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Winegrower's Blog

Eric Johnson, Winemaker
August 1, 2014 | Eric Johnson, Winemaker

First Day of Harvest, 2014

Eric Johnson, Winemaker at Talley Vineyards, narrates the first morning of harvest.


Eric Johnson, Winemaker
April 18, 2014 | Eric Johnson, Winemaker

Winery Tour

This week Winemaker Eric Johnson gives you a video tour of the Talley Vineyard winery.

Eric Johnson, Winemaker
March 7, 2014 | Eric Johnson, Winemaker

The World of Pinot Noir

This past week we celebrated the 14th year of the World of Pinot Noir at the Bacara Resort in Goleta, just north of Santa Barbara. Bacara is a new venue for WOPN and luckily for us it was entirely indoors during the multiple storms that were pummeling the Central Coast. For those of you who haven't attended, WOPN is a Central Coast event centered around Pinot Noir from around the world with daily seminars and tastings. Year in and year out, many of the top winemakers and Sommeliers participate at WOPN because of the caliber of consumers who attend.

Not to minimize other great events, but WOPN is my favorite of the year. For a Pinot Noir winemaker like myself, this event is especially beneficial. My week started by joining 60 other winemakers for a two day in depth tasting of 2013 Pinot Noirs called the Technical Symposium. The Technical Symposium is a winemaker only event. Since no consumers are present, I feel like this allows winemakers to be straight forward and to the point about what's going on at their winery. And honestly, I don’t think consumers would want to taste these 2013 wines since they are still babies in the grand scheme of things. During this time of year Pinot Noir can be in an awkward stage, but with so many winemakers tasting and sharing notes it still possible to figure out the quality of the wine and identify possible faults.  What's great about the Tech Symposium is that everybody who participates is trying to help each other out. Though we all are competitors in some sense, we don’t act that way. There are winemakers lined up to offer suggestions for improvement when another winemaker has a problem in their vineyard or with a certain wine.

During WOPN, education doesn’t happen at  just the Tech Symposium. Every year WOPN has  educational seminars featuring some of the most well known people in Pinot Noir. I was able to listen in on some of the seminars this year and the panelists and discussions were fantastic. One of my favorite topics discussed was the soil types in the different appellations in Oregon.   Who knew the extreme difference in soil types that the state has to offer?  I also really enjoyed the Maison Louis Jadot tasting seminar with winemaker Frederic Barnier.  It's not every day you get to try Jadot from 1985!

The grand tastings on Friday and Saturday were full of amazing wines, as always. I poured for Talley Vineyards during the Friday tasting, but was able to sneak out and taste a couple of gems. I have to say that Friday’s consumers were some of the most educated tasters I've poured for and I enjoyed talking to them. Saturday’s tasting had some of the heavy hitters in the Pinot Noir world. Kosta Browne, Williams Selyem and Patz & Hall were all pouring their wines, just to name a few. There were rock star winemakers and winery owners everywhere and it was definitely a great event for people watching. 

After a week of Pinot tasting I definitely needed Sunday to take a break from my favorite grape. But as a new week begins I am already dreaming about next year's World of Pinot Noir. I recommend everyone make the trip to Bacara Resort next year for the 15th Annual World of Pinot Noir. You won't regret it.  

Eric Johnson, Winemaker
January 17, 2014 | Eric Johnson, Winemaker

Blind Tastings of 2013

Every January Vintner Brian Talley, Assistant Winemaker Nicole Pope , Vineyard Manager Travis Monk, and myself get together to taste the latest vintage. It's nice to do this early in the maturation process so we can get a peek into the vintage as a whole. Most of the time I'm excited to taste the wines but it is the first time we taste them blind so you never know what your thoughts are going to be.

This is a weird time to taste barrel samples. For one, the wines are only a couple of months old, babies in their development process. The wines are also in an awkward state. We have a very slow and cool native malolactic fermentation that usually doesn’t finish up until early spring. There are some wines that have finished malolactic fermentation and have had sulfur dioxide added. Others are still fermenting and this can create quite a bit of difference from wine to wine.  

