Friday, December 18, 2015



Since the 1970’s, Bob Tillman has looked for the site where he could plant a world-class vineyard. He didn’t find that property until the Tillman family moved to the Central Coast of California and tasted the wines coming out of Paso Robles. Finally, he and his wife Lynn knew they were in the place where they could produce the kind of wines they love to drink.

In 2003, after an extensive search for the ideal location, Bob found the beautiful hilltop property on Adelaida Road in Paso Robles that would become Alta Colina Vineyard. Nestled high in the rugged coast range mountains, Alta Colina Vineyard’s natural beauty soothes the spirit with its 360 degree vistas and calming seclusion.

To achieve great wines from this spectacular site, Bob assembled a world-class team: John Crossland, Dean Harrell, and Steve Vierra from Vineyard Professional Services planned, planted, and farmed the vineyard; Scott Hawley consulted on the winemaking and the crucial decision on when to harvest; and Bob makes his wines in space leased from Alex and Monica Villicana. Collectively, this expert group has over 100 vintages under its belt! Finding the incredible site and assembling the expert team were only the first steps in preparing the property for planting. First, the narrow track up the mountain had to be expanded to a workable agricultural road—a non-trivial task given the very steep terrain. A high volume water well was drilled at the bottom of the mountain and piping installed to carry water over 500 feet up the hill where a reservoir holds the vital irrigation supply. Then the soils were ripped to allow free vine rooting, the drip irrigation system constructed, and finally the trellis was put in place.

After more than a year of site preparation, the first vine was planted on April 23, 2005 by Ann Walsh, Lynn’s mother. That vine was Petite Sirah in vineyard block 7—now named Ann’s Block to commemorate the event. By the end of May, 40,773 vines were planted, consuming 31.1 acres broken into 15 blocks. Four Rhône red wine varietals and 4 white Rhône varietals are planted. Most are sourced from a French government nursery (the so-called ENTAV selections) with 1 block coming from John Alban’s vineyard in the Edna Valley, located in Southern San Luis Obispo County. The first three growing seasons were dedicated to vine development. The focus was on developing robust plants with extensive root systems while carefully pruning to shape the above-ground canopy for optimal fruit production. In 2007 the vineyard produced Alta Colina’s first crop—tiny by commercial standards, but adequate to give the first taste of what is to come. As we had hoped, the wines are excellent—the future looks very bright for Alta Colina Vineyard & Winery.

Maggie Tillman is our full-time sales and marketing person in Paso Robles.  After three years working at other high-end Paso Robles wineries, Maggie now works full time for the family business.  She often represents Alta Colina at events around the state as well as manages the tasting room and Tasting Club.  Maggie is the person to direct almost any question toward!

Every bottle of Alta Colina wine is estate grown and produced. You are drinking a pure expression of our vineyard’s soil, weather, varietal clones, rootstocks, and site. Our winemaking practices are aimed at delivering that pure fruit expression directly to you with minimum intervention. The actual winemaking process starts right after harvest, as we nourish and hydrate the vines to encourage carbohydrate storage in the over-wintering wood and to support the late season root growth. We also get next year's nutrients into the soil via compost application ahead of the winter rains that distribute the nutrients throughout the root growth zone.

Once winter has passed, we begin the season-long process of manicuring and nurturing each vine in search of the viticulturist's perfect balance—that moment when the fruit load, the leaf canopy, and root system achieve perfect harmony. Once the vines in a given block reach that point, we look to the grapes for the moment when the sugar ripeness, acidity, and the phenolic ripeness (flavors and color) are optimized. This moment may not occur simultaneously in every block of the vineyard, so we harvest some blocks today, others day after tomorrow, and so on until we get all the fruit into the winery in the optimum condition. After 11 months in the vineyard ensuring that we have the highest fruit quality, the process of winemaking finally commences. Ours is a minimalist approach—we want to let the vineyard express itself with little intervention on our part.

