With a little over a week left before we celebrate the coming of 2013, I wish everyone a very merry Christmas and a happy New Year! While it is not my style to get sentimental and reminisce about highlights of the year gone past, 2012 is a little bit different. In the most succinct terms possible, it really was a great year.
As it pertains to my life and what I’m passionate about, two amazing things happened this year. First, and most importantly, this is the year I married my amazing wife, Erin. On April 14th, the Talley family was gracious enough to allow us to host our small, intimate wedding ceremony in the barrel room. After six years of dating and now over six months of marrage, I am happy to be able to tell everyone that married life is great!
Secondly, 2012 was an awesome vintage for just about every region of California, especially here on the central coast. While I am proud to have been a part of Talley Vineyards for what has been a really excellent string of vintages (2007-2012), this year is special because it is the first year in a while with both high quality and above-average yields. Some of you may know that I dabble in wine production. This is the second year that the Talleys have allowed us to tend a section of vines in Edna Valley and make a small batch of wine. I, my wife, and co-workers, Mike and Ken, harvested twice the fruit as last year and so far we think the wine may be twice as good! Furthermore, now that some of the wines in the barrel room have had a few months of age, we are really starting to see that the Talley chardonnays and pinot noirs are going to be very special wines.
For a wine geek like myself, there is no better feeling than knowing that I can stock up on the 2012 vintage when they come out and be assured that the quality of the wine is going to reflect the way I feel about the year in which the fruit was grown. Since we have some time before those wines come out, I’m going to go back to my first vintage here at Talley and enjoy a bottle of 2007 Rincon Vineyard Pinot Noir for Christmas. For the rest of you, I suggest that you pull out a great bottle and share some stories with loved ones about the special things that happened in your lives this year. Cheers!
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.
I often tell people that you can’t be a farmer if you don’t love the weather. More precisely, I mean that we must accept the fact that the weather is beyond our control and we adjust our schedule and practices accordingly. It’s important to keep this in mind as we ride the roller coaster that is harvest.
This week, we’re experiencing our annual Indian Summer—that last bit of warm weather that finishes harvest. We’ve had some of the warmest weather of the year during this period, with temperatures in the high 90s. This is due to high pressure moving over our area and the presence of Santa Ana conditions—a warm offshore flow as opposed to our typical pattern of cool onshore breezes. This mini heat wave came right on the heels of a rainstorm last week that dumped just over an inch of rain in the Arroyo Grande Valley.
At this point, everything on our ranches has been harvested with the exception of some chardonnay in the Rincon Vineyard, which we will finish on Monday. The other exception is about three tons of sauvignon blanc in Oliver’s Vineyard that we will attempt to make into a sweet dessert wine. The rain we received last week created perfect conditions for botrytis cinerea, often referred to as the “noble rot.” Botrytis is a fungus that grows ongrapes due to wet conditions and which causes the grapes to shrivel and the sugar and acid to become extremely concentrated. This is undesirable in most of the wines we produce, and we typically go to great lengths to prevent it, including leaf removal and thinning of infected grape clusters. Botrytis is critical for the production of white dessert wines and sauvignon blanc is one of the white grape varieties most suited to make this wine. Consequently, we decided to leave those grapes on the vine with the hope to let botrytis grow and to make our second ever late harvest sauvignon blanc. The only other time we did this was in 1994, when we had a very rainy harvest. That wine was legendary.
So here’s another way of expressing my “learn to love the weather” mantra: when you have lemons, make lemonade. When you have rain, make dessert wine!
Wow, it’s already October, which means we have been harvesting for over a month now! Almost daily picks of Pinot Noir kept us busy all September, with the sorting table and destemmer going nonstop. The winery has been at capacity, with fermentors of grape must in every open corner, and hand punchdowns happening nonstop. Now that many of the Pinot fermentations have been finishing up, we’ve been able to start pressing dry lots and racking them to barrel, where they can finish malo-lactic fermentation and give us a chance to start focusing on the Chardonnay.
