This is the third in my series of long form blog posts on each of our most important vineyards. Check out Rincon Vineyard and Rosemary’s Vineyard here. I’ll finish with the story of the Stone Corral Vineyard next month.
Oliver Talley was my grandfather and the founder of Talley Farms. He started farming in the Oso Flaco (skinny bear) area of the Santa Maria Valley in the 1930s after he graduated from UC Berkeley and returned to his hometown of Santa Maria. He followed his employer at the time, Byron Tabb, to Arroyo Grande, became his partner, and eventually bought him out to establish Talley Farms in 1948. Along the way, he met my grandmother, Hazel, and they had two sons, Donald (my dad) and Kenneth.
My grandfather was a tenant farmer focused exclusively on vegetables until my dad returned to the business and convinced him to start buying the land we farmed. Over the next 30 years, we purchased much of the land that today comprises Talley Farms, as well as our six vineyard sites. At the time my father began planting vineyards in 1982, my grandfather made two things clear: first, while he was happy to grow grapes for others, he didn’t want to be in the wine business. Second, we should plant Riesling, because that was his favorite wine. Four years later, my parents started Talley Vineyards and one of the five varietals we produced in that inaugural vintage was Riesling. Even though my grandfather still wasn’t crazy about the wine business, he was happy that we were making his favorite wine.
In 1988, a parcel of land that we were farming came up for sale. This 156 acre ranch was located on Corbett Canyon Road about 5 miles northeast of Arroyo Grande in the Edna Valley. Just like every other parcel we own, we purchased it to grow vegetables. And just like our other parcels, it included hillside property perfectly suited for winegrapes.
1991 was a busy year at Talley Vineyards: we completed our winery at the foot of the Rincon Vineyard, I became General Manager of the business, and we planted our new Edna Valley vineyard site. It was initially referred to as Block 17 because it was the 17th vineyard block we had planted since 1982. We needed a better name than that, and after casting around and exploring various options, my dad suggested Oliver’s Vineyard to honor my grandfather. In 1994, we made the inaugural vintage of Oliver’s Vineyard Chardonnay. I remember making up a barrel sample of that wine with a label that I mocked up that said “Oliver’s Vineyard”, which I gave to my grandfather. After he drank the wine (which he declared to be his new favorite wine) he soaked the label off, framed it and hung it over his bar.
Oliver’s Vineyard is now a 35 acre vineyard planted predominantly to Chardonnay, with small sections of Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling and Grüner Veltliner. Buffeted by the spring winds of the Edna Valley, and growing in Marimel Sandy Clay Loam soil, Oliver’s Vineyard is noted for producing exotic Chardonnay with distinct saline notes.
Our Oliver’s Vineyard Chardonnay is produced entirely from that original 16 acre planting, which is now one of the oldest blocks of Chardonnay in the Edna Valley. I think of my grandfather every time I enjoy it. By the time he passed away in 1999, he had come full circle on his view of the wine business. Not only was Oliver’s Vineyard Chardonnay is favorite wine, but he was happy to say that starting Talley Vineyards was his idea in the first place.
Congratulations, you just purchased a nice $85 bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon and you are looking forward to drinking that 100% Cabernet wine. Well, actually, that might not be the case.
According to the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) only 75% of a varietal indicated on the label has to be in the bottle. The other 25% may be most any wine that the winemaker chooses to add to the main varietal. (Vintners might blend other wines to modify the flavor due to the growing conditions that year, to add structure or tannin to the wine, or to adjust the balance.)
The label on the bottle might also indicate that the wine is from the Arroyo Grande Valley (or any other) Viticulture Area.
That means all of the grapes, right? Again, not actually. If the Viticulture Area is specified, at least 85% of those grapes must have been grown there.
A particular vintage (for example 2016) on the bottle indicates that at least 85% of those grapes were harvested in that year. Now, if the appellation and a vintage year are specified, 95% of those grapes must have been harvested in the year indicated.
