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A review of the Turnbull Wine Cellars winetasting experience

by TrevR on February 6, 2008

Our latest winetasting experience found us, once again, making the trek up Highway 29 past Yountville and Oakville Grocery before we turned off to the east (a right) at 8210 St. Helena Highway, which is the site of Turnbull Wine Cellars.

Click to enlarge: Turnbull Wine CellarsThe winery: After parking in the small lot, we walked through an outdoor courtyard and and toward a large brown building with a ‘tasting room’ sign hanging on the door. Turnbull Wine Cellars was previously Johnson Turnbull Vineyards, until Patrick O’Dell purchased the winery in the spring of 1993 and renamed it.

Click to enlarge: Outside the Turnbull Wine Cellars tasting roomFollowing the purchase, O’Dell has steadily increased Turnbull’s vineyard holdings within the Oakville appellation from 21 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon to now some 185 acres planted to several varietals. All told, Turnbull has some 300 acres in the Napa Valley and it produces roughly 30,000 cases of wine each year.

The tasting room: Stepping inside the tasting room, we immediately saw a bar area to our left that was already full of people shoulder-to-shoulder. We say ‘already’ because we arrived sometime before 11am, which is not typically the most popular time to go winetasting. Off to the right were a set of tall doors that opened up to a small outdoor patio, which offered views of the vineyards to the south. On warmer days, this would be a nice, tranquil setting to sip on some wine for sure.

Click to enlarge: Inside the Turnbull Wine Cellars tasting roomBack inside the tasting room, the ceiling was pitched and high making the room feel larger than it actually was and the walls were lined with Ansel Adams photography, which we love. In Turnbull’s Reserve Room and Gallery (which we did not visit) they’re currently featuring a career retrospective exhibit that contains some 65+ original Adams photographs. There was also the usual hats, jackets, books and wine-related paraphernalia for sale in the tasting room. After a decent wait for a spot to open up at the tasting room bar, we made our way a bit closer to the reason we came…

The staff: There were two staffers behind the bar, busily pouring wine and interacting with the crowd. From our observations and interactions, both gentlemen were personable and did a good job of introducing each wine, giving a bit of background on its history and were more than willing and able to answer any questions a guest might have had. The staff did a good job keeping things moving at a reasonable pace considering there were 12-14 adults tasting at any given time during our visit. According to our pourer, the time right before the kick-off of the annual Mustard Festival (which is exactly when we visited) marks the beginning of the busy season in the valley, which slowly ramps from now until crush in the late summer/early fall.

The wines: For $10 per person you get a three flight tasting of wines pre-selected by the winery. On this particular day, we were to taste an ’06 Sauvignon Blanc, an ’05 Old Bull Red and an ’05 Cabernet Sauvignon.

When we finally made our way up to the bar we were told the winery was pouring what was on the list above, as well as “a couple other” special flights.

Up first was the Turnbull 2006 Sauvignon Blanc ($16 per 750 ml bottle), which is one of the winery’s mass production wines (4,170 cases were produced). Made up of 70% Sauvignon Musque, 16% Sauvignon Blanc, 10% Viognier and 4% Semillion, we found the wine to be very fruit forward, with lots of tropical fruits on both the nose and the palate and we’d describe it as almost creamy.

Following the pre-selected list, up next was the Turnbull 2005 Old Bull Red ($20 per 750 ml bottle), which is mostly Merlot (70%), but also includes 11% Tempranillo, 7% Petite Sirah, 5% Syrah, 4% Sangiovese and 3% Barbera. Another of the winery’s mass production wines (7,500 cases), we were told this was the “beer drinkers red wine”. The wine had a very fruity nose, was slightly tannic on first taste and then showed hints of vanilla and a surprisingly long finish. A good effort for a red table wine.

Click to enlarge: Turnbull Wine Cellars wines in the tasting roomUp next was one of the ‘special’ flights–the Turnbull 2005 Merlot ($35 per 750 ml bottle)–which was showing plum and fig on the nose and was a mid-palate wine that had slight spices and a nice, smooth finish. It’s made of 95% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Sauvignon and 1% each of Syrah and Petite Verdot and was aged for 17 months in French Oak.

Continuing with the extra flights, we then tried the Turnbull 2004 Syrah ($30 per 750 ml bottle), which is 100% Syrah and 15% alcohol by volume. We found the wine to be very soft on the palate, with definite hints of spice and black pepper and the very full mouthfeel lent nicely to a long finish.

