We recently spoke about Californian winery Turley Wine Cellars and its superb Zinfandel wines. We will talk to today with Karl Wicka, winemaker of the Paso Robles wines.

Good morning, Karl, and thank you so much for talking to us. You are working for Turley Wine Cellars as winemaker in Paso Robles for the last 16 years, meaning you’ve been there for every single vintage of my favorite Dusi Vineyard ZinfandelZinfandel is a less known variety in Spain. What makes it so special in California?

It is California’ heritage variety. In Burgundy they have Pinot Noir, in Australia they have Shiraz, and here in California we have Zinfandel. It is grown (and has been grown) in all of the viticultural areas and produces wines that reflect those areas. It is special because it has more historical value than any other variety.

Do you make one label out of each vineyard? It must be a big challenge every year to be able to work with that many different plots.

It is quite a challenge to keep track of all the wines that we make, but it is necessary to achieve our goal of showing Terroir through Zinfandel. In other words, we make Zinfandel wines in the exact same style, harvested at identical maturity levels, the only difference is that the grapes are grown in different areas of California and the wines are different from one another for that reason alone.

Do you have processing facilities in each area? Paso Robles is far away from the vineyards in the Napa Valley.

We do have different wineries. The original winery in St. Helena in the Napa Valley is responsible for around 60% of our production, with the remaining 40% being divided between our winery in Paso Robles and our winery in Plymouth.

Do you process each plot separately? Do you do different treatments with them?

Yes, we ferment each vineyard separately. In fact, most vineyards will have several different sub-lots (we did 5 different Zinfandels from Dusi this year). We try and treat each the same, so that it can fit our model of showing terroir through Zinfandel.

Do you experiment with particular plots to see how they work?

Absolutely. At the Paso Robles winery this year, we brought in Zinfandel from three new vineyards to evaluate the juice chemistry of the fruit and the resulting wine quality. We will blend these wines with other experimental vineyard wines made in Plymouth and St. Helena for a bottling that we call Juvenile. If a vineyard consistently produces an exceptional wine vintage after vintage, then we will begin to bottle it as a vineyard designated wine.

Can we say that we can taste as many different characters of Zinfandels as labels Turley Wine Cellars produces?

Yes. No two zinfandels are the same, as they all reflect the place that they were grown.

How is the average process for Zinfandel in Paso Robles?

We hand-harvest each vineyard followed by a hand-sorting of the clusters prior to de-stemming. Each lot then has a 5-day cold soak followed by a seven to fourteen day native yeast fermentation. Ageing is for fifteen months in 20% American oak and 80% French oak 225-liter barrels, 25% of which are new. The wines are bottled un-filtered.

You run here four Zinfandel vineyards, what’s the main difference between them?

The main difference is the soil that they are grown in.

Do all of them are ready for harvest around the same time?

A normal year will have us starting around the first week of September and finishing around the third week of October. We will normally make thirty different wines from the four different vineyards, as different exposures ripen at different times – Some sooner, some later.

Do you like to tier them, as one serving as the easiest one to drink and another as the more complex one?

Not exactly. Some are more approachable sooner, so we release them with only four months of bottle age. Others (PesentiUeberroth) are slower to evolve, so we bottle age those for ten months before we release them.

What’s the difference between one of your Zinfandels and others of Turley Wine Cellars? What’s your personal touch?

My personal touch is to ensure that each wine is stable and able to be bottled unfiltered with the least amount of intervention possible. That is the goal of our entire winemaking team (St. Helena and Amador included) so that each wine is a true expression of its site, not a creation of winemaking tricks.

What do you look for in the vineyard to be translated into the bottle?

Soil, vine age, exposure to wind and heat, vineyard health, proximity to the Pacific Ocean, etc.

Do you have a preferred vineyard?

No. They are like children, you must love them all.

You also run a Petite Syrah and a Red Wine. How do they compare to the Zinfandel?

The Petite Syrah is much easier to make than the old vine Zinfandel. Although the winemaking protocols are much the same, Petite Syrah does not suffer from the complications that are common with making Old Vine Zinfandel.

Six total vineyards in Paso Robles. Where do you think Turley Wine Cellars grows its best Zinfandel? Here in Paso Robles, maybe Howell Mountain?

I think that all of the areas that we grow Zinfandel in have their strengths and I honestly don’t have a true favorite. I do, however have a special place in my heart for the Pesenti Vineyard because it’s where I come to work everyday.

Thank you very much, Karl.

Photos © by Turley Wine Cellars