The wines of San Luis Obispo County have traveled to Washington D.C. to be served at inaugurations, celebrations, state and holiday luncheons, and family dinners at the White House and Camp David during the administrations of Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama. This series of articles celebrates the wineries and winemakers who produced these historic wines.
The Clinton White House (1994-2000)
First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton brought changes to the cuisine at the White House. While she would be the first to say that she is not known for her own cooking talents, she has a discerning palate for food and wine. After considering a number of talented people, she selected Walter Schieb, an esteemed chef at The Greenbrier, a luxury resort in West Virginia, to design new menus for the Executive Residence and White House events. Her goal was to have the White House culinary staff serve the very best of food and drink to replace the “quasi-French, quasi-California” cuisine. Hillary selected Daniel Shanks, the former Wine Director at Domaine Chandon in Yountville, California, to review and select the wines to be served at each White House and Camp David event. David Shanks worked at the winery was established in 1973 by Moët & Chandon, the famous Champagne producer, and, historically speaking, was the first French-owned producer in the Napa Valley.
As the low-fat diet became more popular in the mid-1990s, she invited Dr. Dean Michael Ornish, Clinical Professor of Medicine at the University of California and founder of the nonprofit Preventive Medicine Research Institute in Sausalito, California, to review and improve the presidential menu. Dean Ornish is well known for his efforts to reduce the impact of heart disease through diet and exercise.
Mrs. Clinton has published some of her favorite recipes in a lovely book called An Invitation to the White House. More information can be found on food and wine service in the White House by visiting the Presidential Culinary Museum in Grover, North Carolina.
Talley Vineyards Wines Served in the Clinton Era at the White House
Wine Director Daniel Shanks met Brian Talley at the International Pinot Noir Celebration, an international wine tasting of Pinot Noir early in the 1990s; he was impressed with the Talley Vineyards Estate Pinot Noir. When Daniel was recruited by Hillary Clinton to join the White House staff, he contacted Brian to discuss purchasing Talley Vineyard wines to be served at White House events. Daniel maintained contact with Brian Talley throughout the Clinton and Bush administrations, sending a letter and the formal menu describing each event at which Talley wines were served. Each letter was signed by Daniel Shanks, Ushers Office, Executive Residence, The White House.
Here are the occasions at which Talley wines were served at the White House:
On Friday, October 15, 1993, the dinner menu for the Clinton family featured a menu of three courses – a Lobster and Crab Cake followed by Marinated Loin of Lamb and a dessert of Champagne Sorbet. The first course was served with the 1991 Talley Chardonnay.
Talley Pinot Noir, “Rosemary’s” vintage 1996, was produced from estate grapes grown in Arroyo Grande Valley on the vineyard named after Rosemary Talley. In April 1999, the wine was featured at two state dinners in consecutive weeks. The first dinner was held on Thursday, April 8, honoring His Excellency Zhu Rongji, Premier of the State Council of the People’s Republic of China, and Madame Lao Anu. The second dinner was held on Tuesday, April 13, 1999, at a dinner honoring His Excellency José Maria Aznar, President of the Government of Spain.
On October 21, 1999, Talley Chardonnay, Estate vintage 1997, was served with all three courses at a luncheon hosted by First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton at the annual Sara Lee Front Runner Awards which are given to outstanding female leaders who have shaped our past and given inspiration for the future. Julia Child, internationally famous chef and author who brought French cuisine to America in the 1960s and 1970s, received the award. The menu included Fennel Scented Kuri Squash and Leek Soup, Chicken with Pesto, Autumn Salad with Artichoke, Cucumber and Pear Tomato followed by Pumpkin Mousse with a Poached Apple.
The Talley Chardonnay, “Estate” vintage 1997, was hosted at two important events at the end of President Clinton’s second term. The first was a Luncheon for the Clinton Library Foundation held in the Yellow Oval Room of the Executive Residence on December 14, 1999. The second event was held at the Presidential Retreat at Camp David at a dinner hosted by President Clinton during the Israeli – Palestinian discussions on Sunday, January 14, 2000.
President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush Continue Serving Talley Wines at the White House
Shortly after the inauguration, a dinner in honor of the Commanders in Chief was hosted at the White House by the new President on Tuesday, February 6, 2001. The first course, Monkfish with Pancetta Bacon, was served with Talley Chardonnay, “Oliver’s Vineyard”, vintage 1998. The Chardonnay grapes grown in this vineyard honor the founder of Talley Farms, Oliver Talley.
