When you think bell peppers, Brussel sprouts, and spinach, does your mind naturally go to world-class Chardonnay and Pinot Noir? I gotta tell you, eating a spoonful of steamed spinach does not conjure images of a cool, crisp Sauvignon Blanc.
Obviously, I’m not as far-sighted as the Talley family. Back in 1948 they started growing vegetables just south of San Luis Obispo. They were very successful with this, which can breed an inclination to try new challenges. So, in 1982, Don Talley planted a few Chardonnay vines. Now, after years of critical acclaim, they make about 36,000 cases of wine a year under three main labels, Talley, Bishop’s Peak, and Mano Tinto.
Critical acclaim? Robert Parker described Talley as a winery “dedicated to classy, elegant, long-lived Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs.” Wine Spectator opined, “Amid the Talley family’s thousand acres of vegetables grow some of California’s best Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.”
We visited Talley last Friday and met with Eric Johnson, their rob-the-cradle winemaker (I’m not convinced that he’s even old enough to drink). Eric’s actually been in the wine business for more than a decade. He started in Talley’s tasting room while attending the wine program offered by Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. He eventually migrated to Enologist, becoming Talley’s wine maker in 2010.
Starting with the 2013 Oliver’s Chardonnay, we learned just how long-lived Talley’s whites are. The Oliver’s was tremendous, dry and lemony, tasting of wet stone, but of course it’s still an infant.
Then we went into a library tasting of four of their Estate Chardonnays to see if Talley’s wines have any life to them. The color of goldenrod, the 1996 drinks well to this day. Its fruit is so intense that it’s almost sweet. Boasting long legs and balanced alcohol with a vanilla overlay, it’s a bargain at $38.
Turning to the 1997, it had apple and strawberry hints on the nose and was similarly dark tinged. We enjoyed the melon, mango and other tropical fruits coming through on the taste.
The 1999 was more citrusy and the 2000 lighter in color. But considering that these wines ranged from fifteen to almost twenty years old and that the Estate is the entry label to Talley’s Chardonnays these wines foreshadow how grand the top wines of Talley can be.
The latest hurdle to confront Talley is the extended drought. We’ll see if Brian Talley, Eric Johnson and their team can transform a diminished harvest to spectacular wine.