We are all excited here in Hollywood about our upcoming dinner at Barbrix in Silverlake with Brian Talley of Talley Vineyards. It’ll be a unique opportunity to taste their wines alongside produce from their family farm, prepared with inspiration from Brian’s own cookbook. Best of all, we’ll have Brian himself in attendance. There’s a magical alchemy that happens when you taste food and wine grown alongside each other, and this meal will no doubt be an epic celebration of the flavors of California.
An icon in California wine, Talley is a family-run farming operation who’ve been growing and bottling classic Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wines from the Central Coast since the 80s. This is their 33rd harvest since they began, back in the day when they were the first growers of Pinot and Chardonnay in the region. The family’s roots in Arroyo Grande run deep: they started out as vegetable farmers in the 40s, and Brian grew up on the farm. He’s now the third generation to make wine. The Talley family is also deeply involved in the Arroyo Grande community, and prioritize philanthropic community-oriented projects.
I talked to Brian about cooking, food, wine, and the holistic approach that is the backbone of his family business. It was a pleasure to learn a bit more about what they’re doing up in SLO.
KS: The Barbrix dinner is such a special opportunity to taste your wines and your produce alongside one another. Is that something you do often at home? Do you cook a lot?
BT: It’s one of my favorite things to do. I also wrote a cookbook called Our California Table. It’s about 50 recipes that celebrate what we grow on the farm, paired with our wines. We grow about 50 different vegetables—peppers, heirloom tomatoes, Napa cabbage, cilantro, lemons, and avocados. The cookbook is very plant-focused there are a number of vegetarian dishes and salads and things like that, plus the best proteins of the Central Coast: Classic Santa Maria–style barbecue, Petrole sole, salmon, sea bass. That is the inspiration for the wine dinner at Barbrix.
KS: Where did you learn to cook?
BT: My mom is a very good cook, my father was a BBQ enthusiast, so I got it from both sides. Started baking as a kid. Then in college, I was the kid that cooked and my roomates did the dishes.
KS: Speaking of college, I heard you were in a punk band back in the day! Is music still a big part of your life?
BT: Music is still a big inspiration but I sold all my vinyl and cds. Now I do Spotify. There’s a tremendous amount of wonderful music out there. My 21 year old is an enthusiast, she likes a lot of the same bands that I grew up with. Recently we watched the footage of the Us festivals when the Clash played together, and that was fun.
KS: Are your daughters interested in winemaking and farming, carrying on the family tradition?
BT: We don’t know yet. My older daughter is working for Disney in Orlando doing a college internship program, and she’s hooking up with food and wine community in Orlando. Our younger daughter is at college in Santa Clara. We have a rule that if they are going to be considered for a leadership position in our company, they must go to college, and then go somewhere else for two years. We do want to give the fourth generation our experience, but it is up to them.
I grew up on an avocado orchard and it became a Pinot and Chardonnay vineyard, and my kids also grew up at the farm. They started working there at about 12, Olivia in the vineyard and Elizabeth the in tasting room. Both have worked in the packing line of the CSA boxes that we ship across the country.
KS: Can you talk a bit about your approach to farming?
BT: We are certified sustainable under a program called SIP—Sustainability in Practice. They are a third party who audits our practice annually. It’s addressing a much more holistic approach to sustainability, in addition to what happens specifically in the field. Our winery is solar powered. We recycle all of our water, not just the materials in the vineyards. Water is a precious commodity, and we don’t want to just dump it down the drain. We also have a label called Mano Tinta, and all the proceeds go to support vineyard and farm workers in San Luis Obispo.
KS: Can you tell me more about Mano Tinta?
BT: Basically it started in 2004 when my wife and I decided to create a charitable endowment for vineyard and farm workers. The goal was to create an endowment of $1 million dollars to support the farm workers in San Luis Obispo county. Every year we choose projects to help support that community, and the wine under the Mano Tinta label is the chief fundraiser. Our proceeds go toward housing, medical care, low-cost dental work, and a local medical clinic called the Noor Clinic, which offers free healthcare for the uninsured. We also sponsor the local Boys and Girls Club, as they have a big presence in the community where the farm workers live, and they provide after-school programs. We provide funding toward first-generation college-bound kids. It’s really fulfilling. There’s a strong community outreach part of this bottling. We run a local art contest to select the bottle label. We are very involved in our community. In fact, our cookbook will be for sale and signing at the Barbrix dinner, and all profits will go to our farm worker endowment.
We’re looking forward to seeing you all at the Barbrix dinner on Friday, October 5 at 7PM. Come meet the man, drink the wines, and eat the goodness! It’s sure to be a lovely night. Tickets are still available here.
- Kate Soto