Monday, October 24, 2011

Gloria Ferrer Caves and Vineyards – Carneros, Sonoma County

Saturday October 22nd was an absolutely gorgeous Autumn day in Northern California, a cool morning followed warm sunny afternoon was the forecast (high 70’s to low 80’s) and there was no better place to be than out in the Sonoma wine country. So, I headed north to visit one winery in Sonoma Carneros and then visit a few along the historic Valley of the Moon Trail.

My first stop was at the Gloria Ferrer Caves and Vineyard. They are located in the picturesque Sonoma Carneros region, 40 miles northwest of San Francisco. They were the first sparkling wine house in California’s Sonoma Carneros region and its founders stem from a Spanish winegrowing history and practice centuries-old sustainable practices in creating both sparkling and estate varietal wines. 

Gloria Ferrer Caves and Vineyards was founded by José Ferrer, whose father, Pedro Ferrer Bosch, came to the United States in the mid 1930s with the goal to produce sparkling wine in North America.

At that time, Pedro and his wife, Dolores Sala Ferrer, were well-established sparkling wine producers in Spain. Their marriage had united two prominent Catalan wine families—the Salas, who owned a wine export business and the Ferrers, who had been winegrowers since the 1500s and the family behind La Freixeneda—a 12th century farming estate. Together they founded Freixenet, producing their first cava in 1915, and eventually they became the world’s largest producer of méthode champenoise sparkling wine.

The dream of Pedro Ferrer Bosch to producing sparkling wine in North America was short lived as he returned to Spain at the start of the Spanish Civil War, in which he would lose his life. But it would live on in His youngest son, José Ferrer, who inherited his father’s vision to carry on the family tradition in North America.

In 1982, José, Gloria and their two sons, Pedro and José Maria, visited Sonoma Carneros, and found a home for Gloria Caves and Vineyards which they then established in 1986. Pedro (the eldest son) then moved to Sonoma County to lead the winery until 1994, when he returned to Spain while the younger brother, José Maria, joined the Gloria Ferrer team for the next four years, carrying on his family’s tradition of quality sparkling wine production.

Most of the 335-acre estate is dedicated to Pinot Noir to create sparkling wine but in 1991, inspired by the quality and character of their estate fruit, they began crafting still wines from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. 

The winery’s sun-drenched Vista Terrace overlooks their breathtaking estate vineyards providing the perfect place to enjoy a glass of sparkling or still wine. They also offer a number of Spanish and local cheeses, meats, almonds and other delicacies that are available from the tasting room to enjoy with the wine.

The one really odd thing about this winery is that they have “caves” in their name and yet unlike all other wineries I have been to with caves, they offer no tours! The only pictures you can take is from an over-look location adjacent to the tasting room.

The tasting arrangement at Gloria Ferrer is a little different than most wineries. Essentially the tasting room operates like a wine bar. You create your own flight by choosing wines-by-the-glass à la carte from their menu and a server brings them out to you, with a separate glass for each wine set on a coaster that identifies the wine. So, you can sit out on the terrace, enjoy the view of the vineyards below and sip their wines in a very leisurely comfortable fashion rather than having to stand and lean over a wine bar like most other tasting rooms. The tastings cost $3 each which at first seemed rather steep until I received them for they were definitely more than 2 ounces each and if I had not been spitting into a cup I would have been hammered by the time I left. They also do not utilize Pinot Noir specific stemware but, as usual, I brought my own! So, as I transitioned through each wine I poured them out of the glass they provided into my Reidel stemware.

Although they are most known for their sparkling wines, I decided to continue Pinot Noir adventure that I was on all Summer long and sample four of their still wines.

My first sample was the 2006 Rust Rock Pinot Noir. A fairly light and elegant wine with notes of strawberries, cherries, red plums and blueberries followed by a hint of cigar box and forest floor. On the palate, the wine’s delivers cherries, pomegranates and cinnamon and it delivers a really long finish. This wine retails at $40 a bottle.

My second wine was my favorite in the line-up, the 2006 Gravel Knob Pinot Noir. An earthier wine than the previous pour, it has aromas of ripe raspberry, cranberry along with root beer and cola. On the palate, this supple wine offers complex Bing cherries, raspberries with hints of spice and a lingering crisp acidic finish. Retail this wine sells for $40 but they currently have it on sale at 30% off at $28 a bottle.

The third pour was the 2006 Pinot Noir José Ferrer Pinot Noir Black. This wine emits aromas of raspberries, cherries and violets with subtle notes of caramel, oak, spice and earth. On the palate this wine is lighter than the previous wine with sharper acidity and drying teeth griping tannins with a long woody finish. Retail this wine sells for $35 but they currently have it on sale at 30% off at $24.50 a bottle.

My final wine was the 2007 Carneros Pinot Noir. Not as “up front” on the nose as the previous wines, but after swirling it for a while (which I can’t imagine doing very well in the glasses they provide) I picked up raspberry, dried cherries, wild blackberries slightly earthy mushrooms, cedar and a really nice tannin-acid balance. Although I preferred the ‘06 Gravel Knob this one was the best bang for the buck in the line-up for only $22 a bottle.

My wine cellar is quite full of Pinot Noir from my summer travels up and down the coast, so unless something REALLY grabbed my attention I wasn’t in the market for buying more Pinot. Overall, I’d say Gloria Ferrer’s Pinots are “okay” but not really remarkable as none of them had that “wow!” factor. If I were to return, I’d probably sample their sparkling wines rather than the still wines.

To visit or for more information:

Gloria Ferrer Caves and Vineyard
23555 Carneros Hwy (121)
Sonoma, CA 95476
Main Phone Line: 1-707-996-7256; Tasting Room Direct: 1-707-933-1917
Note: Carneros Highway 121 is also called Arnold Drive so if you are using a GPS to get there, be sure to enter “Arnold Drive.”