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Winegrower's Blog

Travis Monk, 2008-2014
 
February 28, 2014 | Travis Monk, 2008-2014

Bring on the Rain

Monte Sereno Vineyard after the first rains.

Batten down the hatches! Winter has finally decided to show up here in Arroyo Grande. Weather experts are calling it a major storm, and if their forecasts are correct, we should be getting pounded by some heavy rain this afternoon. The first storm arrived Wednesday afternoon and brought us about half an inch of rain. The second storm followed bringing us about an inch of rain over night with some heavy winds. This morning has been pretty calm, but the next phase of the storm looks to be building strength out over the ocean and should be arriving on land in the next couple of hours.


 
Rincon Vineyard in the midst of a downpour on Friday morning.

In the vineyard we are just about to wrap up pruning for the year. We' have a little over an acre left to prune of sauvignon blanc in our Oliver's vineyard and should be able to finish this early next week as soon as the fields dry out. A lot of people have been asking me if the heavy rain will hurt us at all in the vineyard, but the truth is we need the water, and we welcome as much rain as we can get. Ideally we get a steady supply of rain during December and January when the vines are still dormant, but unfortunately this year it was pretty dry. Heavy rains now will hold us up a bit, and certainly make this last little bit of pruning a little slower, but we should be able to wrap up the pruning by next week.

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!

Travis Monk, 2008-2014
 
January 10, 2014 | Travis Monk, 2008-2014

The New Year is Underway

Well it's official, the new year is underway. Most of the vineyard employees are returning to work this week and soon we will begin pruning. It's been pretty quiet in the vineyards over the last couple of weeks, but with the warm winter we've been having and the lack of any rain, it's time to begin our season and prepare for bud break in the upcoming weeks.

Currently we are pre pruning. So what is pre pruning? Pre pruning is a step we take just before pruning in some of our blocks, that removes a large portion of last year's growth but will not complete our pruning pass. At pruning we take last year's growth down to 1 or 2 buds for optimal vine balance and grape quality. With pre pruning however, we are only removing the tops of last year's shoots, but still leaving behind 5 to 6 buds.

Following pre pruning, we will revisit these blocks and make our final pruning cuts just before bud break. So why prune twice? It's a good question, and certainly there are a lot of vineyards that do not pre prune, but there are some advantages to it for us at Talley. First, it's a way to keep our vineyard employees working during the slower winter season. As mentioned above, some of our employees enjoy taking a break to return home for the holidays, but for those that don't we can keep them busy pre pruning during this time. Pre pruning also speeds up our pruning process. Because pre pruning does not require much attention to detail, vineyard employees are able to make quick passes through the vineyard removing the excessive growth from last year. When we come back to prune these same vines, the attention to detail will be necessary, but there will also be a lot less growth to fight through and remove. Last, pre pruning also helps to delay bud break a little longer. For this reason we will pre prune in areas of the vineyard that the temperatures can be a little colder. By delaying bud break by just a week or two, we buy ourselves a little more time in not having to worry about frost damage. Late February and March are the riskiest times of year for us here in the Arroyo Grande and Edna valleys as our fresh new vine growth is very susceptible to damage when temperatures drop into the low 30's.

There's a lot that goes into deciding how to prune, and here at Talley we certainly have adopted many different techniques of pruning and training our vines for the utmost quality. This week we will complete one of the last tasks that really helps us in deciding how to prune, our production tasting. All day Wednesday and Thursday, alongside our owner,  winemaker, and assistant winemaker, I will taste through every single lot of wines we produced for 2013. It's a tough job, but somebody's gotta do it, right?

As fun as it sounds to taste wine all day and actually call it work, these next two days are extremely important for many reasons. During the tasting we are scoring each wine on its quality and are focused on being extremely critical. It's important for us to identify the wines we think are the highest quality and discuss why we think they turned out so well, and conversely we identify the wines that we're not so proud of and brainstorm what we can do differently. Green unripe flavors or pale color could indicate a wine that was made from grapes that had not ripened enough or could have been over cropped. Maybe this wine would have benefited from some increased pruning, which would lead to less grapes but potentially higher sugars and more flavor development. Maybe we'll taste a wine we all really like, but look back to find out our yields were extremely low. Changing the pruning technique could be a possible tool to help us get more from this site. This tasting is extremely important and valuable to me as a vineyard manager, and will truly help us make our final pruning decisions before we start pruning next week. After this week one thing's for sure, our pruning plans will be set and my taste buds will be shot! Two full days of wine tasting can be pretty overwhelming, so wish me luck...and pray for some rain!

Travis Monk, 2008-2014
 
December 6, 2013 | Travis Monk, 2008-2014

One of My Favorite Days at Work

Well it's official, winter is here. Unfortunately winter has not yet brought us any rain, but it's sure been cold. I'm sure many of you have seen on the local news the threats that frost brings to farmers here on the Central Coast.  A few people have been asking me what the cold weather means for us at Talley Vineyards. Luckily on the vineyard side of things, the cold winter frosts do not do us much harm. Most of the vines have shut down for the year and are going into dormancy. The leaves have mostly dried up and blown off with the strong winter winds we've been having. Colder temperatures will help to keep these vines dormant until mid to late February. So what the heck do we do the rest of the year? Well, there's still quite a bit going on.

                Our vineyard crews are busy getting ready for next year. There's quite a bit of maintenance work fixing broken end posts, tightening trellis wire and dropping the training wires back down to get them out of the way for next year's growth. The crew has also been busy helping the winery with their winter bottling. The tractor drivers have completed the cover crop planting and will begin to focus on some winter weed control. With the lack of rain, our irrigator has stayed busy getting water to the vines and I've been busy on the computer working on budgets and coming up with next year's pruning plans. We will most likely begin some pre-pruning at the end of the month.