With last weekend’s heat wave, many of our Rosemary’s and Oliver’s Chardonnay blocks got just the push they needed to finish ripening. As the seemingly endless bins of Chardonnay arrive we will send them straight to the presses to be whole cluster pressed and then put straight to barrel for fermentation.
During hot weather weeks like this, we really see what a difference it makes that our vineyard crews hand harvest at night. On big pick days the crews will start anywhere from 8 PM to midnight and continue until sunrise, delivering beautiful, cool fruit that’s ready to be processed at the winery. Big thanks to the vineyard crews for all their hard work and crazy hours to get us the best fruit possible!
So far harvest 2012 looks like a dream come true. After the vintages of 2010 and 2011, which featured excellent quality, but lower yields, 2012 looks to be one of those very special years that combines exceptional quality and good production, especially for pinot noir. Best of all, the weather forecast for the next few weeks looks just like what we've had for the past two months--highs in the mid to upper 70s.
While weather is important to the quality of the finished wines, the key role that our production team plays can't be understated. Winemaker Eric Johnson has been with us 5 years and has come to know the characteristics that make each of our vineyards special and unique. He is ably assisted by Assistant Winemaker Nicole Pope, Cellarmaster Ignacio Zarate (who just celebrated 30 years in our family farming operations), Nicole Morris and a great team of Cal Poly interns.
The vineyard team is charged with farming our vineyards and ensuring that the grapes are harvested as gently and efficiently as possible. This team is lead by Vineyard Manager Kevin Wilkinson and Travis Monk, who will assume the role of Vineyard Manager after this harvest. Longtime Vineyard Foreman Daniel Martinez leads a dedicated and experienced vineyard crew during late night and early morning harvests to ensure that the grapes arrive at the winery early and cool.
The final element that will make the wines of 2012 so special is the deployment of the right tools to capture all of the potential quality of the vintage. These include a state-of-the-art destemmer that very gently removes the grapes from the stems, vibrating tables that allow for careful sorting of clusters and individual berries, and a stainless steel basket press that gently extracts the wine from the skins.
Perfect weather, a great team, and all the right tools--it all adds up to what I believe will be a very special vintage.
Regular readers of the Winegrower’s Blog might point out that Winemaker Eric Johnson announced the start of harvest in his August 17 post. Indeed, we harvested two small lots of pinot noir for a rosé and a sparkling wine. Both of these wines are made in a low alcohol, clean crisp style that calls for harvest much earlier than for our classically styled pinot noir. Removing these two outliners from the equation, our harvest started about 1 week later than it has over the past 2 years.
If you visit the winery now, you can watch our cellar crew making wine, but you will be hard pressed to see anyone harvesting grapes. This is because almost all of our harvesting is done at night. This keeps the grapes as cool as possible and also helps with harvest flow because the first grapes are already at the winery when the winemaking team arrives in the morning.
Many people ask me, “how is 2012?” It’s a very simple question, but the answer unfolds over time as we gather more information. Here’s what I can say now. Because this was a relatively dry growing season, we’ve experienced less mildew and botrytis pressure than normal. This generally implies better quality. The crop is about average in size for chardonnay, and above average for pinot noir. I sum it up as “good quality, good crop.” We will have a much better idea after we’ve harvested more and the first wines go dry.
In January, when we conduct our first extensive tastings of the vintage, we can draw more conclusions. Finally, in the late spring of 2013, we will conduct the tastings that will determine the Single Vineyard Selections and the Estate wines for the vintage. That’s when I can more definitively answer the question “how was 2012?”
If you want another person’s perspective of our 2010 vintage wines, I invite you to check out the Wine Advocate Reviews that just came out.
I probably shouldn’t include this one in my top ten list of over-used phrases in the tasting room. I hear very similar questions almost every day, about whether the blueberries, strawberries, and buttered biscuit are actually added to the wine. I only include this in the over-used list because lots of people ask just to be facetious, and it certainly doesn’t help that we have tons of rosemary planted in our parking area. When someone asks this question seriously, it’s awesome because it gives me the opportunity to completely enlighten a customer about the world of wine. This is all the more rewarding this time of year because I have the ability to actually show guests the winemaking process from beginning to end without them having to visualize it.
