On a recent trip to the Russian River Valley in Sonoma County, we visited two wineries. These wineries could not be more different from one another. The only similarity in these wineries is that they are both located in the same AVA, the Russian River Valley. On a Wednesday, we visited the Battaglini Winery. The next day it was Gary Farrell. We were guests at both wineries, so we did not need to worry about tasting or touring fees. We were delighted to sit back and enjoy wine, food nibbles, and the beauty of the Russian River Valley.
The Little Winery – Battaglini Winery
Owned by Joe and Lucia Battaglini, the winery is on Piner Road in the Russian River Valley. The Battaglinis purchased the property in 1988. The major vines are Petite Sirah, Zinfandel, and Chardonnay. The Petite and the Zin were planted in 1885. If you visit, you must take a close look at both of these ancient but hearty grape vines. Joe is the winemaker and vineyard manager, with help from Lucia and their sons and daughter. Battaglini farms 30 acres of vines and produces 2500 cases of wine annually. The Battaglinis sell many of their grapes to nearby wineries.
The tasting room is small and funky, accented by memorabilia from Joe’s home town, Lucca, and from his Soccer playing days in San Francisco. Tasting fee, scribbled on a chalkboard, is $15 and waived with a purchase. There is no formal tour, but Joe or a family member will give a quick view of the old vines. There are a Bocce court and picnic tables available for use for wine tasters and picnic goers. The wines are good; we especially enjoyed the Proprietor’s Reserve Zinfandel and Petite Sirah. The wines are made “the old-fashion way, like my Dad back in Italy.” The vines are dry farmed and head pruned.
To visit Battaglini, call ahead and schedule a time to visit. This is an entirely family operated winery, with family members performing all the various jobs of growing grapes and marketing wines. It is a straightforward and fun winery, and very much a throwback to the golden days in the California wine scene before wine tourism became popular.
The Big Winery – Gary Farrell
Gary Farrell Winery is not big by many standards; 3o,000 case production is medium at most. When considering the plush tasting room and elaborate winemaking facilities, we fit Gary Farrell in the big category compared to Battaglini. Gary Farrell established his label in 1982 and completed the construction of the winery in 2000. In a rather shocking turn of events, he sold his winery in 2004 to Allied Domecq. Later the winery was sold to the Ascentia Wine Group, who in turn sold it to the Vincraft Group in 2011. Vincraft remodeled the tasting room and hired the current winemaker, Theresa Heredia.
Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are emphasized at Gary Farrell, with small lot and vineyard selection labels. The wines range in price from $35 to $75. The quality is high, and we tasted several beautifully-produced wines. They are exquisite, to say the least. The winery has no vineyards; they choose to source their grapes from top nearby vineyards and some that are outside the Russian River AVA. The tasting experience is well executed, with the staff highly trained and knowledgeable with the Gary Farrell label.
Tasting Choices range from $35 to $75 per person and reservations are required. Make a reservation online or call the winery.
So which winery is better to visit?
There are good reasons to visit each of these two wineries, but your enjoyment will probably depend on your lifestyle. If you like old-fashion, laid back and relaxed with no pretenses, go for Battaglini Winery. If you love to be pampered and desire excellent Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, go for the Gary Farrell Winery. My preference always goes to the old timers. Janelle loves the look and feel of the higher-end wineries. A bottle of wine always has a story to tell. The enjoyment of a bottle of wine increases the better the story behind it.