               

So what else is going on at Talley Vineyards? Well today is one of my favorite days of the year to work here at Talley.  Today is the Talley Farms Annual Ranch Barbecue. All the employees from Talley Vineyards and Talley Farms, along with many of our local growers and vendors, will congregate at the packing shed tomorrow around lunch time for a Santa Maria style feast. The tostadas are the biggest hit! It's my favorite event of the year, because it is the one time of the year that nearly all 200+ employees can come together and celebrate the year. It is a great time to let us show thanks to all of our employees for the hard work that makes our business possible. One of the big events of the day is the long term employees photo. Each year the Talley's take an updated group photo with all the employees that have been with the company 20 years or longer. It's amazing how large this group has become and really shows what a great place this is to work. I'm only bringing about 6 years with Talley to the table, so I still have a ways to go before I'm photo worthy, but it's amazing how quickly the seasons pass by. This season is winding down, but the next one is just right around the corner. I hope everyone can enjoy the end of the season and best wishes for a Happy Holiday. 

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.
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!

 
Travis Monk, 2008-2014
 
September 20, 2013 | Travis Monk, 2008-2014

Night Harvesting in the Vineyards

I am going to have to ask you all to forgive my spelling this week, as my simple grammar skills aren’t too sharp during the busy harvest season. Harvest is probably the busiest time of year for both winery and vineyard employees, but here on the central coast harvesting is typically done at night. For us here at Talley, that typically means starting between 2:00am and 4:00am depending on the amount of grapes to pick. A busy harvesting day can typically last for about an eight hour shift and consist of 10-40 tons of grapes depending on the variety.

The reason we are harvesting at night is driven by quality. Temperature is the key here. With daytime temperatures in the upper 70’s to low 80’s (ideally!!!), there is a lot going on inside the grape cluster itself. Higher temperatures typically lead to more maturation which translates to quicker ripening. By picking at night, when the temperatures are typically in the 50’s, sugar levels remain more stable. The grape clusters themselves are also a little more firm at lower temperatures which keeps them from breaking open while we are picking. Both of these factors give the winery a little more control of the grapes being harvested and help them to avoid any surprises down the road with fermentation. Night harvesting is also beneficial for the harvesting crews. Grape harvesting is pretty labor intensive and very fast paced, so lower temperatures allow for longer hours of picking and a more comfortable environment to be working in. The bees don’t come out until mid morning either… a huge benefit!

So obviously it’s dark at night, how the heck do we pull this off? The full moon is key….

Just kidding.Call it superstition, but here at Talley we do have one block that we like to pick during the full moon every year.  In the picture to the left,  you can see the moon dropping behind the hills overlooking Rosemary’s pinot noir. For every other night we depend on diesel generator of lights that we tow behind our tractors. With these lights, we are able to light up the vineyard rows just like it is daytime. Our harvesters also wear headlamps to light up any blind spots that may exist. We typically pick four rows at a time per crew of 8 employees. Each harvester carries a yellow picking bin, “FYB” for those that work in the industry (…use your imagination) that they harvest directly into. These bins can hold up to about 40 pounds of grapes, and are then emptied into a larger macro bin towed behind our harvest tractor. Once the bins on the trailer are full, they’re off to the winery for processing.

Harvest here at Talley began this year on August 30, and will most likely end sometime in mid October with the last of our chardonnay being picked. We have currently picked about 60% of our total pinot noir and about 15% of our chardonnay. There’s still a lot of busy nights ahead of us, that’s for sure, but so far so good. 

Nicole Bertotti Pope, 2010-2014
 

It's Harvest, Baby!

Another harvest is already here!  We’ve only been harvesting for a week and the winery is already packed with fermenters.  With this warm weather, everything seems to be ripening quickly and it is looking like it is going to be an exceptionally fast and intense harvest.  

The 2013 vintage will definitely be a memorable one for me.  This is the ninth grape harvest I’ve worked, my fourth harvest at Talley Vineyards, and my first harvest as a new mother.  The notion of being tired new parents will take on a whole new meaning once we add the onslaught of grapes to the equation.  My husband and I will be passing in the night as he manages night picks at Halter Ranch; and I’m just hoping that our son, Grayson, recognizes our efforts and lets us have some uninterrupted sleep every once in awhile!

Grayson may not understand it yet, but this is just the first of many harvests to come during his childhood, when his parents will be blurry eyed, sticky, and purple handed for weeks on end.  Without a doubt he will become familiar with smells of fermentation in the winery and the sights and sounds of grapes being picked and processed.

We are planning to start a tradition of saving wines from Grayson’s birth year to share with him when he turns 21, and what better wines to save than the age worthy Talley Pinots and Chardonnays that I had a hand in making!    If the beautiful growing conditions continue, the 2013 wines should be spectacular.  Twenty-one years from now, I look forward to opening these wines together and recounting the crazy and wonderful memories we will have from our first vintage as a new family.  Okay, time to get back to those grapes!
 

Pinot noir fermenting in the cellar. Grayson reacts to the news harvest has started!
Time Posted: Sep 6, 2013 at 10:28 AM
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
 
July 19, 2013 | Brian Talley, Vintner

Crop Thinning

The focus of my blog post this week is crop thinning, a critical activity that occurs every year at this time.  Below is a video featuring Vineyard Manager Travis Monk discussing how and why we thin chardonnay.  In summary, we remove clusters from vines where the clusters have a tendency to pile up on one-another.  If we don’t remove some of these clusters, we risk botrytis or mildew, which reduces both quality and the size of the crop.  Enjoy the video!