This Week’s Wine Tasting
Welcoming Brian Miracle, National Sales Director
“Founded as Failla Jordan in 1998, it took its name from the husband-and-wife team of winemaker Ehren Jordan and fellow debtor Anne-Marie Failla. That year we planted our Estate vineyard on the Sonoma Coast and began buying fruit for our first releases, the very Rhône-style ‘98 Alban Vineyard Viognier and ‘98 Que Syrah Syrah.
However, after three vintages under the Failla Jordan label, the must hit the fan and we got into a legal dust-up with Jordan Vineyards and Winery. When the smoke cleared, we had agreed to cease using Ehren’s last name to avoid trampling tender trademark toes and, putting our best foot (and better half) forward, we continued with simply ‘Failla’.”
History of Failla:
“…In 1994, former boss Bruce Neyers made Ehren an offer he couldn’t refuse: to join he and his wife Barbara as winemaking partner in Neyers Vineyards. In 1996, Ehren made Anne-Marie an offer she couldn’t refuse and the two married in 1997. Today, Ehren directs the winemaking of more than 15,000 cases in Neyers’ state-of-the-art winery, which he helped design and build in 2000.
Back in 1994, although a partner in a flourishing winery, Ehren still needed a paying job. Enter Helen Turley and her husband Jon Wetlaufer, who hired Ehren to work at Marcassin, their estate vineyards on the Sonoma Coast where the steep hillsides resemble those of Cornas. Ehren quickly recognized how Rhône-like the conditions were in this little known viticultural area and scraped together the money to buy a gorge-laced 40-acre parcel with only five plantable acres which three years later became our Estate vineyard.
In the meantime, Helen introduced Ehren to her brother Larry Turley, proprietor of Turley Wine Cellars, where Ehren became Helen’s winemaking assistant. Ehren eventually took over full-time winemaking duties with the 1996 vintage.
Wooed to the Napa Valley by Ehren, Anne-Marie dove into the wine business during the harvest of 1996 with a cellar job at William Hill Winery in order to learn the physical elements of an industry so often associated with glamour. Marketing positions followed at Beringer Wine Estates and Chappellet Vineyards before co-founding Failla Jordan with Ehren.”
Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate says of Failla: “Ehren Jordan is one of those people who are maddeningly talented at many things. Jordan recently left his post at Turley, where he spent nearly 20 years making a dizzying array of superb Zinfandels. At Failla, which Jordan owns with his wife Anne-Marie, the focus is on cool-climate Chardonnays and Pinots, rendered in a range that approximates Turley when it comes to the number of different bottlings. Did I mention Jordan is versed in the classics and is also a licensed pilot? Jordan wants to spend more time at Failla, and I believe it, given the breadth of this range. Frankly, I can’t imagine how Ehren took care of similarly large portfolios at both Turley and Failla while maintaining a sense of sanity. It will be interesting to see how things develop at Failla. The wines are already stellar, as I hope these notes amply demonstrate. Simply put, Failla is a reference point winery for the Sonoma Coast. This is as good as it gets.”
The specific wines for the tasting are:
Failla Chardonnay Sonoma Coast 2012
Sonoma Coast. “In our ongoing quest for purity of expression we continue to shift toward more neutral élevage for this enjoy-it-young Chardonnay: splitting half of the fruit between concrete egg and stainless steel vessels. The remainder fermented and aged in French oak, only 15% new and barely perceptible in the finished wine’s aromas of wet-stone, lime and oyster-shell. Malolactic fermentation provides a round, glycerin finish that balance the wine’s vibrant mouth-watering acidity.” 1000 cases produced.
Failla Chardonnay Chuy Vineyard 2011
Sonoma. “Joining our quiver of old-vine Chardonnay vineyards, this dry-farmed, head-trained site has been tended continuously by Chuy Ordaz since he planted it in 1964. Infinitesimal yields from this site feature impossibly tiny berries (known as “hens & chicks”), courtesy of the shot-Wente clone, producing super-concentrated results. Intense, complex aromas of caramel, pear, green tea and lavender explode from the glass. Great depth on the mid-palate, balanced by mouth-coating viscosity.” 300 cases produced.
