Thursday, June 20, 2013

Turnbull Wine Cellars – Oakville, California

The Turnbull Clan

The name of Turnbull Cellars is derived from The Turnbull Family (or Clan) that hails from the border area between Scotland and England.  According to family legend, the name goes back to when William Roule of Bedrule saved Robert The Bruce (ca. 1300) from a charging wild bull. William jumped in between the bull and the king and proceeded to turn it down to the ground and break its neck. Robert was so gratified that he dubbed him Sir William Turn-E-Bull and then bestowed to him lands in Phillipshaugh on August 15th, 1315. William Roule Turnbull then assumed the motto Rex Servaverim which means, “I Saved The King.”[1]

The Founder

Six hundred and thirty years later a winery was founded by architects William “Bill” Turnbull (April 1, 1935 – June 26, 1997) and Reverdy Johnson. It began as the Johnson-Turnbull Winery in 1979. Bill also designed Cakebread Cellars which is why the two wineries have similar architecture. Bill was born in New York City and was raised in Far Hills, New Jersey. Both of Turnbull’s parents were architects, as was his great-grandfather George B. Post who designed the New York Stock Exchange building. Following in his parents footsteps Bill studied at Princeton University (class of 1956) and the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. After graduation he moved to San Francisco and was employed at Skidmore, Owings and Merrill and worked on a Big Sur revitalization project. In the early 1960s Bill was involved with the development of the iconic Sea Ranch community in Sonoma County. His co-design team included fellow Princeton alumni Charles Moore, Donlyn Lyndon, and Richard Whitaker as well as Lawrence Halprin and Joseph Esherick. Turnbull was a contributor to Kresge College, the U.C. Santa Cruz, the Foothill Student housing complex at U.C.  Berkeley, and St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church in Sonoma County, the latter of which he worked on with his second wife and fellow architect Mary Griffin.

Turnbull Changes Hands

In 1993 the winery was purchased by publisher Patrick O’Dell who renamed the estate Turnbull Wine Cellars. Patrick then expanded the winery’s estate property from 21 to 236 acres of Oakville and Calistoga vineyards. The vineyards include the Turnbull Vineyard (14 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Petite Sirah, and Sauvignon Blanc), the Fortuna Vineyard (59 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Petite Sirah, and Sauvignon Blanc), the Leopoldina Vineyard (62 acres of  Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec, Petit Verdot, Syrah, and Sangiovese), and the Amoenus Vineyard in the western hills of Calistoga (101 acres Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Petit Verdot, Petite Sirah, and  Malbec )

The Winemaker and the Wine

In 1998, Patrick O’Dell hired Jon Engelskirger who had 30 years of experience as a winemaker. Then in 2007 Peter Heitz assumed the role as head winemaker who is a fourth generation winemaker in the Napa Valley. Peter is the grandson of Michael Heitz,  an immigrant from the Alsace region of Germany, who is the founder of ShypokeWines in Calistoga. Following Michael at Shypoke was Peter’s father Gary and his mother Ginny. Subsequently Peter began farming the family vineyard in 1996. Peter has also served as the Assistant Winemaker at Beringer Vineyards (1996  2007) and the Assistant Winemaker at Foster’s Wine Estates Americas (1996  2007).

The Gallery and The Wine

Turnbull Cellars has two tasting rooms. The Reserve Room is located in the Photography Gallery which is freely open to the public. The space’s cathedral ceiling, exposed beams, antique bar and barrels highlight one of the West Coast’s largest permanent photography locales. It features a rotating collection of more than 4,000 pieces of historic black and white photography by notable artists such as Berenice Abbott, Ansel Adams, Margaret Bourke White, Jane Brown, Clarence Sinclair Bull, Marsha Burns, Imogen Cunningham, Judy Dater, Walker Evans, Burt Glinn, Phillipe Halsman, George Hurrell, Yousuf Karsh, Andre Kertesz, Dorothea Lange, Bettina Rheims, Herb Ritts, Roy Schatt, Jock Sturges, Peter Stackpole, Edward Steichen, Paul Strand, Joyce Tenneson and Edward Weston.

While viewing the galley in the Reserve Tasting Room I sampled the following wines:

The first pour was the 2012 Old Vines Sauvignon Blanc. This wine comes from 40+ year old vines in the Fortuna Vineyard. It is crystal clear with aromas of lemon-lime, grapefruit, guava and melon and a hint of chalky minerality. On the palate it is very crisp, light bodied and has an extremely long finish. When I was sampling this wine it was 91 degrees outside and I found this to be extremely refreshing. I brought a bottle home for $28.

