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New Wines, New Faces: Living on the Viticultural Edge

Turley winemaker Ehren Jordan is making Syrah on the Sonoma Coast at his Failla-Jordan property.

Daniel Sogg
Posted: November 9, 2001

Ehren Jordan is best known for the powerful, ultraconcentrated bottlings of Petite Sirah and Zinfandel that he makes at Turley Wine Cellars in Napa Valley. Those high-octane wines routinely surpass 15 percent alcohol, but Jordan cut his winemaking teeth under vastly different circumstances working for a consultant in France's Rhône Valley during the difficult 1992 and 1993 vintages.

"It rained every day during harvest [in 1993], and seeing what people did to make wine -- and make some good wine -- was incredibly instructive," said Jordan, who recalled some producers harvesting grapes at a miserable 8 degrees potential alcohol.

Those lessons about maximizing ripeness in challenging conditions now serve Jordan and his wife, Anne-Marie Failla (pronounced FAY-la), at their new project, Failla-Jordan, an 85-acre property on the Sonoma Coast, about 2.5 miles from the Pacific Ocean.

The weather there is cool and windy, but Jordan believes that the marginal conditions can yield grapes with noteworthy complexity and aromatics. "The potential for greatness is higher when you're in a risky climate. You have higher highs and lower lows. It's definitely a gamble, but the rewards can justify the risk," he said.

Jordan had already been eyeing property on the Sonoma Coast back in 1995 while working for Helen Turley at Marcassin, the brand she owns with her husband, John Wetlaufer. Jordan was astonished by the quality of Marcassin's first estate bottlings, the 1995 Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, and quickly cobbled together the money to buy the Failla-Jordan property.

Rather than planting right away, Jordan took a methodical approach, spending most of his weekends on the site, studying such things as where the sun rose and how it struck the ground, and deciding how to orient the rows to capture every moment of sunlight.

Only 11 acres of the rolling ridges are suitable for vines, he decided. In 1998, he and his wife planted 3.5 acres to Syrah and 2 to Chardonnay. That year, they also made a total of 280 cases of wines from purchased Sonoma Coast Syrah and Edna Valley Viognier grapes.

Jordan and Failla decided to delay this year's scheduled planting of the remaining 5.5 acres -- slated for more Syrah and Pinot Noir -- when they got a chance to buy grapes from new sources.

From the 2001 vintage, they'll bottle about 1,500 cases of Syrah and Pinot Noir made from grapes purchased from growers in the Sonoma Coast, Russian River Valley, Napa and as far afield as Oregon. Failla-Jordan's estate vineyards also yielded their first crop, but not enough for commercial quantities. Once those 11 acres are bearing fruit, total yearly production should be nearly 3,000 cases.

It's easy to recognize the Rhône roots in the spicy aromatics of the 1998 Failla-Jordan Que Syrah Vineyard Syrah (87 points, $53, 155 cases), from a Sonoma Coast site 4.5 miles from the ocean at an elevation of 850 feet. That wine is sold out, as are the 1999 Alban Vineyard Viognier (not rated, $48, 125 cases) and the 1999 Que Syrah Vineyard Syrah (NR, $48, 225 cases).

Jordan thinks his estate Syrah will up the ante with an added measure of ripeness because the vines are exposed to more sun at their 1,400 feet elevation, above the fog line.

"I've always had this vision of what Syrah should taste like, and that comes from working in France and tasting lots of Northern Rhône wines," he said. "That's my windmill. I want to make wines that taste like that glass of Syrah in my head, and I see that potential from the Sonoma Coast."

P.O. Box 911
Calistoga, CA 94515
Tel: (707) 942-4699
Fax: (707) 942-5142
E-mail: amf@fcs.net

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Read more about Ehren Jordan:

  • June 15, 2001 Zinfandel's New Outpost in Napa

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