The Turnbull 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon was up next. This wine retails for $45 per 750 ml bottle and some 20,500+ cases were produced (clearly the winery’s bread-and-butter). At 83% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Cabernet Franc, 5% Syrah, 4% Merlot and 1% Petite Verdot, we got strong hints of cherry on the nose and were impressed by the legs on the glass. Most notable for us was the big finish on this one.

Our sixth and final tasting was the Turnbull 2004 Black Label, which retails for $100 per 750 ml bottle and had many in the tasting room talking about it. A blend of 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 13% Petit Verdot, 12% Cabernet Franc, 9% Malbec, 6% Merlot and 5% Syrah, if we had to pick a single word to describe this wine it would be ‘big’. On the nose there were powerful hints of various dark fruits (plum, cherry) and it had a very full mouthfeel followed by a long finish that showed hints of chocolate. This was our favorite wine of the day, as it should have been for the price!

The Cork Board rating: 3 corks (out of 5 possible). A nicely done tasting room loaded with gorgeous Ansel Adams photography, knowledgeable staff and two wines (out of 6) that, for their price points, we could see ourselves purchasing left us wanting just a bit more. Also, six flights feels like too much to us–although granted, we could have refused one here or there. Overall, we’d definitely go back to Turnbull Wine Cellars every once in a while to see what’s new, but not before checking out a few other places first.

Have you visited Turnbull Wine Cellars lately? Leave us a comment and tell us what you thought of the experience. Also, be sure to check out our previous winetasting reviews.

[techtags: Napa, Napa Valley, wine, winery, winetasting, Turnbull, Turnbull review, Turnbull Wine Cellars, Turnbull Wine Cellars reviews]

About the Author

has written 716 posts on The Cork Board. He was born and aged in the Napa Valley and has a passion for wine, writing and social media, which led him to co-found this blog in early 2007. Follow him on Twitter @TrevR.

  • jeff

    Have to disagree, this was one of the worst experiences we had. we were there a few weeks ago, we hit about 20 wineries over a few days. ended up coming home with 30 odd bottles of wine. None of those are from Turnbull. The wine was ok, but I have rarely have come across a more inconsiderate staff. Seemed like they (wrongly) decided that we were not a good investment of their time. Knowing that there are dozens of great wineries in the Napa Valley, not worth your waste of time…

  • jeff

    Have to disagree, this was one of the worst experiences we had. we were there a few weeks ago, we hit about 20 wineries over a few days. ended up coming home with 30 odd bottles of wine. None of those are from Turnbull. The wine was ok, but I have rarely have come across a more inconsiderate staff. Seemed like they (wrongly) decided that we were not a good investment of their time. Knowing that there are dozens of great wineries in the Napa Valley, not worth your waste of time…

  • http://www.uncork29.com/ TrevR

    Thanks Jeff, sounds like we had similar thoughts. Turnbull was definitely not a favorite of ours, but it wasn’t the worst place we’ve visited either. Would be curious to know what you thought about the other 20-odd wineries you hit up during your time in the valley. What was your favorite and why?

  • http://www.uncork29.com TrevR

    Thanks Jeff, sounds like we had similar thoughts. Turnbull was definitely not a favorite of ours, but it wasn’t the worst place we’ve visited either. Would be curious to know what you thought about the other 20-odd wineries you hit up during your time in the valley. What was your favorite and why?

  • Gena

    We went there in Aug 2008 and loved it. I liked every single wine we tasted. We joined the wine club and are traveling back there this week.

  • Gena

    We went there in Aug 2008 and loved it. I liked every single wine we tasted. We joined the wine club and are traveling back there this week.

  • Brian Spencer

    Our experience at Turnbull was fantastic. Went with a group of 6 and was lucky enough to have a women named CJ pour for us. Not having a extensive knowledge of wines, she was patient with us and made it very fun. In the end, we all became Wine Club members and enjoy their quarterly wine pick up days. I highly recommend this winery

  • Anonymous

    Fantastic description. It reminded me of the wine cellars my friend and I discovered in South of Italy. We were in the countryside, in the region of Puglia, when we have encountered a series of underground cellars were the best red wine ever tasted lied. The people were kind enough to let us buy 4 bottles even if the whole deal took about 1 hour because no one knew English and we had to gesticulate a lot.

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