James Talijancich

Run by third-generation winemaker James Talijancich, Talijancich Wines is a table and fortified wine producer in Western Australia’s Swan Valley with a focus on creating wines that respect and reflect the region’s characteristics.

The family’s winemaking history began when Jim Talijancich emigrated to Australia from former Yugoslavia, purchasing the Swan Valley vineyard in 1932. James Talijancich, Jim’s grandson, explained that the family’s approach to wine has been driven by instinct.

“Some of my family had vineyard experience back home, but they instinctively understood soils and vineyards and what it took to grow them. They took to it really easily, and they started to make their living,” he said.

The decision to enter winemaking was a bold one at the time.

“Everyone must have thought they were nuts, because winemaking was all so new, and we were just coming out of the Great Depression. Times were different,” Talijancich said.

Talijancich himself joined the family business 45 years ago, leaving a promising career in basketball. Since then, he has seen the profile of Swan Valley wines increase significantly.

“If you had asked me 30 or 40 years ago what it’s like to be here, the answer would be very different. Then, my father wasn’t getting the investment that he needed to produce high quality table wines. The industry was changing like never before, and premium table wines had taken off in the east way before here. When that hit us, we had to make changes. Thankfully, the wineries that stayed have built such a strong reputation through a lot of hard work,” he said.

The Swan Valley is bisected by the Swan River, with loamy soils on the west side and gravel, stone, and coffee rock towards the foothills, where the Talijancich vineyards are located.

“Most of those vineyards don’t need water, even in the warmest years, like this year. There’s lots of moisture down below. It’s a beautiful thing. Swan Valley is quite special in that way,” Talijancich said.

This availability of water, along with vine age, mostly protected the 2024 vintage from high temperatures.

“Earlier in the year, I would have said that we were battling to pick anything. We’ve never experienced these hot extremes. To get those 45-degree days and trying to work was difficult. We are very fortunate though, that most of the vineyards are like ours, with older, more established vines. Our vineyard is starting to lose the leaves now, but it’s a month after having cut them back. The vines are in beautiful condition, and with hardly any water at all,” Talijancich said.

Talijancich Wines made its beginnings in fortified wines, and this is still an important part of the winery’s offering. This experience with fortified wines has also impacted Talijancich Wines’ approach to table wine.

“We use fortified knowledge in making unique Verdelho and refining the process. Everything has to be in stainless steel, temperature control ferments, which are all things you don’t need to make great fortifieds. The best way of making fortifieds is the old way. Not so much the old equipment, but the old technology is often the best way. We don’t use any of modern technology that we use in table wine production, and that makes those wines better,” Talijancich said.

Fortified wines remain an important part of the Talijancich offering.

“We’re an unusual winery, because we still make as much fortified now as we did back at the beginning. It went through an enormous dip in the 80s and 90s, when table wine took off. My father said, we’ll make a bit less, but when we can afford to, we’ll put wines away in brandy barrels and in years to come, it will be worth the wait. That’s why our range of fortifieds now is quite extensive. If it wasn’t for what we did 35 to 40 years ago, we would probably only have one or two wines on the shelf,” Talijancich said.

Talijancich has noticed a change in consumer approach to fortified wines, particularly in food-driven occasions.

“It was probably a period of 10 to 15 years, but it seemed like overnight, people realised there was a place for a fortified at the end of the meal. You don’t just have a sherry or a port like you used to. Fifty years ago, you would go into a restaurant and order a port, and you would just get anything. Now, people can ask for a specific style. It’s a different public now, and more educated. I think we owe a lot to food culture,” he said.

Talijancich is often asked how long it takes for a ‘good’ fortified wine to mature, but he explained that there is no specific time. Instead, fortified wines require a combination of quality base wine, aging, and blending.

“If I showed you a five-year-old fortified wine, and a 10-year-old, and then after we’ve blended it at 25 years, you can see how much more harmony there is between all the flavours. What we’re aiming for is that balance of flavours,” he said.

Talijancich is greatly inspired by old world wineries that focus on single styles or varietals. While he does not expect Talijancich Wines to ever reach a point where it produces a single varietal, he anticipates its offering to continue to pinpoint the Swan Valley’s characteristics over time.

“If you asked me what I’ve learned from my winemaking over all these years, I’ve learned that you need to constantly strive to make your wine better, and not believing for a moment that it’s the best, because then ego kicks in. It’s about always constantly striving to make it better,” he said.

This passion for bettering his wines is what keeps Talijancich going during difficult periods.

“It’s a tough industry, but it’s a beautiful industry. You really have to do your own thing. Apart from following your instincts, I think the key is to make your style. Beyond all the trophies, all the medals you might win, there is no greater satisfaction as a winemaker than being able to honestly say that this wine is an expression of your fruits.”

Andy Young

Andy joined Intermedia as Editor of The Shout in 2015, writing news on a daily basis and also writing features for National Liquor News. Now Managing Editor of both The Shout and Bars and Clubs.

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