We arrived at the Ferrari-Carano winery on a sunny, unseasonably warm winter’s day. Even in winter the grounds are gorgeous with camellias ready to burst into bloom and winter pansies adding dots of color. The first one to greet us was “Bordeaux” a statue of a wild boar that had been decimating the garden.
He is reminiscent of Pietro Tacca’s Boar, known as “LL Porcellino (the little piglet), that was originally created for the Boboli Garden in Florence in 1612. The winery is resplendent with beautiful art – each with its own touch or amusing story.
We had made an appointment for a 10am tour and were joined by a woman from Tennessee and her daughter. It turns out that she had been married at the winery a few years ago and had stopped in to reminisce. We were greeted immediately and turned over to Michelle for our tour. Michelle has been with Ferrari-Carano for over seven years. She has a great passion for the company and is excited about all aspects. She as knowledgeable and made our tour a lot of fun. She even told us that she answered the phone the day H. Bush called to order wine for a niece’s wedding.
There is so much to do and see on the tour. Michelle encouraged us to touch – touch the cork oak tree, touch the grape vines, feel the coolness of the stainless steel tanks and the smoothness of the barrels. I really liked the fact that the tour took us out to one of the vineyards to see the grapevines growing and then into the facility to see how the grapes are sorted and crushed. They also have a several videos on Youtube. I like the one that shows the process for their Cabernet Sauvignon. The gardens are spectacular – I can’t wait to see them again in the spring or summer. They employ seven full-time gardeners and have over 2,000 varieties of plants. With goldfish and bridges, waterfalls and statues you can spend quite a bit of time in the gardens.
Ferrari-Carano has a wonderful rich history. Don and Rhonda Carano are second-generation Italian-Americans hailing from Reno, Nevada. Don is an attorney and Laurie has a degree in nutritional science. In 1973, they opened the Eldorado Hotel and Casino. For them it was all about hospitality and making it a place they themselves would like to visit.
Then in 1979, on a wine buying trip for the casino, they purchased Home Ranch – 60 acres (30 of which were planted in grapes) in the Alexander Valley. The winemaking bug bit, but unlike many other winemakers who may have started haphazardly, Don and Laurie took classes at UC Davis. They wanted to get off on the right start. In 1985 they purchased the site of the present day winery and in 1987 they opened the tasting room.
After an informative tour with Michelle, we were turned over to Patrick for some tasting. I found it very interesting that Ferrari-Carano has two winemakers – Aaron Piotter, who makes the red wines and Sarah Quider, who makes the white wines and Pinot Noir. It makes a lot of sense, but I had not heard of this before. There are two tastings to select from. They are both very good. The first is upstairs in the gift shop (definitely worth checking out – many unusual items). For a $5 fee you get to select four wines from their Classic wines. The 2012 Fume’ Blanc and [SS1] the 2009 Zinfandel are especially noteworthy. Another guest tasting while we were there told a wonderful story about the Fume’ Blanc. She said she had been a flight attendant in American Airlines first class and they were allowed to take the not quite empty bottles after a flight. She loved this wine and always took this with her. She went on a date with her now husband, who is a self-confessed wine snob and he pulled out what he said as one of the best white wines to come out of Sonoma. She had to laugh it was the Ferrari-Carano Fume’ Blanc! She knew he had good taste. J
Downstairs in the Enoteca you can find the limited release wines. A tasting fee of $15 for four selections will be refunded with an $80 purchase. Interesting wines here include the unfiltered 2010 Emelia’s Cuvee’ and my favorite the 2011 Fiorella which is a limited production of Napa grapes. It spends 15 months in French oak and is really delicious. The 2010 Sky High Ranch Pinot Noir is also wonderful with lots of berry flavors. A couple of other limited release wines worth mentioning are the 2008 Eldorado Gold – it is 100% Semillion but very reminiscent of a sauterne. I can just imagine it paired with blue cheese or cheese cake or maybe a crème brulee. The 2012 Eldorado Noir is 100% black muscat. It would be amazing served with bittersweet chocolate or a berry tart.
I love the fact that Ferrari Carano maintain their employee’s long term. The vineyard manager has been there for more than 25 years and is a fourth generation Napa farmer – that is how you make excellent wine. It is a family vineyard. The employees feel like family and seem to bottle love with the wine. They are proud of what they do and how well they do it. Michelle proudly told me that Rhonda did all the design for the Vintner’s Inn and the tasting room. She also said that all the recipes they use and on their website are also Rhonda’s. It is in an area called “Rhonda’s Kitchen“. I am eager to try the Cappellini with Shrimp, Tomatoes and Arugula..
Another story I heard was that a couple came in for a private tasting. The gentleman was handed a special bottle of wine and the server stepped out of the room for a moment. He turned to his girlfriend and asked her what she thought of the label….it said “Please Marry Me”. The entire winery heard the answer. It is these types of special touches and memory-making events that make Ferrari-Carano such a special place.
You will certainly want to visit and make sure you plan plenty of time to explore the gardens and vineyards. They are open to the public, but if you want to take this terrific tour you will want to make an appointment.