Interview with Theresa Heredia, Gary Farrell Winery Director of Winemaking
Gary Farrell launched Gary Farrell Winery in 1982 after working as a winemaker for many years for such Russian River Valley luminaries as Davis Bynum, Joe Rochioli, Tom Dehlinger, and Robert Stemmler.
The first wine he produced under his own label was a Pinot Noir sourced from two of the Russian River Valley’s top vineyards, Rochioli and Allen, which are adjacent to each other and just down the road from Gary Farrell Winery. These two venerable vineyards, both planted to the famed Pommard clone of Pinot Noir, produce some of California’s finest Pinot Noir and have continuously supplied grapes to Gary Farrell Winery for more than 30 years.
After building Gary Farrell Winery into an acclaimed producer of Russian River Valley Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, Gary sold the winery in 2004. Today the winery is owned by Bill Price and a group of investors and continues its collaborations with top growers in the region.
We interview Theresa Heredia, Gary Farrell Winery Director of Winemaking, to learn more.
What’s a popular tasting experience at Gary Farrell Winery?
Theresa Heredia: We specialize in Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Our Elevation Tasting is a popular tasting experience as it explores the wines of Gary Farrell Winery under the expert and entertaining guidance of one of our ambassadors.
The experience is hosted in our contemporary tasting salon or on our shaded terrace, each with a beautiful view of the Russian River Valley below. An impeccable cheese selection complements the wines and makes for a complete wine country experience.
What makes your wine unique?
Theresa Heredia: Our wines are all unique in that they are each intended to express both a sense of place (aka terroir) and characteristics of the vintage. Every vintage is different and our goal is to capture that in the bottle.
The wines have bright, fresh aromas and flavors, crisp, tangy acidity, succulent fruit and abundant textural richness from aging on primary lees.
Some of our wines possess an earthiness that is partly an expression of whole cluster inclusion in the fermentation and partly an expression of the vineyard. Many of our Chardonnays have a distinctive mineral character to them, which I believe is both an expression of the vineyard and the natural core of acidity that we’ve captured by picking at a level of ripeness that is respectful of the fruit.
Favorite Food and Wine Pairing?
Theresa Heredia: Gary Farrell Pinot Noir, Hallberg Vineyard paired with:
-Soy Sauce-Braised Pork Belly
-Pork Belly Bao
-Duck Breast with Huckleberry Sauce
How did you get started in the wine industry?
Theresa Heredia: I stumbled upon this career quite serendipitously.
I studied Biochemistry as an undergrad at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, and then went on UC Davis where I spent two years in the Chemistry PhD program. During that time I was a teaching assistant for undergraduate General Chemistry, along with 11 other grad students.
When we gathered to grade exams, two of the grad students brought wine and glasses to the grading sessions where we also exchanged stories of our individual research projects. I heard the enology students talk about using the same analytical methods that I was using in my peptide synthesis for cancer therapeutics research, and I was floored that we were using the same methods. After all, wine was much more fun than peptides!
Within days, I transferred to the enology program and that’s how it happened.
I did my first harvest at Saintsbury in Carneros in 2001, and then I got hired full-time in 2002 at Joseph Phelps Freestone Vineyards, where I spent 10 years making the Freestone and Fogdog Chardonnay and Pinot Noir wines from a brand new vineyard that had no associated brand or history, making it a perfect project for a new, experimental winemaker.
Who inspires or inspired you to pursue this career?
Theresa Heredia: My first female mentor was Sarah Gott, with whom I worked for just a few months at Joseph Phelps in St. Helena.
A few months after I was hired there, she took a winemaking job at Quintessa, which was an exciting opportunity for her. I looked up to her long before I got hired at Joseph Phelps because she was a successful, young, energetic, hard-working woman in this male-dominated industry.
I also very much looked up to the women working in the Oregon wine industry in the early 2000s, and I felt they had broken ground more quickly than it was happening in California: Ana Metzinger and Leigh Bartholomew, former Winemaker and Vineyard Manager at Archery Summit; Lynn Penner-Ash, former Winemaker at Rex Hill, now owner/Winemaker of Penner-Ash wines. Other women who inspired me were Merry Edwards, Mia Klen, Heidi Barrett and all the amazing women who paved the way before them.
These are women I idolized. Before the Joseph Phelps Freestone harvest began in 2003, I scheduled a trip to Oregon just to meet and taste with a couple of these women.
My experiences tasting wine and speaking with them so early on in my career are forever imprinted in my memory.
Do you remember the first time you fell in love with wine?
Theresa Heredia: Yes I do! I always enjoyed wine with friends after my undergrad years, but I really became seriously interested in wine when I entered grad school at UC Davis.
During my first two years at Davis, in the Chemistry program, my boyfriend and I participated in several wine tasting groups and we started reading about wines from other parts of the world and purchasing what we could with limited grad school funds. We decided to take a trip to France in March of 2001 to visit our favorite wine regions.
We went to Burgundy, Bordeaux and the Southern Rhone Valley (Châteauneuf-du-Pape). While we were in the Burgundy region, we dined at a famous restaurant in downtown Beaune called Ma Cuisine, which has an amazing wine list.
We decided to order a bottle of 1995 Clos de Vougeot from Denis Mortet, a Grand Cru from a producer we loved. This wine completely changed how I felt about wine. It was just a really special wine that expressed a tremendous sense of place.
So many California wines that I had tasted up to that point were just kind of simple, jammy and lacking in character and site specificity. The wines that I tasted in Burgundy during that visit though, especially the 1995 Clos de Vougeot, were a very different experience. They were lower in alcohol, savory, earthy, spicy, and each possessed a beautiful core of acidity.
Most importantly, each wine seemed to really express the site from which it was made. This opened up a whole new world of wine appreciation for me.
Describe your winemaking approach.
Theresa Heredia: My winemaking philosophy is really about using gentle techniques that are respectful of the fruit, to capture as much site specificity as possible.
I like to pick slightly on the early side of the ripeness spectrum, in order to capture freshness, purity, and vibrant acidity. I like to use at least a small percentage of whole clusters in the fermentation, I like to utilize extended maceration, which is a term that describes the period of time after primary fermentation when the new wine and grape skins/seeds/lees steep without any mixing for up to 10 days. In my experience, this is how I am able to capture an essence of place.
If I let the fruit ripen too much, the fruit qualities will tip toward jammy, and that’s not the expression of place that I’m trying to capture.
Our wines are intended to be food friendly, mouthwatering and age worthy.
All of the wines we produce spend their entire aging period on primary lees, and we use 95% light toast barrels because we don’t want the toast to mask the purity of fruit and desired expression of place that we’re trying to capture in the wine.
We don’t rack off the lees during the aging process because the lees help the wines develop more site specificity and textural richness, so this is a key characteristic that defines our overall wine style.
How does your team help make Gary Farrell Winery successful?
I work with a really fantastic team here at Gary Farrell Winery.
Our Associate Winemaker, Brent McKoy, leads the rest of the team in making and caring for the wines throughout the winemaking and aging process. We have a Cellar Supervisor, Peter Treleaven, who handles much of the hands-on winemaking, and an Enologist, Meaghan Hodge, who joined us full-time after the 2021 harvest, and handles wine chemistry in addition to helping Peter with cellar work and winemaking, in general.
The three of them handle the hands-on winemaking. In addition, we have a Vineyard Liaison, Randy Czech, who handles grower relations and day-to-day vineyard evaluation. We all work together very closely throughout the year to make the wines that we are very proud to offer.