Jun 14, 2016

Take 5 Interview with Ferrari-Carano Vineyards and Winery

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June 22, 2016   |   By Mike Raven

Rhonda Carano, Proprietor

Rhonda-kitchen-HIRES smRhonda is the co-owner and Vice President of Ferrari-Carano Vineyards and Winery. Rhonda and her husband, Don Carano, visited Sonoma County, California in the late 1970s on a wine-buying trip for their hotel/casino, the Eldorado in Reno, Nevada. They fell in love with the area because it reminded them of Italy, and the rest, as they say, is history. The Ferrari-Carano brand is now a highly regarded, acclaimed wine available nationwide. Rhonda’s responsibilities at the winery include the management and implementation of brand marketing strategies, brand identity, packaging and collateral concepts, as well as hospitality, special events and retail operations.

Sarah Quider, Executive Winemaker

Sarah smSarah is responsible for all of Ferrari-Carano’s wine programs. Heading up Ferrari-Carano’s white- and red-winemaking programs, Sarah and her team work hard to ensure flavor quality in every bottle of wine. Sarah believes in Don and Rhonda Carano’s philosophy of employing
gentle winemaking techniques, keeping all lots separate, and then blending wine for style, quality and the multi-dimensional complexity that characterizes a truly fine wine. “My winemaking goal each year is to create wines that will express the beauty and diversity of our vineyards, with the hope that one can get a sense of the passion and dedication we have at Ferrari-Carano,” states Sarah.

Ferrari-Carano has been named a Certified California Sustainable Vineyard by the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance. This certification recognizes Ferrari-Carano for its numerous efforts to preserve the land for future generations while producing wines of outstanding quality.

“Ferrari-Carano has a well-rounded portfolio of wines that offer pairings to all culinary specialties. We are a good choice for farm-to-table menus as well.


MR to Rhonda Carano: You’ve gone from a 30-acre plot of grapes and ranch house purchased in 1979, to today owning over 1,900 acres of vineyards, from mountain to valley acreage in five appellations. Did you and Don think you would be where you are today, at the beginning?

RC: Being Italian-Americans, we had grown up with wine all our life. It was always part of a meal, as well as part of owning land. But we certainly did not know then what the future would hold for us. We enjoyed the wine country lifestyle and became passionate about all the nuances of wine, from the soil and how it relates to the character of a wine, to the appreciation of the end result and how magical a wine’s development could be.

MR to RC: What is the best-selling wine you have?

RC: Am I allowed to say all of them? I do think Ferrari-Carano offers a well-rounded portfolio of wines for all to enjoy, from whites to red wines. But based on volume of production, I would have to say our Fumé Blanc and the Sonoma County Chardonnay.

MR to RC: I have to ask you about your world-class gardens that you designed. Has gardening always a passion with you?

RC: My back is killing me today! I planted over 25 tomato plants this weekend. Yes, I love gardening and I’ve enjoyed it as long as I can remember. Once again, being Italian-American, gardens are close to my heart. When I was a young child, I was always outside in my Nona’s or my father’s garden. It’s peaceful yet very creative.

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MR to RC: What would you like our readers to know about the brand when they consider putting one of your wines on their list?

RC: As I mentioned, Ferrari-Carano has a well-rounded portfolio of wines that offer pairings to all culinary specialties, from Asian to Spanish to American to fine dining. In addition, because all of our vineyards are Certified California Sustainable, we are a good choice for farm-to-table menus as well. We have always strived to make consistent, high-quality wines at a fair price for all to enjoy. I think when a person buys a bottle of Ferrari-Carano wine in a restaurant, they know it won’t disappoint; and, conversely, the owner of the restaurant knows that the Ferrari-Carano name sells through for them.

MR to RC: In my research, I found this write-up on your first Chardonnay in the Los Angeles Times. Does it bring back fond memories?

“In the fall of 1987, the release of the 1985 Alexander Valley Chardonnay launched the Ferrari-Carano Vineyards and Winery with the brilliance of a rocket in the night sky. Rarely has a new winery produced such a sensational debut wine. The wine combined the subtle differences from multiple lots of separately vinified wines made from the harvest of more than five vineyards. Its layered complexity derived richness from partial malolactic fermentation and time on yeast lees from barrel-fermentation in French oak. Final components were added from stainless-steel reserves to enliven the wine with fresh fruitiness.

Fewer than 2,000 cases were made, and competition was lively among restaurateurs and wine merchants to obtain even one case of this stunning wine. The White House served it for President Ronald Reagan’s state dinner for the King and Queen of Sweden last year.”

RC: That same style of winemaking is implemented today, although not from five vineyards, but from 65 different lots of wine from ten vineyards. The first release in 1985 definitely empowered us to forge ahead knowing that the Ferrari-Carano brand would be a respected name in the wine industry. Thinking back over the last 35 years, it’s very gratifying to see that it has. We’re very thankful and appreciative of all those people who have supported us through the years. Like the description above, “with the brilliance of a rocket in the sky,” it truly has been a beautiful ride.


MR to Sarah Quider: Keeping all the lots separate sounds like a huge task, considering the amount of different wines you produce. How do you handle that?

SQ: We love to have complexity in our wines and to do so, we split up our individual vineyard blocks with different types of yeast and different barrel types. The effort to keep everything separate, as well as to track and taste them individually, is well worth all the effort. You can access the quality of the vineyard blocks, yeast strains and barrels so that ultimately you can make good replanting, winemaking and blending decisions.

MR to SQ: Keeping in mind our readers are national account buyers from across the country, what would you suggest for a refreshing Ferrari-Carano wine by the glass this summer?

SQ: I would recommend our Russian River Pinot Grigio, our Sonoma County Fumé Blanc or our Russian River Tré Terre Chardonnay. All these wines have great acidity and brightness and go great with food, family and friends on a warm summer night.

MR to SQ: You work with 19 estate vineyards in six different appellations. This must really give you a lot of diversity in your grape selections.

SQ: Yes, it does. Along with all these different vineyards, each site is broken up into different blocks, which often means different clones of a particular varietal. Some of my best days are walking through these vineyards and listening/learning about the vines and vintage at hand. Each year is slightly different in the growing season, which in turn, changes the winemaking for that year.


MR to SQ: You split the winemaking into two different wineries, one white and one red, with Rebecka Deike at the helm of the reds. Then there is also Lazy Creek Vineyards with Winemaker Christy Ackerman. Can you tell us a little about that?

SQ: Yes, we do have three winemaking facilities. It is such a blessing to have these facilities dedicated to different types of winemaking. At the estate winery, the winemaking team focuses on protecting all the beautiful aromatic nuances of each vineyard site. At the Prevail winery, Rebecka and her team strive to extract the rich, ripe aromas and flavors from the skins of each vineyard block. Then, Christy and her team at Lazy Creek Vineyards strive to produce rich, flavorful yet elegant wines. Each winery is specifically designed for these stylistic goals. Rebecka, Christy and I have all worked together for 16 years now – we’re all very passionate about winemaking and we’re friends as well.

MR to SQ: Your Fumé Blanc has always been one of my favorites. I read where it is crafted from seven of your estate vineyards in Dry Creek, Alexander and Russian River Valleys. Is that true?

SQ: Thank you! Yes, that is true, but we also purchase select vineyards in the same area. Each appellation gives us unique qualities that add to the complexity of the Fumé Blanc. We tend to get a lot of pineapple and citrus from Dry Creek Valley, kiwi and limes from our Alexander Valley vineyards, and floral and peach from our Russian River Valley vineyards. When we select the final blocks for the blend, it’s a combination of all these flavors.