Making wines from old vines, Tegan Passalacqua creates wines that have energy and are varietally correct. Wines that represent the authenticity of the place is his goal.
Turley is one of the most renowned producer of California wines. They are making some of the most impressive wines in Lodi from some seriously old vines. For many wine lovers Lodi reigns supreme when it comes to Zinfandel, thanks in part to the efforts of Turley Wines and their winemaker Tegan Passalacqua.
For many Turley needs no introduction. They have been making iconic Zinfandel since Larry Turley started the winery in 1993. Today, Turley is undeniably one of the most esteemed producers of Zinfandel in California, with a commitment to organic farming from day one. Making wines from old vines and single vineyards has been their focus. Today, Turley makes wines in 13 counties across the state of California.
Turley first started making wines in Lodi in 1996. During our tasting, Tegan Passalacqua shares the story of how Turley was first introduced to Lodi. Ehren Jordan(former winemaker for Turley) and Markus Bokisch worked together at Joseph Phelps in the late 80’s. They then both moved on to work in vineyards in Europe where they spent lot of time together. A few years later when Markus was working for Duarte Nursery, he was selling Chardonnay vines to an old vine Zinfandel grower. This farmer was ripping out all their old vine Zinfandel, because he said he could not get anyone to pay 1000 dollars a ton, so it financially did not make sense to keep the vines. Immediately Markus made a call to Ehren Jordan & Larry Turley. They said they would be right out to look at the property; and as they say – the rest is history.
Tegan is winemaker and viticulturist for Turley since 2003. Tegan Passaquale is a Napa native, but recently set his roots in Lodi to make wine. We had the pleasure of meeting with Tegan and tasting the Turley wines with him in his new Lodi home.
Tegan has a big personality and captivated the room with his wines and conversations about Lodi and its history. When I ask Tegan why Lodi, he had a simple and endearing answer, “I simply fell in love with Lodi.” I could immediately sense why, Lodi is a place of community that is supportive and collaborative. During our tasting winemakers came and went; tasting, chatting and exploring the wines. You could feel the sense of community and respect that was present in the room.
Tegan’s passion for Lodi comes through not just in the wines that he makes, but in his presentation as well. As he pulls out a historic soil map of Lodi, where he talks with great zeal and enthusiasm about the history, the terroir, the soils, and the microclimates. Another factor that brought Tegan out to Lodi was that the region has one of the largest concentration of old vines plantings in the country.
Bechthold Vineyard Old Vine Cinsault
Lodi is known for its old vines, some over a 100 years old. Bechthold Vineyard is not only famous for being some of the oldest vines in the country, but more specifically it is known for growing Cinsault. Cinsault often takes a back seat in the Rhone Valley and is often typically a blending grape. Here at Bechtold Vineyards, Cinsault is the darling of Lodi winemakers. At Bechthold, it is an expressive varietal that makes elegant wines, with notes of bright red fruit and spice.
We tasted the Turley Bechthold Vineyad Cinsault 2017 and the 2013. The Turley Bechthold Cinsault is all about brightness and freshness. Since the vines are so old, many in Lodi want to make old vine Cinsault in a big, rich, dark style. Tegan on the other hand, has always loved Cinsault from the south of France, so his Turley Bechthold Cinsault is made in a bright and fresh style that is elegant and refined. This is an incredible wine at a phenomenal price point, at $20. There are only make a 1000 cases made so be sure to look out for Turley’s Bechthold Vineyard Old Vine Cinsault.
On the palate, there is such purity of fruit in the wine, likened to a Pinot Noir,. The 2013 was a great vintage and had more weight on it that the 2017. The 2013 was more grippy with the tannins than 2017. Comparing them side by side showed an interesting progression and evolution of wine that was distinctly Lodi.
Tasting a Horizontal Flight of Turley Zinfandel
Tasting three single vineyard Turley Zinfandel 2016 side by side was an eye-opening experiment, showcasing the microclimates and unique terroir of Lodi. A tasting of the 2016 east side single vineyards of Turley(Kirschenmann, Dogtown, and Steacy) reveal that Lodi is very distinct and uniquely special. The closer you adjust the lens, the more major the differences become.
The Kirschenmann is particularly special, as Tegan Passalacqua, owns and farms this site. The ungrafted vines were planted in 1915 in the silica-rich sandy soils of the east side of the Mokelumne River AVA. Thanks to the river’s cool waters and delta breezes, these head-trained, dry-farmed vines are constantly protected from the heat. The Turley Kirschenmann Zinfandel 2016 tastes really clean. The wine is juicy, full-bodied yet very elegant.
Next was the Turley Steacy Ranch Zinfandel 2016. Steacy Ranch vines were planted in 1907. It was one of the first vineyards planted on St. George rootstock in Lodi, which has since become the gold standard for Zinfandel in California. The site has more gravel in the soils, with a sandy loam and gravel mix. The wines remind you a classic Lodi(not east or west) Zinfandel. The wine was more perfumed and fragrant than the Kirschenmann. This Zinfandel is rich and rustic with nice fruit and supple tannins.
Dogtown was up next. The Dogtown Vineyard site is head-trained, with own-rooted vineyard within the Clements Hills AVA. The rolling hills are composed of clay and volcanic soils, and vine yields are consistently the lowest of all their vineyards. The Turley Dogtown Vineyards 2016 has aromatics of tea, lush fruit, and great acidity. There is also a nice tannic structure to the wine.
One common element across all three wines was a tea element that was clearly present. All three wines are made with the same techniques and the alcohol levels are similar in all three wines. Turley has always farmed organically with a very clean approach to winemaking, Tegan says is the most important thing that they do. All three wines are made in the same exact way, but clearly they show that Lodi can showcase individual sites very well.
Vertical Tasting of Turley Dogtown Vineyard Zinfandel
This was a fantastic opportunity to test the ageability of Lodi Zinfandel, and Turley Dogtown passed with flying colors. We tasted side by side, the 2013, 2010, and the incredibly vibrant 1997. Turley has worked with Dogtown for 22 years, and has bottled it every vintage, This was a fun tasting to seeing how Dogtown tastes over time. 2013 was a strong vintage, as we had a bit of perspective from the 2013 Cinsault which was darker and structured and more meaty. 2010 was one of the best vintages of Lodi and the 1997 was a great vintage for Lodi as well.
The Turley Dogtown Vineyard Zinfandel 1997 was unbelievable. It was been made in the same way as they make the wines today, thus clearly showcasing that these wines can live. This was Turleys first vintage of Dogtown Zinfandel. There are no oak chips or residual sugar. As Tegan says, “There is no makeup or plastic surgery. The wines are original and pure.” This aides in the longevity of the wines, and these wines have aged so gracefully. True to the Turley’s philosophy, these wines are generous, unique, and over-deliver.