About the time when colorful fireworks are hitting the sky to celebrate our nation’s independence a different kind of colorful fireworks is occurring out in the vineyard. What I’m talking about is the arrival of color to the grape clusters which is most commonly referred to as veraison. Veraison literally means “the onset of color” in French and the term symbolizes the transition from berry growth to berry ripening.
We have several vineyards at Talley with different terriors and most of the vineyards start and finish veraison at different times. Typically the first blocks that start veraison will be the first grapes harvested but that is not always the case. At this time of the year we are in the thick of it when it comes to veraison. We have some blocks that are finished and some that have just started. Pinot noir is are first varietal to get going and syrah is our last. Below I have photos of our three main vineyards to demonstrate the timing and characteristics of veraison.
Stone Corral Pinot Noir: As you can see Stone Corral is about 50-60% through veraison. Veraison takes place one berry at a time making the clusters look similar to fireworks. Stone Corral Pinot Noir is typically one of the last vineyards we harvest.
West Rincon Pinot Noir: As you can see the West Rincon vineyard is about 85-90% through veraison. Some clusters are completely colored up and other are a little pink. You even see some green berries still present. We typically have a couple of early ripening blocks followed by a waiting period before we pick the remaining.
|Rosemary’s Pinot Noir: You can clearly see that this block of pinot noir in Rosemary’s is completely through veraison. All clusters have colored up and it will be a matter of weeks before we pick this block. This particular block in Rosemary’s is almost always our first block harvested.|
The wine industry is an amazing industry to work in. Wine is made in so many places throughout the world. We have the ability to travel around talking to growers and winemakers to learn more and more about refining our craft. One of the many perks.
Last week I was lucky enough to travel to France with Brian Talley and explore the Mecca of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Burgundy, France. I have been visited Burgundy before but not like this. This time I felt that I was really able to ingrain myself in the area, the vineyards, the wines, and the culture. We were staying in the middle of Burgundy at the Francois Frères house in St. Romain, a small town outside of Beaune. Francois Freres are our main supplier of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay barrels at Talley. The Francois’ are such an amazing family and their hospitality is unlike anyone I have met.
From St. Roamin we traveled to Domaine Jacques-Frederic (Freddy) Mugnier in Chambolle- Musigny. He is a very humble man with a masterful winemaking touch. I absolutely loved his wines. We were lucky enough to barrel taste his 2012’s and taste through most of his 2011’s. He even brought out a 1993 Chambolle-Musigny that blew everyone’s mind. For its age, it still had great youth and energy.
From Chambolle we would travel to Gevrey-Chambertin for a visit to Domaine Fourrier. We were able to taste through a vast majority of their 2011’s. Great wines with amazing structure. These wines will have no problem ageing for years to come. From Gevrey-Chambertin we traveled south to the illustrious home of white Burgundy Puligny-Montrachet and a visit to the famed Domaine Leflaive. Leflaive has been one of my favorite Chardonnay producers for a while now and it was amazing to be able to visit and taste through their 2011’s. The depth of flavor, finesse, and searing acidity leaves no doubt in your mind as to why Domaine Leflaive is one of the greatest Chardonnay producers in the world.
Our last visit was to the jack of all trades Domaine Comte Lafon. I say that because owner/ winemaker Dominique Lafon not only produces amazing Meursault and Montrachet but just as amazing Volnay and Monthelie. It’s pretty unique that Lafon produces red and white Burgundy especially at the quality that they do. His wines have an amazing intensity but a beautiful elegance that drifts throughout the palette. I would say Dominique was the most open winemaker we spoke to. It didn’t matter how technical or intrusive the question was, he answered it. I have to say I probably learned the most speaking with Dominique. Looking back at my notes, Most of them involve things he said regarding the way he likes to make wine. My favorite topic was how to achieve the optimal amount of “noble” reduction in his white Burgundies. A technique that has eluded me in the past yet one that I would love to figure out because I find this characteristic irresistible in Chardonnays.
My Burgundian travels reminded me why Burgundy is the Mecca of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. It is the mother land when it comes to these grapes and there really is no place like it. As we were leaving Domain Mugnier I asked Freddy Mugnier what advice he could give to a young winemaker such as myself. He stood silent for a moment until his eyes lit up saying, “I always accomplish more when I do less.” The perfect advice that I will never forget
Every once in a while things need a little face lift. Maybe that means a fresh coat of paint or a new addition to a familiar sight. In Talley Vineyards’ case, it means a winery renovation. The Talley Vineyards winery was built in 1991. At the time, it was the eponymy of a modern day winery. Concrete tank stands, modern drains, and plenty of space for day-to-day winery activities. After twenty vintages in this space, we felt it was time to give the winery a revitalization.
|Knock down of wall in progress.||New catwalk in the winery.|
The first thing we did was knock out a wall to give us more space for fermentation and barrel work. The area we gained was more than we ever imagined. Next, we tore out our old catwalk that accessed the top of our tanks and replaced it with a stunning aluminum catwalk. Not only does it look clean but it makes it much easier for us to clean around the tanks.
