Turnbull Wine Cellars is located about half a mile north of the Oakville Crossroad on the east side of Highway 29. The winery owns over 200 acres in the Napa Valley and produces approximately 30,000 cases per year, certainly a lot larger than many of the wineries we have visited on this project, but in world of wine, they are still fairly small. Their name goes back to the 13th century when a court member saved his king’s life by “turning” an attacking bull away from the king. The king came up with a neat motto after this incident, “fortune favors the bold”. Interpret this saying how you like, but it certainly has some truth with some the Napa wineries producing big bold Cabernet Sauvignon wines.
However, historical meanings aside, this name was conveniently the last name of the original co-founder William Turnbull. He was an architect from the San Francisco Bay Area and in fact designed the current winery building as well as Napa wineries, Cakebread (there are some obvious similarities in the two winery buildings), Newton Vineyards and The Sea Ranch along neighboring Sonoma County’s northernmost usually foggy coastline.
Along with friend and attorney Reverdy Johnson (a former President of the Napa Valley Vintners Association), both men founded Turnbull-Johnson with their 1979 inaugural vintage. The location of their winery is the original estate property that Turnbull and Johnson purchased in Oakville (still planted to vines). They originally sold grapes to other producers before building their own production facility.
Patrick O’Dell, a newspaper publisher used to live in Humboldt County (northern California) and ran a number of publications in the Eureka region for many years before eventually moving to the Napa Valley; he purchased Turnbull Johnson in 1993 and renamed the winery to Turnbull Cellars. He oversaw a significant expansion of the winery’s vineyard holdings – purchasing both valley floor and hillside locations. They currently own four estate vineyards, three in Oakville (including two in the coveted vineyard neighborhood near Screaming Eagle) and their original vineyard which is next to the winery (14 acres) as well as a 100+ acre vineyard just north of Calistoga.
This is the heart of Oakville, some of Napa’s most sought after Cabernet Sauvignon country and Turnbull Cellars produces a variety of wines including several acclaimed and highly rated Cabernet Sauvignons. Their “boldest” most complex flavored Cabernet Sauvignon is the “Black Label”. The 2004 is a Bordeaux blend…well almost – there is some Syrah added as well. This wine feels dense on the palate with with flavors of chocolate, cherries and plum – and showcases a finish of great length.
The exterior of the winery and hospitality building may confuse some with nearby Cakebread Cellars (since William Turnbull designed both buildings there are certainly elements of similarities between both structures).
An outdoor patio behind the tasting room is also available and overlooks the vineyards. A Gallery Tasting (their primary tasting available without needing a reservation) typically includes 3-4 current release wines including one of their much coveted Cabernet Sauvignon wines. Enter the small tasting room from the parking lot through a vine covered walkway. Notice the signature classic Turnbull car which you can see from the patio directly across from the tasting bar.
As this winery sits close to the main highway, is well established and is on the “Napa Wine Strip”, it can get crowded here on the weekends.
The hosts are very friendly and well versed in the local wine industry. It is not easy when you have 15 people in front of the tasting counter and only two hosts as is often the case on busy summer or fall weekends. Try their Barbera; their 2004 vintage was their lowest produced commercial wine. Not many Napa wineries even make a Barbera and Turnbull does an excellent job. Their Black label red wine is paired with assorted cheeses and chocolates. Special tours can be arranged with advance notice.
The tasting room is contemporary and contains a gallery of prominent photographers including one of the worlds largest private collection of Ansel Adams photography; the works do rotate about every 6 months. Patrick has long been a collector of fine art photography and photographs of Ansel Adams and other prominent artists (including Dorothea Lange) are displayed in locations throughout parts of the winery.
For a more intimate personalized tasting consider making a reservation for a tour and private seated tasting. Members may also request a private tasting in a tiny room called The Drafting Room (this was once William Turnbull’s architecture studio).
A Tesla electric vehicle charging station is located on site. For more information, or to join their wine club, visit: www.turnbullwines.com
Note: this winery was one of the first we visited in Napa for this project: this review has been identified as needing a major update.
The Signs of Turnbull