Larry Turley – the King of Zinfandel

He’s a tall, lanky (good looking according to the ladies, but what do they know) ole’ boy from Tennessee who just happens to make the most highly regarded Zinfandel in California (and thus the world) that is farmed organically.

He’s Larry Turley, and he and I chatted a few weeks back while the celebration that is Turley Pick-up day continued in the background.  People drive hours and sometimes days to load up their car with cases of his Zin and Petite Syrah.  And no, Petite Syrah is not a smaller or milder version of Syrah – it’s a completely different grape that’s quite a powerhouse unless properly tamed, which the winemakers at Turley accomplish.

Notice that I said the winemakers and not Larry himself.  He’ll admit up front that he does not create the full-bodied wines that he’s famous for.  His title at the winery, according to his business card, is “Debtor”.  He’s the one who orchestrates production at three different production sites with fruit from eight counties.

So, while he may not be the one blending or fermenting, his influence is so strong that you know when you have a Turley Zin.  It’s muscular, with sweet fruit that is well-balanced with layers of character.  Terry and I just enjoyed a 2009 Old Vines Zin that married perfectly with the barbequed ribeye steak.

Larry’s an “Old Vines” guy.  When asked why he needed three production facilities spread throughout the state, he replied that his wife asked him the same question.   Then he said, “I just follow the old vines.  I think they have more potential than newly planted ones.  Besides, I believe I can resuscitate anything.”

He likely believes that because he was an emergency physician for 24 years, so he was compelled to learn how to resuscitate.  If he practiced medicine the way he makes wine, then he let the healing process work its wonders on its own as much possible.

He’s proud that he farms organically, and he employs what he calls simple methods in making wine.  He instructs his staff to first pick the fruit according to its taste and level of acidity to avoid flabby wines.  Then, when the grapes are brought in from the field, they are not crushed.  “I don’t want any manipulation.  We don’t filter or fine,” Turley said proudly. 

Clearly, Larry knows what he’s doing.  And he’s now being joined by his lovely daughter, Christina, who, though trained in art history, certainly knows her way around her dad’s winery.  Turley’s worth a drive to Paso Robles to sample Zinfandel that, according to Robert Parker, “sets the standards for other producers.”

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