Holly Turner serves as head winemaker at Three Rivers Winery, a Walla Walla mainstay. Holly is originally from Oregon wine country in McMinnville, Oregon. Holly holds a bachelor's degree in biology from Western Oregon State College and following school she worked in food science and quality assurance before catching the wine bug. She has a vast experience in the wine industry working at Chateau St. Michelle and Canoe Ridge. At Three Rivers she was first hired as an assistant winemaker and took over more than 10 years ago as head winemaker. Holly talks about her style of winemaking and how she incorporates Sangiovese in blending, something many Washington winemakers don’t do. Learn more about her wines at threeriverswinery.com. I found her a delight to speak with. Here is my interview with Holly Turner, head winemaker at Three Rivers Winery.
WWB: Can you talk about your background in wine? How did you get inspired to become a winemaker?
HT: I had graduated from college and was working in the Portland Oregon area in food quality assurance. From there I moved to Eastern Washington. At that time I needed a job, so I walked in the Chateau St. Michelle tasting room in Grandview and was hired. I liked wine but didn’t know much about it; I was home brewing beer, not wine at the time. After of few months in the tasting room I moved into the wine lab at CSM’s Canoe Ridge. I really enjoyed my experience at Canoe Ridge and learned a lot! From there I went to work in Argentina for a vintage then to Three Rivers as the assistant winemaker. Two years later the stars aligned and I took over as head winemaker in 2002, the same year that my twins were born.
After getting into the wine industry, there was no question that this is what I loved to do. I love to make wine. I was hungry for more information and was afforded the opportunity to go to UC Davis for a production class. I worked under some big names in wine and they gave me the opportunity to grow in the business. Learning from them taught me a lot about being a better winemaker. I was immersed in the world of wine which is exactly what I needed. I had traveled to South America and Europe which really helped me establish the style of wine I wanted to make. I like old world wines age ability and new world wines accessibility. The broad range of experiences I have had has definitely impacted me and my style of winemaking.
WWB: You have a great deal of experience as a winemaker at Three Rivers. What are some techniques that you have picked up over the years in terms of winemaking and vineyard management?
HT: I am contracting most of the fruit for Three Rivers from outside sources, we only have a small 8 acre estate vineyard here at the winery. We have found, over the years that our estate vineyard is ideal for producing beautiful Rosé. We have Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon that we intentionally pick early. This gives us higher acidity and less dense color for our Rose. This has been a fun project for us to highlight this special place in time each vintage. As the years pass we’ve been able to source more of our fruit here locally in the Walla Walla Valley. I’d say about 50% is sourced from the Walla Walla Valley and the other 50% from the greater Columbia Valley including the Wahluke Slope and Horse Heaven Hills. As the vineyard sites develop, the fruit quality increases. I’m working with a terrific group of growers that help me achieve my winemaking goals. Definitely a team effort.
WWB: Many people have been excited about the past three vintages, 2013 to 2015. Can you talk about these hot vintages and what kind of wines that you can expect from the vintages?
HT: In Washington making wine in the hotter vintages is definitely easier. The fruit is ripe, so it’s up to you to pick when the fruit fits into the realm of what you’re trying to create. In these vintages there are many great quality wines across the board. For consumers this is fantastic! Lots of great quality wine choices out there. In terms of the one vintage that I might favor, right now the 2014 vintage is really beautiful. Ripe, complex and interesting wines. Those were my favorite until I tasted the ‘15s. The 2015 reds aren’t in bottle yet but I am really excited, they show great potential. The 2015 vintage was fast and early and we had to be on it during harvest.
WWB: Your Rivers Red is consistently good throughout the last few vintages. Can you talk about the winemaking and blending behind that wine?
HT: River’s Red is an entry level red from our portfolio of wines. The goal is to make it consumer friendly, easily drinkable and versatile. My focus is on making a balanced delicious wine with soft tannins and subdued alcohol. We are using varietals that do have softer tannins and aren’t going to need a lot of bottle aging for them to be palatable. The varietals that we use --Sangiovese, Merlot, Syrah, Malbec -- they all seem to marry quite well together making an interesting complex blend. The wine is aged in small oak barrels which adds to the wines depth. We want to make something that you will want another glass of and I think we do a good job of that with our Rivers Red.