At Tom Farella’s business, the key to success comes down to the idea of “one.”
“We are one vineyard, one location, one winery operation,” said Farella, the winemaker/owner at Farella vineyards and winery. “The grapes are grown here, and the wine is all made here.”
Whether hosting winery guests or supplying fruit to its grape customers, “we are the classic model,” said Farella.
That business model seems to have paid off. Farella vineyard and winery celebrates its 30th anniversary this year.
When Tom Farella’s father, Frank, purchased his 56 acres in the rocky eastern hills of Napa back in 1976, the area wasn’t yet known as the Coombsville American Viticultural Area. Frank just knew he wanted to make great wine in a beautiful place, explained Tom Farella.
“The first cabernet sauvignon vines were planted in 1979,” said Farella. “We still have 3 acres of that.” Today, the business has a total of 26 acres of vineyard, including cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay, merlot, syrah, sauvignon blanc and 1 acre of malbec.
Farella recalled the early days of the business.
“My father built our original winery in 1985. I lent technical help with the winemaking, but it was really my father’s project,” said Farella.
“I was interested in making wine at lots of different places, not just at Farella vineyard, so I kind of acted as consulting enologist for my father during the early days of the winery.”
Farella explained how his career progressed.
“I worked for Bruce Neyers at Flora Springs while I earned my degree at UC Davis,” he said. “Then I spent six years working for Lou Preston at his Dry Creek Sonoma County winery. In 1989 I went to Burgundy, France, and in 1990 I worked up in Oregon.
“Then I came home to Napa.” The business made its first cabernet sauvignon in 1991, he said.
At Farella, “we do not buy any fruit at all,” he said. “We sell fruit to quite a few producers, but we grow every grape used to make our own Farella label wines. Our line includes cabernet sauvignon, merlot, syrah, malbec and sauvignon blanc. Some years we also make a Bordeaux blend we call Alta.”
“We have a number of small, high-end wineries who contract for specific blocks of our vineyard. Some contracts cover just 400 to 600 vines — just a ton or two or three. Our grape customers include Realm Cellars, Far Niente, Merryvale, Pahlmeyer, Lail and Keenan.”
There have been ups and downs at the business.
“The 2008 recession was a bear cat,” recalled Farella. “Grape prices got soft, and demand got very, very soft. It was pretty awkward navigating that landscape, but in the end we did fine.
“What you have to remember in this business is, if you’re in the low point of a cycle today, you have to plan for the up part of the cycle to come later. Luckily, things were picking up again by 2010 to 2011. Demand is once again extremely high for good fruit.”
For the current release (2010 vintage), Farella is introducing a new label design emphasizing the estate-grown-and-produced story of the wines.
“My co-worker here, Massimo Di Costanzo, also makes a vineyard designated cabernet sauvignon for his own label using our grapes exclusively,” said Farella. “Our winemaking philosophies are closely aligned.”
There’s one other thing that Farella also prides himself with.
“I am usually the person doing the hosting for visitors to the winery, and it works in our favor,” he said. “In fact, a call to the winery will come directly to my cellphone. I don’t have a secretary or a message machine. People who want to visit us get to come right to the source.”
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