Don Talley, 66; pioneering farmer launched successful vineyard

Times Staff Writer

Don Talley, an Arroyo Grande farmer who pioneered the direct shipment of produce to customers around the country, died Saturday at Stanford Medical Center of complications from a heart transplant he received in October, his family said. He was 66.

An innovator among California farmers, Talley transformed a modest produce farm in Arroyo Grande started by his father, Oliver Talley, into a 1,150-acre operation producing peppers, cabbage, avocados, lettuce, lemons and cilantro as well as Talley Vineyards wines. He also designed vegetable coolers in the 1970s that could assure the delivery of fresh, high-quality produce.

In 1982, Talley planted the first wine grapes in Arroyo Grande, in San Luis Obispo County. The original idea of merely turning the rolling hills throughout Talley Farms into productive agricultural land gave way to greater oenological ambitions after Talley put his son, Brian, in charge of the project.

Talley Vineyards' success with chardonnay and pinot noir launched the region's wine industry. Today, Arroyo Grande and neighboring Edna Valley are considered among California's more promising wine names. In May, Brian Talley was named president of both Talley Farms and Talley Vineyards.

"Don was a classic visionary," said Matt McInerney, executive vice president of the Western Growers Assn. Talley served as a board member of the group from 1984 to 1999.

As president of the association's Agricultural Education Foundation, he advocated providing young California farmers with statewide, national and international experience to broaden their outlook and prepare them to be political leaders.

"He believed in training the next generation of agriculturalists," McInerney said.

Talley underwent the heart transplant Oct. 17, after a heart attack and stroke he suffered a year ago.

He is survived by his wife, Rosemary; son Brian; daughter-in-law Johnine; and two granddaughters.

A memorial service will be held at Talley Vineyards, 3031 Lopez Drive, Arroyo Grande, at 11 a.m. Saturday.

Contributions in his name may be sent to the Marianne Talley Foundation -- which funds scholarships for Arroyo Grande High School athletes -- at Box 360, Arroyo Grande, CA 93421, or to the Fund for Vineyard and Farm Workers supporting San Luis Obispo County farmworkers, c/o the San Luis Obispo County Community Foundation, 1401 Higuera St., San Luis Obispo, CA 93401.

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