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Winegrower's Blog

Brian Talley, Vintner
 
March 28, 2014 | Brian Talley, Vintner

Eric, Travis and Brian’s Excellent Adventure


 

Eric listens to Paul Draper of
Ridge Vineyards

Last week I took Winemaker Eric Johnson and Vineyard Manager Travis Monk on a field trip to visit some of my favorite wineries in California.  I find it inspiring to visit people who are as passionate and committed as we are here at Talley Vineyards.  We started on Monday with a visit to Ridge Vineyards, the legendary producer of Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon located high in the Santa Cruz Mountains, overlooking the Silicon Valley.  Paul Draper, one of the icons of California wine, shared with us the amazing history of Monte Bello, the estate vineyard that produces one of California’s most highly regarded Cabernets.  Before we knew it, three hours had passed and we were scrambling to make it to San Francisco in time for dinner at Restaurant Gary Danko.

Tuesday was all about pinot noir and chardonnay.  Longtime Williams Selyem Winemaker Bob Cabral shared his insights on the evolution of his iconic pinot noir over the last 17 years.  We finished with a tour of the estate vineyard which features a field blend of various pinot noir clones before joining our friends David Fischer and Cameron Frey for lunch and a comprehensive tasting of Ramey wines.  Much like Talley Vineyards, they focus on flavor development and balance in their elegantly crafted chardonnays.


 

Eric and Travis at Williams Selyem.

The Sonoma County chardonnay and pinot noir theme continued on Wednesday.  We took an extensive tour of the Littorai property just outside Sebastopol with much focus on Ted Lemon’s biodynamic farm and a tasting of some of the most elegant chardonnay and pinot noir produced in California.  After that, we joined Geoff Labitzke for a tasting at Kistler Vineyards, which many consider to be the benchmark for Sonoma County chardonnay.

Thursday’s visits were focused in the Napa Valley.  Failla is a winery owned by Winemaker Ehren Jordan that is located south of Calistoga on the Silverado Trail though the majority of this wines come from grapes grown on the Sonoma Coast.  We were impressed with Ehren’s outside the box thinking with respect to winegrowing and the impeccable balance of his wines.  Our final visit of the trip was to Tim Mondavi’s Continuum Estate on Pritchard Hill in the Napa Valley.  It was great to tour this amazing site, though it was even better to talk to Tim Mondavi, taste the current release of Continuum and learn how his long tenure as the Winemaker at Robert Mondavi informs his approach now.  It was an inspiring and thought provoking week and I can’t wait to do it again!

Brian Talley, Vintner
 
February 7, 2014 | Brian Talley, Vintner

Big In Japan

Johnine and the girls at the main temple building, Fushimi-ku, Kyoto Japan. 

I’m writing this post in the midst of my second ever visit to Japan.  This has been a great trip, made even more special because Johnine and our daughters, Elizabeth and Olivia, were able to join me.  Elizabeth did much pre arrival research and planning and our itinerary has been filled with visits to temples and shrines in Tokyo and Kyoto and a planned visit to Hiroshima.  Having said that, my major focus has been business and I’m proud of the fact that we will likely sell more wine in Japan than all but our largest markets in the US this year.  We have the enthusiastic support of an importer called Jalux who has made a serious commitment to Talley Vineyards.

Food and wine are serious business in Japan and there are more Michelin starred restaurants in this country than in France.  The great wines of the world are prominently featured in wine shops, wine bars and on restaurant wine lists.  A trade tasting and seminar featuring chardonnay and pinot noir from Talley Vineyards, Au Bon Climat and DuMol had amazing attendance and a super engaged audience. Sommeliers and retailers here take their craft seriously, pay special attention during tastings and ask great questions, though the translation slows things down a bit.


 

Kozo and Diana Hasegawa with us at their restaurant, Tableaux.

Wines like ours that are made in a balanced and elegant style are celebrated here because they complement Japanese cuisine, renowned for its refinement and subtlety.  Culinary highlights included Johnine’s birthday dinner at Kurasawa where the chef prepared a tempura tasting menu in a private room for our family as well as a ten course Kaseiki (traditional Japanese tasting menu) dinner at a Michelin 2 star restaurant in Kyoto called Roan Kikuni. I also reconnected with the first person to import our wines into Japan, Kozo Hasegawa, when he hosted a special wine dinner featuring Talley Vineyards and three other wineries, at his famed Tokyo restaurant Tableaux. 

