Failla Wines is owned by winemaker Ehren Jordan and his wife Anne-Marie; the winery name is Ann-Marie’s maiden name. Ehren’s wine making career has been one of learning by doing. Rather then graduating from UC Davis with a degree in Enology and Viticulture, he graduated from George Washington University in Washington DC with a major in Art History and a minor in Classical Archaeology.
While in college one of his fraternity brothers told him about a job working at what he described as a liquor store – this store was actaully Bell’s Wine Shop where Erin took a job in the back of the shop stocking wine shipments. Soon he was promoted to the front of the shop where he was introduced to a number of fine wines around the world.
After graduating from college he moved to Colorado where he skied during the day and worked in restaurants at night furthering his wine education. His introduction to the Napa Valley was through one of the restaurants he worked at when he accompanied some of the employees on a trip to Napa. His first job in the valley was as a tour guide at Joseph Phelps Winery – while at Phelps, he also worked in their cellar and helped with sales.
Ehren is often associated with Turley Wine Cellars – that is because he spent 18 years at Turley helping create some of their well regarded Zinfandels and other wines as their General Manager and Director of Winemaking.
The first Failla Wine was from the 1998 vintage, a tiny amount of Viognier and Syrah bottled under the label Failla-Jordan. With part of their name conflicting with Jordan Winery in Sonoma County, they soon dropped Jordan from the name. They opened their tasting room along the Silverado Trail in October of 2006 (our first visit was the following year).
Until they purchased this property in 2004, they were a “virtual” winery without a tasting room or winery of their own and made their wines at other wineries including Turley and Neyers. The winery is located almost directly across from the popular Rombauer Winery (look for the large US flag). The only signage from the Silverado Trail is their painted mailbox with the address listed.
Jordan offers a number of tasting experiences held on various parts of the property including inside the wine cave, weather permitting outside on tables under the redwoods or inside what is referred to as The Lodge. Because of the various tasting spaces, often several tastings will be going at any one time and during our latest visit guests from multiple parties were combined in one tasting. The interior of the lodge feels like a mountain cabin with knotty pine and a stone fireplace – one could almost be tasting up at Lake Tahoe rather then in the hills of the Napa Valley. A side room with a thick piece of wood sitting on top of two wine barrels serves as the tasting counter or for a more personal tasting (small groups only) you can sit down with your host.
This is a historic property. The Silverado Trail was originally built in 1852 and was the first permanent north south Napa Valley road. You can even see parts of the old Silverado Trail which used to run through the property. We were told the famous stage coach robber, “Black Bart” was actually apprehended on site in 1883.
Visitors may see apple trees planted on one of the slopes; these were left from previous owners who planned on producing apple cider (using the small wooden building next to the entrance to the cave). Ehren is originally from Pittsburg and it is obvious from the sign on this building that he personally hung here that this is “steelers country”.
The 12,000 square foot wine cave was used for the first time during the 2008 harvest. Ehren uses concrete fermentation vessels (eggs) and a number of these are sitting in various parts of the cave. He also uses larger wooden casks (not often seen in Napa wineries).
Visitors to the 10-acre property might be surprised the site is not covered in vineyards (other then a tiny hillside Zinfandel vineyard located above the cave). There are two reasons why grapes are not planted here: the property is mostly steep hillside land and Napa county prohibits new vineyards from being planted on slopes greater then 30% and the grapes that grow here best are Bordeaux red varietals – and are grapes that Failla does not make wine from. The wines you taste will typically be from non Napa vineyards.
Ehren creates wines with several philosophies in mind; one is to make wines that make you salivate upon the first taste and another is to source from cold climate vineyards which tend to have strong marine influences. These types of wines have lively acidity and are not robust fruit driven wines. As a result they tend to pair very well with food.
Typically their wines are un-fined and unfiltered for maximum color and flavor and fermentation is done using indigenous yeast (rather then inoculated yeasts).
Failla specializes in three wines, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Syrah all sourced from very cool weather vineyards ranging from Sonoma, Napa, Mendocino counties all the way up to Oregon’s Willamatte Valley. Arguablly Failla is most known for their Pinot Noir – as of our latest visit, they were producing 17 different wines from this varietal (some made only for their wine club members).
Ehren purchased 40 acres in what is now the Fort Ross-Seaview appellation in Sonoma County in 1995. Helen Turley, a prominent winemaker told Ehren about land that was for sale near her Marcassin Vineyard. At the time part of the property was being used for growing marijuana. Ehren eventually had the site planted to grapes and later purchased more land. Today Failla owns 82 acres here of which 11 acres are planted.
This part of Sonoma County is above 1000 feet, typically above much of the fog line which hovers much lower to the coast. Some of the California’s closest vineyards to the coastline are planted here. While the climate is generally cool here (ideal for growing Pinot Noir), their vineyard actually receives quite a bit of sunshine throughout the growing season due to its elevation.
For a relatively small winery they produce a large number of wines. As a result we will focus on a select few that we enjoyed during several visits to the property.
The 2006 Estate Chardonnay from the Sonoma Coast has a wonderful fruit driven nose, slightly flinty with hints of melon, pineapple and honeysuckle. The fruit follows onto the palate with lively acidity and a nice clean finish. The 2006 Viogner is sourced from Edna Valley in San Luis Obispo County. This wine has big aromatics, herbs and jasmine with a palate hinting of stone fruit (white peach, nectarine) and even a little citrusy marmalade flavor.
Keefer Ranch in the Russian River Valley of neighboring Sonoma County has a special significance to Failla – this vineyards produced the first Pinot Noir the Ehren made under the Failla wines – and he continues to make wine from here every year. The vineyard owners originally were planning to grow vegetables on the property and sell to local farmer’s markets but when Dr. Robert Keefer took classes on grape growing, he realized the value of their location and decided to grow grapes and sell the fruit (planted in 1988).
The 2015 Keefer Ranch Russian River Valley Pinot Noir shows elegant fruit on the bouquet – it is a pretty nose that shows floral notes (dried rose petals) with hints of dust. Bright on the palate reveals red cherry and currant and a gravelly nuance. Lively acidity along with seamless tannins show on the supple finish.
Syrah lovers take note – this varietal rounds out Failla’s repertoire and is their “biggest” wine. The 2015 Estate Vineyard Fort Ross-Seaview Syrah is one of the more ‘elegant’ Syrah’s we have tasted (not a word we typically use with wines from this varietal). The bouquet shows bittersweet dark chocolate aromas, with darker fruits along with being slightly savory. Shows bright fruit both on the bouquet and on the palate – the focus of this wine is on the fruit rather then any influence from oak. With great acidity and good structure, should be quite ageworthy.
For more information or to join one of their wine clubs, visit: www.faillawines.com