How about trying one more – the “single vineyard” designation. 100%? No. However, a minimum of 95% of the grapes must be from that vineyard.
So, what other descriptions and percentages should you be aware of? Here is a very “short list”:
OK, is ANYTHING really 100% of what is indicated? The answer is definitely YES, there are some!
Perhaps this is a bit confusing, but none of this really detracts from the quality of the wine. Enjoy what you are drinking, regardless of the “percentages” you encounter!
(Disclaimer – The above percentages apply to the U.S. and California requirements. Foreign wines, and wines from other states, may have different guidelines.)
Rosemary’s Vineyard has become our most iconic vineyard, and has produced some of the most highly regarded Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in California. In fact it is truly unique as a site that produces two distinct wines of such high quality. Numerous vintages of Rosemary’s Vineyard Pinot Noir have been served at the White House and both Rosemary’s Vineyard Chardonnay and Pinot Noir have achieved scores of 98 points in Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate. The 2002 Rosemary’s Vineyard Chardonnay was judged the best California Chardonnay in the 30th Anniversary Judgment of Paris Tasting in 2006.
I was 10 years old in 1976 when I moved to the place that would become Rosemary’s Vineyard. At that time it was an avocado orchard. Over the previous year, my parents, Don and Rosemary, had built an adobe house on top of a hill on the first piece of property that my family bought in 1966, which was also the year I was born. This site turned out to be poorly suited for avocados because it frequently froze which damaged the trees and caused the crop to fall off. Within a few years, my dad started removing the avocado trees and considering what to plant next.
Meanwhile, in 1982, he had started growing winegrapes in our Rincon Vineyard and was pleased with the quality of the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir that we produced from that site. In 1987, he set out to plant those varieties in front of his house. For Pinot Noir, he chose the same clonal selection he had planted in the Rincon Vineyard, UCD Clone 2A (often referred to as the Wädenswil selection). As with most of our original plantings, he planted ungrafted or “own-rooted” vines because he wasn’t concerned about phylloxera and because the vines were less expensive (own-rooted vines are now exceedling rare and prized for their singular varietal expression). A year later, in 1988, he planted the east side of the driveway to Chardonnay. Very soon after that, he decided to name the vineyard after my mother.
The very first harvest of Pinot Noir from Rosemary’s Vineyard was blended into our Estate Pinot Noir in 1990. In 1991, my dad decided to sell some of the grapes to Jim Clendenen of Au Bon Climat winery in Santa Barbara County, who produced a legendary single vineyard bottling, in fact the first to bear the moniker “Rosemary’s Vineyard.” We produced the first vintage of Talley Vineyards Rosemary’s Vineyard Pinot Noir in 1993, most of which was sold directly to the customers on our mailing list. In 1994, I began planting Pinot Noir in the area behind my parents’ house. I’ll never forget the day Vineyard Manager Rudy Romero and I were marking the vineyard when my dad came out of his house and noticed that the vines would be planted on 8 foot rows, too narrow for the D4 Caterpillar tractor we used for tillage at that time. I told him that this was how a world class vineyard should be planted and that we could buy a smaller tractor. He muttered something under his breath and walked away—but he let me have my way.
Over time, we expanded the vineyard so that now it very nearly surrounds my mother’s house and consists of 14 acres each Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Most of the original Chardonnay planting on the east side of the driveway has now been replanted with Pinot Noir, this time on 6 foot rows. The original own-rooted 2 1/2 acre block of Pinot Noir on the west side of the driveway remains.
Climatically, Rosemary’s Vineyard is the coolest site that we farm, which means that the grapes ripen slowly and maintain the refreshing acidity that is the hallmark of world class Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. The soil type, classified as “Lopez Very Shaly Loam” is distinct from the calcareous clays that we farm in the Rincon Vineyard or the sand or sandy clay loam of our vineyards in the Edna Valley. We employ gentle sustainable farming practices and classic old world winemaking to coax all of the potential out of this truly special site.
