When we first met Brian Talley at the family's estate, we were standing next to sorting row, where a dozen workers stood over a conveyor belt picking through green peppers. Blemished peppers, called 'mushrooms', were put aside, and the remaining peppers were sorted according to size. "Peppers are the opposite of grapes," Brian said. "The bigger the peppers, the more they're worth. People want big, beautiful peppers. But, it turns out the bigger the peppers, the more peppers you grow on each plant. With grapes, it's the opposite. We need to farm for small, tight grape clusters. Plus, generally, the more there are grapes, the lesser the quality and ultimately, the less the grapes are worth."
The Talley family began farming land in the Arroyo Grande Valley in 1948, when Oliver Talley began growing specialty vegetables. Oliver's son, Don, was running the family business in the late 1970s when young wineries began planting grapes in the Edna Valley. Don Talley took a great interest in the new plantings, and after extensive analysis, became convinced that there was great potential for high quality grape production on Talley Farms. A small plot was planted to five different varieties in 1982. The results led Talley to dedicate almost 200 acres of property to vineyards.
Located just 8 miles from the Pacific Ocean, a short drive from Hearst Castle, the Arroyo Grande Valley runs diagonally - northeast-southwest - opening directly to the ocean, making it one of the coolest and most temperate viticultural areas in California. This cool, long and mild growing season, is ideal for the production of Chardonnay.
Talley's first vintage was 1986, making just 450 cases. For five years, the Talley wine was made in a small facility next to one of Talley Farms' vegetable coolers. By the harvest of 1991, a new state-of-the-art winery had been completed, carefully designed with a total gravity system for crushing, so that grapes are handled as gently as possible. Excellent cooling and humidity systems allow the Chardonnay and Pinot to maintain ideal temperatures during barrel fermentation and aging.
But the real secret to the great success at Talley is their core knowledge base - farming. Even in the late 1980s, Talley Vineyard Chardonnay was a prized commodity and was hungrily scooped up by the young winemaking stars of the Central Coast - Ojai, Au Bon Climat, and Babcock. But, by the late 1990s, the winery's estate Chardonnay was selling so well that Brian Talley (Don's son) began reining in the sale of grapes so as to increase production of the Talley wines.
The 2004 Oliver's Chardonnay is full of pineapple, red grapefruit, tropical fruit flavors. This is an unusually rich and concentrated chardonnay but with an excellent, clean finish, typical of grapes farmed to perfection at Talley Farms. Entirely barrel-fermented in French cooperage, 25% of which was new, drink now-2010.