History of the Brand
While the history of Failla (pronounced FAY-la) is short it is not without its complexities. Founded as Failla Jordan in 1998, it took its name from the husband-and-wife team of winemaker Ehren Jordan and fellow debtor Anne-Marie Failla. That year we planted our Estate vineyard on the Sonoma Coast and began buying fruit for our first releases, the very Rhône-style ‘98 Alban Vineyard Viognier and ‘98 Que Syrah Syrah.
However, after three vintages under the Failla Jordan label, the must hit the fan and we got into a legal dust-up with Jordan Vineyards and Winery. When the smoke cleared, we had agreed to cease using Ehren’s last name to avoid trampling tender trademark toes and, putting our best foot (and better half) forward, we continued with simply "Failla". Many folks have asked us why we didn’t just pick a fanciful name in the first place instead of playing roulette with our own surnames. Well, we never found ruins of missions, limestone kilns, stone walls or barns on our property, just several old trailers. Existing plants on the ranch include such wine-incompatible flora as agave (shot of tequila anyone?) and bay trees (boiled crabs anyone?). And geographic features on our local topo maps sport monikers such as Brain Ridge, Gualala River, and Hell Hole.
We debuted as "Failla" with a new Chuck House-designed label in the fall of 2002. Our original label, designed by Anne-Marie's sister Marybeth, has been archived and our first three vintages (stragglers safely socked away in our personal cellar) will join either the pantheon of collectors' items or the fraternity of the oddities bin.
The House that Pinot Built
We may have become comfortable with our new identity, but not with the idea that there is only one right way of doing something. Ehren loves to experiment with his favorite varietals, coaxing out their various incarnations from different climates (cool, cooler and coolest), soil types and rootstock. After cutting his teeth on Pinot Noir in 1999 with fruit from Keefer Ranch, in the Green Valley sub-appellation of the Russian River Valley, Ehren seized the opportunity in 2001 to produce Pinot from Oregon's Willamette Valley, courtesy of the Goldschmidt Vineyard. Though we were thrilled with the results, the complex logistics of living in California but overseeing and transporting fruit from Oregon proved overwhelming and forced us to accept defeat while celebrating a successful vintage.
Turning his attention back to the Golden State for inspiration, Ehren spent several years ferreting out enough unique, cool-climate Pinot Noir sources to galvanize his urge to tinker for years to come. Our portfolio currently includes Pinots from the Hirsch Vineyard on the Sonoma Coast (added in 2001) as well as our original Keefer Ranch. The 2005 vintage heralds the arrival of Pinots from Occidental Ridge on the Sonoma Coast, and Rancho Santa Rosa in the Santa Rita Hills north of Santa Barbara. 2006 welcomes Appian Way Pinot Noir from the Russian River Valley, as well as Peay Vineyards and Estate Pinot from the Sonoma Coast.
Speaking of our Estate vineyards, in 1998 we bought another parcel contiguous to our first, and in 2002 planted it with five acres of rootstock before grafting six selections of long-coveted Pinot Noir scion material the following year. Ehren's viticultural training in France has infused his farming and winemaking choices so that our ten acres of estate vineyards today produce Rhône-style Syrah, Chablis-like Chardonnay and Burgundian Pinot Noir.
Ehren Jordan, Winemaker, Owner
Ehren began his preparation for winemaking at George Washington University where he majored in Art History with a minor in Classical Archeology. "Of course", you say, "obvious prerequisites for a winemaking career". In fact, Ehren has no formal degree in fermentation science from any institution, a fact he proudly credits with his success.
Instead, one of those "thousand insignificant choices we make everyday" set him on his course: he got a part-time job as stock boy at Bell’s Wine Shop down the street from ABC Studios in Washington, D.C.
While Bell’s proprietors, the brothers Luskin, certainly introduced young Jordan to the possibilities of connoisseurship, Ehren tells more anecdotes about waiting on Sam Donaldson and Andy Rooney than about sublime vertical tastings of Chateau Latour. (Ever heard the expression "Youth is wasted on the young"?)
