Few years ago I discovered a great wine dining in a restaurant in Aspen, Colorado. It was so smooth and superb that it made an impact on me. In other trips to the USA I tried hard to get a bottle of it but it was such a difficult task than over a three-year span I was able only to get one single bottle. They sell most of their production to an exclusive mailing list which is not that easy to get into. I subscribed to their mailing list and this year I received the greatest news: I had been accepted in the Turley Wine Cellars mailing list!!

So finally I was able to buy my own Turley Dusi Zinfaldel, one of the most special wines I have ever tasted. Now, I can tell you this: I won’t relinquish my spot in that list.

Zinfandel is a very special grape that you can’t find in many places outside California. In fact, Zinfandel is the state’s representative grape. Its origins are elsewhere—the Dalmatian Coast of Croatia, to be exact—but it wasn’t until it came to California in the early 1800s that it truly began to flourish. All but extinct anywhere else, many of these original vineyards survived both phylloxera and Prohibition, making California home to the largest number of old vines as well.

In 1993, Larry Turley founded Turley Wine Cellars. Since then, the company has grown to own vineyards across 8 different areas of California planted with Zinfandel, Petite Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cinsault and Sauvignon Blanc, with the Zinfandel being the most popular one planted in 25 different vineyards:

Howell Mountain, where they produce Cedarman, Dragon Vineyard and Rattlesnake Ridge Zinfandels and also Rattlesnake Ridge Petite Syrah and Dragon Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon.

In Napa Valley they produce Hayne Vineyard, Estate and Heminway Vineyard Zinfandels. Hayne Vineyard, Library Vineyard and Estate Petite Syrah. Estate Sauvignon Blanc, Estate Cabernet Sauvignon.

In Lodi we find Dogtown Vineyard and Kirschenmann Vineyard Zinfandels and then Bechtoldt Vineyard Cinsault.

Sonoma Valley offers Fredericks Vineyard and Bedrock Vineyard Zinfandels and Montecillo Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon.

Zampatti Vineyard is a Zinfandel from Sonoma County.

In Amador County, the Zinfandels are Rinaldi Vineyard, Judge Bell, Cobb Vineyard and Sadie Upton Vineyard.

As generic California we have the Old Vines and Juvenile Zinfandels and The White Coat.

In Paso Robles, Amadeo’s Vineyard, Pesenti Vineyard, Ueberroth Vineyard and Dusi Vineyard Zinfandels. Also Pesenti Vineyard Petite Syrah and Tecolote Red Wine.

Salvador Vineyard and Duarte Zinfandels are in Contra Costa County.

Mead Ranch Zinfandel is located in Atlas Peak and finally Vineyard 101 Zinfandel is in Alexander Valley.

We can see that Zinfandel is the grape of excellence for Turley with up to 25 different plots of this variety. I have tasted a few wines based on Zinfandel, not only by Turley but other producers, and obviously not from every area, but for me Paso Robles offers the best ones I’ve ever tasted. And here Turley offers four different vineyards, including my beloved Dusi:

Pesenti Vineyard is a certified organic estate-owned vineyard planted in the 1920’s on primarily limestone soil.

Ueberroth Vineyard is the oldest of the Zinfandel vineyards, having been planted in 1885.

Amadeo’s Vineyard, planted in the 1920’s, was the only vineyard supplying the family-owned Amadeo Martinelli winery.

Dusi Vineyard. Planted by Dante Dusi in 1945, it is farmed by his family to this day.

I’m sure that vinifying these many vineyards will be a challenge for the winemakers. 25 different Zinfandels from different areas and trying to make all of them great is quite a task to make year in year out.

Today we talk with Christina Turley, Director of Sales and Marketing.

Good morning Christina and thank you so much for talking to us. Turley Wine Cellars is present in 8 areas in California. I haven’t seen any other winery with so many vineyards across California. Turley Wine Cellars offers 25 different labels of Zinfandel. Some of them are available only through your Tasting Room and others are sold only on your mailing list. How do you make sure every year all of them will be accepted by the market? How many you do have available to sell?

Though it may seem like a lot of different Zinfandels for one winery, there are very few other wineries that make single-vineyard Zinfandels in the first place. Compare that to how many different Cabernets or Pinot Noirs there are coming out of California and, well, you can see how we don’t really need to “make space” for Zin—especially organically-farmed, well-made ones. Outside of the mailing list and tasting rooms, only about 12 of the 25 Zinfandels we make are available.

In overall, how’s the distribution of your wines in terms of how much goes through the mailing list, how much to the Tasting Rooms and how much goes to the market?

Production-wise, 70% is sold through the mailer & tasting rooms, with the remainder going to distribution. All of the wines are available through either the mailing list or tasting rooms, whereas about 12 of the 36 total wines we make are available in distribution.

In the case of the Zinfandels, do you try to create customers loyal to particular vineyards? I love the Zinfandel, and besides Dusi I have purchased four other Zinfandels, but tasting all 25 labels will be a hard task to complete.

We don’t try to push anyone toward anything. Folks buy the ones they like, though we are happy to make recommendations based on their preferences. For example, if you like Dusi I’d recommend the other Paso Robles wines as well as the Estate Zinfandel from Napa for similar characteristics.

How the Tasting Rooms work?

There are two tasting rooms—one in Paso Robles and a newer one in Amador. They are both open 7 days a week to the public, and as such make it possible for folks to taste and purchase directly from the winery as well as sign up for the mailing list. Though not all the wines we make are available in the tasting rooms, they occasionally have wines that are unique to their respective locations (Rinaldi Zinfandel in Amador and Amadeo’s Zinfandel in Paso, for example). We also offer library tastings or focused tastings wherein we tailor the experience to the guest; these are available by appointment only. When it comes to wine availability, the mailing list is always given priority, and only after that offer is complete do we determine what is available for the tasting rooms and distribution.

You have three annual releases: Spring, Fall and November. Why there are Zinfandels in each release? If they are harvested around the same time, what is the reason for releasing them along the year and not all at once?

Though we divvy them up based somewhat on flavor profiles—slightly lighter wines in Spring, fuller ones in Fall—the main factor is that having all 25 Zinfandels in one release would be overwhelming, for both our customers and for us! This way there’s about 15 wines each in the spring and fall mailing list release. November is the release for our Cabernets.

How does the winemaking team work? Tegan Passalacqua is the Director of Winemaking, Mike Schieffer is the assistant to Tegan, then Karl Wicka is in Paso Robles, Nick Finarelli is in Amador. Does Tegan take care of all the other areas besides Paso Robles and Amador?

How does it work? Very hard, very carefully, and all together. Tegan is the Director of Winemaking and as such oversees the entire production in all three locations, as well as the vineyard management. The other three folks help manage the day-to-day responsibilities of winemaking and vineyard management (in Paso Robles Brennan Stover is the Vineyard Manager). Tegan travels regularly to ALL the vineyards and wineries and works very closely with the entire team.

Which are your plans for the future? Expand to new areas?

Our main plans are to pray for rain and hope that folks stop ripping out old Zinfandel vineyards. (See the Historic Vineyard Society for more).

Which are your favorite Turley wines? And non Turley wines?

Like every parent, I might say I love all my children equally, but I tend towards some depending on how they behave. Recently, I’ve been jamming out on the Juvenile, Duarte, and Zampatti, and I have always loved the Hayne Zin & Petite. Library Petite also holds a special spot in my heart.

Thank you very much, Christina. It’s been a pleasure talking to you.

Photos by Turley Wine Cellars.