Years ago, I wrote an article, titled “A California Zinfandel Tour,” that described an imaginary road trip to taste good zinfandel wines from Paso Robles, Sonoma County, Napa Valley, Lodi and Mendocino County. Today, we can take another virtual California tour at one winery, the acclaimed Turley Wine Cellars in Templeton, near Paso Robles.
From their menu of 31 wines, Turley produces 25 different zinfandel releases, 23 vineyard-designated, all organic and sourced from some of the oldest and finest vineyards throughout the state. This many wines may seem a bit ostentatious, but the winery describes them all as unique and different.
Turley has placed a different single-vineyard release on Wine Spectator magazine’s Top 100 list in each of the past six years, including the Turley Zinfandel Paso Robles Ueberroth Vineyard 2013 & 2014 (95-pt), which have placed among the top 20 wines in each of the past two years. Aside from the Ueberroth, wines from Dusi, Pesenti, a blend of young vineyards called “Juvenile” and a Petit Syrah from Howell Mountain in the Napa Valley have all been honored
Larry Turley was a physician in Santa Rosa for many years before purchasing property north of St. Helena in the Napa Valley to start Frog’s Leap Winery. In 1993, he followed a desire to focus on zinfandel and began to secure grapes from some of the oldest vineyards throughout California. He later purchased the Pesenti Vineyard and Winery in Templeton, which became the hub of his operation and largest tasting room.
Turley’s grapes are sourced from the oldest and finest vineyards from Lodi to the Alexander Valley to the slopes of Howell Mountain. The same elevage is used for each, yet they are all different. With the broad range of soils and terroir in California, how could they not be?
A proprietary blend from two vineyards high atop Howell Mountain, the Turley Zinfandel “Cedarman” Howell Mountain 2014 Napa Valley is sourced from heavy volcanic soils with grapes that ripen later due to the cooler average temperatures at higher elevations.
The “Cedarman” has a savory, “garrique” feel with herbal influences. Zinfandel vines, grown in a mountain appellation, combined with a pinch of petit sirah, result in a wine with robust, distinctive flavors.
Cities and towns have grown up around many of the surviving vineyards in places like Antioch and Martinez, east of San Francisco. These are pure stock, old vines that produce such varietals as carignane, mourvedre and zinfandel for winemakers throughout the state.
Comprised of fruit from three historic vineyards in the area, the Turley Zinfandel “Duarte Vineyard” Contra Costa County 2015, is a tribute to a local grower. A distinctive creamy mouthfeel and soft tannins come from deep sandy soils that have built up over time. A rich texture with a long, soft finish enticed me to take a bottle home.
The Dante Dusi Vineyard, adjacent to Highway 101 in Templeton, has produced premium zinfandel grapes for more than half a century. I had an opportunity to meet Dante Dusi at a 2012 Father’s Day tasting hosted by his granddaughter, winemaker Janelle Dusi. Dante passed away in 2014, but his legendary vineyard continues to support great wines like the rich, luscious Turley Zinfandel “Dante Dusi Vineyard” Paso Robles 2010 (95-pt), the No. 12 wine on the Top 100 Wine list of 2013.
Years ago, the now-defunct Martin-Weyrich Winery’s annual zinfandel release from the Ueberroth Vineyard was my favorite.
Turley now partners with the vineyard to produce the same luscious, concentrated flavors and rich mouthfeel that I remember. The highly-rated Turley Zinfandel “Ueberroth Vineyard” Paso Robles 2014 (95-pt) is one of the top releases of 2017 among all wines.
Wine is about stories, and Larry Turley’s is a good one that involves passion, experience and the will to produce extraordinary wines from great stock in the perfect terroir. His medium, the native zinfandel grape, continues to showcase our state’s bountiful diversity.
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