As a winemaker, I want to see how the wines are tasting and how this relates to our current winemaking approach. Several questions come to mind. Are we picking the grapes at the right time? Is the wine too ripe? Is it too green? Why do/ don't we like the wine? Is the wine too extracted? Should we increase/ decrease our punchdowns during fermentation? Is a flaw present? How do we fix said flaw? All of these questions go through my head for each wine. We taste 140 wines over two days so obviously I take a lot of notes.  I feel like I need a couple of days after the tasting, to debrief my thoughts and determine what actions, if any, need to be taken.

With all of the uncertainty involved with this tasting, it is still one of my favorite times of the year.  When tasting wines blind, you may not have the same opinion as you would when tasting wines unblind. Throughout the years, there have been certain lots of wine that I have had a biased opinion about and after the wines were revealed,  I was blown away. We all tend to have some bias in aspects of life. For me, I always think the Niners will win even when they were dogs not too long ago. The same goes with wine. Our vineyard manager Travis Monk may not really like a certain block because of how it performs from a growing standard. It could be a block that is difficult to farm or needs a lot of attention but once he tastes it beside other lots he could be blown away by the quality. I have had grapes come in with flavors that I'm not thrilled about and the wine turns out great.

Though the tasting is quite rigorous and tends to leave us craving lunch, it provides us with some great insight. We will use this knowledge during our next harvest in 2014. The more knowledge we have, the better the wines will become. The next harvest is just around the corner. 

Time Posted: Jan 17, 2014 at 1:27 PM
Eric Johnson, Winemaker
December 16, 2013 | Eric Johnson, Winemaker

The Storm After the Storm

I sometimes feel that we winemakers are gluttons for punishment. We go through a long, painstaking event like harvest and then almost immediately follow up with the most painful winemaking process of all, bottling.

Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t completely hate bottling, but I feel like we have a love/ hate relationship.  Bottling is obviously a pivotal part of winemaking, but I don’t think most people realize how stress inducing it can be. You have to get the wine in the perfect state before putting it to its final resting place.

Is the SO2 level right? Are we going to filter? If not, how will we make sure the wine has the appropriate clarity? Is the amount of dissolved oxygen high? Should we sparge the tank? Is the wine heat stable? Is it cold stable? These are just some of the questions that go through my head when planning a bottling. Remember if you screw up, there is no going back. That wine is cemented in history.

Preparing the wine is only the beginning. Once the wine is ready to bottle you have to make sure you purchase the right packaging materials. That might not sound like a big deal, but if any of the packaging is slightly off or flawed, it can create a series of problems. For example, in the past we had glass delivered for a very important bottling. We inspected the bottles as we always do and since they looked like the same ones that I have purchased for years we went ahead with our planned bottling. But once the bottling began we realized there was something different about this particular shipment of glass because the labels were wrinkling . It turns out the shape of the bottle was off by just a couple of millimeters. Only a couple of millimeters and that slight change in shape meant labels completely wrinkled beyond repair. We had to cancel bottling, send the crew home, ship the glass back to the supplier and plead for new glass. Then a week or two later we start the process all over again and hope for the best.

There have been times I’ve wished I could just cut out the middle part of the process and find a way to get our wine straight from a barrel into our customer’s glass.  If it were possible, I would not hesitate to sell off our bottling line.  In the meantime, I have to maintain my love/hate relationship with bottling in order to make wines people can enjoy.

Eric Johnson, Winemaker
August 2, 2013 | Eric Johnson, Winemaker

A Splash of Color

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.


Eric Johnson, Winemaker
June 28, 2013 | Eric Johnson, Winemaker

My Trip to Burgundy

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

Eric Johnson, Winemaker

The Times They Are a-Changin'

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.

Eric Johnson, Winemaker
November 30, 2012 | Eric Johnson, Winemaker

Harvest is Finally Over

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.

Eric Johnson, Winemaker
August 17, 2012 | Eric Johnson, Winemaker

Let the Harvest Begin!

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.