Turnbull Winery

Making the case (so to speak) for a bold Napa winery you should know about


Turnbull should be better known that it probably is. Founded in 1979 as Johnson-Turnbull, and with an excellent location smack on highway 29 just north of Oakville, the winery and home vineyards are in the heart of the Napa Valley, surrounded by such famous names as robert Mondavi, Opus One and Cakebread. Maybe folks are just so distracted by those wineries that they drive on by. Whatever the reason, missing Turnbull is a mistake for you Napa Cabernet lovers out there.
Turnbull is very much a product of its time, practicing certain organic farming methods (though not certified organic), with wildlife stations throughout their vineyards and sustainable practices in place. At the same time, self-professed “non-technical” winemaker Peter Heitz admits that if he doesn’t start with great fruit, he can’t make great wines. With all this in place, Turnbull’s wines have shown significant improvement over the past decade, and some of that improvement results  from replanting vineyards with an orientation that allows for more even ripening, an issue that formerly accounted for some of the greenness that turned certain people off of Cabernet.
The other boost to quality over the past years began under the tutelage of Peter’s predecessor. Working with 40% more fruit than the current operation ferments, the winery was equipped with far fewer tanks, meaning the winemaking the style was previously guided by logistical issues. Struggling with too few tanks to comfortably accommodate the entire vintage,  fermentations had to go fast and hot in order to turn the fermenters around. Today, Peter has a fermenter for each vineyard block, which furthers his goal of capturing the quality of the vineyards. Not needing to turn over the tanks gives Peter the flexibility to leave the wines on the skins, sometimes for up to 75 or 80 days.
There’s a certain no nonsense attitude here, which comes through both in the wines and when you chat with winemaker Peter Heitz. Young and affable, Peter tells it like it is, pointing out the limitations of the current Napa Valley appellation system and the qualities that each of Turnbull’s vineyards offers him, freely admitting that while he does allow fermentation to start spontaneously, he likes the added spice box notes that indigenous yeasts bring to the finished wine. It’s not long after fermentation gets going that he inoculates the must with a commercial yeast that can be relied upon to finish the wines to dryness. 
The results are a group of impressive, powerful, no-holds-barred Cabernets which, while expensive, are priced about right for the quality. There are many more expensive wines out there that do not offer this level of quality, but having said that the real star of the lineup here is the entry level Napa Valley Cabernet. Here you have a wine that delivers classic Napa Valley depth and intensity for $40 a bottle. This is not a small or timid wine by any stretch of the imagination, but it works, is well balanced, and seems to represent what Turnbull is all about today: revealing the essence of vintage, vineyard, and variety with no apologies for the ripeness and richness that the Napa Valley can offer. 
Tasting Notes
Nice pear fruit on the nose and surprisingly not terribly floral, showing nice subtlety to the pollen and honeysuckle nuances that accent the fruit along with hints of lychee and lime. Bright on entry, this is fairly rich in the mouth, with a hint of phenolic bitterness accenting the almond and light dried apricot fruit flavors. Texturally this is a bit aggressive for my palate, but it does finish with impressive length. 88 points
Lovely on the nose, with layered notes of dried herbs, a bit of olive, a flat sheen of oak, and black fruit. Tight on entry, this softens up on the palate, showing dark fruit that’s not particularly rich or dense and pretty tannic, finishing with dry tannins. There is a hint of red fruit lurking here, and the finish really is quite long and  balances fruit, savory and oak nicely but this remains rather firm and stern. Grill me some boar over grapevine cuttings and let’s see how this fares. I bet some age will prove beneficial. 88 points

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Turnbull Winery

Turnbull Viognier Napa Valley (2011)
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Turnbull Cabernet Franc Napa Valley (2009)
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Turnbull Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Napa (2007)
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Turnbull Cabernet Sauvignon Fortuna Napa Valley (2009)
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Turnbull Cabernet Sauvignon Amoenus Napa Valley (2009)
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Turnbull Cabernet Sauvignon Block 9 Napa Valley (2010)
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Turnbull Cabernet Sauvignon Black Label Napa Valley (2009)
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Turnbull Cabernet Sauvignon Leopoldina Napa Valley (2009)
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Turnbull Petite Sirah Napa Valley (2009)
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Mentioned in this article