Eschewing traditional routes to a winemaking education, Ehren instead worked his way up the vertical integration ladder. After graduating from college in 1989, he left for Denver, Colorado where he worked briefly as a sales rep for a large wine distributor. But the siren song of ski season in the Rockies grew louder as winter approached and Ehren headed for the restaurant scene in Aspen. Schussing by day and bussing by night, our 21-year-old would-be winemaker went from wine steward to sommelier/manager by the end of the season.
As the snows and drinking crowds melted, Ehren headed to the Napa Valley with a posse of associates from the restaurant on the first leg of what was to be an extended journey during the Aspen off-season. However, finding the funds low, our hapless hero presented himself on the doorstep of Joseph Phelps Vineyards looking for a temporary job as a tour guide…. Three years later, after stints giving tours, working in the cellar, making sales calls with then VP Bruce Neyers, and managing retail sales, Ehren finally left Phelps to try his hand at winemaking in the venerable vineyards of the Rhône Valley.
Celebrated oenologist Jean-Luc Columbo took a chance on the erstwhile Ehren, whom he had met the prior year. A Francophile since adolescence, Ehren threw himself into all aspects of what seemed like turn-of-the-century winemaking in age-old caves and endurance-sport viticulture on the terraced hillsides of Cornas. During the sodden 1992 and 1993 vintages Ehren helped make Les Ruchets, Columbo’s own label, and visited many of Columbo’s clients, among some of France’s most esteemed wine brains.
An unexpected visit from globe-trotting Anne-Marie (whom he had known since age 12) set our vinous Valentino on his ultimate romantic course, though the two would not share the same time zone for another three years.
On Ehren’s return to California in 1994, former boss Bruce Neyers made Ehren an offer he couldn’t refuse: to join he and his wife Barbara as winemaking partner in Neyers Vineyards. In 1996, Ehren made Anne-Marie an offer she couldn’t refuse and the two married in 1997. Today, Ehren directs the winemaking of more than 15,000 cases in Neyers’ state-of-the-art winery, which he helped design and build in 2000.
Back in 1994, although a partner in a flourishing winery, Ehren still needed a paying job. Enter Helen Turley and her husband Jon Wetlaufer, who hired Ehren to work at Marcassin, their estate vineyards on the Sonoma Coast where the steep hillsides resemble those of Cornas. Ehren quickly recognized how Rhône-like the conditions were in this little known viticultural area and scraped together the money to buy a gorge-laced 40-acre parcel with only five plantable acres which three years later became our Estate vineyard.
In the meantime, Helen introduced Ehren to her brother Larry Turley, proprietor of Turley Wine Cellars, where Ehren became Helen’s winemaking assistant. Ehren eventually took over full-time winemaking duties with the 1996 vintage. To his hat-trick of General Manager, Winemaker, and Viticulturalist at Turley Wine Cellars, Ehren is now an instrument-rated private pilot with single- and multi-engine privileges. Being able to jet around to TWC’s far-flung outposts is crucial to manufacturing those 25th and 26th hours in the day.
Anne-Marie Failla, CFO, Owner
With a degree in Economics from the University of Virginia, Anne-Marie would seem far more suited to her current career than her tradition-defying husband. Stints in investment banking at Morgan Stanley, first in New York and then Tokyo, venture capital at Advent International in Boston and the Bay Area, and then as an entrepreneur at an Internet start-up cum flame-out in San Francisco made her excruciatingly familiar with spreadsheets and pie-in-the sky projections.
Once wooed to the Napa Valley by Ehren, Anne-Marie dove into the wine business during the harvest of 1996 with a cellar job at William Hill Winery in order to learn the physical elements of an industry so often associated with glamour. Marketing positions followed at Beringer Wine Estates and Chappellet Vineyards before co-founding Failla Jordan with Ehren. During the earliest years of our vineyard, she pruned vines, picked fruit and learned to wield a weedwacker. Anne-Marie currently manages the business side of Failla and the business end of our daughters Audrey, born in 2001 and Vivien, born in 2005.