Kelly J. Hayes: WineInk
August 27, 2008
It’s been 10 days now and my lips are just starting to lose that distinct shade of purple.
That’s what happens when you drink old bottles of old vine zinfandel. A winemaker’s dinner last week at the Roaring Fork Club in Basalt brought Turley Wine Cellars owner Larry Turley and winemaker Ehren Jordan to town for a fantastic evening of food and wine. And everyone in attendance left with very dark lips indeed.
In the wine world, the name Turley is renowned for two reasons.
First, Helen Turley is one of Napa’s most accomplished winemakers. A woman who, in addition to making top-flight pinot noir and chardonnay with her husband Jon Wetlaufer at Marcassin, is on everyone’s short list of winery consultants. Her credits include Bryant Family, Colgin Cellars and Blankiet, all producers that are part of any discussion of California’s best cult wines.
Turley Wine Cellars is also mentioned in those discussions, so perhaps it is no surprise to find that Larry and Helen are brother and sister. Larry founded Turley Wine Cellars in Napa in the early 1990s and promptly made Helen his winemaker. Though she left the task to Ehren Jordan more than a decade ago, people still confuse the two and make the incorrect assumption that Turley is Helen’s baby.
But enough genealogy.
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Larry Turley’s passion is for the oldest of California’s old vines, which were planted 60, 80, even 100 years ago by European pioneers. When Larry began his winemaking adventures in the Napa Valley, he began early to make wine from the grapes in Hayne Vineyard, a classic plot of land between St. Helena and Rutherford that was planted in 1903 with zinfandel by William Austin Hayne.
At the dinner, we were served a 1997 Turley Wine Cellars Hayne Vineyard Zinfandel. Don’t bother looking for it, as there was precious little made to begin with, and all was sold long ago. Besides, they say zinfandels don’t age so well.
Guess again. This wine was powerful, concentrated, deep, dark, delicious and oh so complex. Tannic, yes, but refined. The fruit was still there, as were tobacco, leather and land. For those of you who read this column, you know I don’t usually go on like this about a wine, but this one was special. It was a perfect pairing with Executive Chef Michael Fiske’s “Lapin au Vin” and Black Pepper Tagliatelle and, since the guest who was supposed to sit next to me did not make the dinner, I was more than happy to take a second glass of the ’97 for myself.
As I tasted the zinfandel, first in sips, then in massive mouthfuls, and later small sips again, I was in heaven. My seat in the Roaring Fork Club afforded me views of three of my favorite things in near perfect triangulation.
In front of the room stood Ehren Jordan, who told us that Turley makes 27 different wines and sources grapes from places like the Ueberroth Vineyards in Paso Robles (yes, it is owned by the chair of the U.S. Olympic Committee, Peter Ueberroth), which is one of the oldest producing vineyards in California, along with Amador County, Lodi and, of course, the Napa Valley. He spoke of how important fruit is in these wines and how much he enjoyed both making and drinking them.
At the top of the triangle, in the bar, was a television set tuned to the Beijing Olympic Games. Normally, a TV in a bar would not catch my attention (all right, so I lied ” if there is a game on a TV it always captures about 95 percent of my attention). But this was the night Usain Bolt would run into history with the fastest 200-meter race ever run.
Behind me was an incomparable Roaring Fork valley sunset, with the light shining just underneath a big black cloud and illuminating the green of the golf course, the blue of the lakes and the sage on the surrounding hills.
For just a few minutes, I had wine wisdom, a world record and nature at my command. All that and an old vine zin.
Heaven itself would be hard pressed to put on a better show.