When I stand at the top of the vineyard and look to the ocean, just 6 1/2 miles to the southwest, I reflect on the blessing I’ve received to make wine from this special place. I do my very best to honor the legacy that began when my father began planting vines here in 1987. I think about him as I walk through the section he planted—the section that produces the very best Pinot Noir grapes that we farm—grapes that form the backbone of every bottle of Rosemary’s Vineyard Pinot Noir that we release.
Occasionally in the Tasting Room I find myself using a term or two that could probably use some definition. We have so many industry-unique words and abbreviations that sometimes I forget not everyone has the same level of understanding of those words.
I’ve focused on two terms below that come up daily in our discussions with winery guests.
The first is AVA, which stands for “American Viticulture Area”.
American Viticulture Areas (AVAs) are federally recognized and designated grape growing regions that are able to demonstrate distinctive growing conditions that are not present in neighboring regions. While AVA’s can be defined by county or state boundaries, they must demonstrate their ability to influence grapes produced in the designated area by differences in climate and soil. The boundaries of AVAs are defined by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) of the United States Department of the Treasury.
Surprisingly, the first AVA in the United States was the Augusta AVA surrounding the area around the town of Augusta, Missouri, gaining the status on June 20th, 1980. Napa Valley was second 8 months later, which was granted its approval on February 27th, 1981.
As of June 2018, there were 242 AVAs in the United States. California has the highest number of AVA’s with 139. Talley owns vineyards in two AVAs –
“Arroyo Grande Valley AVA”: Rincon (including East Rincon), Rosemary’s, Monte Sereno, and Las Ventanas; and,
“Edna Valley AVA”: Stone Corral and Oliver’s.
“Estate Bottled” wines
Talley’s “Estate Bottled” Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are two of our most popular wines. But what makes them “Estate”? According to Tax & Trade Bureau regulations, “Estate Bottled” means that 100% of the wine came from grapes grown on land owned or controlled by the winery (even if they're actually owned by someone else) which must be located in a viticultural area.
The wine is made entirely on the winery's property—it doesn't ever leave the property during fermentation, aging, or bottling, so the winery must crush and ferment the grapes and finish, age, and bottle the wine in a continuous process on their premises. The winery and vineyards don't have to be contiguous, but they have to be located in the same viticultural area.
So, for Talley, our 2016 Estate Chardonnay comes from all four of our vineyards in the Arroyo Grande Valley AVA, and our 2016 Estate Pinot Noir comes from two of our vineyards in the Arroyo Grande Valley AVA - Rincon and Rosemary’s, and all of our processing is in the same AVA, thus making them both truly “Estate Bottled” wines!
If we use any terms in the tasting room that you have a question on please ask, and we’d be happy to define them for you!
(Several references were used for this blog, including – Amanda Ashley in “Winefrog”, “Wikipedia”, “Wine Spectator” and documents from the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax & Trade Bureau.)
This is the first in a series of blogposts that I plan to write about our four most important vineyards. I’m starting with the Rincon Vineyard because it’s our largest vineyard and where the story of Talley Vineyards began back in 1982.
Reflecting on the history of the Rincon Vineyard, it’s hard to know exactly where to start. A logical place is when Ramon Branch built the Rincon Adobe in the 1860s. Ramon was the son of Francisco Ziba Branch, the founder of the 16,955 acre Rancho Santa Mañuela, the Mexican Land Grant that underlay what is now the Rincon Vineyard, and just about all of the land we own and farm to this day. The area around the adobe forms a distinct ranch that was historically called El Rincón (the corner or nook in Spanish). The Rincon Adobe served as our original tasting room, and is where we now welcome members of our wine clubs. Pictured on our label and built from bricks made of soil from the area, it’s an enduring symbol of Talley Vineyards because it reflects our four generation family farming legacy and our commitment to producing wines that capture the special character of our place.
