From hailing cabs to championing white Zinfandel, Turley does the unthinkable
“We feel in general that Cabernet people drink the label, and Zin lovers drink the wine.” Upon hearing this aphorism from Turley Wine Cellars founder Larry Turley, the high-shouldered bottle shape of its recent side project might come as a surprise. The St. Helena and Templeton winery purchased a vineyard block of Cabernet Sauvignon in 2009 but knew the varietal would be incompatible with Turley Wine Cellar’s high-profile portfolio—and one-to-two-year wait list—of old-vine Zinfandel and Petite Syrah. In recognition of Turley’s statement, its release this past fall bore a simple name: The Label.
“I jokingly refer to it as the Mini Cooper,” says oldest of four daughters Christina Turley, 28, who left a career as beverage director/sommelier for Momofuku Restaurant Group in New York to build this new brand. “Not the big, heavy and ripe wines—the SUVs. It’s not a biodynamic wine—like a hybrid. It’s a Mini.” (The $40 price point supports that analogy.)
A more modern reinterpretation of the classic 1960s and ’70s Napa cabs, The Label reflects the era’s quieter palate, albeit using today’s technique. Did the mailing list sip outside its comfort zone last November? “We sold out in nearly three days.”
Christina Turley, now directing national sales and marketing, wishes to reclaim white Zinfandel, a name all but relegated to the bottom shelf. The red grape originally linked to Croatian Crljenak Kaštelanski, she explains, “is arguably the closest you’ll get to an indigenous variety in California. It fits with what Turley [winery] is trying to do: to preserve our unique wine and culture.” The 2011 Turley Napa Valley White Zinfandel, $19, bears no residual sugar. It’s super-dry, 11.2% alcohol. It is, simply put, composed of early harvested estate red Zinfandel grapes. Turley emailed a select distribution; sommeliers snapped up the scant offering within a few hours.
Turley recalls a conversation with San Francisco Chronicle critic Jon Bonné, who listed the release in his Top 100 of 2012. “He said to me, ‘If you don’t make White Zin, then the terrorists win.’” turleywinecellars.com.
Written and edited by Alison Clare Steingold