The second wine was the 2011 Viognier. Very few wineries in the Napa Valley produce this varietal as there are only about 300 acres in the entire region. Viogniers from warmer California regions such as Paso Robles, Santa Barbera or the Lodi tend to be extremely floral, very tropical with a lot of body, weight and alcohol. Viogniers from the Napa Valley tend to be more reserved, lighter in body and lean making them more food friendly but they can also be very expensive (Darioush is $42!). This wine has subtle notes of coconut, pineapple and melon and on the palate it is slightly creamy with medium body, ample acidity and a long finish. For several years I purchased Turnbull’s Viognier in the in November to serve with Thanksgiving dinner as it is an excellent alternative to the ocean of Chardonnay on the market and during this visit I decided to do so again. The wine sells for $30 a bottle.

The third sample was the 2010 Rosé – a blend of 65% Syrah and 35% Cabernet Sauvignon made in the saignée method. On the nose this wine exudes aromas of dried roses, melon rind, faint cranberries and watermelon. But on the palate it has more ripe berry flavor and is very delicious with perhaps a miniscule amount of residual sugar. Yet it maintains its crispness and has a long finish - it is sure to a hit on hot days! This wine is not currently listed on the web site, nor was it on the tasting list but it is available at the tasting room for $18 a bottle.

The fourth wine was the 2009 Leopolinda Cabernet Franc. This wine is a blend of 82% Cabernet Franc, 14% Cabernet Sauvignon and the rest is an even splash of 2% Petite Verdot and 2% Malbec so it is really a Cab Franc dominant Bordeaux blend. This wine has an explosive nose with pronounced aromas of cassis, blackberries, black cherries, mocha and vanilla. On the palate it is rich and velvety with silky tannins, a full body and mouth-watering acidity and the flavors are layered from entry, through the mid-palate and in the finish.  It is very delicious wine that has a long vanilla-chocolaty finish. This was my overall favorite in the line-up but it has a hefty price tag at $60 a bottle.

The fifth pour was the 2009 Fortuna Merlot. This wine is a blend of 89% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Malbec and 1% Petite Sirah. On the nose this wine exudes black cherries, a hint of black licorice and a dash of pepper. On the palate it is silky smooth, medium bodied and a medium length. For my palate this wine is too soft and it probably would have better served before the Cab Franc in the line-up. This wine sells for $55 a bottle.

The sixth wine was the 2009 Fortuna Cabernet Sauvignon – a blend of 95% Cabernet sauvignon, 3% Petit Verdot and 2% Malbec. This wine has a bouquet of black currants, damp earth and a hint of pepper. At the core this wine is very dark, almost black, and ruby at the rim and when swirled it stains the glass. Like the Merlot it is very soft with refined tannins, a medium body with a hint of sour cherries on a medium length finish. The wine sells for $75 a bottle.

The seventh sample was the 2009 Amoenus Cabernet Sauvignon. The Amoenus Vineyard is the one Turnbull vineyard outside of Oakville and it has the distinctive profile of mountain fruit - it is very dark, dense and concentrated, almost black at the core. The nose on the wine is very tight so it requires a lot of swirling to coax the aromas out of it. But patience and a lot aeration brings out intense aromas of black currants, black berries, black licorice and vanilla. On the palate it is velvety but the tannins have a lot of grip. It has a medium+ body, ample acidity and a long finish with hints of vanilla and mocha on the return. The Fortuna Cab was nice but I preferred this one and it also sells for $75 a bottle.

The eighth wine was the 2009 Leopolinda Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine is a blend of 91% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Petite Verdot and 3% Malbec. This wine is intense and concentrated in color, and it requires a requires a lot of swirling before it opens up. But eventually I was rewarded with black currants, mocha, dusty earth and a hint of tobacco. On the palate it has BIG gripping tannins, full body and ample acidity. This is a great wine but it seemed to be too young to be drinking now and it will undoubtedly improve over the next five years or more. The wine sells for $75 a bottle.

The final wine was the 2009 Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine is a blend of 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Petite Verdot, 5% Malbec and 1% Merlot. Like the previous three wines, this wine needs some time to open up so decanting and heavy aeration in the glass is a must. This wine is very dark at the core, almost black, and on the nose it has concentrated aromas of black currants, black cherries, dark chocolate, dark roasted coffee, black licorice and vanilla. On the palate it has BIG tannins with great backbone and structure. A truly phenomenal wine that is head and shoulders above many $125+ Cabs I have tasted in the Napa Valley. But, like the Leopolinda it stills seems too young to be drinking now and will undoubtedly get even better in the next 5-10 years. The wine sells for $100 a bottle.

To see additional pictures, check out Erik Wait’s Wine Country Photography at:

To visit or for more information:

Turnbull Wine Cellars

8210 Saint Helena Highway

Oakville, California, 94562

Phone: 1-800-887-6285


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