Fast forward to 1974, which is when my family purchased a 270 acre parcel we refer to as the Adobe Ranch. As with all of the land we have purchased over the years, we bought this property to grow vegetables, which is what my grandfather (Oliver) father (Don) and uncle (Kenneth) had been doing on the Adobe Ranch since the mid 1960s. In addition to fertile flatland, the site included two hillsides: the western slope was planted to an abandoned avocado orchard and the eastern hillside was used to grow hay, a low value crop in our area. My father thought that both sites could be put to much better use growing different crops.
After research and analysis, coupled with his observation of the explosion of the wine industry in the neighboring Edna Valley and Santa Barbara County areas, my dad became convinced that wine grapes would be the best crop. In 1982, he planted small blocks of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, and Cabernet Sauvignon on the west hillside. Four of the five varieties were successful. The Cabernet Sauvignon tasted just like the green bell peppers we were famous for growing on the vegetable farm, which holds little appeal in wine. Consequently, those vines were grafted to Riesling, my grandfather’s favorite variety. Between 1982 and 1985 both hillsides were planted, predominantly to Chardonnay with small blocks of Pinot Noir, Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc. Over time, we added plantings in the adjacent canyons.
Today’s Rincon Vineyard is the largest of the six vineyards that we farm at 74 acres. It has the most diversity of soils, including four different types, mostly calcareous clay and sandstone. It also hosts the greatest varietal diversity: predominantly Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, but also including small blocks of Syrah and Grenache. Wines from the Rincon Vineyard display profound minerality, belying the calcareous clay soils of the site.
I refer to the Rincon Vineyard as our home vineyard: it’s where our winegrowing endeavor began almost 40 years ago; it’s where we built our winery and tasting room, where make our wines and welcome visitors. It’s also the place I go to work every day. And every day I take a moment to reflect on the small sign at the foot of the eastern hillside of the vineyard that memorializes my father’s planting of those vines back in 1984. Without his vision and foresight, Talley Vineyards would not exist today.
As 2018 winds down, I’m reflecting on the highlights of the year that marked our 33rd harvest at Talley Vineyards and our 70th year of farming at Talley Farms.
In March we added some varietal diversity to our vineyards when we grafted parts of the West Rincon Vineyard to Syrah and Grenache as well as one acre of Gruner Veltliner in Oliver’s Vineyard. While we were able to harvest a little of the Gruner and Grenache this year, I look forward to the first “real” harvest next year and subsequent releases in 2020 and 2021.
In June, we welcomed Grant Talley to Talley Farms as the first of our Fourth Generation (G4) to work in a leadership role at Talley Farms or Talley Vineyards. Grant now heads up our irrigation maintenance department and brings a fresh perspective to work every day. I look forward to a day in the near future when I’m working with more G4s, including my daughters Elizabeth and Olivia.
Later in June, we spent seven days cruising the Danube from Vienna to Budapest on Crystal Cruises with a wonderful group of Talley Vineyards’ fans. While we enjoyed lots of Talley Vineyards wines along the way, we also spent time visiting one of the world’s greatest producers of Gruner Veltliner, Schloss Gobelsburg, in Austria.
Our grape harvest kicked off August 22 and finally concluded November 12.
Spanning 83 days, it was one of the longest in our history, and the biggest since 2014 with a little more than 600 tons crushed. It shares many of the characteristics of the 2016 vintage in that it was very cool throughout most of the summer and fall.
Speaking of the 2016 vintage, it has come to be recognized as our most successful ever with twin 96 point scores for our Rosemary’s Vineyard Chardonnay and Pinot Noir awarded this fall. These wines are very nearly sold out, so follow this link if you’d like to secure a few bottles.
