At Ferrari-Carano Winery, in Sonoma County, Aaron Piotter makes the red wines and Sarah Quider the whites. Yet, their time is spent in rather different worlds. Aaron spends much of his time at the winery’s mountain facility, in the Alexander Valley, among the oak barrels full of their aging red wines. Sarah is often at the winery’s original location in the Dry Creek Valley among the many stainless steal tanks of white wine. The pair will sometimes joke with each other about the different roles they inherit. “When Aaron comes down here, it’s like, ‘oh no, acid,’ and when I’m dealing with reds, it’s ‘oh no, tannins,” Sarah laughs.
While the pair may be divided by the type of wine they make, their backgrounds have commonality. They both grew up in Sonoma County, so the wine industry has been around their lives for a long time. Aaron viewed the area in an agricultural kind of way, dividing up the county by the farmers who own the vineyard land. He admired the families he grew up around because many of them were part of the wineries that really started putting Sonoma County on the map during the 70’s and 80’s. Thus, gravitating towards the work was kind of second nature for Aaron. Sarah, on the other hand, loved science. She majored in Biology and thought she wanted to work as a marine biologist. But when her first job involved cutting skulls out of the Pacific Rock Fish, she started to rethink the whole idea. Soon after she quit, Sara opened the local paper looking for another job. As fate would have it, Ferrari-Carano was hiring. She started out as an assistant doing the sugar sampling and worked her way up over time.
Since Ferrari-Carano is a well-established brand, both Aaron and Sarah want to deliver wines of a consistent quality with each vintage. Part of ensuring that quality is taking care of their vineyards. Thus, their vineyard team has really focused on doing right by the land, the animals, and the people, too. Whenever possible, they’ll avoid making choices which could be harmful to nature. “They’re very good at coming up with alternatives,” Aaron explains. “And it means better wines because we have very healthy vineyards.”
Their vineyard manager, Steve Domenichelli, is a forth generation farmer, so protecting and preserving the land matter a great deal to him. Also, because the winery is family owned, with Rhonda and Don Carano at the core of the whole operation, they’re willing to invest in keeping the land pristine. “I’ve worked in a corporate wine culture where everything is about the bottom line, and because a wine has undersold, the board will want to cut your labor budget in half, and we’ll have to employ techniques that go against what we want to do,” Aaron points out. “Here we don’t have that issue.”
Even though they’ve been in their wine making roles for a while now, Aaron and Sara aren’t looking to reinvent the wheel, as it were. Rather than coming up with new blends or planting new varietals, they are focused on the classic Ferrari-Carano wines. Thus, for whites, Chardonnay and Fume Blanc will continue to be cornerstones, and on the red side of things, wines like their Siena, their Cabernet and their Merlot will do the same. Neither wants to change the style of their wines because, simply put, they both really like them. However, they always want to improve upon what they’ve done and deliver better wines than they have before. Of course, they’ll need help from mother nature. As Sarah puts it, “Our weather patterns these days have been so extreme, we’ve had do the best job we can with what we get.”
With a bit of good fortune, Sonoma County will have some more favorable weather, and when the 2011 wines are ready, they’ll be some exceptional offerings in a long line of quality from Ferrari-Carano. And if not, there’s always next year, too. Aaron and Sarah aren’t going anywhere; they love what they do too much.
Article By Jason Barlow