Famed winemaker Turley chooses location near airport for unique needs

[caption id="attachment_23323" align="alignright" width="288" caption="Architectural rendering of the new Marcassin Vineyard winery in Windsor (courtesy of Greg LeDoux & Associates)"][/caption]

WINDSOR -- Well-known consulting vintner Helen Turley plans to have a home built in Windsor for her own luxury-tier brand Marcassin Vineyard starting this summer.

The economic recession has hit a number of luxury-priced wines hard since 2008. Yet 80 percent of Marcassin pinot noir and chardonnay wines, ranging from 2,500 to 3,000 cases a year, is sold to mailing list members for $125 a bottle, and the waiting list continues to be long, with some waiting years for a chance to purchase. Another 10 percent is distributed to top restaurants in California and New York.

“Even with the recession, Marcassin is in demand,” said her husband and business partner, John Wetlaufer. Her winemaking and consulting work in her three-decade career includes a number of high-profile vintners including B.R. Cohn, Colgin, Bryant and Martinelli.

Building permits are being finalized for construction to start in August on a 10,000-square-foot winery for Marcassin in a new industrial park off Conde Lane in Windsor.

In December, the couple inked a deal with Conde Business Park developer Airport Business Center for the new winery and are aiming to occupy it in January.

“We looked to see if there was an appropriate space to adapt to our needs, but for our niche and the way we make wine, we needed to build,” Mr. Wetlaufer said.

Ms. Turley’s style with Marcassin, developed from the first vintage in 1990, is to do most of the wine production in the vineyard and use a gentle hand on the grapes and juice at the winery, using natural yeasts for fermentation.

Natural fermentation requires extreme attention to sanitation, which can be problematic in leased commercial space. The narrow, winding roads leading to the vineyard, located three miles from the coast and 18 miles north of Jenner, would have made grape and bottling truck access problematic. Limited water in the fall also would have been challenging for winery cleaning needs around harvest.

Marcassin grapes are picked before dawn and transported to the winery in chilled trucks and 90 percent of the fruit is fermented intact. Chardonnay clusters are pressed whole, while pinot noir cluster are destemmed and moved directly to the fermentation tanks sized according to the vineyard block yield then soaked and pressed cold for a few days before fermentation.

The wine then goes to fresh oak barrels, including a year for chardonnay. The new winery will have enough floor space for the 100 or so barrels to be monitored without stacking. Wines are aged five years before release.

It’s been a transition year for the Marcassin brand. Ms. Turley has been making Marcassin at Martinelli Vineyards & Winery since 1992, leasing space at the Russian River Valley facility. She had been consulting winemaker for the Martinelli family from 1993 until this year. Bryan Kvamme has been working in the Martinelli cellar since 1997 and was named winemaker of the growing brand in 2008.

Meanwhile, Ms. Turley has been moving Marcassin toward sourcing only from its namesake vineyard. She helped the Martinellis develop the Three Sisters and Blue-Slide Ridge vineyards next to 20-acre Marcassin Vineyard on the Sonoma Coast, the family offered grapes from those vines for Marcassin.

The “second phase” of Marcassin Vineyard reached full production last year, with the anticipated 50-ton annual yield to cap production.

The Windsor winery is approved for 4,000-case-a-year production upon opening early next year and 10,000 by 2015, but the Marcassin brand isn’t planned to get that large, according to Mr. Wetlaufer.

Excess permitted capacity could be used for a forthcoming brand by six-harvest assistant winemaker Matt Courtney as well as possible custom winemaking clients, Mr. Wetlaufer said.

The Calistoga-based couple picked the Windsor business park for Marcassin partly because of the development’s other luxury-class winery, DuMol. That winery, built in 2008 next to the Marcassin site, is twice as big. The owners selected the location because they didn’t have a need for a tasting room, as Marcassin doesn’t.

The same design and construction team on DuMol -- architect Greg LeDoux & Associates of Cotati and Jeff Luchetti Construction of Santa Rosa -- is working on the Marcassin project.

Airport Business Center project manager Pat Imbimbo said that other wineries are looking into building facilities there.

“We hope it’s just the beginning,” he said.