On December 13, 2001, the dinner celebrating the Spirit of Special Olympics was held at the White House. The Talley Pinot Noir “Rosemary’s Vineyard” vintage 1997 was served. The President and First Lady paid tribute to the organization and to Eunice Kenndy Shriver who worked tirelessly in supporting the Special Olympics. Mrs. Shriver was the keynote speaker at the event and B. B. King provided the music. The Special Olympics oath, “Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt,” was quoted by President Bush as he and the guests toasted the organization.
President and Laura Bush served Talley wines at private White House Dinners in the Executive Residence, including a dinner on Wednesday, September 17, 2003, when they enjoyed Talley Pinot Noir 1996 paired with the main course of Grilled Veal Noisettes. The White House Holiday Dinner held on December 5, 2003, started with a Sherried Lobster Bisque which was paired with another Chardonnay from Rosemary’s Vineyard vintage 2001. The White House Dinner on Friday, July 16, 2004, paired Talley Chardonnay “Rosemary’s Vineyard” vintage 2001 with the first course, Maryland Blue Crab Cake.
The largest event where Talley Pinot Noir, “Rosemary’s Vineyard” vintage 2001 was served was the dinner in Celebration of the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities on Thursday, November 10, 2005.
Oliver Talley was the founder of Talley Farms in the Arroyo Grande Valley. He selected the land located on the south side of Lopez Road to plant fields of vegetables in 1948. The business has grown over the last 72 years into a large and successful farm that provides vegetables for thousands of local customers with CSA boxes each week as well as produce markets and restaurants with high-quality seasonal vegetables.
Oliver’s son, Don Talley, joined the business after he graduated from the University of California at Berkeley in 1962. That same year, he married Rosemary Green who would later join him at Talley Farms and cofound Talley Vineyards. As an astute businessman, Don encouraged Oliver to expand and diversify their operations to include vineyards. Once the decision was made, Don began the initial planting of the Rincon Vineyard in 1982. The first plantings consisted of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Oliver’s favorite, Riesling. With the exception of Cabernet Sauvignon, which wouldn’t ripen in the cool climate, all were successful and continue to be produced to this day. Originally the plan had been to sell grapes to winemakers. However, Don supervised the production of wine from their first harvests and made the decision to establish a winery, hire winemaker Steve Rasmussen, a graduate of the University of California at Davis. The inaugural commercial vintage was 1986, and for the first five years, the wines were made in a makeshift winery adjacent to a vegetable cooler. A new winery was completed in 1991 at the foot of the Rincon Vineyard, and Talley Vineyards wines have been made in that location ever since.
The third generation, Brian Talley, joined the vegetable farming business after graduating from the University of California at Berkeley in 1988. During his time in Berkeley, Brian had worked in retail wine shops and fallen in love with the wine industry. He was given the opportunity to lead Talley Vineyards in 1991, when he was appointed General Manager. Brian learned winemaking by working closely with Steve Rasmussen as well as tasting classically styled Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from Burgundy. Over the next few years, Brian and Steve developed the house style, a marriage of old-world winemaking with California grown Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes.
Over time, the winery developed two lines: all wines labeled Talley Vineyards were produced from Estate Grown grapes, while Bishop’s Peak wines included purchased fruit.
Talley Vineyards has enjoyed consistent accolades for its wines since the mid-1990s, including selections on the Top 100 lists of Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast and Wine and Spirits Magazines. The 2002 Rosemary’s Vineyard Chardonnay was judged the best California Chardonnay in the 30th Anniversary Judgment of Paris Tasting in 2006. More recently, the 2012 Rosemary’s Vineyard Pinot Noir was awarded a score of 98 points in Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate, making it one of the highest-scoring California Pinot Noirs ever reviewed. Under the watchful eye of winemaker Eric Johnson, the wines are still produced in classic old world style developed more than 25 years ago by Steve Rasmussen and Brian Talley; a style that celebrates harmony, grace and the special character of the San Luis Obispo Coast region.
The Wine History Project is looking for historical information on local wines that have been enjoyed by Presidents while in office at the White House or local wines shared with world leaders in other venues. Please share any information you have with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.