Friday, June 18, 2010

The California Central Coast Wines of Talley Vineyards

Picture: Christian G.E.Schiller with Brian Talley at Cecile's in McLean, Virginia

I met Brian Talley, leader of Talley Vineyards, one of the California Central Coast's exciting wineries at Cecile’s in McLean.

California Central Coast

The California Central Coast roughly spans the area between the Monterey Bay and Point Conception. It extends through Santa Cruz County, San Benito County, Monterey County, San Luis Obispo County, and Santa Barbara County. The area is not densely populated. The largest city in the region is Salinas, with approximately 150,000 people. California's Central Coast is a prime wine-grape growing region and home to more than 100 wineries. Most of the wineries are located near major highways and offer spectacular vistas of valley and mountains.

Picture: Map California Wine Regions

The California Central Coast wineries have built on a century-old tradition started by Franciscan friars, who planted the earliest vineyards on the Central Coast. Even so, it has been in just the past several decades that wine-growing and producing has come into its own on the Central Coast.

Talley Farms

While bear hunting south of San Luis Obispo in 1826, Francis Ziba Branch discovered a clearing with breathtaking views. Though it was an impassable swamp at the time, Branch envisioned the potential of the land. Eleven years later, Branch was granted 16,985 acres by the Mexican government and settled his wife Manuela and son Ramon into Rancho Santa Manuela. The Biddle family bought much of Rancho Santa Manuela in 1879 and continued to run a successful cattle ranch.

The Talley family leased part of the Biddle family’s premium farmland in the 1948 and established Talley Farms. Over the years, the Talley family purchased and cultivated other pieces of the land. Talley Farms is now a diversified family farming company recognized as one of the nation’s premier growers of vegetables, wine grapes, lemons, and avocados.

Talley Vineyards

Talley Vineyards was founded in 1986 by Oliver’s son Don and Rosemary Talley. The winery is now one of California’s acclaimed producers of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Wines are produced under the Talley Vineyards and Bishop’s Peak brands from over 200 acres of vineyards of the Talley family’s six vineyard sites in two valleys.

The winery's first five vintages were produced in a small winery adjacent to one of Talley Farms' vegetable coolers. In the fall of 1991, a state-of-the-art winery was completed at the foot of the Rincon Vineyard. This 8,500 square foot facility was designed with one goal in mind: to maximize the influence of the vineyard through minimal processing of the grapes into wine. Winery features include a total gravity system for crushing, so that grapes are handled as gently as possible, and an extensive cooling and humidity system to maintain ideal conditions during barrel fermentation and aging. A 12,000 square foot barrel and case goods storage building was added in 2000, followed by a new tasting room in 2002. Talley Vineyards currently produces about 18,000 cases annually.

Winemaking Principles

High quality and long-term sustainability are the two principles that guide Talley Vineyards' farming decisions. Brian Talley and Vineyard Manager Kevin Wilkinson collaborate to constantly strive to improve fruit quality while ensuring that the techniques employed work in harmony with the natural conditions of the individual vineyard sites. Biologically based farming techniques and integrated pest management practices are employed throughout the vineyards. To improve soil conditions, prevent erosion and provide fertility, cover crops are maintained in all vineyard blocks. Compost produced from a combination of the winery's grape pomace and horse manure is another key source of fertility.

The growing of premium wine grapes is highly labor intensive, especially the functions of pruning, shoot thinning, canopy management and harvest. All of these functions are performed by hand with full-time, year-round employees who are paid by the hour to ensure the highest possible quality. This is unique in California where most grape growers employ labor contractors seasonally, pay their workers on a piece-rate basis and increasingly rely on mechanized pruning and harvesting.

Shoot thinning and leaf and lateral shoot removal are employed throughout the vineyards to open the vine canopy and expose the grapes to more air and sunlight. This prevents powdery mildew and botrytis, two common problems in the cool foggy conditions typical in the coastal area, while promoting more even ripening of the fruit.

All grapes are carefully hand harvested during the cool hours of the morning, between 4AM and 9AM, and taken a short distance to the winery where they are immediately sorted and processed.

The Chardonnay is cluster sorted and whole cluster pressed. The juice is only minimally settled in tank and then racked into medium-heavy toasted French oak barrels from the Allier and Vosges forests. The level of new oak used depends on the wine, but generally ranges between 25% and 35%. All of the wine is barrel fermented with various cultured yeast strains as well as native yeasts. Maximum fermentation temperatures are cool and range from 68°-74°F to preserve the natural fruit characteristics of the wine. As is traditional in Burgundy, all of the wine ages sur lie and undergoes malolactic fermentation to soften the natural acidity while adding richness and complexity to the finished wine. The Estate and Oliver's Vineyard chardonnays are typically bottled after 11 months in barrel, while the Rincon Vineyard and Rosemary's Vineyard wines age 14-16 months in barrel.

After cluster sorting, the Pinot Noir is predominantly destemmed, though 25% whole clusters are maintained in vineyard blocks that achieve good stem lignification. Destemmed grapes are berry sorted before they are gravity fed into small open top fermenters. Before fermentation, the must undergoes a "cold soak" of three to five days to extract color, aroma, and flavor. Only native yeasts ferment the Pinot Noir, with the objective being a long, slow fermentation. Maximum fermentation temperatures range from 85°-92° F. After a cuvaison of about ten days, the wine is racked, with minimal settling, into medium-heavy toasted Allier and Vosges barrels where it ages for 15-18 months before bottling. Generally 30-40% of the barrels are new.

What Brian Poured

Bishop's Peak Chardonnay 2007: crystal clear Central Coast fruit.

Bishop's Peak Pinot Noir 2008: juicy, fresh, and very easy to drink.

Talley Vineyards Chardonnay Estate 2008: bright and energetic with nice complexity on the back.

Talley Vineyards Chardonnay Rincon Vyd 2007: rich, deep, and complex; IWC 92

Talley Vineyards Pinot Noir Estate 2007: richer and more complex than the Bishop's Peak; IWC 90

Talley Vineyards Pinot Noir Stone Corral Vyd 2007: still another step up in every way; IWC 92

Talley Vineyards, California

Cecile's, McLean, Virginia

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