American Winemaker Video Series: Ehren Jordan

American Winemaker Video Series: Ehren Jordan 7

Celebrated for a career that has traversed varieties and styles, appellations and countries, Ehren Jordan is a high-wire act. He has deftly tightroped between power and elegance, always quietly testifying to the unshakeable tenets of great wine: it is of a place and time, and it cannot be manufactured, only ushered forth. Ehren’s devotion is not to a single patch of dirt, or the illusive nuance of a particular variety, but to balance, transparency, and composition –  a fine, tensile thread drawn throughout his wines.

Watching this act has been a dizzying and thrilling enough task for any admirer (it can be witnessed in every glass), but Ehren’s journey has unfolded organically, though due to no lack of ambition. His story does not begin in enology school, as it does for many of his peers, but in front of retail shelves. A stint in distribution followed thereafter, but proved a poor complement to ski season in Colorado. A restaurant floor in Aspen was a better match. Roommates then pulled Ehren westward, where he found his first winery job at Joseph Phelps – and met Bruce Neyers. This meeting would prove fruitful in due time.

First, though, Ehren decamped to Cornas, a small, vertiginous corner of the Northern Rhone – and home to a clan of wine’s titans, including Jean-Luc Columbo, for whom Ehren worked for two years. Upon returning to the United States, Ehren joined Neyers in building his eponymous winery, and concurrently found work with Helen Turley, through whom he was exposed to the virtues of the true Sonoma Coast. In 1995 he squirreled away a Fort-Ross Seaview property neighboring Marcassin, Flowers, and Hirsch, among others, which in short order would become a defining estate vineyard.

Helen Turley also introduced Ehren to her brother, Larry – and so began a defining chapter of Ehren’s story, some two decades long. With Ehren at the helm (and often in the cockpit, flying between vineyard visits), Turley Wine Cellars became a community-leading voice in the celebration of California’s old-vine Zinfandel, and a staunch advocate for organic farming. Here the balancing act continued: in 1998, only a handful of years into his eighteen year tenure at Turley, Ehren debuted Failla, a stage for crystalline, cold-climate Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Syrah. “Ripeness is a state of mind,” he crows – a maxim that can only be uttered with confidence by someone who has drawn forth delicacy and tension both in the Napa Valley and at land’s end in Sonoma simultaneously.

Ehren, ever-steadied by his guiding principles – organic farming, native fermentation, gentle handling – has befriended instinct and experimentation. This is indicative in small gestures at home in his cellar work, as he engages novel fermentation vessels, but also in his exploration of new lands, some quite far. A fondness for Chenin Blanc and Gamay has carried him north to Oregon, where a new estate vineyard will shape Failla alongside those in St. Helena, the Russian River, and true Sonoma Coast.

But an old friend did not stray far. Beginning in 2011, Ehren planted four acres of Zinfandel on his winery property in St. Helena, and with a new moniker, Day, he has begun again to dexterously wrangle with the variety’s unbridled animation – this time with an eye toward Sonoma’s plantings.

Failla ‘Sonoma Coast’ Chardonnay 2014

100% Chardonnay (Wente clone) from Olivet, Keefer Ranch, and Flood Gate vineyards. Whole-cluster pressed into Concrete Egg (10%), Stainless Steel (20%), New French Oak Puncheon (10%) and Neutral French Oak (60%). Native yeasts were used for primary fermentation, and the wine naturally completed malolactic fermentation. The wine rested sur lie for 9 months before bottling.

 

Failla ‘Fort Ross-Seaview Estate VYD’ Chardonnay 2015

The Gualala Ranch Estate property was planted in 1998, and is dry-farmed organically. Sitting at 1400ft. in elevation, just 5 miles east of the Pacific Ocean, this 90 acre parcel is planted to 11 acres of vineyard, with just over 2.5 to Chardonnay (Wente, 95). Native yeast and malolactic fermentations,  aged 11 months in 55% French oak (20% new) and 25% concrete egg.

Failla ‘Sonoma Coast’ Pinot Noir 2015

Sourced from Olivet, Lola, Bohan, Placida, and Floodgate. Roughly 60% of the wine in this bottling was estate-grown and farmed. Native fermented, with full malolactic fermentation, and aged in French oak, of which 15% was new.

Failla ‘Keefer Ranch’ Pinot Noir 2015

Planted first in 1988 by husband and wife team Robert and Marcy Keefer. Marcy currently farms 13 acres of Pinot and Chardonnay in the heart of the Russian River Valley’s Green Valley sub-region. Planted on Goldridge loam soil, vines sit well below the fog line for a cool-climate expression with afternoon sun exposure. This was Failla’s first vineyard-designate Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Calera and Swan clones were 100% destemmed. Aged for 11 months in 25% new French oak, and bottled unfined and unfiltered.

Failla ‘Hudson Vineyard’ Syrah 2015

The Hudson Vineyard, which covers 200 planted acres in southwestern Napa Valley, was planted in the early 1980s by Texas expat Lee Hudson on Haire loam soil at the southern tip of the Mayacamas Mountain range, approximately 20 miles north of the San Pablo Bay. Block 3, planted to Syrah in 1997, is exposed to cool nights and moderately warm days, providing a long growing season and even ripening. 100% whole-cluster, native fermented, treated to human-powered punchdowns, aged for 11 months in 25% new French oak, and bottled unfined and unfiltered.

DAY ‘Grist Vineyard’ Zinfandel 2015

Named for the old grist mill that was found on the property, Grist sits pretty at 1000 ft. elevation on Bradford Mountain in the Dry Creek Valley AVA. The site was originally planted 100 years ago, and has since been replanted on St. George rootstock in the early 1970s. Farming here is CCOF Organic.

The 58 acres under vine are head trained and cane pruned, and have spectacular views of the fog line by the Pacific Ocean. Iron-rich, red volcanic soil known as Boomer loam leads to low yields and concentrated wines. Peak temperatures in the summer time tend to be in the low to mid 80s, allowing for gentle and complete ripening without raisining. Native fermented, aged 11 months in 15% new, 85% neutral French oak barrique, and bottled unfixed and unfiltered.