Winery of the Year

Talty - a master of Zinfandel


Why Talty? Why not someone who makes more wines, who is more able to handle the vagaries?

The answer is easy.  I’m not really that interested in knowing what a winemaker can do with a whole bunch of grapes. I have seen many winemakers do just that and do it brilliantly. What I have not seen is a winemaker with the Quixotic zeal of Michael Talty tilt at such an unglamorous target.

Unglamorous you say? Indeed I do. I love Zinfandel, don’t get me wrong. Why this whole article is sort of a testament to my love of Zin, but glamorous it is not. I could think of several grapes more likely to elicit an emotional wave across the wine world than the workman-like, stoic Zinfandel.

Therein lies the beauty of Talty. Not only does Michael Talty embody the modern winemaking ethos, but he does it in such a down to earth way, championing one the country’s greatest vinous treasures like few others.

Talty Vineyards and Winery is Snooth’s 2011 Winery of the Year!

So before we get into what I casually referred to as the modern winemaking ethos, perhaps some history is in order. This producer of world-class Zinfandel actually started out as a producer of garage-class Cabernet. Funny how things work out! What began in 1989 or 1990 with Cabernet because, as Michael says, “Cab was what I was drinking at the time,” led slowly and inexorably to today, when Mike makes only Zinfandel, though one might easily be fooled into thinking that he is still doing all the work in his garage!

Talty is the epitome of both the modern winemaking ethos and the romantic winemaking image as well. Consider the image. A long driveway, well tended vineyards on one side, peach trees (not Mike’s) on the other, leads to a quaint, compact winery attached to the family’s home. You might have trouble finding the place since this is a one man show, and while there was a sign out on Dry Creek Road, the big sign announcing the fact that Talty was ready to receive guests was still sitting in the back seat of Mike’s car. Such is the life of the single-handed winemaker.

Being the man behind the curtain was not Mike’s life long dream. In fact, he left a career in the family business once he realized that this wine gig might eventually work out. Of course, working out is a relative term, and in the 14 years since founding Talty, Mike has had his share of ups and downs. One of the biggest problems, particularly in the early years, was sourcing fruit- a problem easily solved by doing the obvious, yet painful, buying what has become the William Talty Estate Vineyard.

William Talty was Mike’s father who passed before Talty Vineyards became a reality. It was from his father that Mike learned to love food and wine and developed the appreciation that developed into his avocation. The vineyard is a tribute to William and has formed the backbone of Mike’s production since his first vintage in 1997, all six acres of 48-year-old vines.

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  • "...glamorous it (Zin) is not?" I take huge exception with that statement. Zin, like other varietals, has many, many faces from pedestrian to exquisite, full of flavors and, with the good ones, a beautiful, lingering after-taste. I've been a huge fan since spending a Navy summer camp in the south end of Sonoma county and spending the weekend exploring the then maybe 30 vineyards in the whole region.

    We'll be attending our 20th or so Barrel Tasting the first of March. Might you recommend a few vineyards in the Russian River/Dry Creek/Alexander Valley area?

    Feb 08, 2012 at 1:55 PM

  • Snooth User: tatulli
    1026317 0

    Rafanelli and Dellinger are 2 good choices.

    Feb 08, 2012 at 2:12 PM

  • Snooth User: zinslut
    1034806 0

    Excellent article. Mike is a total class act! Well deserved recognition.

    Feb 08, 2012 at 3:44 PM

  • Snooth User: dcs007ny
    771082 6

    I tried to go on Martin Luther King Day and it was closed, I was so disappointed. I'll go next time for sure!

    Feb 08, 2012 at 3:58 PM

  • Can't go wrong with Stryker Sonoma for Alexander Valley Zinfandel, it's usually on the list for barrel tastings. Also check out Robert Young and Hawkes in Alexander Valley

    Feb 08, 2012 at 4:46 PM

  • kudos to Talty Winery for a great Zin and to Gregory for a spot on review. Greg, thanks for considering price. My only hope is that in the future reviews might take into consideration the availability of the wine. Might I find it here in Vermont???

    Feb 08, 2012 at 9:57 PM

  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 238,748

    Thanks everybody. I've got to say I was really excited about this choice. As far as availability, I don't know the shipping laws for Vermont, but Mike ships and would be happy to take your order :-)!

    And thanks for the comment about price. It would have been so easy for me to pick a great expensive wine, and lots of pats on the back all around from the wine mafia!

    Feb 08, 2012 at 10:44 PM

  • Don't miss Sausal in the Alexander Valley. The Private Reserve vines are 90 yrs old and they have even older vines. Great people, delicious wines.

    Feb 10, 2012 at 1:26 PM

  • How could you overlook Unti?

    Feb 10, 2012 at 6:36 PM

  • Thanks for the recommendations. All are regulars except Stryker, Tally and Dellinger which we'll definitely taste.

    Some of our favorites: Forchini: great zins and a not your usual wimpy Pinot. deLorimer: be interesting to see the Wilson influence. Amphora. Dashe. And, probably the tasting room that's the most fun, Meeker. Decent wines too!

    Feb 11, 2012 at 1:45 PM

  • Snooth User: kmonarch
    1039951 0

    As a ZIN lover I agree with you . Talty Zin is exceptional.

    Feb 16, 2012 at 1:59 PM

  • Snooth User: mikemn86
    1056585 1

    Michael is a very nice guy who is very passionate about Zin and what it takes to make very good zin! After visiting with Michael and tasting his great Zin we broke our promise we made to ourselves to not join anymore wine clubs.

    Mar 16, 2012 at 7:11 PM

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