Finally, I’m proud of our ongoing commitment to our community as expressed through the Fund for Vineyard and Farmworkers and the Marianne Talley Foundation. We hosted a special lunch to celebrate the partnership between The Fund and the Noor Clinic, which provides free medical care in San Luis Obispo County. We were happy to present them with a check for $16,000 at the lunch. Meanwhile, the Marianne Talley Foundation granted $22,000 in scholarships to Arroyo Grande High School students, bringing our total grants to more than $300,000 since we established the Foundation in 1993.
In closing, 2018 was a wonderful year at Talley Vineyards and Talley Farms. I look forward to revisiting what made it so special as we release the wines from this memorable vintage, starting next spring. Cheers! BT
The holiday season is the perfect time for a little DIY action. On a budget? Save some money. Throwing a party? Create something memorable.
DIY-ing is also another great excuse to get together with friends, share some appetizers, and open a bottle of your favorite wine. Because that’s what the holidays are all about, right?
But with so many bloggers and crafters bombarding the internet these days, it can be tiring to sift through all the DIY ideas out there. So, for those looking for some instant inspiration, I’ve curated a list of a few favorite DIY ideas. And the best part? They’re totally versatile and can be used throughout the year. Enjoy!
DIY wreath. This is an instant statement piece.
Change out the flowers and greenery to match the occasion.
Holiday Wreath Idea
DIY wrapping paper. Instead of dealing with a slew of wrapping paper that takes up storage space, consider purchasing a plain roll of mailing paper. Now you just have one roll to deal with throughout the year, and a blank canvas for you to get creative with.
Wrapping Paper ideas
DIY dip dyed napkins. My favorite part in prepping to host a party is setting the table. It’s the centerpiece of a room and where most good memories are made. So why not have fun with it? These dip dyed napkins not only look great but can also easily be stored until the next event.
Dip Dyed Napkins
On a foggy morning in August, we began picking Pinot Noir in Rosemary’s Vineyard. We picked a little shy of 2 tons that day and with the cool conditions were able to sleep in and start at 6:30am. The exact date was the 22nd of August; with the cool summer we had experienced we had thought our harvest would begin a week or two later. Typically, our harvest runs about 6 weeks, so on the 22nd we all felt excited to be done by Halloween. I’ve got two young kids, so Halloween is a good benchmark for me to be liberated and able to walk blissfully house to house, with the kids in whatever the hell costume they’ve come up with and my favorite libation hidden in an insulated coffee mug. (Lately it’s been Spritzes with ½ Campari and ½ Aperol- I’m a sucker for light Italian cocktails)
Returning to the topic at hand, heres what actually happened. Mother Nature took our dreams of finishing harvest by Halloween, crumpled them into a metaphorical wad of newspaper, and tossed tossed dreams into a metaphorical dumpster fire that quickly consumed any thought of wrapping up harvest in the usual amount of time. After 10 whole weeks of waking up in the middle of the night to pick grapes, we “wrapped up” harvest on November 12th, my youngest kid’s 4th birthday. It was one for the books!
Why the long harvest? Well, remember my mention that it was a cool summer? It’s ok if you don’t, I’ll say it again. It was a cool summer meaning it took a while for some vineyard blocks to ripen and prior to plants going through veraison (the ripening process of grape berries) there was a long berry development phase. With all that extended time prior to ripening, fruit clusters got big, especially in the Chardonnay blocks. The result was that harvest continued on and on, early mornings and long days continued, and our team tried not to get sick of each other.
Luckily, we have an amazing crew here at Talley Vineyards and we found ways to keep motivated and pick on! In the end, we brought in a lot of fruit, we are very pleased with the quality, and we can finally call harvest complete!
Last week I was serving a delightful couple from Alabama who were vacationing on the Central Coast. They were visiting Talley due to a recommendation from friends to try our excellent wines, and they just HAD to stop in. They loved our Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs so much they wanted to ship a case of wine to their home in Alabama so they could share it with their wine-appreciating neighbors. Unfortunately, when I checked our list of state alcohol laws I discovered that we could not ship into Alabama. They were disappointed, and had to settle for purchasing two bottles that they could safely put into their checked baggage on the fight home.
