Our appreciation for Russian River Valley wines has been on the rise lately. We’ve been exploring and drinking more wines from this region, and have been quite impressed with the quality and the distinct character of the wines, winemakers, and winery owners. So naturally, when we were offered samples of two bottles from Ron Rubin Winery, in the Russian River Valley, we gladly accepted.
The following wines were provided as media samples for review. All reviews, descriptions, and opinions are our own. We received no additional compensation.
The story of Ron Rubin Winery came to life in 2011, when Ron purchased a winery in the Green Valley neighborhood of the Russian River Valley. Ron got his start in the beverage industry at a young age, when as a child he would spend time in the warehouse of his family’s wholesale liquor company in Illinois. In 1971, Ron traveled to California to attend U.C. Davis to study viticulture and oenology. From this experience, and the exposure to the then-fledgling wine industry in California, Ron started to add California wines to the family portfolio. All this paved the way to his dream come true with the purchase of the Russian River Valley winery.
After purchasing the winery, Ron renovated the facility and employed the ancient principles of Fung Shui. He converted the estate vineyards to sustainable farming practices. The winery is now SIP-certified and Certified Sustainable by the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance. The estate is planted to 6.5 acres of Pinot Noir and 2.5 acres of Chardonnay. Certainly not enough for Ron Rubin’s dream, so he also sources grapes from five other growers in the neighborhood.
Ron Rubin calls himself a “beverage guy” and his experience proves this. Beyond wine and spirits, Ron has also distributed sparkling water and tea. In fact, he owns the Republic of Tea brand, which his son manages. His desire in winemaking is to produce affordable, high quality wines so people can enjoy “beautiful experiences.” He has a reputation of being unpretentious and welcoming, and has no interest in making high priced, exclusive wines. He wants people to be able to enjoy his wines for any occasion.
The wines we received were Pam’s UN-Oaked California Chardonnay 2020, and the Russian River Valley Pinot Noir 2018. Pam is Ron Rubin’s wife and first love. Like us, Pam has always preferred her Chardonnay to be unoaked, so he made it that way for her. We approve.
Ron Rubin Winery Pam’s Unoaked Chardonnay 2020
Golden straw color. The nose is floral and pear/apple notes. On the palate, yellow apple, pear, and elderflower. Medium body with a creamy mouthfeel and medium-minus acidity. Just a hint of sweetness on the finish. Very easy drinking, a great summer sip, with a fresh finish. (SRP: $14.00)
Ron Rubin Winery Russian River Valley Pinot Noir 2018
Brick red with an amber rim. The nose displays ripe red fruit and smoke. On the palate, black cherry, plum, raspberry, and some stewed plum notes, followed by tobacco smoke, cedar, and baking spice. Medium-minus body, soft tannins, bright acidity, and a long finish of red fruit, vanilla, and spice. A nice, budget-friendly Russian River Valley Pinot Noir. (SRP: $25.00)
Ron Rubin Winery wines are available directly from the Ron Rubin Winery website. In addition to the Ron Rubin Winery line, the winery also produces the River Road line of wines, available at Total Wine & More stores. Be sure to give them a try!
Most wine lovers are familiar with the notion of appellations; designated wine regions identified by geography and legal protection. In the United States, appellations are known as American Viticulture Areas, or AVAs. Within an appellation or AVA, there can be sub-regions that, though perhaps not legally identified, can present climate and growing conditions which contribute to a unique terroir. One notable and well known AVA in Northern California is the Russian River Valley AVA. We recently learned that the Russian River Valley Winegrowers (RRVW) has defined six smaller sub-regions which they call Neighborhoods. How did we come by this newfound knowledge? Well, we were invited to a virtual tasting of single-vineyard wines from Gary Farrell Winery, exploring each of the Russian River Valley Neighborhoods.
The following wines were provided as media samples for review. All reviews, descriptions, and opinions are our own. We received no additional compensation.
The event featured Gary Farrell Winery winemaker Theresa Heredia, who led us through history, geography lessons, and of course, tasting seven wines from the Gary Farrell Winery portfolio; three Chardonnays and four Pinot Noirs. As Theresa explained, although the wines are from the same respective grapes, grown in the same AVA, each neighborhood produces decidedly different wines with unique characteristics.
Gary Farrell started in the wine business in the late 1970’s, originally working with local wineries. In 1982, he produced the first wine under his eponymous wine label. Since then, Gary Farrell Winery has grown in reputation and prestige and is now one of the most notable small-lot producers of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in the Russian River Valley. Though Gary Farrell sold the winery in 2004, the current owners are maintaining his legacy and standard of excellence.
