David Coventry's Monterey
Why the Talbott Winemaker Says There’s No Place Like Home
Born and raised in Monterey County along the California coast, Winemaker David Coventry didn’t anticipate a career in winemaking. Fortune intervened, reuniting Coventry with the culture and scenic landscape that won his heart during his formative years. The winemaking community and vineyard diversity continue to ignite his passion for his home turf, a passion that is noticeable in the wines he makes for Talbott Vineyards.
GROWING UP MONTEREY
The Coventry family has called Monterey home for David’s entire life. From the vivid blue ocean to its sprawling coastline, Monterey County boasts a number of stunning sights. When he was eight years old, Coventry asked his father why he chose to settle in Monterey after a military career. His father said “David, I’m not going to tell you. I’m going to let you figure it out.”
Coventry described growing up in Carmel Valley as “rural, lovely and pleasant.” In addition to its natural beauty and idyllic Mediterranean-like climate of warm days, cool nights and low humidity, the area made him feel safe as a child, a place he could ride his bike for hours without a care in the world.
After attending high school out of state, Coventry returned to attend college at the University of California Santa Cruz. He earned a biology degree and minored in neurology, endocrinology and immunology. Upon graduation, he applied his scientific education to his role as a protein chemist at a biotech company in the San Francisco Bay Area. Coventry said it was a great job, where his role creating therapeutic drugs to treat disease allowed him to be very creative.
But a lab job wasn’t the right fit for this highly social scientist. He wanted to work with people, so he tried something new. He worked as band manager for the musical group Box Set. Remembering this job fondly, he says, “They were probably one of the most talented groups of men I've ever had the pleasure to work with [and] wrote absolutely stunning songs.”
This unexpected career move led Coventry to yet another surprising career change. While on the road with the band, he met Ed Kurtzman – an assistant winemaker at Chalone Vineyard in Monterey County at the time. One evening at a show, Kurtzman suggested Coventry help out at the winery. Intrigued, Coventry agreed.
“Winemaking is a calling – and it calls to you more than you call it. It has to find you.”
It didn’t take long for Dave to be noticed by other winemakers in this tightly knit community. Following his time at Chalone, iconic former Talbott Vineyards head winemaker Dan Karlsen took Coventry under his wing. And the rest, as they say, is history.
As Coventry’s knowledge and experience in the wine business grew, so too did his belief that he’d finally found the right career. The blend of artistry, chemistry and working with people – whether in the vineyard or on the road selling – was an ideal match for Dave’s insatiable curiosity and optimistic good nature. While Coventry’s path to winemaking via the music industry might be a tad unusual, he said most winemakers don’t take a direct path to the career unless they grow up in a family business.
“Winemaking is a calling – and it calls to you more than you call it. It has to find you,” says Coventry.
WINEMAKING ON THE CENTRAL COAST
Coventry has dedicated his winemaking career to proving Monterey produces some of the finest wines in the world. “Every aspect, every character, every quality that makes for a really great vineyard exists here in abundance,” he said. “That's pretty attractive for a winemaker – to have that great level of quality just handed to you so you can take it from there.”
Specifically, Coventry described the Santa Lucia Highlands, home to Talbott Vineyards and its celebrated Sleepy Hollow Vineyard – the perfect place for crafting some of the world’s greatest Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
Located on the western side of the Salinas Valley, the Santa Lucia Highlands enjoys consistent weather year-round and sits in the coolest part of an already cool appellation. Steady streams of wind slow down maturation of the grapes for improved acidity, color and tannins. Also, the nearby Pacific Ocean grants grapes the benefit of cool maritime breezes.
These idyllic elements combine to give this region the longest hang time of any place in the world, leading to rich flavors and complexity in the wines.
Coventry’s winemaking philosophy puts the vineyards first, maximizing vineyard expression. “It takes great vineyards to make great wine,” he said. He added that winemaker skills and tools he’s acquired are important. However, he largely considers himself a custodian of flavor and translator of the vineyard.
Doing as much work as you can in the vineyards is essential, according to Coventry. That ensures winemakers have enough high-quality grapes to work with and provides the perfect foundation.
“My philosophy is to faithfully translate the vineyard into the bottle because I have great vineyards to work with,” said Coventry. “This is not Napa or Sonoma South. This is a place unto itself with its own chemistry, its own qualities, its own fruit character. It really has a sense of place and, depending on the vineyard and who is ‘the driving the ship,’ you can get some amazing expressions of terroir.”
Yet nothing compares to the people. Coventry called his vineyard manager “brilliant” and praised his cellar crew. The team works very hard to fulfill his vision and deliver the best wine possible.
With celebrated vineyards, spectacular fruit and a great team behind him, Coventry said his wines are “a labor of love.”
Already proven for producing exceptional, award-winning wines, Coventry said he expects them to get even better with each vintage. “The best wines from Monterey are just around the corner.”
Talbott Vineyards fine wine portfolio under Coventry includes its Sleepy Hollow and Kali Hart lines. The brand focuses exclusively on Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, two varietals for which Monterey County is exceptionally well suited.
THE TALBOTT PORTFOLIO
2015 Sleepy Hollow Pinot Noir
From the Santa Lucia Highlands AVA, Talbott’s flagship Pinot Noir delivers aromas of cola, black cherry, blackberry, vanilla and subtle spices. Savory notes of vanilla, clove and nutmeg meld with tastes of raspberry and plum for a soft, mouth-filling texture. Elegant and luxurious, this wine’s vibrant acidity compliments a satiny smooth finish.
2016 Kali Hart Pinot Noir
This complex yet approachable Pinot Noir offers the most fruit-forward expression of Talbott’s estate vineyards, with aromas of Bing cherry and boysenberry and tastes of rich red fruit. Hints of oak and soft, silky tannins transition to a lush finish with notes of minerality, herbs and vanilla.
2015 Sleepy Hollow Chardonnay
The counterpart to the brand’s flagship Pinot Noir, this distinctive expression of Sleepy Hollow Vineyard offers elegant aromas of jasmine, sandalwood, brioche and butterscotch. Lively minerality adds complexity with notes of pear, green apple and lemon accompanied by a satiny-smooth finish.
2016 Kali Hart Chardonnay
The brand’s fruit-forward expression of the Sleepy Hollow Vineyard, this luscious, bright wine features aromas of vanilla and brioche leading to notes of mandarin, pineapple and melon. Its soft, clean finish includes a touch of minerality and spice.
For more information about Coventry’s Monterey and the AVA, read “The Other River Road” and “Pinot Noir: It’s All About Location” on winedialogues.com. Or listen to “The Grapes Talk Back” episode on The Wine Down by Wine Dialogues podcast.
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