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





 
 
Jammy on the nose with well-defined toast, spice, and jammy blackberry and blackcurrant aromas framed by coffee and vanilla accents. In the mouth this is bright, juicy and transparent with lovely small blackberry fruit in a tight and finely balanced style.  This is tense, with sold acids in a  powerful but refined style that shows elegance and finesse on the long finish. Fine merlot. 92 points
 
 
A little sweet on the nose, but rather perfumed with fresh berry fruit, pencil shavings and a bright, fine herbaceous edge. On entry this is immediately complex and deep; large-scaled and powerful, this retains a certain sense of grace nonetheless. Dusty tannins support tons of fruit that shows a savory framing edge of faint dried herbs, candied herbs, and a little mint. The tannins smooth out nicely on the finish, which is a touch short giving this a very front-loaded feel in the mouth. 90 points
 
 
Very fine on the nose, with an early sweet baking spice note followed by crisp blackcurrant fruit, lovely dried herb and almost floral nuances. On the palate, this is a bit reserved with a slightly cool and compressed feel, but lovely balance that shows real richness of ripe fruit. There’s no baby fat here, it’s all sleek, cool and pretty Cabernet fruit in the black cherry/blackcurrant end of the register, bringing a suggestion of herbaceousness to the moderately long finish. 91 points
 
 
Smoky with lovely sweet tobacco accents to rich  black raspberry fruit that’s topped with herbal notes and hints of  chamomile. This is round, broad and open in the mouth with lovely acids, nice ripe tannins and rich fruit that is mouth filling but clear. On the finish, this fades a touch quickly but then returns with an almost raspberry red fruit tone. 92 points
 
 
Sharp herbal notes and rich earth aromas greet the nose along with dark dried strawberry and black cherry notes. This is a touch softer than Fortuna up front, with lower acids but more tannins. Overall it’s a darker wine with more matte fruit, showing a bit more rustically with cocoa mocha tannins on the long, powerful finish. Today this is more impressive for potential than performance, but the rich core of tannins should smooth out with time, revealing a lovely earthy-edged core of very ripe Cabernet fruit. 92 points
 
 
Super pure blackcurrant fruits explode on the nose with hints of fine herbs, earth, licorice and a touch of burnt brownie.  This is a powerful wine, and yet at the same time it has a lean, focused quality to it that makes me think of a little of Margaux. On entry, one finds jammy strawberry fruit, then real finesse on the mid-palate followed by huge follow through, with elegant and pure black fruit, blackcurrants on the finish, and a lingering hint of violets. This was a sneak peak at a possible future release, and a gorgeous one at that. 94 points
 
 
Big and powerful on the nose, with dark, figgy fruit, a bit of macerated herbs and a tight-grained oaky top note of vanilla and toast. Big, soft and powerful in the mouth, this is a very typical Napa Cabernet with a mid-palate full of creamy black cherry fruit, and packed with fine grained tannins along with cigar box, mocha and cedary spice notes that linger on the moderately long finish. It’s very well done but lacks some excitement for my palate. 90 points
 
 
Sweet toasty oak greets the nose, along with hints of sweet licorice accenting the black cherry and blueberry fruit. Rather spicy and complex in the mouth, this is smooth and sexy up front, then tense with mineral with real complexity emerging on the mid-palate. This has tons of fruit that's not at all overbearing with well integrated oak spice, and a fairly heavy tannin load for a Turnbull wine.  This is showing very well, with great aromatic spice notes on the moderately long finish, though it does need some time to shows its best. Give it 2-5 years. 93 points
 
 
Smoky, nutty, old oak on the nose along with a hints of lavender and white pepper that add complexity to the savory meaty richness of the fruit. On entry this is big, inky and broad in the mouth with lots of dark, earthy, very pretty purple fruit. There’s a slight floral note to the the nicely angular palate, followed by blue fruits with hints of tree bark, pepper and lingonberry popping on the rather succulent, long and very lively finish. A lovely blend of fruit and savoriness with just enough structure to be supportive today and yet allow for this to age fairly well. 92 points