The last renovation we had done was completely resurfacing the concrete floor in the winery. We patched all cracks and seams and through a long process, added a special coating. This coating consists of a polyurethane matrix system. It’s anti-microbial, durable and skid resistant that will hold up to heavy machinery, high traffic and dust. And more importantly, it makes the winery look really clean.
This is by far, the biggest upgrade of the facility since the winery was built. We’re all really excited to move back into our “new” winery. I’ve always felt there was a romantic quality to our 20-year old winery and I believe that after this renovation we’re prepared for the next 20 vintages.
Harvest is finally over. Well almost over. Theoretically harvest is over because there are no more early mornings and long work days but the lasting effects of harvest are still present.
|Looking inside a barrel with malolatic fermentation|
Here at Talley we have a certain affinity with native fermentation both primary and secondary. Primary fermentation is just about wrapped up and we are now beginning secondary fermentation called malolactic fermentation. Simply put, we allow the native lactic acid bacteria to convert the malic acid in the wine to lactic acid. I like to say that malic acid is the apple acid and lactic acid is the milk acid. Malic acid is more acidic and lactic acid is smoother and is less acidic. Because we do not inoculate, our wines, our secondary fermentations tends to take longer. We allow this to happen in the majority of our wines excluding out Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc and Bishops Peak Chardonnay. The majority of our Chardonnays go through a very slow secondary fermentation with most not finishing until late spring and in some years, early summer.
|Special fermentation bung allows gas to escape without letting air in.|
So why are we doing this? Well first off we want the malic acid converted to lactic acid for the mouth feel. Secondly, we let malolactic fermentation happen intentionally so it doesn’t happen unintentionally in the bottle when it gets to your house. If you have ever had an “active” fermentation occur in bottle, you know it is not a fun wine to drink. Stale beer comes to mind when I think of this.
I didn’t write this to teach everyone about secondary fermentation but to explain that once the harvest is over, it’s not really over.
It has begun - Harvest 2012! This week the Talley Vineyards crew picked the first load of Pinot Noir grapes. The fruit came from West Rincon Vineyard and will be used for a special, top-secret bubbles project. Even though we picked only a small amount of grapes, the feeling that harvest has begun is unmistakable.
Harvest is my favorite time of year and I can honestly say it is why I love the wine industry so much. This time of year is filled with critical picking decisions, mornings that begin long before the sun rises, consumption of massive amounts of coffee, long hours of work followed by very little sleep, hurried meals eaten at odd hours or no meals at all, and a complete lack of a social life. That is harvest in a nutshell and while it might sound like torture, I truly look forward to it. It is an amazing thing to witness a group of people, everyone from the vineyard crew to the winery crew, sacrifice so much in order to make the best wine possible.
This year we couldn’t have hoped for a better growing season and the fruit looks first-rate. We will continue to bring in small amounts of Pinot Noir grapes here and there over the next two weeks. By the time September rolls around, harvest will be rolling as well. The winery will be filled with Pinot Noir fermenters as far as the eye can see and the winery crew will be busy with punch downs. The Chardonnay grapes should be ready to harvest beginning in late September and continuing through October. That will be followed by the Bordeaux grapes we harvest from Paso Robles. If everything goes according to plan, harvest will finally be done by Thanksgiving and everyone will enjoy some hard earned rest.
|The 2012 winery crew samples the free run juice from the first pressing of pinot noir grapes.|
Every year around early summer I feel that the previous year’s Pinot Noirs start to turn the corner. The flavors have matured to a point that they start to taste like wine and are no longer as young and awkward tasting as they were in the winter. Once the wines have “turned the corner” the winemaking staff is involved in hours of tastings which ultimately leads to the finale of blending of the various estate and single vineyard wines. This is a great time of year because we can really get a vision of how the vintage faired and honestly, we can see if we did our job in the vineyard and winery.
As much as I love making the Rosemary’s and Rincon Vineyards blends I have to say that I am extremely intrigued when it comes to the Stone Corral Pinot Noir. The Stone Corral Vineyard is unique in that the Talley family collaborated with local winemakers, Stephen Ross Dooley (Stephen Ross Wines) and Don Othman (Kynsi), in a long-term lease arrangement to share the grapes. The vineyard is divided into 5 distinct vineyard blocks, with each block divided into thirds and designated for Talley Vineyards, Stephen Ross Wines and the Kynsi Winery.
Around this time of year the production staff from all three wineries, get together and taste the previous year’s pinot noir from the Stone Corral Vineyard, block by block. I always look forward to this tasting because it clearly shows the influence of the winery’s house style. It amazes me how different the wines are, they are all very distinctive. If I didn’t know, I would swear the pinots were from different vineyards across California. Even though you have the same grapes, the wines are still defined by the winery. I guess that’s what makes this process so interesting for me.