Last month, I spent a week in Northern California. While there, I had the opportunity to visit a host of different producers. A couple of days of my time found me solidly ensconced in all things Ferrari-Carano. If you think the namesake winery in Dry Creek Valley is the beginning and end of what they have going on, you’d be missing out on a lot. Certainly the winery in Healdsburg is the center of what Don and Rhonda Carano have created, but orbiting that are a number of other terrific properties which expand the magic. Here’s a look at some of what I experienced.
At Ferrari-Carano proper I toured the wine-making facility, cellar, and the property, which includes gardens that are gorgeous regardless of the time of year. This home facility features a number of different tasting options. Upstairs in their main room, I sampled many of the more widely distributed wines in the portfolio. Later on, in the tasting room adjacent to the wine cellar, I sampled some of the reserve and smaller production wines. Throughout my time on the property, I was hosted by their wine educator Patrick. He’s been with the Caranos for over 20 years. His knowledge of the wines, property, and history of both Ferrari-Carano and Dry Creek Valley is off the charts. He guided me through the wines and answered every question without missing a beat.
The beautiful winery in Healdsburg is only responsible for white wine production. Nestled up in the hills of Alexander Valley is an impressive and somewhat immense red wine-making facility. It’s at this location that all the red wines under the Ferrari-Carano label are produced and bottled. The lone exception is the pinot noir which is made at Lazy Creek, the Caranos' Mendocino Winery. I toured the private Alexander Valley facility with their reds winemaker Rebecka Deike. This gave me the chance to learn a lot about her process and tp sample some wine out of barrel that will be coming down the line the next few years. Speaking generally, there are different methodologies employed for white versus red and Ferarri-Carano produces a fair amount of both, so it was interesting to see two distinct facilities.
Right on the square in downtown Healdsburg sits Seasons of The Vineyard. This space acts as a satellite tasting room and wine shop as well as a place to enjoy some different experiences. The signature experience is a wine and chocolate pairing. Ferrari-Carano wines are paired with Scharffen Bergeran chocolates for a distinct experience. However, if you simply want to taste the wines and prefer to do that in town instead of heading to the winery, that option is also available. Seasons of The Vineyard is open daily until 6 p.m., so stop by and pre-game dinner with some delicious wines.
Lazy Creek Vineyards was established in Mendocino County more than 100 years ago. Back in 2008, it was up for sale, and Don and Rhonda Carano couldn’t pass up the chance to purchase a charming property that reminded them of their earliest days in the wine business. Since the purchase, they invested money in both the facility and the vineyards, building a new state-of-the-art winery and replanting some acres while expanding out where it was feasible. Winemaker Christy Ackerman produces all of the Lazy Creek wines as well as the Ferrari-Carano pinot noir. I toured the property at Lazy Creek with Ackerman and sampled their portfolio with her. It’s an absolutely delightful spot and if you’re anywhere near Mendocino, it’s well worth a visit.
For the days I spent touring the Ferrari-Carano properties I stayed at the nearby Vintners Inn, located in Santa Rosa. This charming property features just 44 rooms, which are spread out between three two-story buildings. In addition to the rooms, the hotel also has meeting and banquet facilities which can be customized for groups ranging in size from small handfuls to several hundred guests. The room I stayed in was beautifully appointed, comfortable, and serene.
The award winning John Ash & Co restaurant sits on the Vintners Inn property. I enjoyed a fabulous meal there one evening during my stay. From the moment I was seated and perused the wine list until I tossed my napkin on the table and walked out, it was a dynamite experience. The wine list, which is presented on a tablet, was easy incredibly easy to peruse. The restaurant maintains an above average number of solid by the glass pours and a by the bottle list that leans local but spreads out internationally as one should. At around 250 by-the-bottle choices, the list was comprehensive enough while remaining nimble and fairly priced. Some wine lists are so large they’re daunting for the average consumer who simply wants a nice bottle of wine. The list at John Ash covers both the casual and hardcore wine drinker.
I stated with a cauliflower soup that was topped with a dollop of arugula pesto. This terrific combination set the stage for my main course. I chose a classic chicken under a brick. This relatively simple dish was elevated to gourmet status with both its perfect execution and gorgeous presentation. It was easily the best version that has ever passed my lips. The sides of pearl onions, bacon roasted potatoes, and creamy corn were simply delightful.
The atmosphere was lovely, the food lip-smacking, and the service beyond reproach. This is a Sonoma County dining destination whether you’re staying on property or not.
There are tons of acres growing grapes under the Ferrari-Carano banner in a number of California appellations. These are distinct sites that produce grapes of character. What they have in common is the Caranos' vision of producing vineyard-driven wines. With that in mind they have for years practiced sustainable farming techniques. Here’s a look at my favorite wines from both Ferrari-Carano and Lazy Creek.