It’s rewarding to see our business grow in a place that cherishes food and wine.  I can’t wait to come back! 

Brian Talley, Vintner
 
January 25, 2014 | Brian Talley, Vintner

Strange Weather

Followers of this blog know that I often write about the weather.  Given the kind of weather we’ve experienced so far this year, it’s apropos that I take up the topic again.  As I write this, the East Coast is suffering through another massive snow storm to be followed by the second extremely cold snap of 2014.  On the other hand, California is in the midst of a severe drought that has resulted in Governor Jerry Brown declaring a State of Emergency.  More locally, San Luis Obispo and Arroyo Grande have experienced record high temperatures during the first weeks of January, including January 16 when it was over 91 degrees at San Luis Obispo airport, making it the hottest place in the US.

There is general consensus that a high pressure system is sitting over California that is blocking the Jetstream, and any storms, from coming into the state.  There is less consensus on why this is.  Local meteorologist John Lindsey wrote a very interesting article citing a theory that melting of the polar ice cap is at least partly responsible for this phenomenon, as well as lower pressure over the East Coast that has resulted in the severe weather they have experienced.  To read the detail on this, go to www.sanluisobispo.com/2014/01/18/2883449/loss-of-arctic-ice-leads-to-drought.html.

What does all this mean for us?  First, we are frantically pruning our vines right now in anticipation of early bud break.  This means that our frost season (which lasts from bud break until about May 1) will be longer than normal.  Second, we are irrigating more this winter to substitute for lack of rainfall.  Finally, we have little to no covercrop established on our hillsides.  This means that should we receive significant rainfall, which could still happen, we may experience erosion.  We also depend on our covercrop to improve soil conditions and host the beneficial insects that protect our vines.

As bad as all of this sounds, I remind myself all the time that if you don’t like the weather, you shouldn’t be a farmer.  Cheers!

Brian Talley, Vintner
 
December 27, 2013 | Brian Talley, Vintner

Christmas 2013

For the Talley Family, Christmas of 2013 was special in so many ways.  It should come as no surprise that it revolved around food and family.  We kicked things off with our traditional Christmas Eve celebration and a meal featuring tamales and Christmas lima beans from our Fresh Harvest box.  Our dinner table featured a handmade candle holder that cellarworker Patrick Sigler created out of a barrel stave and gave to me as part of our Secret Santa gift exchange.  We enjoyed some nice wines, including a magnum of 2003 Rosemary’s Vineyard Chardonnay and some 2012 Blanc de Noir Sparkling wine that we made from Rincon Vineyard Pinot Noir.

Christmas breakfast is one of my favorite meals of the year and we celebrated with homemade cinnamon rolls, omelets and ham. Our family exchanged gifts, including more handmade gifts than ever before--knitted hats, scarves and a Christmas stocking from Olivia.  Elizabeth created craft cork items, a beautiful photo book of our summer vacation and a custom puzzle featuring our family in the Swiss Alps.  After our big breakfast, Olivia and I took a walk and enjoyed the unseasonably warm Christmas weather.  At 83 degrees, it was the second warmest day on record in San Luis Obispo.   The celebration continued Christmas night with a special dinner at my mom’s house featuring grilled filet of beef, (perfect with Rincon and Rosemary’s Vineyard Pinot Noir magnums) an assortment of vegetables from our Fresh Harvest box and my mother’s wonderful cheesecake.

Johnine and I are thankful to enjoy the bounty of our land, to work with so many passionate and dedicated people, and to live close to our families so that we can savor these special experiences.  Best wishes to you and your family this season and for all of 2014!

Brian Talley, Vintner
 
November 15, 2013 | Brian Talley, Vintner

El Niño, La Niña or La Nada

Harvest is over and our weather wishing has changed accordingly.  During harvest, the last thing we want is rain.  Rain during harvest makes a mess, dilutes the flavors and causes the growth of various molds, including botrytis.  We were blessed with a beautiful dry harvest this year.  Now we want rain.

Long range weather forecasting has improved dramatically since I started farming full time about 25 years ago.  Much of the focus of the long range winter forecast is directed toward determining whether we have the formation of El Niño or La Niña conditions.  There is a great explanation of these phenomena on Wikipedia. In a nutshell, El Niño refers to warming of the equatorial ocean water off of South America which accompanies high air surface pressure in the western Pacific and which typically results in more rainfall on the Central Coast of California.  La Niña refers to cooler ocean water and dryer conditions in this area.

