The Stone Corral Vineyard is a 28 acre vineyard located in the Edna Valley which was planted entirely to Pinot Noir in 2001. Just four miles from the ocean, it’s unique for two very distinct reasons: First, the soils of the vineyard are far sandier than anything else we farm. Second, it’s the only vineyard in our region that was established and is managed on a collaborative basis. Every year, three bottlings of Stone Corral Vineyard Pinot Noir are produced by Talley Vineyards, Stephen Ross and Kynsi, each of whom has a long term lease for 1/3 of the vineyard.
The soil type of the vineyard is classified as Arnold Sandy Clay Loam which is composed of weathered sandstone, exists predominantly in the coastal ranges of San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara Counties and is considered to be “excessively well drained.” Consequently, the vineyard dries out quickly and requires more frequent irrigation than the calcareous clays we farm in most other sites. This soil tends to produce a distinctly dark yet plush style of Pinot Noir relative to our Arroyo Grande Valley vineyard sites.
The idea to plant a collaborative vineyard came to me in the late 1990s. I had listened to winemakers complain that they couldn’t find any smaller vineyard parcels to develop as “estate” vineyards and that traditional tonnage contracts incentivized growers to produce large crops (undesirable for premium quality Pinot Noir).
Meanwhile, growers complained that winemakers insisted on unsustainably small production that wouldn’t cover the farming cost. I wanted to create a structure where the risk of the crop resided with the winemaker, who would receive the reward of making and selling highly acclaimed wine.
I explained this idea to my dad, and we settled on a lease structure wherein wineries would participate in the cost to plant the vineyard and pay the cost to farm their designated area, plus a rental fee. In return, they would receive the crop from that area and would control farming practices, crop yield, harvest decisions and other critical winegrowing choices.
Now that we had a business structure in place, the question became who to approach about this concept.
An obvious candidate was Kynsi winery, owned by Don and Gwen Othman, because they leased winery space from us adjacent to the site of the vineyard. As I thought about other candidates, I realized that Steve and Paula Dooley, owners of the Stephen Ross winery, could be good partners. Steve had an extensive background as a winemaker and had served in that role at the Edna Valley Vineyard. Paula had strong business chops as an executive with American Airlines. I’ll never forget approaching them at a family picnic in the late 90s and their immediate enthusiasm for the idea.
Before I new it, leases were signed, vines were ordered and the Stone Corral Vineyard was planted in 2001. Gwen Othman came up with the name, the English translation of Corral de Piedra, the historic land grant that underlay the site. Since that time, Stone Corral has emerged as the most highly acclaimed Pinot Noir vineyard in the Edna Valley. I appreciate the opportunity to collaborate with winemakers who share Talley Vineyards’ commitment to excellence and focus on capturing the special character of this unique vineyard site. Cheers to our 20 year partnership!
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.
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.
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
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.
We started our 33rd Harvest here at Talley Vineyards on Wednesday, August 22 with a little bit of Rosemary’s Vineyard Pinot Noir that we picked from the section directly behind my mother’s house. Things really kicked off over Labor Day weekend, and we picked the very best Pinot Noir that we farm, from the section that my dad planted in 1987 in front of my mother’s house, on Labor Day.
Every harvest has its theme: in 2016 it was the perfect growing season (“chill AF” according to Vineyard Manager Ben Taylor), that resulted in some of the best Pinot Noirs we’ve ever made. Last year it was general weirdness as reflected by the solar eclipse that we couldn’t see because it was so foggy.
This year, the theme feels like “something old/something new.”
Not quite so old, but getting there:
This harvest marks Eric Johnson’s (pictured right) 12th harvest at Talley Vineyards and his 9th as the Winemaker. Even with all that experience, he’s still the youngest winemaker in the San Luis Obispo Coast region.
Vineyard and Orchard Manager Ben Taylor (pictured left) joined us in 2013, so this marks his 6th harvest. He admits that harvesting grapes and avocados, at the same time as he’s planting new avocado and lemon orchards, is what makes him feel old.
Our two full time production workers, Edwin Amador and Emma Lyon, joined us this summer. Edwin comes with a wealth of production experience in the Paso Robles region while Emma is a brand new Cal Poly graduate (class of 2018, along with my daughter Elizabeth) who got her start at Claiborne and Churchill Winery just a few miles up the road.
Fulltime Cellar Crew:
Emma Lyon, Ignacio Zarate & Edwin Amador
Our harvest interns are all brand new, but that happens every year. So that’s really kind of something old.
Pictured left: harvest interns Noah Knebel, Rachel Martin, Jeremy Retornaz, & Allie Donegan
A great bottle of wine expresses the dichotomy of old and new--Mother Nature, old vines, and respect for tradition mashed up with youthful vigor, new ideas and the ever changing growing season--all come together to produce the ultimate expression of our interaction with Earth. It’s a story that changes every year and I love it.
Cheers to the 2018 Harvest! BT
As I write this, Eric Johnson and I are preparing to attend the 32nd Annual International Pinot Noir Celebration (IPNC) in McMinnville Oregon. Occurring every July in the heart of the Willamette Valley, which is widely recognized to be one of great regions in the world for Pinot Noir, IPNC brings together the very best producers from Oregon, California, Burgundy and other regions where Pinot Noir thrives. Only 15 wineries from California are invited to attend so simply being invited is to be recognized as one of the very best producers in the state. I’m proud to say that Talley Vineyards has participated about a dozen times since our inaugural year in 1992.
IPNC was one of the events that inspired me, along with Archie McLaren and a number of vintners in our area, to establish the World of Pinot Noir back in 2000. I wanted to replicate the feeling of camaraderie among the participants, as well as the very high level of education and discourse that are the hallmarks of IPNC. I should also add that the food is exceptional and that it’s all around good fun! The Saturday night Salmon Bake with whole filets of salmon roasting over huge open fires, is one of the greatest wine dinners in the world!
Over the years I’ve made lots of friends at IPNC. One of those people is Daniel Shanks, who is this year’s Master of Ceremonies. We ended up sitting next to one-another at a Burgundy tasting in the late 90s, and struck up a nice conversation. When we traded business cards, I learned that he was the Head Usher for Food and Wine at the White House.
Over the years, I got to visit Daniel on two occasions at the White House, and he featured our wines on a number of menus, including a State Dinner with Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji in 1999.
This will be my first time back to IPNC since 2010. Eric has been a couple of times since then, so he’ll be showing me the ropes. I encourage you to follow us on Instagram and Facebook to see what we’re up to. Cheers! BT