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.