We grow 4 varieties of white grapes, all from the Rhône Valley in France: Viognier, Roussanne, Marsanne, and Grenache Blanc. Each is vinified separately, and the wines blended after several months of aging. The process starts with hand harvesting starting pre-dawn when the fruit is at its coolest. We visually inspect each cluster in the field as it is picked—this is the greatest intervention we introduce into the natural process. The fruit is at the winery by 7 AM, where it is gently pressed to extract the sweet grape juice. The stems and grape skins are returned to the vineyard for composting. The juice is fermented mostly in oak barrels to extract flavor from the barrel and to allow the yeast access to oxygen which is slowly diffusing through the oak staves. A fraction is fermented in stainless steel which yields pure fruit flavors. After the fermentation is complete, we blend these lots together and let them rest for about 2 months.

Sometime in January, we sit down and taste our way through all the white varieties, and experiment with blends. There are no rules in the blending process—we are guided by the flavors expressed by the vineyard. So far, we have settled into 3 general blending regimes.  First, a Viognier dominated wine featuring strong varietal characteristics, big body, and the power to pair with any sauce.  This is the 12 O'Clock High.  Second, a Marsanne dominated wine made in a similar style, but featuring the Fuji apple flavors of that varietal--Claudia Cuvee.  Both these wines are blended, returned to barrel, and aged for another year prior to bottling.

The third blend is made in a crisp, fresh, fruity style perfect for shell fish dishes.  This wine is varietally labeled as Grenche Blanc.  We continue to experiment with Roussanne--each year will see a different treatment of this grape until we find the optimum from the vineyard.  Once these final blends are complete, the wine is aged another few months and bottled in the spring.

Bottling is tough on wine. It’s a shocking event and some bottles temporarily lose their character as a result. After a few months of recuperation, they are ready for your drinking enjoyment. We suspect the Roussanne based wines will benefit from further bottle aging—stay tuned as we get more experience with Alta Colina Vineyard fruit. We also grow 4 varieties of red grapes, again all Rhônes: Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre, and Petite Sirah. The situation here is a bit more complex as we have 3 clones of Syrah and 4 of Grenache. All clones are vinified separately and (potentially) blended together after up to a year of aging. Our harvest process for reds is identical to that described above for whites. Once the fruit reaches the winery however, the process is considerably different.

We begin by de-stemming, which separates the individual grapes from the woody stem. In the case of red wines, we need the grape skins to be part of the fermentation as they possess the crucial color and flavor compounds that are associated with these wines. The stems impart unwanted woody flavors to the wine, so we return them to the compost process. After de-stemming, we visually inspect the individual berries again and remove anything that is not perfect.

Fermentation takes place in open-top tanks. We allow the native yeasts from the vineyard to kick off the fermentation on their timetable. Sometimes we get a rogue native yeast that commences fermentation. When that happens, we inoculate with wine yeast which quickly overwhelms the rogue and gets us back on track. A red wine fermentation is something like a newborn; it needs attention every few hours in the form of a “punch-down”. The carbon dioxide, released by the yeast, lifts the grape skins to the surface where they will dry out if not forcibly pushed (or punched) down into the liquid wine below. This is the primary reason winemakers lose weight (not to mention, get a bit testy) during the harvest season—sleep deprivation is a terrible thing!

When the fermentation has consumed all the sugar in the grape juice, we pump the free-run wine from the tank and place it in oak barrels. The remaining mass of skins (now a bit worse for the wear) is moved into the press, and the press-run wine is extracted by gentle pressure and placed in oak barrels. After about 6 months of aging, all barrels are tasted and the initial blends decided. The wines are racked into tanks, blended, and returned to barrel where they age another 8 months before again being tasted and the blends fine tuned if necessary.

While the wine is aging in barrel, oxygen slowly diffuses through the oak staves where it mingles with the tannin molecules to soften the wine and round its flavors. Then, in the spring of the second year after harvest, we bottle the wine and let it sit for a few months to recover from the bottling process. Alta Colina reds are released in the subsequent fall with another 6 months of bottle aging to get through the bottling shock and to further develop the flavor and structure of the wine. They are ready to drink, but will continue to develop for years to come.



