one happy failla

Sunday, January 31, 2010

I’m still on my odyssey through California wine country. Found myself off the grid for a few days, but will be posting daily again, with notes on visits to some outstanding small wineries. A visit to Failla last Wednesday included not only the chance to taste through some thoroughly outstanding wines, but a fascinating conversation with owner/vigneron Ehren Jordan about his somewhat schizophrenic winemaking life.

Jordan, a handsome man who might be mistaken for Cary Grant’s younger brother were he to put on a three piece suit, has a degree in classical archeology. Like most such degrees (mine is in comparative religious studies), it did not lead to a career path.

His introduction to the Napa valley came in the form of a part-time job as a tour guide 20 years ago. At some point he went to France, and spent time in the Beaujolais region of southern Burgundy. He remains “fascinated by cru Beaujolais,” he told me, adding “I drink more Beaujolais and gruner veltliner at home than any other wine. I love Moulin à Vent, Cotes de Brouilly; I’ve been to every Kermit Lynch producer in Beaujolais.”

Remember, this is the man who makes wines for Turley. Big, powerful – some might say huge, over-the-top – zins and petite sirahs. Nothing Beaujolais-like there. Which is, says Jordan, why he has developed Failla in a completely opposite direction.

“At Failla,” he explains, “there’s an exploration of the cooler climate side of winemaking.” That created a bit of customer confusion at first, because his Turley customers expected pinots that resembled syrah, rather than the elegant, almost ephemeral wines he was releasing. But over time, and with a boost from a lot of positive press, Jordan says he has “come to a happy point where the Turley customers are not startled by Failla wines.” And he adds, “I like both styles. You can like both. Turleys are like southern Rhône wines – big, warm and rich. Failla is Burgundian, acid-driven. I don’t have a preference. It depends on the day, the meal, which you choose. I like wine in general; in fact, I’m fascinated by wine.”

Me too. And though my personal preferences run closer to the Failla half of Jordan’s split eno-personality, I can appreciate the power and appeal of the jammy blockbusters, when they are done well, and balanced in their own rather precarious fashion.

We tasted through a lineup of wines that honestly had no weaknesses. The Failla 2007 Keefer Ranch Chardonnay ($38), finished in 30 percent new oak, showed deep flavors of Meyer lemon, Satsuma orange, and nectarine with some luscious minerality. Its companion white, a Failla 2008 Alban Vineyard Viognier was loaded with candied citrus, a perfect mix of flower, fruit and stone in both nose and palate. Barrel fermented in neutral cooperage, and kept on the lees for several months, it saw no new oak.

The Failla 2008 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir ($34) is a blend of juice from younger vines at several single vineyard designated sites. Soft and aromatic with rose petals, hints of briary herb, barnyard, pepper, and moist earth, it showed balanced acids, smooth tannins, and a gentle finish of chocolate, caramel, and cranberry/raspberry fruit. “Just a kiss” (20 percent) of new oak.

The Failla 2008 Keefer Ranch Pinot Noir ($45) was my favorite wine of the day.
Soft, seductive, silky and surprising, its depth and resonance were glorious, a mix of plum, cassis, blueberry and chocolate done with elegance, precision, and subtle power.

Another single vineyard effort, the Failla 2007 Occidental Ridge Pinot Noir ($60)
was equally distinctive, scented with wet clay, hints of barnyard, and bright, acidic red fruits – cranberry, pomegranate, and hints of citrus rind. Sharp, ageworthy, and nicely structured. The tasting concluded with the Failla 2008 Phoenix Ranch Syrah ($44). Once again, Jordan’s light touch opened up the aromas, a potpourri of flowers, cured meat, juicy, wild berries, a hint of mineral, a whiff of incense.

Happily, the mailing list remains open. Check the website (and note that it sometimes goes down for no apparent reason). Were I to rate these wines (I leave that to my esteemed colleague Steve Heimoff) they would all score in the 90 -95 range, and all get a single descriptor: yum!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

thanks Paul - I've been on the Failla mailing list for a few years and have really enjoyed the wines. It's nice to read a little bit about the winemaker as well!

Rob Spalding

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