Theresa Heredia started with Gary Farrell Winery in 2012. At that time, she brought with her a decade (now nearly two decades) of experience in cool-climate, small-lot Chardonnay and Pinot Noir production. Early in her career, she worked at Domaine de Montille, in Burgundy, France, where she gained an appreciation for the Burdunidan style of winemaking. Friendly and inviting, Theresa was an amazing host for our tasting.
In keeping with the Burgundian style, Theresa said that each of the wines in the tasting are terroir-driven, and aged in light-toast French oak barrels. The use of light toast oak is deliberate, since heavier toasts can mask the nuances of the wine itself. Theresa also mentioned, to our surprise, that the Russian River Valley AVA has more soil types than are found in all of France!
During a brief history lesson, Theresa shared her screen, and showed us the six Russian River Valley Neighborhoods on the RRVW website. This is an interactive site that allows you to explore each of the neighborhoods and see which characteristics define each one. Theresa mentioned that only one neighborhood, Green Valley, is a designated Sub-AVA within the Russian River Valley AVA. There are currently no plans to apply for AVA status for any of the other neighborhoods.
The seven wines we tasted, and the respective neighborhoods from which they hail, were, in order of tasting:
2017 Olivet Lane Vineyard Chardonnay – Santa Rosa Plains
2017 Martaella Vineyard Pinot Noir – Santa Rosa Plains
The virtual tasting was packed with information; much more than can comfortably fit into a blog post anyone would actually read. Though it exceeded the allotted hour, it went much too fast. Since the tasting was at 11 a.m. Pacific, we sipped and spit, and re-corked the bottles, and then enjoyed them for the rest of the week! Here are our impressions of each wine:
2017 Olivet Lane Vineyard Chardonnay
Light and crisp, yet still exhibiting light buttery, toasty notes. Golden color. Aromas of apple, pear, and citrus. On the palate, apples, pear, pineapple, and floral notes. Medium body with bright acidity – more than most Cali Chards – nicely balanced. Full, lush, mildly creamy mouthfeel leading to a crisp finish of citrus and some light toast.
2017 Ritchie Vineyard Chardonnay
A classic but restrained California Chardonnay. Golden color with fresh pineapple the first aromas on the nose, followed by citrus and butter notes. On the palate, green apple, pear, pineapple and tropical notes, as well as citrus. Soft, creamy mouthfeel balanced with medium acidity. The finish has tropical fruit and just a hint of butter.
2017 Rochioli Vineyard Chardonnay
A more classic California Chardonnay, though in Gary Farrell style, subtle and elegant. On the nose, pineapple, pear, and citrus, with a whiff of butter. Surprisingly crisp acidity on the palate, with pear, apple, lemon curd, and butter, with a light toast note in the finish.
2017 Bacigalupi Vineyard Pinot Noir
Exquisite and our favorite of the tasting. The nose opens with cherry, raspberry, and cedar, with earthy notes. On the palate, the cherry leads the charge with raspberry, violet, cedar, and mushroom supporting. Medium body and acidity, with a long finish of red fruit and black tea.
2017 Hallberg Vineyard Pinot Noir
Beautiful Pinot Noir. The nose opens with black cherry and blueberry, with some earthy notes. On the palate, lush cherry, raspberry, and blueberry fruit mingles with mushroom, earthy notes, and a general funk that I’ve come to appreciate in a well structured PN. Medium body and acidity lead to a pleasing finish of red fruit, black tea, and smoke.
2017 McDonald Mountain Vineyard Pinot Noir
Quite interesting with herbal and vegetal notes up front, including bay leaf and eucalyptus, with red fruit following. On the palate, cranberry, pomegranate, and raspberry with the bay leaf enhancing the fruit. Medium body with bright, lively acidity. Long fresh finish.
2017 Martaella Vineyard Pinot Noir
Nice, fruit driven Pinot. Aromas of cherry, raspberry, and cranberry. On the palate, these red fruit flavors continue, joined by blueberry, cedar, and bay leaf. Soft and velvety, with bright acidity and a long finish of red fruit and rose petal.
We heartily recommend any and all of these wines, and we look forward to venturing out to the Russian River Valley to explore the neighborhoods in person.
We close on a somber note. We were sad to learn this week, as we prepared this post, that earlier this month, Gary Farrell Winery oenologist, Mark Osbourne, was killed after being struck by a motorist while riding his bicycle. Even more tragically, the motorist is accused of driving under the influence. Our hearts and prayers go out to the Gary Farrell Winery family.
It was the hot ticket in town! Well, at least in our part of town. OK, maybe just on our block. Regardless, it was a hot ticket! We’ve been wanting to host a wine tasting party for several months now, and at long last we were able to put it on the calendar.
Once the event was scheduled, the preparations began. First of all, what was the format? Simple get together over some wine? Educational experience featuring a particular varietal or region? A taste of the obscure and exotic? We decided that for our first tasting party, we’d keep it basic: a blind tasting of common varietals.
