Making the case (so to speak) for a bold Napa winery you should know about
Turnbull should be better known that it probably is. Founded in 1979 as Johnson-Turnbull, and with an excellent location smack on highway 29 just north of Oakville, the winery and home vineyards are in the heart of the Napa Valley, surrounded by such famous names as robert Mondavi, Opus One and Cakebread. Maybe folks are just so distracted by those wineries that they drive on by. Whatever the reason, missing Turnbull is a mistake for you Napa Cabernet lovers out there.
Turnbull is very much a product of its time, practicing certain organic farming methods (though not certified organic), with wildlife stations throughout their vineyards and sustainable practices in place. At the same time, self-professed “non-technical” winemaker Peter Heitz admits that if he doesn’t start with great fruit, he can’t make great wines. With all this in place, Turnbull’s wines have shown significant improvement over the past decade, and some of that improvement results from replanting vineyards with an orientation that allows for more even ripening, an issue that formerly accounted for some of the greenness that turned certain people off of Cabernet.
The other boost to quality over the past years began under the tutelage of Peter’s predecessor. Working with 40% more fruit than the current operation ferments, the winery was equipped with far fewer tanks, meaning the winemaking the style was previously guided by logistical issues. Struggling with too few tanks to comfortably accommodate the entire vintage, fermentations had to go fast and hot in order to turn the fermenters around. Today, Peter has a fermenter for each vineyard block, which furthers his goal of capturing the quality of the vineyards. Not needing to turn over the tanks gives Peter the flexibility to leave the wines on the skins, sometimes for up to 75 or 80 days.
There’s a certain no nonsense attitude here, which comes through both in the wines and when you chat with winemaker Peter Heitz. Young and affable, Peter tells it like it is, pointing out the limitations of the current Napa Valley appellation system and the qualities that each of Turnbull’s vineyards offers him, freely admitting that while he does allow fermentation to start spontaneously, he likes the added spice box notes that indigenous yeasts bring to the finished wine. It’s not long after fermentation gets going that he inoculates the must with a commercial yeast that can be relied upon to finish the wines to dryness.
The results are a group of impressive, powerful, no-holds-barred Cabernets which, while expensive, are priced about right for the quality. There are many more expensive wines out there that do not offer this level of quality, but having said that the real star of the lineup here is the entry level Napa Valley Cabernet. Here you have a wine that delivers classic Napa Valley depth and intensity for $40 a bottle. This is not a small or timid wine by any stretch of the imagination, but it works, is well balanced, and seems to represent what Turnbull is all about today: revealing the essence of vintage, vineyard, and variety with no apologies for the ripeness and richness that the Napa Valley can offer.
Nice pear fruit on the nose and surprisingly not terribly floral, showing nice subtlety to the pollen and honeysuckle nuances that accent the fruit along with hints of lychee and lime. Bright on entry, this is fairly rich in the mouth, with a hint of phenolic bitterness accenting the almond and light dried apricot fruit flavors. Texturally this is a bit aggressive for my palate, but it does finish with impressive length. 88 points
Lovely on the nose, with layered notes of dried herbs, a bit of olive, a flat sheen of oak, and black fruit. Tight on entry, this softens up on the palate, showing dark fruit that’s not particularly rich or dense and pretty tannic, finishing with dry tannins. There is a hint of red fruit lurking here, and the finish really is quite long and balances fruit, savory and oak nicely but this remains rather firm and stern. Grill me some boar over grapevine cuttings and let’s see how this fares. I bet some age will prove beneficial. 88 points