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Winegrower's Blog

Alyssa Ball, Direct Sales Manager

Cruising: It’s a Tough Job

Shortly after I began my career at Talley Vineyards, I realized there was a huge disparity between my job and how others envision my job.  When I tell someone, “I work in the wine industry”, they tend to hear only wine and not work.  There is a romanticized perception that my days are made up of leisurely wine tastings, pleasant strolls through the vineyard and the occasional barefooted stomping of some grapes.  Because my days really don’t look like that - because I actually work really hard at a job that can be as complicated, frustrating and demanding as any other - I sometimes feel resentful when others don’t see that.  But now that I am home from the cruise, things have changed.  Since I was recently on the receiving end of the all time greatest workplace perk, I have put all resentment aside and admit this industry is a pretty fantastic one to work in.     

So, let me tell you a bit about the cruise.  I was invited to join the Talley family, as well as a handful of our customers, aboard the Crystal Serenity as it cruised from Istanbul, Turkey to Civitavecchia, Italy.  It is a tremendous understatement to say that this was the trip of a lifetime.  Every morning I woke up in a new and exciting port, always a place I had never before visited, and had the day to explore another remarkable location.  As a novice to international travel, I was in awe of the ancient sites we visited.  Is it too simplistic to say that places like Ephesus and Pompeii amazed me because they were really, really old?  Other highlights of our time in port included learning about the breathtaking architecture in Istanbul, swimming in the warm, clear waters of Greece, and visiting the Vatican City.  Lowlights?  Hmmm… I guess there weren’t any.  Our time onboard the ship actually managed to be as enjoyable as our port visits.  First of all, I loved meeting and getting to know other travelers, especially the Talley Vineyards customers, some that I had a prior phone or email relationship with.  In addition, the quality of the accommodations, the caliber of service and the delicious food - there was so, so much food - all added to the experience.  I continue to marvel at my good fortune to have had such an opportunity.

If my experience leaves you feeling that you “missed  the boat” (sorry, I couldn’t help it) by not joining us on this cruise, don’t despair.  Talley Vineyards will be back onboard the Crystal Serenity June 21-28, 2015.  Next summer’s cruise will be from Venice, Italy to Monte Carlo, Monaco and we will be joined by our friends at Ancient Peaks and Qupe wineries.  I am certain that it will be another incredible adventure.  If you are interested in being a part of it I encourage you to contact Millennium Travel to learn more or book accommodations.  In the meantime, I will be back in my office at Talley Vineyards working hard, but also quietly trying to figure out the best way to get myself back on that ship next year.  Bon voyage!    

Alyssa Ball, Direct Sales Manager

Learning About SLO Wine Country

Most wine producing regions have a member association committed to growing awareness of the local wines and wineries and promoting the area’s unique qualities.  The member association responsible for that task for the Arroyo Grande and Edna Valleys is SLO Wine Country.  Among other things, SLO Wine Country coordinates annual events such as Roll Out the Barrels and Harvest Celebration, works with media to spread the word on the region’s great wines and organizes regular association mixers that help build a spirit of camaraderie and (my favorite part) give wineries a chance to try one another’s wines. 

SLO Wine Country also provides their association members with occasional opportunities for education.  One such opportunity occurred this past week with a seminar featuring panels of speakers sharing their expert knowledge on different aspects of our growing region.  The first panel of speakers covered four important and interesting topics – the history of the Arroyo Grande and Edna Valleys, climate, soils and sustainability.  I am always fascinated by historical information and refuse to be embarrassed by how often I frequent local history museums, centers and societies.  So I happily soaked in all the tidbits the panel shared about how the Arroyo Grande and Edna Valleys turned into wine producing regions.  I also learned that I had some substantial gaps in my understanding of climate, including not realizing there are meso-climates in addition to micro and macro-climates.  How had I made it this far without knowing that? 

Much as we all enjoyed and learned from the first panel of speakers, the start of the second panel created a buzz of excitement.  Because the second panel had brought wine!  What a treat to taste a flight of wines made up of Claiborne & Churchill Riesling, Edna Valley Sauvignon Blanc, Chamisal Chardonnay, Stephen Ross Pinot Noir and Wolff Vineyards Syrah.  But this tasting wasn’t just for fun, there was a lot to learn during this segment of the seminar as well.  Our second panel of speakers were the winemakers who had made each of the wonderful wines we were tasting and they had interesting information to share.  As we tasted through the wines, each of the winemakers explained how their wines are a result of both the unifying conditions of our region and the unique characteristics of their specific vineyard.  It was a fascinating (and delicious) exercise and more than anything I came away realizing the terrific quality of wine coming out of SLO Wine Country.

