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james laube's wine flights

Turley and Wetlaufer Scale Back

Photo by: Greg Gorman

Posted: Nov 2, 2006 8:43pm ET

It’s the end of an era. Sort of. Maybe.

Two of the most influential winemakers of this era—the wife-and-husband team of winemaker Helen Turley and viticulturist John Wetlaufer—have cut their consulting business to one client.

The couple, who own the celebrated Marcassin Vineyard and label, under which they make sensational Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs, recently severed ties with their last client in Napa Valley, Blankiet Estate, located in Yountville. Their last month working there was August. (Claude Blankiet has hired Martha McClellan Levy as winemaker; she worked previously for Harlan and most recently at Sloan.)

“We’re concentrating on Marcassin. That's always been our focus,” Wetlaufer said Thursday. “We don’t have any more clients in Napa as of now.”

But…

If the right client came along, they might change their minds. “If a Napa client was serious about Cabernet, we’d be happy to talk to them,” Wetlaufer said. Turley was known for making wonderful Cabernets for wineries such as Colgin and Bryant Family Vineyard in Napa, and Peter Michael in Sonoma’s Knights Valley. “We really enjoyed consulting. [Our relationships] were more like partnerships than clients."

He added, “I had a chance to [work with] six or seven vineyards [with Helen] and really grew to enjoy it. It’s an activity where the high-tech is useful and an eye for terrain still valuable."

While their ties to Napa are severed for now, Turley and Wetlaufer are still consulting for Martinelli, in Sonoma’s Russian River Valley. Marcassin is made at Martinelli, and the two wineries both produce Pinot Noir from two vineyards owned by the Martinellis on the Sonoma Coast—Blue Slide Ridge and Three Sisters. “We still fit at Martinelli,” Wetlaufer said.

Looking ahead, Marcassin's production from 2006 should be 3,000 cases between the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, the largest production in their winery’s history.

“We did have a wonderful harvest,” Wetlaufer said of the quality. “It’s a little early to tell.”

But then he added, “Reminds me of 1996 …”

David Nerland
Scottsdale —  November 3, 2006 10:47am ET
I think by dropping their "consulting" business, they will spend more time improving the flagship, Marcassin. They are truly artisans and it shows. Based on what they charge vs what they could charge its more about the wine then money.
Tim Sylvester
Santa Monica, CA —  November 3, 2006 1:00pm ET
James--what do you think the underlying reason for the departure is here, esp. in the context of their difficult separation from Don Bryant? Are Helen and John too difficult for owners to work with? Your take please.
John Wilen
Texas —  November 3, 2006 2:48pm ET
In his recent announcement of the change, Claude Blankiet said this:

"I would like to inform you that we have parted ways with Helen Turley and John Wetlaufer, who for nine years were in charge of winemaking and viticulture at Blankiet Estate. They now will have more time to devote to their own Marcassin vineyard project. Martha McClellan, our new winemaker, has been assuming their responsibilities since September first and is in charge of our harvest 2006. Martha, for those of you who do not know her well, is the hugely talented winemaker at Sloan. She also worked side by side with her husband Bob Levy at Harlan for many years. We are very pleased to let you know that Michel Rolland is consulting at Blankiet Estate. Michel will be assisting us with lot selection and assemblage." Best regards to all, Claude Blankiet
Tim Sylvester
Santa Monica, CA —  November 3, 2006 8:13pm ET
John--Thanks for the quote. Seems to me like faint praise after 9 nine years.

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