For three generations the Talley family has farmed in Coastal San Luis Obispo County. The tradition began in 1948 when Oliver Talley founded Talley Farms and started growing specialty vegetables in the Arroyo Grande Valley. During the 1970s extensive planting of wine grapes began in the neighboring Edna Valley and Santa Barbara County areas.  After observation and extensive analysis, Oliver's son, Don Talley, was convinced of the potential to grow high quality chardonnay and pinot noir on the steep hillsides above Talley Farms.  Don planted a small test plot in 1982 on the west hillside of the Rincon Vineyard that included chardonnay, pinot noir, riesling, sauvignon blanc and cabernet sauvignon. Over time the varietal and clonal selections were refined and planting expanded to a total of 190 acres in the Arroyo Grande and Edna Valleys.

Talley Vineyards produced its first wine in 1986 with the production of 450 cases. The winery's first five vintages were produced in a small winery adjacent to one of Talley Farms’ vegetable coolers. In the fall of 1991, a winery was completed at the foot of the Rincon Vineyard. A 12,000 square foot barrel and case goods storage building was added in 2000, followed by a new tasting room in 2002. Talley Vineyards currently produces about 36,000 cases annually.  Brian and Johnine Talley own and operate Talley Vineyards, while Brian, Todd, Ryan and Rosemary Talley manage Talley Farms.

Talley Vineyards is located in Coastal San Luis Obispo County, one of the world’s great regions to grow chardonnay and pinot noir.  Traditional Burgundian methods are employed in the cellar to capture all of the potential of this place and to produce expressive and complex wines that purely reflect their vineyard origins.

Chardonnay is hand harvested and whole cluster pressed. The juice is only minimally settled in tank then racked into light to medium toasted French oak barrels. The level of new oak used depends on the wine, but generally ranges between 15% and 25%. All of the wine is barrel fermented with native yeasts. Maximum fermentation temperatures are cool and range from 68°-74°F to preserve the natural fruit characteristics of the wine. As is traditional in Burgundy, all of the wine ages sur lie and undergoes malolactic fermentation to soften the natural acidity while adding richness and complexity to the finished wine. The Estate Chardonnay is typically bottled after 11 months in barrel, while the Single Vineyard Selections age 14-16 months in barrel.

After hand harvest and cluster sorting, the pinot noir is predominantly destemmed, though 25% whole clusters are maintained in vineyard blocks that achieve good stem lignification. Destemmed grapes are berry sorted before they are gravity fed into small open top fermenters. Before fermentation, the must undergoes a "cold soak" of three to five days to extract color, aroma, and flavor. Only native yeasts ferment the pinot noir, with the objective being a long, slow fermentation. Maximum fermentation temperatures range from 85°-92° F. After a cuvaison of about ten days, the wine is racked, with minimal settling, into medium-heavy toasted French Oak barrels where it ages for 15-18 months before bottling. Generally 30-35% of the barrels are new.

During their elevage, wines from individual vineyard blocks are kept separate for the first 8-10 months before a series of blind tastings are conducted to assemble the Single Vineyard Selections.  Year after year, these wines typically come from the same few blocks within each respective vineyard.  The Estate Chardonnay and Pinot Noir generally incorporate all of the vineyard blocks farmed by the family in the Arroyo Grande Valley.  Before bottling, all barrels are tasted individually and any not meeting Talley Vineyards strict quality standards are kept out of the final blend. The wines are then gently bottled, using in-house bottling equipment.

The goal is to produce distinctive and balanced wines that best express the unique character of each of the Talley family’s six vineyard sites.  It is the commitment to this objective that results in the consistency of quality from vintage to vintage that is the hallmark of a great winegrowing estate.

Brian Talley is a third generation farmer born and raised in Arroyo Grande.  While attending UC Berkeley, where he earned degrees in History and Natural Resource Economics, he worked in a wine shop called Curds and Whey where he fell in love with wine.

Brian began his career in the family business at age 12 when he started harvesting vegetables at Talley Farms.  He became General Manager of Talley Vineyards in 1991 and now serves as President of Talley Vineyards and Talley Farms.  Brian is recognized as a leader in the local wine industry and was cofounder of the World of Pinot Noir, has served as President of the San Luis Obispo Wine Country Association and been recognized by both Robert Parker and the local wine industry as a Wine Industry Person of the Year.

Brian loves cooking, wine and travel as well as running, cycling and golf.  He lives at the edge of Talley Farms with his wife Johnine and daughters Elizabeth and Olivia.


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