Alyssa Ball, Direct Sales Manager

A View for a New Year

The saying goes that the squeaky wheel gets the grease and I admit I do my fair share of squeaking.  Over the last several years I have squeaked once or twice, or twenty or thirty times, about the fact my office lacked a window to the outside world.  As a fan of fresh air and natural light, it has long been my only complaint about my work space. 

Last year we began a handful of improvement projects in the winery.  These included opening an interior wall to increase forklift access and replacing floor drains.  In other words, they were construction projects that would have an immediate impact on improving the winemaking process. I was well aware that my pet project wouldn’t have the same impact.  But as long as so much construction activity was happening all around me, I figured there was no harm in asking.  So I squeaked again about my windowless office - and at last the squeaky wheel has been greased! 

As is usually the case, the window installation was lengthier and more painful than anyone might have guessed.  I quickly learned that the moment I received a phone call, someone would begin cutting through the stucco wall with a high speed grinder.  Or the day I came in early to tackle an extra long “to-do” list, painters would arrive and give me a few minute’s notice to vacate my workspace.  However, in contrast to my usual squeaking, I tried very hard to not complain during the process, because I was confident it would be well worth any inconvenience.

The end result, an office with a window, has been so worth any temporary nuisance.  Weeks later, I continue to be pleasantly surprised every time I walk into my office.  Fresh air, natural light and I no longer have to consider the irony of being surrounded by an amazing natural landscape that I can’t see.  I couldn’t imagine a better way to begin a new year than with a new view to the outside world! 

The wall that cried out for a window.... My new view of the world.



Alyssa Ball, Direct Sales Manager

Bottles to Celebrate the Holidays

It is a much loved Talley Vineyards tradition for some rare large format bottles to make their way out of the wine library and appear at our annual company holiday party.  For obvious reasons, this generates a lot of excitement among staff members.  But this year an additional level of excitement was added when Brian Talley suggested using the unlabeled bottles as a blank canvas for group art projects.  The various departments turned into artistic teams and heads were put together to come up with some unique and festive decoration.  Of course, in typical Talley Vineyards fashion, what could have been an all in fun creative endeavor quickly devolved into a (mostly) good natured competition.  A great deal of trash talk took place, some still continues a full week later, as self declared winners explained why their bottle was the best.

So who were the true winners the night of the holiday party?  I am going to say it and I don’t care how cheesy is sounds -  we were all winners!  While each of the large format bottles may have looked imaginative and festive on the outside, it was trying the amazing wine inside that was truly a win.  The standout for me was a magnum of 1996 Rincon Vineyard Chardonnay.  Despite the many years spent in bottle, the wine remained bright and balanced with great structure and a remarkable amount of vibrant fruit on the palate.  It is always a special treat to try these remarkable old vintages and a great reminder that we are fortunate to work for a company that produces incredible wine.

Alyssa Ball, Direct Sales Manager

Giving Thanks… for Pinot Noir

Thanksgiving has always been a favorite holiday of mine.  As I child, Thanksgiving meant anxiously awaiting the arrival of out of town relatives, including a large contingent of cousins whose appearance turned our home into a kid free for all.  In retrospect, I wonder if my parents were as anxious for the holiday weekend to end as I was for it to start! 

As an adult, I still love Thanksgiving.  A big part of that is due to the pleasure of having family and close friends together.  But I also love to cook - and I really love to eat - so Thanksgiving is certainly a day that speaks to me on that level.  The last few weeks I have started excitedly working on the Thanksgiving menu and planning what I will put on the holiday table.

One thing I am always eager to serve at Thanksgiving is Talley Vineyards Pinot Noir.  That might surprise those who are well acquainted with my wine preferences.  It is not an easy thing to admit considering who signs my paycheck, but the truth is that I’ve never been a huge fan of Pinot Noir.  However, over the past several years my appreciation for the varietal has grown by leaps and bounds.  How could it not considering the many Talley Vineyards wines I’ve been given the opportunity to taste?  And the Thanksgiving meal, with its many complex flavors, surely gives our beautifully balanced Pinot Noirs the chance to shine.  When I open a bottle (or two or three) for the Thanksgiving dinner crowd, I know that I am offering them something really special that will be truly enjoyed.  That is definitely something to feel thankful for!        

Best wishes for a wonderful Thanksgiving for each of you.  Here’s to hoping you have something special in your glass to toast with!

Alyssa Ball, Direct Sales Manager

Putting our Dirt on Display

Last March Andy McDaniel, our then Guest Services Coordinator, contributed a blog entry entitled Playing in the Dirt.  In that blog Andy described the complicated logistics of collecting soil samples from our various vineyards in the Arroyo Grande and Edna Valleys.  He also shared the reason behind this dirty effort - the creation of a soil sample display for our tasting room. 