  • Snooth User: steve666
    392767 156

    I bought a few bottles of a Turnbull cab at Costco about a year ago because the owner was there and he pitched me. I am pretty sure it was under $15. I drank one bottle and it was a large wine, not very balanced, and so I haven't opened the other -- figured in two years it would be better. Cannot find it now so cannot identify it, but would assume it was the Napa cab which per the article go for $35 and $40 a bottle. CA has a slew of good cabs in the 11-18 price range (prices at Costco or on sale at supermarkets) and I felt that this was right in the range, nothing special. Cabs such as Martini Sonoma ($11 at Costco), Sebastiani, Simi, etc all sell in that range and are all decent. Haven't had any of the other wines from Turnbull but cannot comment on them.

    Mar 18, 2013 at 4:41 PM

  • Snooth User: steve666
    392767 156

    GDP, I would appreciate reviews of a specific varietal in specific price ranges cutting across all the major producers in CA, WA and Oregon. For example, cabs 10-20usd actual selling price, not MSRP, and cover perhaps 20 wineries. Or 20-30usd, etc. Or petite sirah, tho would expect quite a bit fewer wines. I know to some extent you do hit comparisons, but I would appreciate even more breadth. I find the SF Chronicle yearly tastings cover a huge number of wines within specific wine price points, but there you merely get the ones that win medals with five possible rankings (bronze, silver, gold, double gold, and best in class) and no description.

    Mar 18, 2013 at 4:46 PM

  • Snooth User: JonDerry
    Hand of Snooth
    680446 3,144

    Cool report. I remember being impressed with a regular Turnbull Cab not long ago so it's good to see some validation.

    Mar 18, 2013 at 5:45 PM

  • Snooth User: fredaevans
    961515 42

    I like that last posting. Candidly, most Kalifornia Wines are far over priced for what they're actually worth. A 'bottle' may last one evenings dinner; a bottle of a FaboUlus single malt can last you a month. Value? Bottle of someones wet dream? What would that cost you per gallon?

    Would you pay that for a gallon of Petrol? Yes, I'm pulling everyone's leg(s) as there are wines that may well be worth the price. But production is up, consumption is down, many wineries have a major over stock situation .... what are the choices if you need to move 'product?'

    Rant over. ;>)

    Mar 18, 2013 at 6:03 PM

  • Snooth User: EMark
    Hand of Snooth
    847804 8,297

    I visited Turnbull a few years ago. I found their wines to be quite good and (for Napa Valley) very fairly priced. I think I still have one or two in my cellar. I also appreciated the fact that the tasting room lady did not shoo us out when closing time came and passed.

    Steve666, I also purchased a couple "blends" at Turnbull--Old Bull and Toroso. I don't have info on how the Old Bull was blended, but the winery price was $20. I'm wondering if that is what you bought since $20 at the winery would probably be <$15 at Costco. The Toroso was a Sangiovese/Syrah blend, and the winery price for that one was $30.

    Mar 18, 2013 at 6:59 PM

  • Snooth User: steve666
    392767 156

    EMark -- wine from Costco was a cab, not a blend, tho maybe marked cab and was only legal minimum which I believe in CA is 75% cab... but definitely no sangio or syrah in it.

    Fredaevans-- I really like most mid range CA cabs and prefer them to Chilean, Argentinian, and French, tho do like some supertuscans a lot. Perhaps it is because I drink so much CA cab living within 30 miles of so many wineries (I am in Oakland), but I just don't like the lack of fruit and high acidity found in so many Bordeaux wines, I much prefer the CA ones even at the same price points or higher price points. I am really enjoying Spanish wines much more and also unusual Italian varietals.

    Mar 18, 2013 at 9:43 PM

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