92+ Wine Advocate: “Layers of tropical fruit, white truffles, almonds and dried pears flow effortlessly from the 2011 Chardonnay Chuy Vineyard. This is an unusually dense, concentrated wine for the Sonoma Coast, particularly in this vintage. Elements of exoticism give the Chuy much of its beguiling, captivating personality. Chuy was planted in 1964. The head trained vines are dry farmed. Anticipated maturity: 2014-2021.”
Failla Chardonnay Hudson Vineyard 2011
Napa Valley. “Grower Lee Hudson has reinvigorated this vineyard with new plantings of thoughtfully chosen varietals, clones and rootstock. This fruit was whole-cluster pressed into a combination of mixed-age French oak and concrete eggs. Concrete rounds texture and emphasizes aromatic purity as evidenced by the interplay of brioche and baked apple with Asian pear and citrus blossom on the nose. Vibrant, mouthwatering acidity creates mid-palette tension with a creamy mouthfeel for a long yet focused finish.” 475 cases produced.
93 Wine Advocate: “Butter, nectarines, smoke and passion fruit all emerge from 2011 Chardonnay Hudson Vineyard. A rich, viscous Chardonnay, the Hudson is totally alive in the glass. It is fascinating to taste the Hudson next to the other Failla Chardonnays. The 2011 is totally sensual and polished from the very first taste. Hints of mango and tropical fruit reappear on the viscous, oily finish. Anticipated maturity: 2014-2021.”
Failla Chardonnay Keefer Ranch 2011
Russian River Valley. “The Keefer is the benchmark example of what we accomplished in the über-cool 2011 growing season: laser-focused nervy acidity, age-worthiness, a supportive food partner. A quarter of the fruit was fermented in concrete egg vessels while the rest went directly into 1/3 new French oak barrels until bottling. Mineral-driven, stony aromatics undercut with citrus rind, present a classic Burgundian white. Very elegant, focused, acid-driven palate. Great texture on the finish.” 425 cases produced.
92 Wine Advocate: “Lemon oil, grapefruit and crushed rocks all take shape as the 2011 Chardonnay Keefer Ranch shows off its focused, vibrant personality. This is one of the more pointed, intensely saline Chardonnays in the lineup. Transparent, vivid and totally alive in the glass, the 2011 impresses for its balance and crystalline purity. Anticipated maturity: 2013-2020.”
Failla Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast 2012
Sonoma Coast. “This blend of maturing Sonoma Coast grape sources has outgrown its “young-vine” tag while still offering the pleasures of freshness and drinkability. Vinified in the same manner as our single vineyard Pinots, this vintage was aged in French oak, 20% new. Warm tones of baking spice, wild sage, balsam and classic cherry coulis. Fine tannins and bright, juicy acidity give structure to the red berry palate.” 2000 cases produced.
90 Wine Advocate– “The least expensive red is the 2012 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast, which offers soft, round berry fruit, pomegranate, plum and spice notes, a seductive, medium-bodied mouthfeel and decent acidity. Made from younger vines from numerous sources, it is a pretty Pinot to drink over the next 3-4 years.”
Failla Syrah Hudson Vineyard 2010
Napa Valley. “Our inaugural Hudson Syrah was fermented as whole clusters, concentrating the distinctive peppery aromatics that epitomize the northern Rhône, then barreled-down in French oak, 1/3 of which was new. Boasting classic aromas of violets, bacon fat, leather, rosemary and graphite, this vineyard asserts itself as a worthy successor to the Phoenix with structured, well-integrated tannins. Think cassoulet, rack of lamb, beef bourguignon. Will age well for 8-10 years.” 360 cases produced.
95 Wine Advocate: “Black olives, savory herbs, asphalt, bittersweet chocolate, cloves and menthol all flesh out in Failla’s 2010 Syrah Hudson Vineyard. A dark, rich wine, the 2010 saturates the palate with endless waves of flavor. There is so much going on in the glass, it’s hard to know where to start. A deep, layered finish rounds out this explosive, rich Syrah beautifully. Jordan used 100% whole clusters here, but they are totally integrated with the wine. Anticipated maturity: 2015-2025.”