The end result of all that digging can now be viewed by tasting room visitors.  At first glance it may appear that we’ve simply filled seven large cylinders with dirt.  But take a closer look and I think you will agree that it is much more than that.  To even my untrained eye, it is remarkable to see the variation in color, texture and structure of the soils displayed.  These differences are not just evident when comparing the different vineyards, but exist even within the layers of a single vineyard site.  Seeing the uniqueness of the soils, I can’t help but think how that is all a part of what makes each of our wines so distinctive.  It makes it easy to embrace the concept of terrior, that sense of place, and to realize how Talley Vineyards wines are truly a reflection of the vineyard site they originate from.    

Next time you visit our tasting room, I encourage you to spend some time looking at each of the soil samples, as well as the beautiful vineyard photographs alongside them.  Enjoy your wine tasting, pay special attention to the vineyard source for each wine you try and think about the diversity of the soil sample displays.  I believe there is a lot to learn from those cylinders of dirt!

Alyssa Ball, Direct Sales Manager

The Dog Days of Harvest

After I was asked to write this week’s blog, I decided to look back through the past few entries and remind myself of the topics that have been recently covered.  It turns out it has been one topic and one topic only – harvest.  When I realized our weekly blogs had become so focused, two questions immediately came to mind. 

First of all, I wondered, “Is harvest as fascinating to our readers as we seem to believe?”  This question was fairly easy to answer and it turns out our readers do find the subject quite fascinating.  A quick check of the numbers confirmed that each week our blog readers come back to get the latest harvest news.

Scout & Buster

The second question that popped into my mind wasn’t so simple to answer.   One blog after another recounted my colleagues’ hard work in making harvest successful and I couldn’t help but think, “What is my contribution to harvest?”   Nothing came to mind.  Other than offering sympathetic looks, I don’t have a whole lot I can do to support our vineyard and cellar crews.  But desperately wanting to believe I am important to the process, I thought on until it occurred to me – my harvest contribution goes to the dogs.  Literally.

When our winemaker Eric Johnson and I ended up with dogs that are littermates, neither of us thought much of it.  I assumed my dog and I would go our way and Eric and his dog would go theirs.  But it turns out our dogs are more than brother and sister, they are also best friends.  So Eric and I are no longer just colleagues, we are the owners of the world’s greatest dogs, siblings and best buddies, Scout and Buster.  And I’ve decided that when Buster virtually moves in with me and Scout for the harvest season, that is me making my important contribution to harvest.  The winemaker may be working 7 days a week, arriving at the winery hours before sun-up, with critical decisions on his mind, but at least he doesn’t have to worry about his dog.

A few years from now, while enjoying some 2013 Talley Vineyards wine, I will look back on this harvest and convince myself I made sacrifices that helped make it a good one.  I had to deal with two crazy dogs, they may have chewed up furniture, chased my neighbor’s cat, gotten into the trash, but these are necessary inconveniences in my efforts to support harvest 2013.  

"Is harvest over yet?"


Alyssa Ball, Direct Sales Manager

Picnic in the Rincon Vineyard

Last Saturday we hosted our Picnic in the Vineyard, the third year we have offered this event for members of our wine clubs.  This event has quickly become one of my favorites for a variety of reasons. 
To be perfectly honest, one reason I truly love the Picnic in the Vineyard is I have almost no responsibility for its planning, preparation and implementation.  Could anything be better than simply showing up for a delicious meal in a beautiful setting?  Yes, it is even better when you show up and everyone thanks you assuming you helped make it happen!  The truth is that Belinda Christensen really leads the charge on organizing the picnic and she is probably smart to keep me on the sidelines.  It is a well known fact among Talley Vineyards employees that it will rain on any event I help organize.  Truly.  Maybe some of you remember the infamous Marianne Talley “Mud” Run of June 2011?
It has become tradition at the picnic for our Vineyard Manager Travis Monk and our Winemaker Eric Johnson to give a casual presentation and this has become another reason I love the event.  After all my years working at Talley Vineyards I am sometimes surprised that I can still learn something new every day.  It is great to sit back, listen to the experts share their knowledge and walk away with a deeper understanding of the vineyard and production processes.  There were a lot of questions for Travis and Eric about the upcoming harvest and how soon it would be underway.  Was it my imagination that some subtle signs of panic began to creep onto Travis’s and Eric’s faces as the discussion brought home the reality that harvest is right around the corner?  Maybe it was, but it was still fun to imagine!
Of all there is to enjoy, the best part of the picnic is getting to know some of our wine club members in a fun and casual environment.  I spend my days immersed in our wine club member database and if you give me a name I can probably tell you where that person lives, their favorite wine, how long they’ve been a wine club member.   But it is rare that I am given the opportunity to meet the person behind the wine club membership.  It is truly a pleasure to share good food, good wine and good company at the Picnic in the Vineyard.