Friday, April 8, 2011

4/8 Michael Talks with Dan Karlsen of Talbott Vineyards

Dan Karlsen is a renowned Chardonnay and Pinot Noir specialist, who brings three decades of winemaking, viticultural and management experience to his role as winemaker and general manager for Talbott Vineyards. Guiding the winery’s dedicated team, Dan champions a meticulous approach to farming, designed to coax the full potential from Talbott’s storied estate vineyards. In the winery, he combines technical skill and know-how with intuitiveness and artisan techniques to create benchmark Monterey County wines—wines that embody the lush elegance of Santa Lucia Highlands’ Sleepy Hollow Vineyard, and the compelling purity of Carmel Valley’s Diamond T Estate.

The son of a college professor, Dan moved to Sonoma when he was 12. Living in the countryside and surrounded by wilderness, he learned to appreciate the natural world at an early age—an appreciation that inspired him to earn a degree in marine biology from Sonoma State. To put himself through school, Dan worked as a plumber, carpenter and electrician. At the same time he developed and interest in home brewing. After graduation, Dan worked briefly for the Oregon Forest Service, before returning to California and joining David Stare’s team at Dry Creek Vineyard.

Though starting as a maintenance mechanic, Dan fell in love with winemaking, and quickly became an integral part of every aspect of the winery’s operations. After four years with Dry Creek Vineyard, Dan joined Dehlinger Winery as assistant winemaker. While at Dehlinger, he honed his skills making Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, while also affirming his belief in the importance of working with estate vineyards. In 1988, he joined Claude Tattinger’s team at the newly founded Domaine Carneros.

After several years of working alongside original winemaker Eileen Crane, Dan was promoted to winemaker in 1992—a position he held for the next five years. During his tenure, Dan helped to guide the winery’s acclaimed sparkling wine portfolio, while also playing a pivotal role in establishing Pinot Noir at Domaine Carneros. In 1998, Dan was named winemaker and general manager for Monterey County’s Chalone Winery, a position he held until 2007. During his ten years at Chalone, Dan helped to revitalize the winery’s Pinot Noir program and further elevated the status of its Chardonnays. As the winemaker and general manager for Talbott, Dan’s passion for estate viticulture has helped to usher in a new era for Talbott’s legendary vineyards.

From his belief in sustainable practices to a focus on meticulous pruning and vine homogeneity, Dan champions a vineyard-first approach to winemaking. In the winery, his comprehensive knowledge of both Old World and modern winemaking techniques has inspired a renaissance for the Talbott winemaking program. By emphasizing whole cluster pressing and cross-flow filtration for the Chardonnays, and warmer fermentations, punch downs and select amounts of new French oak for the Pinot Noirs, Dan is guiding a subtle stylistic evolution for Talbott—crafting wines that fuse the grace of cool-climate viticulture with the ripe, vibrant appeal of great California winemaking.

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