So what do we have in store for the winter of 2013/2014? According to an article on GRIST, the current condition is stuck somewhere between the extremes of El Niño and La Niña, which writer John Upton refers to as “La Nada”.  The upshot is that it will be harder for forecasters to predict what kind of weather to expect this winter.  What we do know now is that it’s dry.  The little bit of rain that was predicted for this week was dialed back.  This makes it easier for us to work in the field, to clean up our fields after harvest, to plant cover crops and vegetables, but dry isn’t good for us in the long term.  Please join me in praying for rain—ideally about 25 inches, about 1 inch at a time, every 2 weeks between now and April 15.  Cheers!

The Rincon Adobe photo taken with green hills after rain in prior years.
The Rincon Adobe with brown hills because of the lack of rain.
Brian Talley, Vintner
 
October 18, 2013 | Brian Talley, Vintner

Not Just Grapes...

These bells have just been washed and about to be sorted by size and grade.

Visitors to the winery are often surprised at the diversity of crops they see growing in the fields adjacent to the Rincon Vineyard.  In fact, our family farming heritage stretches back 65 years to 1948 when my grandfather began growing vegetables here in the Arroyo Grande Valley.  That tradition continues to this day, and just as fall is our peak harvest period for wine grapes, so too is it for our vegetable production.  The single biggest crop that we grow at Talley Farms is bell peppers, and the entire crop is harvested between early August and mid-November.  Just as in our vineyards, we’ve enjoyed a bumper crop of bell peppers, with perhaps the best yields in our history.  This is attributable to near perfect growing conditions as well as continuous improvement and refinement of our growing practices under the leadership of my cousin, Ryan Talley, who oversees our vegetable farming operations.

 

In addition to bell peppers, we grow about 20 different kinds of fruits and vegetables, many of which we grow exclusively for Talley Farms Fresh Harvest, www.talleyfarmsfreshharvest.com, our weekly harvest box program.  Because of the extremely moderate climate of the Arroyo Grande Valley, it is one of the few places in the world where vegetables can be grown year round, though the selection varies with the season.  Right now we are producing beautiful tomatoes, basil, squash, pasillas, jalapenos, beans, lettuce and padron peppers.  In the winter, we focus on leeks, beets, radishes and Brussels sprouts.  We grow items like green onions, carrots, spinach, cilantro, lemons, avocados and nappa cabbage year round.

One of my favorite seasonal projects is the annual pumpkin patch that we grow in conjunction with Branch Elementary School.  This project was conceived by my dad as a fundraiser for the school almost 15 years ago when my daughters attended Branch.  Now Ryan (who currently has two daughters at the school) oversees the project.  This is a great local fundraiser and a great place for locals to get pumpkins and decorative gourds for the autumn season.  They are available for purchase every day in the Tasting Room, or you can come out on the weekend and pick your own.  Enjoy the bounty of the season!

 
Brian Talley, Vintner
 
September 27, 2013 | Brian Talley, Vintner

Harvest 2013 - Fast Pace, Good Quality

Harvest began almost a month ago on August 30, which was a very typical start date for us.  Relative to the past three years, the difference has been in the pace of harvest since the start, which has been fast.  It kicked off with a warm period over Labor Day weekend and for the first week of September which ripened just about all of the chardonnay and pinot noir in Rosemary’s Vineyard.  Things cooled dramatically after that, which slowed everything down.  In fact some sugar levels actually went down, implying that the grapes were rehydrating.  Another warming trend coincided with the Harvest Moon, which quickened our pace again.  At this point, we are about 65% done with our harvest in the Arroyo Grande and Edna Valleys and anticipate being just about complete by October 10.  So far all of the lots of pinot noir we’ve pressed off have had good clean flavors and elegant texture, similar to 2012.

Speaking of the Harvest Moon, check out this video we shot on September 19.  It shows every step in our process of producing pinot noir from night harvest in the early morning, through destemming, pressing and finishing with the last punch downs of the day.  I also have a short video with Eric Johnson discussing night harvest at Rosemary’s Vineyard.  Enjoy!

