip at the end. $60

• 2014 Gary Farrell Pinot Noir, Hallberg Vineyard, Dijon clone. Great nose, wonderful color, sexy, smooth and delicious. Flavors range from cola and cedar to complex berry flavors. Touches every base in a fine pinot noir. $60

• 2014 Gary Farrell Pinot Noir, Toboni Vineyard. Very concentrated fruit flavors all over the taste spectrum. Rich and textured. $55

Ed Schwartz began his career in wine promotion at New York’s “21” Club. As his interest in wine grew, he moved west to be closer to the grapes. Ed has written more than 500 published articles on wine, food and travel.

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