Sonoma’s outpost in Napa Valley, worth a visit
Failla is hard to find, unless one is specifically looking for it. There’s no signpost, and the tasting room isn’t visible from the road. Detailed instructions on how to find a red mailbox on Silverado Trail with the ‘discretely written’ Failla name on it are sent by email, once an appointment has been made. So go ahead and make an appointment to taste some delicious Pinots and Chards, made primarily from cooler-climate Sonoma fruit.
Failla Wines’ founder, owner and winemaker Ehren Jordan got into wine reportedly quite by accident. He was majoring in Art History at the George Washington University and working in a wine shop – mostly to get some discounted booze for the fraternity, as the story goes. Before long, he was bringing home more wine than beer, and that’s how his wine career started. Or perhaps naturally progressed, I thought, considering how many representations of Dionysus and Bacchus are found in ancient Greek and Roman art.
By the time Ehren started Failla Wines in 1998, he had already worked as a tour guide/cellar rat at Napa Valley’s Joseph Phelps Vineyards, completed two harvests in Cornas appellation in northern Rhone, made wines for the Californian old-vine Zinfandel powerhouse Turley Wine Cellars, and consulted for Neyers Vineyards.
Over time, Failla grew big enough to become Jordan’s primary occupation, and in 2013 he left Turley after 18 years as its winemaker/GM to focus on his own brand. Failla currently produces 16,000 cases annually.
Failla Wines is an outlier in Napa Valley as it doesn’t produce a single Cab. Instead, Ehren’s focus is on Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Syrah, grown mainly in Sonoma County. Most wines are single-vineyard, so expect to hear a lot of details about different sites during the tasting. All of the vineyards are also described on the website, while any information about wines is curiously missing. Perhaps, that is Failla’s way to invite people to taste wines at the winery or simply buy them in a store.
I have tried five of the wines: one Chardonnay, three Pinot Noirs, and one Syrah, and especially liked the Pinots.
My favorite was the lightest of the three, 2013 Lola Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley ($48). I liked its silkiness and freshness, the nose of juicy strawberries, raspberries, dry leaves and wet stones, and a lingering finish. Grapes for this wine come from the Keefer Ranch Vineyard in the Green Valley, an AVA within Russian River Valley known for its fog and sandy loam soils.
2013 Hirsch Vineyard Pinot Noir ($70) from the 1500 ft elevation vineyard has darker red fruit, spice (clove) and sandalwood on the nose. It tastes a little darker and chewer, too, and perhaps has more of a typical California Pinot character.
2013 Estate Pinot Noir, Fort Ross-Seaview ($75) has some menthol notes to it, in addition to cherry jam and dried cherries, which, as my host Colette explained, is due to the plethora of bay trees and sage bushes surrounding the vineyard. The organic, dry-farmed vineyard in the newly created Fort Ross-Seaview AVA is a few miles from the ocean and just above the fog line.
Despite the hard-to-find address, there’s no veil of secrecy or a trace of pretentiousness on the property. The tasting room is a small 1939 hunting lodge, complete with wooden walls, open fire, and antlers. Had it not been for a few bottles on display and a couple barrels in corner, I would’ve thought I’m in someone’s living room.
The people I met – the tasting room host Colette, assistant winemaker Savanna, and the owner/winemaker Ehren Jordan – were all very welcoming and friendly, and Colette even graciously offered me a cave tour. The cave’s size (15,000 sq. ft), high ceilings and spaciousness are quite impressive. It’s a true working cave, full of winemaking equipment: tanks, barrels, and 14 concrete egg, which are Failla’s particular point of pride.
Address: 3530 Silverado Trail North. The tasting room is open daily from 10 am to 4 pm (last appointment), by appointment only. There’re three different tasting options: Lodge tastings of four wines ($20, waived with a purchase of 2 bottles); cave tours with a tasting of five wines ($30 dollars, waived with a purchase of 2 bottles); and private tastings of six wines in the cave.