Brian Talley, Vintner
 
August 30, 2013 | Brian Talley, Vintner

First Day of Harvest, 2013

Today marks the start of the 27th  harvest since Talley Vineyards was founded back in 1986.  We began harvesting pinot noir in two sections of Rosemary’s Vineyard.  Our August 30 start date was very typical:  5 days earlier than last year, 4 days later than 2011 and 1 day later than 2010.  At 2.95 tons, the crop was just under Travis Monk’s estimate of 3 tons, and almost exactly what we harvested from these sections last year.  Our expectation is that the pinot noir crop will be very similar to 2012 and I expect a slightly larger chardonnay crop.

Every harvest has themes or storylines that play out as we progress through our vineyards.  After only one day, there’s not much of a story to tell, except that 2013 is a severe drought year (fortunately, we are blessed with adequate ground water) and the crop looks healthy.  We also expect a more condensed harvest in 2013 as many areas of our vineyards appear to be ripening simultaneously.  In particular, I anticipate more of an overlap between pinot noir and chardonnay than we typically see.

Will 2013 be a great vintage?  This is the million dollar question that everyone wonders about, and I go into every harvest expecting to make the very best wines we’ve ever produced.  The fruit is exceptionally clean with very little evidence of botrytis or mildew, the two fungal diseases that can dramatically reduce quality in our area.  So far, we like the ripe flavors we taste at lower sugar levels, and acidity appears to be higher than 2012 and more in line with 2010 and 2011.  This bodes well for refreshing wines of depth and concentration—just the kinds of wines we seek to produce every year.  I hope you follow along to see how the story of 2013 unfolds.

Cellar crew sorting pinot noir grapes on first day of harvest. First light on the first day of harvest in Rosemary's Vineyard.
Brian Talley, Vintner
 
August 23, 2013 | Brian Talley, Vintner

Grape Sampling

As harvest approaches, one of the most critical tasks to determine wine quality is grape sampling. Sampling guides our harvest schedule because we measure the sugar and acid content of the grapes, which are key indicators of ripeness. At the same time, we also refine our crop estimates because we weigh the clusters we sample.

I shot a short video featuring Harvest Intern Ben Taylor and Winemaker Eric Johnson that illustrates the entire process. For those who prefer to read rather than watch, here’s a brief synopsis: Eric and Vineyard Manager Travis Monk determine which vineyard blocks to sample. Ben walks through each block, randomly gathering about 25 clusters, brings them back to the winery, weighs then crushes them with a small hand crusher. The juice is analyzed for brix (sugar content), and pH (a measure of acidity). This information, along with cluster weights is recorded and emailed to me, Eric and Travis. We use this information to determine which blocks to visit and taste, which is the final determinant of the harvest schedule.

This is the actual grape maturity sheet we look at every day from samples we pulled on August 20 from the West Rincon Vineyard. We will likely harvest this block in 2-3 weeks.

Date

Vineyard

Block

Varietal

Brix

pH

lbs/cluster

Comments

8/20/2013

WR

1101

PN

20.7

2.94

0.166

cluster

8/20/2013

WR

1102

PN

20.9

2.91

0.095

cluster

8/20/2013

WR

1103

PN

21.3

2.91

0.129

cluster

8/20/2013

WR

1104

PN

20

2.89

0.133

cluster

8/20/2013

WR

1105

PN

21.1

2.93

0.146

cluster

8/20/2013

WR

1106

PN

20.7

2.91

0.139

cluster

8/20/2013

WR

1107

PN

21

2.97

0.116

cluster

Based on what we learned today, we think harvest will start sometime next week, in Rosemary’s Vineyard Block 8, a tiny high density block that we farm by hand, and that often makes it into the Rosemary’s Vineyard Pinot Noir bottling. We’ve had perfect ripening weather for the last 8 weeks and we’ve got a beautiful crop. I have high hopes for the 2013 harvest!

Brian Talley, Vintner
 
August 16, 2013 | Brian Talley, Vintner

World’s Shortest Bottling Video/Harvest Just Around the Corner!

We are right in the middle of bottling our signature wine, the 2012 Estate Chardonnay.  My daughter, Elizabeth, has an interest in photography and video, so she agreed to shoot a video.  Check it out—it’s only 32 seconds long! 

Harvest is just around the corner and we’re busily sampling pinot noir throughout our vineyards.  Our best guess now is that we will start the first week of September.  The vines in the East Rincon Vineyard, just outside my office, are historically the last we harvest in late September or early October.  Vineyard Manager Travis Monk estimates that the pinot noir crop will be a little smaller than last year and chardonnay a bit larger.  I look forward to keeping you posted on our progress.