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
The other day I was comparing notes on the growing season with my neighbors up the road, George Donati, in our San Luis Obispo Coast region for more than 20 years, and Howard Carroll, who has lived in the Edna Valley for more than 30 years. Howard and I both remarked on how cold and windy is has been this spring, and George pointed out that this is typical of the way it used to be, before the onset of the drought in 2012 and warmer, dryer weather. George told us that his standard response to anyone who complained about the wind in the old days was, “the wind blows until June 20. After that, it will warm up.”
Fog over Rosemary's VIneyard
What does this cold spring mean for our crop in 2018? Here are a few key takeaways so far:
We estimate that we are about 3 weeks behind last year in terms of key milestones in our growing season.
Flowering (the period when the grapes are pollinated) has been extended for a period of about 6 weeks, about double the normal time. This extended flowering has resulted in inconsistent development of the grape clusters and more unfertilized flowers (shatter), especially in Chardonnay. Clusters are smaller, which will reduce the size of the crop.
Chardonnay cluster that has set next to flowering clusters
In general, vine growth has been uneven. For instance, the Monte Sereno Vineyard started growing early in the season and was affected by a frost at the end of February. On the other hand, Oliver’s Vineyard started growing about a month later and both vine growth and the crop looks better there. Rincon Vineyard Chardonnay appears to have the most variability from vine to vine.
Inconsistent vine growth, Rincon Vineyard Chardonnay
To summarize what all this means for the 2018 vintage, we will likely harvest a smaller than average Chardonnay crop and an average sized Pinot Noir crop. Unless we have an exceptionally warm summer, I expect that the majority of grapes will be harvested in September and October, which bodes well for wine quality, since I think we make our best wines in cooler years when we harvest later. In the meantime, our vineyard crew is working diligently--leafing, managing the vine canopy and removing suckers--to ensure that the 2018 crop is the very best it can be. All of us look forward to warmer weather after June 20th. Cheers!
I just got back from a great visit to Phoenix where I went to meet and thank our loyal Estate Subscribers and Talley Family Program members. It was such a rousing success, we agreed that we’d like to do it again, perhaps in your neighborhood!
If that's of interest to you, please contact us with your suggestion, and we may just show up for a visit.
When Direct Sales Manager Alyssa Ball proposed the idea of hosting an event in Arizona, I was a bit skeptical. The first thing we needed to do was find the right venue. We did a bit of research and learned that a restaurant called Nook Kitchen, located in downtown Phoenix, would be a great fit: they love our wine, they have the same commitment to hospitality that we do, and best of all, they have great food. As our Events Coordinator, Nikki Price started working out the details of a reception there and came up with the idea to add a wine dinner the night before. Erika Crawford, Nook’s Director of Events happily agreed!
We kicked things off on Tuesday night, when Chef Nick LaRosa prepared a sumptuous four course meal paired with our wines. My highlight was his filet of beef with a Brussels sprouts puree, which was great with our 2015 Rosemary’s Vineyard Pinot Noir.
Wednesday afternoon was a casual reception on the Nook Kitchen patio, featuring their signature pizzas and appetizers paired with our wines. Things were a little quiet to start, but thanks to some encouragement from Nikki (aka pitching our wines to passerby on the street corner), the patio was soon full of people excited to learn more about what we do, sign up for our mailing list and order wine. Next thing I knew, I looked at my watch, and told Nikki it was time to scramble to make sure we caught our flight home. Erika thoughtfully prepared a to-go box for us, since we’d been too busy to eat.
Our brief sojourn to Phoenix was a great success:
we said thanks to our most loyal customers and made some new friends. We're looking forward to future visits, maybe in your area!
I have to admit that I’m glad 2017 is behind us. There were many monumental events in the news: from ongoing political upheaval, to the tragedy in Las Vegas, to the worst fires in our state’s history. Meanwhile, the rhythms of our farming and winegrowing operations continue just as they have since my grandfather and parents founded Talley Farms and Talley Vineyards so many years ago: we plant, prune, tend and harvest our vines and vegetables throughout the course of the year, often on a schedule immune to outside events and dictated by Mother Nature. On the other hand, we are committed to ongoing evolution and improvement in every aspect of what we do. Here’s a brief list of some of the things I’m especially excited about in the coming year.
70 Years of Farming. This year marks the 70th anniversary of the year that my grandfather, Oliver Talley, began farming in the Arroyo Grande Valley in 1948. While many of our farming practices have evolved, the fundamental vision to strive for excellence in everything we do has stayed the same. We look forward to celebrating this milestone in special and creative ways and welcome you to join us in the celebration.
30th Anniversary Releases. We’ll be releasing wines from the 2016 vintage, which marks our 30th Anniversary since my parents, Don and Rosemary Talley, founded Talley Vineyards in 1986. Our Single Vineyard Selections will have new packaging and all Talley Vineyards wines will have a special back label commemorating the anniversary.
New Production in our Vineyards. New Pinot Noir vines that we planted in the West Rincon Vineyard in 2016 will bear their first crop in 2018. This is some of the very best land that we farm: one area produced the legendary West Rincon Pinot Noir bottlings of 2000 and 2001, regarded by many as among the best we’ve ever produced. Meanwhile, we have chosen to add new varieties to our mix in both West Rincon and Oliver’s Vineyards. While we are still finalizing the selections, the most likely new varieties will be Grenache, Chenin Blanc and Gruner Veltliner. Grafting will occur in the winter of 2018, and the first wines will be produced in the 2019 vintage.
Scholarships for Farm Workers. After discussions with Cal Poly President Jeffrey Armstrong, Johnine and I are thrilled to announce that we will be starting a scholarship for sons and daughters of farm workers who work in San Luis Obispo County. Part of the Fund for Vineyard and Farm Workers held at the Community Foundation San Luis Obispo County, we anticipate granting the first scholarships for incoming freshmen or transfer students in the fall of 2018.
Best wishes to you and your family in the coming year. Cheers to a great 2018!
One of the common comments I hear from people, especially those in the wine trade who have the opportunity to visit many wineries, is how surprised they are when they visit Talley Vineyards.
Partly this is due to the natural beauty of our place in Coastal San Luis Obispo County, tucked up against the foothills of the Santa Lucia Mountains, and surrounded by our ever changing vegetable fields.
Another thing they are surprised about is the close proximity of all the key elements we use to make and share our wines. The Rincon Vineyard, our winery facilities, the tasting room and Rincon Adobe are all immediately adjacent one-another. Not only is this nice to look at, it's fundamental to the quality of our wines for several reasons. First, we control our vineyards and winery, which affords us greater control over the finished product. Second, grapes are processed immediately after harvest as opposed to being transported over a long distance. Since grape quality begins to degrade immediately after harvest, the sooner the grapes are processed, the better.
This proximity and complete control are succinctly represented on our wine labels with the term "estate bottled." Estate bottled wines are those produced entirely within the control of the winegrower from grapes grown in the same viticultural area as the winery. Estate bottled wines are the best wines in the world, not only for these reasons, but also because the term implies the singular vision of the winegrower from start to finish, from planting and tending the vines, through fermentation, aging and bottling the finished wines.
Check out our video below of a morning Pinot Noir pick in the Rincon Vineyard at Talley Vineyards during harvest 2017 to see for yourself what it means to make estate bottled wines. It's even better if you enjoy a glass of our Pinot Noir at the same time. Cheers!