Failla Chardonnay Olivet Ranch 2016, Russian River Valley
Cost: $45
W inemakers are really the wizards of wine country. Some make all their wines in one style. Others can adjust to changing conditions and circumstances.
Ehren Jordan has shown he can make great wines in widely divergent styles with many different grapes. I met him when he was Larry Turley’s winemaker, crafting big, bold wines from old vine zinfandel. Now that he has his own winery he makes delicate, nuanced cool-climate pinots, syrahs and chardonnays.
In 2008 the San Francisco Chronicle named him Winemaker of the Year. Five years later his Failla Wines was becoming a full time job so he left Turley. Now he’s making Oregon wines and he has returned to zinfandel as well. Ehren Jordan can do it all.
All the Failla wines I have tasted have been spectacular, but I particularly like their chardonnay. After only 20 years in production they have released some wonderful wines. While Jordan makes several Sonoma Coast chardonnays, I particularly like this single vineyard Russian River Valley chard.
Everything is in balance with a medium weight and plenty of bright fruit. Citrus aromas lead to lemon on the palate. It has a nice silky mouthfeel, with a snap of crisp acid. Cool mornings and sunny afternoons provided ideal ripening conditions in this site on the Santa Rosa Plain in the heart of the Russian River Valley AVA.
The winery does use some new French oak, and the wine goes through malolactic fermentation, to give it some softness. But the style still is more like the restrained, elegant whites of Burgundy.
Winery: Failla (pronounced FAY-la) hasn’t been around a long time, but it is an interesting story.
The winery in St. Helena was founded by Ehren Jordan and his wife Anne-Marie Failla. The winery was first called Failla Jordan, but the Jordan Winery in Sonoma County objected to the similar name. So they switched to simply Failla, which is a name from the Italian island of Sicily.
The winery’s first release was in 1998, an Alban Vineyard Viognier (Edna Valley) and Que Syrah Syrah (Sonoma Coast). The same year they planted the first blocks at their estate vineyard in Cazadero.  The first Estate releases followed several years later.
Jordan doesn’t have any type of degree in wine making. At George Washington University he majored in art history with a minor in classical archeology. He had a part time job as a stock boy in a wine shop and gained experience at several jobs including sommelier at an Aspen restaurant, tour guide at Joseph Phelps Vineyard and an apprenticeship in the Rhone Valley.
Later he had winemaking opportunities at Neyers Vineyards and Turley Wine Cellars. While working for others Ehren purchased land on the rugged Sonoma Coast (Cazadero) and planted it to chardonnay and syrah.
Since the first releases in 1998 he has added numerous cool-climate vineyard sources to his bottlings and in 2011, Ehren added to his vineyard holdings with the purchase of the Olivet Vineyard. Located in the “middle reach” of the Russian River Valley, this vineyard gives him another 14 acres to farm as he sees fit.
Ehren’s viticultural training in France has forever infused his hands-on farming practices and his minimalist hands-off winemaking choices, ideals that have allowed him to coax out the various incarnations of his favorite varieties from different climates, soil types, and rootstocks.
Inspired by pinot noir, chardonnay and syrah, Ehren has molded relationships with great farmers and added to his estate holdings and plantings (30 acres) to produce bottlings that capture the essence of California’s finest regions.
In 2001 Failla made wine from fruit in the famous Goldschmidt Vineyard in Oregon, but the logistics were complicated, so they only made one vintage. Several years later they made pinot noir from the Seven Springs Vineyard.
In 2016 they made wine from several Willamette Valley locations and in 2017 they included chardonnay, riesling and grüner veltliner.
Earlier this year Failla announced an arrangement with Zenith Vineyard where Ehren Jordan will become Zenith’s winemaker in residence for the 2018 vintage and crush his fifth Oregon harvest at the Zenith winery in Eola-Amity Hills.
Between California and Oregon Failla will bottle 30 different wines this year.
Micheala and Michael loved the food and Michael enjoyed the wine.
Goes with: We had this sublime wine with marinated grilled shrimp and Caribbean rice. It was a wonderful combination, perfect for this delicate wine.
I marinated the shrimp in soy sauce, lemon and lime juices, Morton Nature’s Seasons, red pepper flakes, sugar and sherry. I cooked them on a medium-hot grill for just 3-4 minutes per side, and they came out juicy but crisp on the outside.
I added a side dish of Zatarain’s Caribbean rice, which is easy to fix, takes only a few minutes and tastes likes it’s been cooking all day.
This meal was a perfect to go with the smooth Failla chardonnay. It also would pair well with all kinds of fish and seafood dishes, roasted chicken and turkey and hearty cheeses.

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