Although I had experienced this before, this incident interested me to investigate further why certain states allowed unlimited shipments to their residents, and others did not. Come to find out, the after-effects of Prohibition are still with us today.
Prohibition in the United States was enacted through the Eighteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution (effective on January 17, 1920), and effectively established the prohibition of intoxicating liquors in the United States by declaring the production, transport, and sale of intoxicating liquors (though not the consumption or private possession) illegal. There were certain intoxicating liquors excluded, for example, those liquors used for medical and religious purposes. Forty six states ratified the amendment, with Connecticut and Rhode Island rejecting it.
The Amendment was in effect for the following 13 years. It was repealed in 1933 by ratification of the Twenty-First Amendment, and essentially shifted regulation of the production, sales and distribution of alcohol from the federal government to the states. So, how does that affect our current shipping policies? The federal government, in returning the control of alcohol distribution to the individual states, opened the door for 50 different thoughts on how alcohol distribution should be controlled, and as a result, we have 50 different regulations to deal with. Currently seven states prohibit wine shipments to residents: Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Kentucky, Mississippi, Rhode Island and Utah.
While some states specifically prohibit the direct shipment of alcoholic beverages to consumers, some have statutory provisions that require orders to be processed and shipped through licensed wholesalers. Still others have regulations that allow wine to be shipped into the state, but only when purchased by the customer on-site at the winery. (So you can ship to yourself, ONLY if you are physically in the winery when you place that order you are shipping from.)
Also, most states have some limit to the amount of wine you can have shipped to consumers within a year – ranging from two cases per calendar year (Minnesota and Missouri), increasing to “unlimited” (California, Colorado, Florida, Iowa, and Washington). My favorite state’s restriction is Alaska, which limits the quantity to “a reasonable amount”! Now, THAT’S not ambiguous at all!
The individual states’ regulation control sometimes have several groups of interest involved. For example, many states have liquor control boards that forbid or restrict retailers to offer anything but what the state brings in. Middleman wholesalers have become monopolies in these states and the only wines you can buy are the wines they carry.
Generally, the cost of alcohol based goods in state run markets are going to be much higher in cost due to the amount of taxation they endure. There are benefits in having aggressive laws from a state perspective, as the state Legislature can help protect its business’s (such as Distributors) and make sure that the taxes are generating money for the state.
Daniel Posner, president of the National Association of Wine Retailers, and owner of “Grapes the Wine Company”, commented - “As in anything in business, this is pure greed. There are very few industries that are so regulated. We have an authority that looks over us, that makes sure we pay our bills on time. We have a very rigid system in place, state by state,” he said. “These wholesalers, they hold all the cards.”
Wholesalers on the other hand, suggest that the need to enforce the interstate laws is to protect the public from under-aged drinking and fraud. Craig Wolf, president and chief executive of the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America, expressed that “The tight laws will keep states honest and held accountable for their commerce, whereas before “allowing retailers to sell out of state created a scenario for an unregulated system.”
Things are changing, albeit slowly. For example, just a few months ago, Oklahoma lifted their prohibition to incoming wine shipments direct to consumers, and now only requires a Direct Wine Shipper’s Permit to do so.
Bottom line? Prohibition is gone, but the individual state imposed carry-over controls are not. So keep enjoying wines in our tasting room, and, if you like what you are tasting and want to ship some home, keep your fingers crossed that you live in a state where that’s possible.
Would you like to see winery shipments open up in your state? You might want to check out this organization:
Free the Grapes! is a national, grassroots coalition of consumers, wineries and retailers who seek to remove restrictions in states that still prohibit consumers from purchasing wines directly from wineries and retailers.
A few weeks ago I sat with our harvest interns for our weekly staff lunch. They started asking me some thought provoking questions, which inspired the idea that they would interview me. Check out this YouTube video for our conversation.