To spice it up and add some fun, we would also have a “Guess the Grape” competition after each wine. Anyone who could guess the varietal got a cork. A bonus cork was awarded if anyone could guess the region. At the end of the tasting, the guest with the most corks was deemed the winner, and got to go home with a bottle of Champagne!
Planning was underway, and as the date approached, the intensity increased. Our format would require five glasses per guest. We had nine guests coming. We don’t have 55 wine glasses! Party store to the rescue with the glass rentals. Placemats? We found these fun, customized placemats on Etsy and ordered them forthwith. Then, the best part…picking out the wine!
We decided to showcase Northern California, single varietal wines, all well known grapes (well, maybe one outlier), and all in the sub-$20 range. We wanted to challenge our guests, some of whom are “red wine only”, or “Chardonnay only” wine drinkers. While we totally respect that, we also feel it is important to step outside the comfort zone once in a while, because, who knows, maybe you’re missing something you really love and don’t know it!
Within the parameters or Northern California, we made the conscious decision to exclude Napa Valley. Aside from the fact that it is hard to find quality Napa wines under $20, we also wanted to highlight the fact that there are spectacular wines from surrounding regions, at a fraction of the prices of the big Napa producers. So it was off to our local Total Wine & More store to stock up. We figured on one bottle for the tasting (11 two-ounce pours is just shy of one bottle) and then two more bottles to enjoy during the after-party. 11 pours? Yes…nine guests plus us. You didn’t think we wouldn’t be enjoying the wines, too, did you?
We went with two whites and three reds. In keeping with tradition, we went lighter to heavier. Here are the wines we selected:
Wine No. 1 – The Outlier:
Husch Vineyards Chenin Blanc La Ribera Mendocino County 2017. Total Wine & More (TWM) Retail: $10.99.
Only one guest was able to identify this varietal…and that was on his third guess!
Wine No. 2 – The Surprise White:
River Road Chardonnay Russian River Valley Reserve 2016. TWM Retail: $17.99.
Not the butter bomb many of our guests have come to expect from a California Chardonnay.
One guest called out Russian River Valley for the region. While Truett-Hurst is a Sonoma County producer, this wine is made with Lodi fruit. Would you have awarded a cork?
Wine No. 5 – The Bargain Cabernet:
Wente Cabernet Sauvignon Southern Hills, Livermore Valley, 2016. TWM Retail: $13.29.
Did you know that Livermore Valley was instrumental in keeping California winemaking alive during prohibition? What’s more, many of the Cabernet Sauvignon vines found in Napa Valley came from Livermore Valley rootstock. Our guest know these things, now!
The Major Award:
Montaudon Brut, NV, Champagne, France.
This is one delicious Champagne! Available from Total Wine & More.
The Lovely Parting Gifts:
MauiWine Mele Red Blend, NV. Available only from MauiWine.
There are wineries in all 50 states. After our amazing trip to MauiWine, how could we not share the Aloha with our friends?
The tables were set. The glasses were poured. The bottles concealed in paper sleeves (thanks to Total Wine & More for rescuing us from out faux pas of not remembering to buy proper blind-tasting bags.) The guests arrived, and after a few minutes of mingling over appetizers, the festivities were underway!
The Christmas Jazz in the background lent a holiday feel to the party. Everybody enjoyed themselves. All our guests expressed surprise at how difficult is was to identify what were some of their favorite varietals. The evening’s big winner was Glen, who went home with the Champagne.
Hey, wine tasting is serious business!
Remember, there’s a bottle of Champagne on the line!
But who are we kidding? Everyone was a big winner that evening. We had a lot of fun. We got to taste some great wine. We learned a thing or two. Here are a few of the major take-aways from the evening:
It’s really, really hard to identify a grape variety when tasting blind. We didn’t even use the black-out glasses, so we at least knew whether we were evaluating a white or a red!
There are some very good wines out there from lesser known regions, at amazing values!
Sometimes to top scoring wine at an event turns out not to be the most popular.
Allow us to elaborate on #3. The evening’s overall winner, in terms of rating points, was the Angeline Pinot Noir. Despite its youth, it is fresh, juicy, and delicious. Nevertheless, during the after party, when the extra bottles were opened, it was the two bottles of Inconspicuous Zinfandel that were drained first. Inconspicuous, indeed.
We had a blast hosting our First (but not last) Wine Tasting Party. We’ll definitely do it again. In fact, we’ve already had an offer from one of our guests to take our party on the road! The next Kent & Robyn’s Wine Tasting Party will be at a guest venue! We’ll also experiment with different formats, like a BYOW, or a food pairing party. The sky’s the limit!