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updated: 6/13/2012 4:14 PM

Good wine: Families planting roots in California vineyards

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Families have farmed Old World lands for millennia. Children learned the quirks of their orchards, pastures, vineyards and groves; their knowledge tricking down through the centuries.

In the U.S., we are youngsters at winegrowing by comparison. The Wentes (Livermore, Calif.) and the Kundes (Sonoma Valley, Calif.) are among the few that can count up to five generations of vineyards owners. Multinational corporations have gobbled up a majority of family-owned properties and the substantial expense that accompanies them.

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The Talley family, however, has invested three generations of expertise in California farming in America's winegrowing heritage.

Oliver Talley began farming in the Arroyo Grande Valley, located in California's Central Coast, in 1948. Today, the family-owned and operated Talley Farms grows, packs and ships fruits and vegetables, including broccoli, beans, avocados, lemons and -- at Talley Vineyards -- Chardonnay grapes that go into critically-acclaimed wine.

The Central Coast region itself is key to the family's success, explains Brian Talley, who oversees Talley Vineyards. The vineyards span the Arroyo Grande and Edna valleys, two of only a few California valleys that run east to west, that offer rich sunshine on south-facing hills and cool breeze channeled inland from the Pacific Ocean. Steep slopes provide vineyards with drainage and a range of soils, including loam, calcareous clay and rocky sandstone.

The result is perfectly ripe fruit with concentrated flavors, bright acidity and mineral complexity.

Next, fruit is treated to hand-craft winemaking, including native yeast fermentation and extended maturation in French oak barrels. The final wine is complex, richly textured, elegant and uniquely age-worthy.

"We don't want you to think about the winemaking. Hopefully, you'll think about what you were doing in 2005, 1997 or whatever vintage you're drinking," Talley says.

The wines below are just some of my favorites from a recent retrospective tasting spanning nearly two decades:

2010 Oliver's Vineyard (Edna Valley): The brightest and most refreshing of the 2010s with citrus flavors, mouthwatering acidity and wet stone minerality.

2010 Rosemary's Vineyard (Arroyo Grande Valley): Perfumed aromas, with a palate of lemon curd and fresh apricot rich enough to balance toasty oak.

2005 Rosemary's Vineyard (Arroyo Grande Valley): So exotic, I prefer this as a wine for calm reflection, rather than a food complement. While the wine is 100 percent barrel fermented, there is little sense of oak. "Do you get the bee's wax aromas?" asks Brian. When this reporter admits to never having smelled beeswax, he asks sincerely, "What about a honey comb?"

1997 Rincon Vineyard (Arroyo Grande Valley): Golden color with rich, brown spice aromas, roasted macadamia nut flavors enhanced by acidity and plush texture.

Recent single-vineyard wines are available at talleyvineyards.com. Check fine wine shops, retail websites and auction for library vintages.

The supple and integrated oak flavors of these (and Ross' Choice) make them a dramatic white wine complement to charcuterie, smoked dishes, meats and rich seafood, such as Grilled Whole Trout with Bacon and Caper Vinaigrette as served at Fork Gastropub and Winebar in Chicago.

• Write to Advanced Sommelier and Certified Wine Educator Mary Ross at food@dailyherald.com

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