This was my first interview with a non-Champagne producer, Ehren Jordan of Failla Wines. He came to my workplace with his Japanese importer (Wine in Style) to talk about some of his bottlings. I remember being very pleased by their Syrah and Pinot Noir from Sonoma Coast.
The interview dates back to 2016 and now that I think about it I haven’t had one of their wines since. I should really try to get my hands on one, even though they are not exactly cheap.
What is the style and the philosophy behind your wines?
I try to do wines of place by farming well and not manipulating the wines in the cellar. My goal is to have a transparent hand when it comes to winemaking and allow the site to shine through.
Today we tasted wines from Anderson Valley, Napa, Sonoma. Do you have a favorite terroir?
Well, I would say if you have multiple children, do you have a favorite child? And the answer is: it depends on the day. For me the thing with all these different sites is that each one is unique and it brings something different and special. So it depends, it depends on what we are eating for dinner, what we are having for lunch, who I am with, the year we are talking about.
I try only to make wines from sites that I really love and they are all different. If they were all the same maybe it would not make sense to do all these different wines.
I think in a global sense when I make wine: you have these overarching similarities, like the volcanic soil, the relatively young soil. I have friends telling me “It tastes like French wine!” No it doesn’t. Burgundy tastes like Burgundy, I would never mistake California for Burgundy. I am inspired by Burgundy, I love French wine, I love Italian wines, but I also make wine in California and so for me this wines speak of California.
I was very impressed by the acidity of your wines, especially since they are from California. Aren’t you worried by the recent droughts and global warming? How do you deal with them?
I would be crazy to not be at least concerned about it, but you know farming is an intuitive process, I have been doing this for 27 years.
As a great example we have had drought now for four years in California and yet in 2015 we had this very cold and wet May which is when our vines flower, so we had a very small crop. Whereas in previous years we had very healthy and large crops, even in a drought, even in dried farm vineyards. Great vines are resilient creatures.
We had half of our normal rainfall on the North Coast of California in 2014 and 2015, but that was still 20 inches of rain [around 500 mm]. When I worked at Turley in Paso Robles we could have 7 inches of rain [180 mm] and we were still able to farm grapes. It is all relative and it depends on what your expectations are.
If you are like “Oh, I paid all that money for this vineyard, now I have to get 5 tonnes per acre”, that’s a bad mindset to have during a drought, because you may get only 2 tonnes per acre, maybe of really excellent quality. It’s about being responsive: if you know what to look for and what to listen to, great vines tell you everything you need to know.
I was particularly impressed by the Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast. What food would you pair with it, especially Japanese food?
Well if I had a little charcoal grill with some chicken on skewers…
Yakitori! I mean that’s a wine for me that goes with fattier cuts of fish, we serve it at home a lot with salmon that we cook on the grill, especially early run salmon coming out of Alaska that has got a lot of fat in it. And yet it goes great with chicken, I think it is a very versatile wine actually. It’s not a oak dominated wine, it has got great acidity.
For me so much of winemaking is about that textural palate presence and having good acidity because that’s your gateway to food.
How long would you age it?
Well I could say “Hey I have more coming in, you should drink it right away!”, but really these wines age surprisingly long. People are startled by how long they last, because I think that in the grand scheme of California lot of wines are made to be very immediate wines. I think that with these wines you have immediacy because California is a warm place and there is a fruit-forwardness, but don’t mistake that for a lack of ageability. There is an underlining acid here that allows these wines to go.
Sonoma Coast: younger vines, it is really graded on a three to five years window, but if you forget a bottle in the back of your cellar and it’s nine or ten years old you are not going to be disappointed.
The Chardonnay also lasts a long time too, they are really startling to most people that think of California Chardonnay as being not capable of ageing that long.