On my tour through Napa, I hit up a few newer wineries. Failla (FAY-la) on the Silverado Trail was one of them. I just had to go, since one of the nicest guys in the wine industry, Hardy Wallace (of Dirty South Wine), has been working harvest there and I needed my annual hug from him. I visited him last year when he was working at the Natural Process Alliance, and realized that anywhere he goes is bound to be a cool place, so I was excited for this visit.
An adorable, modest property that we actually drove by twice before finding (keep your eyes peeled if you go, it's hard to spot!), Failla is full of nice people, good wine, and tons of promise. There is one kind of strange thing about it though: most of their wines aren't from Napa.
Failla owns vineyards in the Sonoma Coast, close to the Pacific Ocean, and makes wines from the cooler regions that are best suited to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Hence, it was similar to a tasting in the Russian River Valley in Sonoma -- those two wine types were all we tried (in fairness, they also make Syrah and Viognier but none was available for our tasting).
For a little background, the Winery got started in 1998 by Ehren Jordan and his wife Anne-Marie Failla (hence the name). Ehren, who started working in a wine shop in DC in the early 90s, helping ABC News personalities select their nightly swill (the shop was right near ABC studios), held various jobs in the wine industry -- sommelier, cellar rat/sales and marketing for Joseph Phelps in Napa, and then really learned his trade by doing an internship in the Rhône Valley.
On his return to Napa in 1994 he helped establish Neyers Vineyards and then worked with Helen Turley on the Marcassin label (she's a big deal in Napa -- all the name droppers LOVE to mention that they know Helen, BTW). Helen then scored Jordan a job with her brother at Turley Wine Cellars (known for BIG, expensive Zinfandel with high alcohol and lots of fruit flavor), before the siblings had an all out brawl and swore hatred for each other, so lore goes. In 1996 Jordan became general manager, winemaker, and viticulturalist at Turley. With the financial security of the Turley job, Jordan and his wife were able to start Failla in 1998 (first as Failla Jordan, but a lawsuit from Jordan Winery put the kibosh on the appended name).
As I listened to this history from Geoff, our mild-mannered, kind host, I had some trepidation about the style of these wines. Turley is known for so much flavor and such a lack of restraint -- factors that are essential in making good Pinot Noir and Chardonnay -- that I had a hard time believing its winemaker could do right by these Burgundy natives. In the hands of the wrong winemaker, the style of these wines could be something I would really despise -- flabby juice with no subtle flavors that smack of alcohol, oak, and too much fruit.
Fortunately, my Facebook fans who suggested I go here did right by me. I was happy to discover that Ehren Jordan is a chameleon and a talented guy. It's not an everyday winemaker that can spend days making huge Zin and nights making subtle, unique, and excellent Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. I was impressed.
So to the wines!
If you want to visit Failla, just remember that this is a popular place and it only makes 4,000 cases a year, so check to make sure they have wine to pour! Right now the only wines they presented us were Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. It was an appointment only, group tasting where we tried 4 wines. The Winery is small, homey and super cute. Since the weather was great, we drank up in a little grove between the small tasting room and the stone winery -- an excellent setting, especially because they were crushing grapes and that was very cool to see.
Here's the recap:
Wine #1: 2010 Sonoma Coast Chardonnay, $34
A little golden and rich looking, the wine seemed to have been sitting in an oak barrel for a while, which darkens a wine. That said, when I smelled it, the impression wasn't really of oak -- it was more like lemon, green apple, and minerals. Although the wine was pretty simple, it smelled clean and had tart, citrusy fruit scents. It was a great tasting wine too -- lemony, mineral-like, with lots of acid. It's food friendly and very refreshing.
Wine #2: 2010 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, $34
A darker red, almost ruby color, this looked like it was going to be a fruitier, riper, richer Pinot. When I swirled it, the wine smelled like raspberries and cherry -- juicy and fresh. I expected more from the taste but this wine was pretty simple. It was like strawberries, cherries, and raspberries and it was light with a small touch of acidity and tannin. It was pleasant. A good wine, but not too complex.
Wine #3: 2009 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, Hirsch Vineyard, $65 Light ruby in color, this was pale and transparent -- it was the color I think Pinot Noir should be. I was kind of taken with the smell. I can't describe it any other way than fresh. It was like newly cut strawberries tossed with sweet herbs and mint. I could smell this all day long. It tasted just like it smelled, but it had some strong mouth-drying tannins to balance out the raspberry/strawberry/fresh mint goodness. The wine hung around in my mouth for a long time. It was awesome. My favorite of the day.
Wine #4: 2008 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, Occidental Ridge Vineyard, $65
Just like the previous wine, this was light ruby -- a perfect Pinot Noir color. This wine was so fragrant -- like raspberry, cherry, rose, and then like Chai tea and other Indian spices. It was herbal and fresh like the Hirsch Pinot but had spicy notes that made it more brooding than bright.The Occidental Ridge was bursting with fruit -- like black raspberries and cherries. There was a good amount of mouth-drying tannin and mouth-watering acid too. The wine was a little woodsy and earthy, but it was more about fruit then anything else. A good, well-made wine.
The subtlety and balance in these wines make them total home runs. It's clear that Ehren Jordan is a real talent. The best part is that he's just getting started at Failla. If he keeps it up...and keeps employing hardworking, smart, and dynamic guys like Hardy, whom I saw for approximately 45 seconds when the grape sorting table had a lull -- I think Ehren Jordan will soon be the go-to Pinot Noir producer from Sonoma.
Have you had Failla's wines? Drop a comment here or on Facebook and let me know what you thought!