The Central Coast of California, though an extremely versatile landscape of micro-climates that produces an impressively diverse array of wines, is still seemingly perceived as a lesser winegrowing region compared to Napa or Sonoma. Since I’ve moved to Los Angeles and visited this growing wine region a number of times (and especially since my most recent trip with K&L), this perception strikes me as utterly baffling. In certain warmer pockets you’ll find powerful but complex Syrah, while in other, cooler areas, such as the Arroyo Grande Valley AVA (recognized as one of the most temperate viticultural areas in the world), you’ll find silky, delicate Pinot Noir and balanced, perfectly structured Chardonnay. Talley Vineyards is one such winery that has found a way to coax the perfect expression out of these Burgundy varietals through years of careful, sustainable vineyard management (they own six vineyards comprising 190 acres), and extremely measured techniques in the winery. The quality of the wines here, along with so many other wineries in the surrounding area, is world class and long overdue for the proper recognition it deserves.
Upon visiting the Talley winery and vineyards, I was struck by the cool, slightly foggy conditions, and the chill of the breeze coming off the ocean. It was immediately clear that this little pocket in Arroyo Grande has the perfect climate for Burgundy varietals. Talley is also committed to crafting their wines according to the traditions of Burgundy, using techniques for their Chardonnay such as hand-harvesting, whole cluster pressing, native yeast fermentation in French oak barrels, aging “sur lie” or on lees, and initializing malolactic fermentation. The Pinot Noir is also hand-harvested, but mostly destemmed with about 25% whole cluster maintained from select vineyards, fermented with native yeast, and aged in French oak for 15-18 months before being gently bottled using Talley’s own in-house equipment. If that sounds like a long time in the barrel, I invite you to taste and marvel at the final product, unencumbered by flavors of “wood” or “toast,” instead offering velvety textures and pure red fruit flavors cut by the distinct, minerally terroir, and a focused ribbon of comfortable, refreshing acidity stretching from the opening notes all the way to the rousing finish.
I was also surprised to learn that some of Talley’s oldest Pinot and Chardonnay vines in their Rincon Vineyard were planted in 1984, the year of my birth. Perhaps it was the immediate kinship I felt with the vines upon learning this fact, but after tasting the final, gorgeous product, I felt an immediate and inextricable connection to the wine. As a professional, I pride myself on being able to maintain a critical distance from the wines I taste to avoid getting swept away by the romance of the winery’s story, or the beauty of the landscape, and I would like to think my professionalism was consistent here. But sometimes we find ourselves slipping down the rabbit hole, falling deeper in love than we ever thought we would, or could. Talley has continued to open my eyes to the many, versatile possibilities of which the Central Coast is capable, and has demonstrated its ability to produce some of the best examples of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in the country, perhaps only comparable to the vivid, structured, and complex offerings from Oregon or Burgundy. Do yourself a favor and pick up one of their Pinots next time you’re preparing cedar-planked salmon or pork loin medallions, and a Chardonnay for your brown butter halibut or scallops.