September 2009

UpFront with Ferrari-Carano

By: The Tasting Panel Editorial Team
Heaven Scent: UpFront with Sarah Quider

   Sarah Quider loves aromas that inspire the senses: peaches, floral blossoms, honey nectar—the fragrances and characters in many luxuriously perfumed or steely crisp or fruit-stony white wines.
On the other end of the olfactory pendulum, Quider’s nose learned the definition of odor overload when she worked for the Pacific State Marine Fisheries Commission, one of her first jobs out of Sonoma State, biology degree in hand.

“My job was to extract ear bones out of Pacific rockfish,” she told THE TASTING PANEL, scrunching her nose as the memory persisted. “The smells—they were just so not me!”
Finding a job lead in the newspaper for a temporary assistant during harvest, she knew she was heaven-scent when she walked into a winery oozing with notes of pineapple, apples and summer peaches. “No fish smells,” she quips.

Aside from her sensitive nose and attuned palate, Quider adores the scientific side of winemaking, including working with bacteria and yeast. Her first full harvest was in 2006 (she began as assistant winemaker in 2003) as white winemaker for Ferrari-Carano. The winery’s white portfolio─from the stunning reputation of its Fumé Blanc, to its respected and reputable Chardonnays—has always held flagship status at the Sonoma winery. With Quider’s full concentration, under the leadership of Don and Rhonda Carano, and drawing on the winery’s estate vineyard properties in Alexander Valley, Russian River, Dry Creek Valley and Carneros, Ferrari-Carano’s range of expressive whites continues to blossom.

The 2007 Whites

“My job is to preserve the fruit and deliver that character to the bottle,” Quider notes, pouring a glass of the Ferrari-Carano 2007 Alexander Valley Chardonnay (SRP $23). “And ’07 was a fabulous year that shows in the freshness and intensity of the concentrated fruit.”
Uninhibited and fresh, ripe apple and floral succulence shine in a slightly spiced, obvious complexity from multiple clones in multiple vineyards.

Just released this month, the Ferrari-Carano 2007 Tre Terre Russian River Chardonnay ($32)may be the best vintage yet of this classic. Vanilla and maple expand across the mouth, a richness that still allows the acidity to break through, along with mouth-watering apples and white peach.

Ferrari-Carano’s bigger, caramel- and graham cracker–indulgent white, the 2007 Reserve Napa Valley Carneros Chardonnay ($35), scales back on the oak and manages to focus on balanced fruit. The apricots on the finish line are preceded by a long roster of other flavors, including mandarin, fig, hazelnut and pear.

Mountain Man: UpFront with Aaron Piotter

   While some winemakers were born to eat, taste and smell—senses to help hone their lifelong skills—Aaron Piotter’s natural perceptions were, and continue to be, impeded by allergies. “Nuts, eggs, milk, I was born the ‘boy in the bubble,’ allergic to everything,” reports Piotter. “My sensory texture is self defense. I’m so reactive to peanuts, I can smell a Thai restaurant a mile away.”

The good news for Piotter is that he grew up among the offspring of famous winemakers. “I was in little league with the Benzigers and Sebastianis. While he had to shy away from certain foods, he was tossed in with a crowd that would pair well with his future endeavors.

His early days helped him put two and two together: working a day shift as a busboy/waiter at a Sonoma restaurant, and the swing shift at Sebastiani during harvest, gave him a daily split between the sales and consumption side of the business.

While he would eventually work for some large corporate-owned wineries, his 2003 appointment at Ferrari-Carano landed him at a real family winery. Replacing former winemaker George Bursick in 2003, Piotter is the current master at Ferrari-Carano’s Mountain Estate Winery, housing Sonoma County’s largest wine cave (over 45,000 square feet—well over an acre) and an eco-friendly grape delivery system and labor-intensive hand-sorting “on steroids” to keep up with production while maintaining hands-on sensibility.

While sustainability is key, Piotter’s is determined not to go green in the red wines—that is, to deliver only concentrated, ripe reds with no herbal, minty or green pepper character. “We fight greenness by adding Syrah and Petit Verdot─these varieties are essential to us—and a whole lot of patience in the vineyard; we wait  . . . and wait to pick.”

Current Reds

 “Siena has had the same soul for 20 years.” We quote Aaron Piotter, whose influence in toying with Malbec has tweaked this Sangiovese-based red to plusher heights. “It’s sophisticated but user-friendly,” he points out as we taste the Ferrari-Carano 2007 Siena, the Malbec coaxing the Sangiovese to its softer, more vibrant side.

The Ferrari-Carano 2006 Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon is high-elevation intense from low-vigor soil. Perfumed with a fruity, sangria-esque ripeness and a lavender swash, its teeth-coating tannins let you know its serious face. But cakey chocolate and roasted toffee mocha tells you serious is just a state of mind. “Somms can pour the ’06 now,” Piotter advises, “but they can perceive the age-worthiness.”
Lifted fruit and deeply dark, dense fruit on a tobacco road, lead to the 2006 Trésor, an acting troupe of Bordeaux varietals that mix and match, culminating in a showy red.

“This is our fifth year here at the red wine facility,” Piotter sighs contently, surveying his domain, “and I’d like to think that we are finally realizing our goals.”

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