The SOMM Journal

October / November 2016

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Page 119 of 132

{ }  119 Standing at the top of Talley Vineyards' Rincon Vineyard in Arroyo Grande, California, Brian Talley can see his family's winery below, set amid fields growing produce for the Talley Farms operation. In 1982, Brian's father, Don Talley, had the foresight to plant vines in this cool- climate region, and over the years the younger Talley has expanded upon that vision and made the brand one of the most important and influential wine pro- ducers on California's Central Coast. "My father figured that he might as well plant grapes on the hills surrounding our produce fields," says Brian, a third-generation farmer. "The steep slopes surrounding the croplands weren't much suited for anything other than grapes. Avocado trees had been planted on the hillsides, but they proved too susceptible to frost. After seeing farmers in Santa Maria and Edna Valley planting vine - yards, he had a strong suspicion that Arroyo Grande would also be a good place to grow grapes." His farmer's intuition turned out to be correct, particularly about the area's ability to produce distinctive Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. As reviewer Jeb Dunnuck in The Wine Advocate put it: "Across the board, the Talley wines have fabulous typicity, purity and class, and are some of the greatest expressions of the varieties coming out of California today." Talley's steep estate vineyards are spread out over the gently rolling foothills leading up to the southern end of the Santa Lucia Range, above the Arroyo Grande Valley. The valley runs east to west, channeling cool air from the ocean during the day and mod - erating the temperatures overnight. The climate was ideal for pro- duce—Brian's grandfather, Oliver Talley, began farming in the area in 1948—but in 1982, it was a gamble to plant acres of grapevines. Before Don followed his hunch, he talked with viticulturalists at U.C. Davis about the optimal Pinot Noir clone for the site, eventu - ally settling on the Wädenswil 2A clone, which had been brought over from Switzerland in 1952. It offered the characteristics the site needed: good flavor, disease resistance and the ability to thrive in a cool climate. "Over the years we've changed the mix a little, adding Dijon and some California heirloom clones as we replant or add new rows," Brian says. "This creates more diversity in the vineyards, giving us more options to work with in the winery." Growing and Evolving Brian joined the family business in 1991, the year when a new winery was built on the property. He's always worked closely with his wine- makers and vineyard managers, continuously refining their approach. "My personal mission is to take what I was given as a special oppor- tunity to serve as a steward of our vineyards, winery and farming operation," he says. "I want to make it better and pass it along to the next generation in better condition. I like the collaborative aspects of what we do here. The people I'm blessed to work with are all people who want to grow and evolve. The more they take responsibility and ownership of a situation, the better the results." This method has worked well. Steve Rasmussen, Talley's first winemaker, was with the winery for 18 years and helped establish the focus on quality and site specificity still in place today. The cur - rent Winemaker, Eric Johnson, came to Talley in 2007 to work in the tasting room. He grew up on a farm in California's San Joaquin Valley and attended California State Polytechnic University in San Luis Obispo, where he studied ag business. With a Bachelor's degree and an emphasis in wine and viticulture, he soon moved from the tasting room to a position as enologist and was named Winemaker in 2010. He works closely with Brian to shape the style of the wines. Driven by the Vineyards Today, Talley is best known for its Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays made from estate-grown fruit, releasing 15,000 cases each year. The grapes in the Talley Estate Chardonnay and Talley Estate Pinot Noir come almost entirely from the hillside Rincon and Rosemary's vineyards. Within those vineyards, select blocks are used to make by Bennett George / photos by Jeremy Ball Brian Talley at the winery: "I like the collaborative aspects of what we do here."

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