Ferrari-Carano 2014 Russian River Valley Pinot Grigio ($14)
This stainless steel fermented offering is made exclusively from Sonoma County fruit. Stone fruit and citrus aromas fill the nose. The palate is studded with apple flavors as well as bits of peach and a host of spices. Lemon curd, white pepper, and continued yellow fruit flavors fill out the crisp finish. This is an impressive expression of pinot grigio for a bargain of a price. Drink it alone or with light foods.
Ferrari-Carano 2014 Sonoma County Fumé Blanc ($14)
This offering is composed of entirely sauvignon blanc from a host of appellations within Sonoma County. If you’ve only ever had one wine from Ferrari-Carano it’s likely this one. Their take on sauvignon blanc is their most ubiquitous wine on restaurant lists and store shelves. Lemon zest fills the nose along with a gentle hint of grass. The palate is stuffed with tons of apricot and bits of Anjou pear. White pepper, crème fraîche, and bits of tropical fruit are all part of the long, crisp finish.
Lazy Creek 2013 Gewürztraminer ($22)
This gorgeous gewürztraminer is produced of fruit from Anderson Valley. Apricot and lychee fruit aromas leap from the nose and immediately draw you in. Bits of toasted nuts lead the palate along with a boatload of stone fruit flavors tinged with bits of spice and hints of tropical fruit. The long, mellifluous finish shows off continued spices, hints of almond, and a gentle hint of mesquite honey. Terrific acid makes this a great match with a host of light- and medium-bodied foods.
Lazy Creek 2014 Rosé of Pinot Noir ($22)
This rosé is produced entirely from Anderson Valley pinot noir. Bing cherry and hints of cream are present on the bright nose. Ripe wild strawberry and continued cherry characteristics fill the juicy but proportionate palate. White pepper spice, crème fraîche, and more red fruits are in evidence on the above average finish. Good, dry rosé is one of the great joys of the wine world; this one fits that bill to a 'T.'
Ferrari-Carano 2013 Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel ($28)
This offering from the home appellation of Dry Creek Valley is largely zinfandel (83 percent), with small amounts of petite sirah (12 percent), and carignane (five percent) blended in. Red and black raspberry aromas inform the big, welcoming nose. Black cherry and continued raspberry characteristics are in play throughout the generous palate. Oodles of spice, kirsch liqueur, and hints of chocolate sauce are evident on the long finish which also shows off a host of minerals. Whether you’re having pizza, wings, or a burger, this zinfandel well pair perfectly with casual hand foods.
Lazy Creek 2013 Middleridge Ranch Pinot Noir ($47)
The fruit comes from a 160-acre ranch that has 22 acres of pinot planted on it. An explosion of red cherry aromas fills the heady nose. The palate is filled with a cornucopia of red and black cherry flavors tinged by hints of red raspberry. Tobacco leaf and a touch of earth emerge on the long, structured finish.
Lazy Creek 2013 Estate Pinot Noir ($50)
This is composed of entirely pinot from their estate vineyards which are planted to Heritage and Dijon Clones. Dark fruit and a host of spices such as clove and cinnamon emerge from the nose of this pinot noir. The palate is a who’s who of red fruits with black fruits interspersed throughout. Pomegranate and sour cherry notes emerge on the long finish alongside bits of black tea, nutmeg, and a subtle dusting of cocoa.
Ferrari-Carano 2012 Trésor Sonoma County Red ($52)
This classic blend combines cabernet sauvignon (71 percent), petit verdot (nine percent), malbec (seven percent), merlot (seven percent), and cabernet franc (six percent). Red fruit aromas are underpinned with hints of mushroom and a touch of toasty oak. Cherry and bits of raspberry inform the full-flavored, even keeled palate. Minerals, earth, and dusty cocoa are present on the long finish. Firm acid and tannins provide terrific structure. This wine is delicious now but will age well for the next 15 years. Year after year this tends to be my favorite offering in their portfolio. The 2012 is no exception.
Ferrari-Carano 2012 Prevail Back Forty Alexander Valley ($90)
This offering is 100 percent cabernet sauvignon grown at an elevation of 1,100 feet in Alexander Valley. Black fruits such as plum and blackberry fill the intense nose. The palate is stuffed with boysenberry, black cherry, black raspberry, and tons of spice. The finish is long, firm, and intense with continued fruit, roasted espresso, and pepper spice. Big, beefy tannins yield with some air. If you’re drinking this now, decant it and pair it with something hearty. Otherwise lay it down for a few years. Either way, it’s delicious.
These wines are the tip of the iceberg in the Ferrari-Carano and Lazy Creek Vineyards portfolios. Each has other offerings. What Don and Rhonda Carano have created and continue to curate in Northern Sonoma and Mendocino counties is impressive. Every experience I had at the wineries, hotel, restaurant, and tasting rooms that fall within their larger umbrella are executed in a first class member. When your travels take you to Sonoma and Mendocino Counties, you owe it to yourself to experience at least part of what they offer.