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California Winemaking Guru Helen Turley Departs Pahlmeyer

James Laube
Posted: December 4, 1999

Helen Turley, one of California's most celebrated winemakers, has severed ties with one of her longtime clients. After nine years as consulting winemaker for Pahlmeyer in Napa Valley, Turley has moved on, citing a desire to focus more on her own Sonoma Coast vineyard and winery, Marcassin. Also, Pahlmeyer's new vineyard and winery projects are larger in size than she feels comfortable working with, she said.

Turley said that she's still looking for new clients, but she wants to work exclusively on single-vineyard or estate-grown wines, where she can oversee grapegrowing and winemaking. With her husband and business partner, John Wetlaufer, Turley currently consults for Bryant Family Vineyard in Napa, Russian River Valley's Martinelli (where she also makes her Marcassin wines) and Canepa Cellars in Alexander Valley.

Jayson Pahlmeyer's new projects are ambitious. He expects his winery, which has been a 4,500-case operation, to grow significantly in the next few years. Pahlmeyer also owns Waters Ranch, a 220-acre property in the Atlas Peak appellation. About 100 acres of the property are plantable, and Pahlmeyer has already planted most of that with Bordeaux varieties for his blended red table wine, his best-known bottling. He is also known for his ultrarich Chardonnay and Merlot.

Earlier this year, Pahlmeyer purchased a 70-acre Sonoma Coast property, near Turley's Marcassin Vineyard, called Wayfare Farm, of which he hopes to plant another 30 acres, mostly to Pinot Noir. Both vineyard projects are substantial, involving intensive viticultural practices and new winemaking facilities, Pahlmeyer said. "I've got these two projects going, and if you put your pencil and paper together, that's a lot of wine," he said.

Pahlmeyer said that Erin Green, a longtime associate of Turley's who has also worked with his wines, will become the new winemaker. "This is the perfect time for her to come on to the winery full-time," she said. "We're starting [next year] to get grapes in from the Waters Ranch, and we'll be designing the new wineries."

The Waters Ranch has been a particularly expensive and challenging project for Pahlmeyer. His winery was fined by government agencies for not obtaining the proper use permits when part of the land was cleared for planting. Pahlmeyer estimated that he will spend about $9 million on the vineyard and its associated costs, such as roads and irrigation ponds.

Green has worked for Turley for 14 years, including the nine years of consulting for Pahlmeyer. "She knows what we're doing," Pahlmeyer said. "In fact, she's been making most of the wines anyway, so this will be a good match." He said that working with Helen Turley had been "like a dream come true" because of her precision winemaking.

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