For me, harvest is the time of year when I can give my voice a rest and let the winery do the talking. Harvest tours are perfect for explaining the process because every step is going on at the same time. One batch of pinot noir is being sorted while another is just beginning to ferment. Chardonnay and pinot noir are being pressed, though one is releasing juice from the skins and another is turning into wine. Why stop with the sights and smells? If there is fruit, juice, or wine to be tasted on tours – then we will certainly taste. How better to learn about fermentation than to taste the juice before, and the wine after? You may ask why malolactic fermentation and barrel aging is important in many wines? Put your glass under the press and catch a little pinot noir on its first day of being wine to find out.
Be careful, however, on harvest tours – you might just be put to work! “Learn by doing” as they say at Cal Poly, is the second best way to learn about wine other than tasting. You might be convinced to do a few punch-downs or even try your hand at sorting clusters. Don’t worry – I won’t make anyone wash any harvest bins or clean out any tanks – we’ll leave that up to the pros. If nothing else, you’ll learn that Rosemary is a person and that none of the herb is used in our wine production.
Harvest is just around the corner and I thought I this would be a great time to discuss one of the most important pieces of equipment at the winery. The wine press is used to extract juice (in the case of white wine) or wine (for red) from the grapes. We have a number of presses at the winery. Here’s an introduction to each, from smallest to largest. Winemaker Eric Johnson is in each picture to lend perspective.
Ethan’s Press—this small press belongs to Ethan Etnyre, local doctor, friend of the winery and home winemaker. His wife Karen gave it to him a few years ago as a gift. Ethan has determined that he prefers to bring the grapes he grows at his house to Talley Vineyards to be pressed, so we accommodate him. Consequently, this press doesn’t get much use. Maybe we’ll use it for a micro batch this year, just for fun.
Traditional Basket Press—This small basket press was recently restored by my friend Stan Shahan, who also happens to be a home winemaker. It now stands near the front door of the tasting room and is a real showpiece. Like all traditional basket presses, it employs a steel plate that is ratcheted down from the top, applying pressure to the must (crushed red grapes). The basket consists of slats of oak. The wine runs into a steel channel at the bottom, then into a bucket or other small container.
New Basket Press—This is Winemaker Eric Johnson’s pride and joy. It is the state-of-the-art press used in the production of many of the best red wines produced in the world, including our single vineyard pinot noirs. It works with the same principle as the traditional wood basket press, though employs a hydraulic ram (as opposed to a hand rachet system). It is also made of stainless steel. This press yields beautiful clear red wine with soft tannins.
Europress—This is a tank press. While the basket press is ideal for red wine production, this is perfect for white wine, especially chardonnay. All of our chardonnay is whole cluster pressed, which yields clean juice with good acid balance and little phenolic bitterness. Whole clusters of grapes are loaded into the press, through doors at the top. Inside the press is a giant bag that inflates with air. The juice runs into the pan at the bottom of the press before being pumped into a tank. Check out this video on operating the press taken in 2009, back when Eric Johnson, now winemaker, was the enologist at Talley Vineyards.
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.|
This week we started grape sampling our Pinot Noir blocks in West Rincon and Rosemary’s Vineyards. Now that we are at nearly 90% veraison (almost all the pinot berries have changed color from green to purple), it’s time to start watching the sugar and acid levels to determine when each block is ready to be harvested.
Our harvest intern, Patrick, spends the early mornings walking the vineyard rows of 10 to 20 different blocks to sample a mix of grape clusters that accurately represent the maturity of each block. Once the grapes arrive at the winery they go through a mini crusher and are strained into beakers to be tested in the lab. We measure sugar levels in degrees Brix using a digital densitometer and we measure acidity with a pH meter. Check out our video with our Assistant Vineyard Manger, Travis Monk.
Rosemary’s Vineyard is the furthest along, with a few blocks at 22 Brix and a pH of 3.05, putting us just a couple weeks away from harvest. Generally we pick our Pinot at around 25 Brix and a pH of 3.4, but our picking decisions are not made just by looking at the numbers. Flavor maturity, tannin development and visual cues in the vineyard are all key factors in the decision-making before every pick.