Vertical Tasting of Turley's Petite Syrah Hayne Vineyard
Although Turley Wine
Cellars is best known for its remarkable ever-growing range of Zinfandels from
mostly very old vines all over California, when it comes to older vintages it’s
the Hayne Vineyard Petite Syrah that the winery’s long-time clients are most
likely to have in their cellars. And judging from my recent comprehensive
tasting of this singular wine, they won't be disappointed when they uncork
these bottles: this wine has proved remarkably consistent over the years and the
best vintages appear to be virtually ageless.
Larry Turley discusses Hayne Vineyard Petite Syrah, here
The vertical tasting was
held in March with owner Larry Turley, daughter Christina Turley, who directs
sales and marketing, and winemaker/viticulturalist Tegan Passalacqua in the
Turleys’ Olive House at the family compound on Highway 29 north of St. Helena.
And it was nothing short of a revelation. The fruit in most of these wines
appears to be bulletproof. Ten-year-old bottles showed the color of barrel
samples; most of the vintages from the ‘90s still looked like young wines. More
important, the wines were evolving in a positive way, becoming more pliant and
harmonious in bottle and gaining in complexity rather than simply enduring.
The key to the slow
aging and longevity of Petite Sirah, according to winemaker Passalacqua, is its
combination of lowish pHs and huge anthocyanin content. “In barrel as well as
in bottle, the wines remain in a reductive state,” he told me. “They want to
resist oxygen. It’s almost as if there’s a soft shell around them.” As the
Hayne example boasts outstanding depth of fruit without hard tannins, it is
usually accessible upon release. Our vertical tasting also suggested that
extended aging brings greater sex appeal along with easier drinkability.
The Hayne Vineyard is
planted on head-trained, dry-farmed vines on gravelly loam soil off Sulphur
Springs Avenue on the west side of St. Helena, just south of the center of town.
Vine spacing is 10 by 8 feet. The Zinfandel on this property dates back to 1903;
the Petite Sirah was planted in 1953. Turley began offering both of these
bottlings in his winery’s first vintage, 1993.
Hayne Vineyard, which winemaker Tegan Passalacqua considers to have the ideal conditions for Petit Sirah
“I had never had a
Petite Sirah before we started making the Hayne,” Turley said at our tasting.
“It was essentially a blending grape, an underdog, but I liked it for its size
and explosive taste.” According to winemaker Passalacqua, a third-generation
Napan who has in recent years been credited with discovering numerous obscure
parcels of old vines with outstanding potential, Petite Sirah was the most
widely planted variety in Napa Valley as recently as the 1970s. “The grape was
very rarely bottled on its own, but the fruit had to be going somewhere. It’s
pretty clear that a lot of old Cabernets and even Zinfandels were made with
some Petite Sirah for fruit and backbone.”
The 2012 vintage is the current release of Turley's Petite Sirah Hayne Vineyard
And Petite Sirah in the
Hayne Vineyard turned out to be a special case. According to Passalacqua,
“there’s no other vineyard in California where the variety planted is better
suited to its site than Petite Sirah at Hayne.” He added: “It’s our easiest
vineyard to work with. We thin the shoots but we don’t need to drop crop or
remove leaves. The vines are totally self-regulating: they grow exactly how
much fruit they need, and Petite Sirah is less vigorous than Zinfandel.” Yields
for the Hayne Petit Sirah are very low, averaging barely two tons per acre
since the turn of the new century.
Larry Turley’s sister
Helen made the first three vintages here, then Ehren Jordan, who had previously
worked in the Rhône
Valley, took over winemaking responsibilities. Passalacqua begin as an assistant
to Jordan in 2003 and took over as full-time winemaker “gradually,” in 2009 and
2010. Helen Turley originally used as much as 40% new oak to age the first
vintages, but Jordan steadily reduced that percentage to about 20% by 2004, which
is where it stands today. The winery has always used an 80/20 blend of French
and American oak barrels, air-dried for three years.
While the evolution
of winemaking here over the years has mostly been gradual, Passalacqua has
significantly increased skin contact during fermentation from 20 days prior to
2009 to 40 to 45 days in the most recent vintages. Fermentation begins with a
five-day cold soak, and Passalacqua practices a gentle extraction, relying on
pumpovers rather than punchdowns. For the period of post-fermentation
maceration the tank is pumped over for five minutes every other day to keep the
cap from drying out.
The fermentation of
the Hayne Petite Sirah normally goes easily, said Passalacqua, and, in contrast
to Zinfandel, Petite Syrah is bone-dry when it’s pressed. “Certainly in the
past 12 years there has been no vintage of the Hayne Petite Syrah with more
than two grams per liter of residual sugar,” noted Passalacqua. The sweetness
of these wines is from ripe fruit. Similarly, alcohol levels do not reach the
extremes commonly hit by Zinfandel.
It’s important to
know that the Hayne Petite Sirah is generally picked early, almost always
within the first three weeks of September. “The wines reflect the style of their
vintages,” noted Larry Turley, “but we don’t like to be painted with a Cabernet
brush, because we don’t have the downside of having to deal with fall rains.”
Turley converted to organic farming early on and noted that “with healthy soil
you get earlier physiological ripening. So our wines are a little less brawny
than they might otherwise be.”
Only drops remained in the glasses after this tasting
Turley was thrilled
by the way his 20 vintages of Hayne showed, but not totally surprised. “I tend
to drink our Zinfandels younger than most people do, but that’s a matter of
personal taste. The Petite Sirah just keeps getting better and better.”
Incidentally, Turley has always spelled the grape “Petite Syrah” on his labels,
a reference to Syrah being one of the parent grapes of Petite Sirah.
See all the wines (from oldest to youngest)
-- Stephen Tanzer