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Honoring an American Winemaking Icon

California winemaker Helen Turley earns 2010 Distinguished Service Award

Posted: October 4, 2010

Helen Turley, who has made some of California’s greatest wines in her more than three decades in the state’s wine industry and who now pursues her philosophy of winemaking excellence at her own Marcassin Vineyard, is the recipient of Wine Spectator’s Distinguished Service Award for 2010.

Turley, 64, is being honored for her impact in shaping the course of modern winemaking. Her highly sought-after wines—routinely stunning expressions of pure, rich, varietal character, opulent yet deftly balanced—combined with her vision and determination have made her one of the most influential winemakers of her generation.

During the 1990s, Turley helped usher in the era of the superconsultant in California, taking startups such as Peter Michael, Colgin and Bryant Family to fame as her winegrowing regime pushed wine quality to new heights.

At one point, Turley simultaneously made wines for Colgin, Bryant, Turley, Martinelli, Pahlmeyer, Green & Red, Harrison, La Jota, Landmark and Canepa, as well her and husband John Wetlaufer’s own label, Marcassin.

Some of her early triumphs came with the Napa Valley Cabernets of Bryant and Colgin, which shared her signature style of bold and extracted flavors underscored by finesse, polish and refinement. Turley is also credited with helping raise the quality of Chardonnay in both Napa and Sonoma. With Marcassin, and the wines she made for Martinelli, Turley was instrumental in putting Sonoma Coast on the map.

Turley was profiled in our July 31 cover story. In it, she summed up her no-nonsense approach to winemaking succinctly: “Quality is my passion,” she said.

Jeff Ames
Napa, ca —  October 4, 2010 10:43pm ET
Well deserved. She made some amazing wines. One of my benchmark CA Cabs is still the '97 Bryant Family Cabernet. Amazing stuff.

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