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Winegrower's Blog

Brian Talley, Vintner
 
March 28, 2014 | Brian Talley, Vintner

Eric, Travis and Brian’s Excellent Adventure


 

Eric listens to Paul Draper of
Ridge Vineyards

Last week I took Winemaker Eric Johnson and Vineyard Manager Travis Monk on a field trip to visit some of my favorite wineries in California.  I find it inspiring to visit people who are as passionate and committed as we are here at Talley Vineyards.  We started on Monday with a visit to Ridge Vineyards, the legendary producer of Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon located high in the Santa Cruz Mountains, overlooking the Silicon Valley.  Paul Draper, one of the icons of California wine, shared with us the amazing history of Monte Bello, the estate vineyard that produces one of California’s most highly regarded Cabernets.  Before we knew it, three hours had passed and we were scrambling to make it to San Francisco in time for dinner at Restaurant Gary Danko.

Tuesday was all about pinot noir and chardonnay.  Longtime Williams Selyem Winemaker Bob Cabral shared his insights on the evolution of his iconic pinot noir over the last 17 years.  We finished with a tour of the estate vineyard which features a field blend of various pinot noir clones before joining our friends David Fischer and Cameron Frey for lunch and a comprehensive tasting of Ramey wines.  Much like Talley Vineyards, they focus on flavor development and balance in their elegantly crafted chardonnays.


 

Eric and Travis at Williams Selyem.

The Sonoma County chardonnay and pinot noir theme continued on Wednesday.  We took an extensive tour of the Littorai property just outside Sebastopol with much focus on Ted Lemon’s biodynamic farm and a tasting of some of the most elegant chardonnay and pinot noir produced in California.  After that, we joined Geoff Labitzke for a tasting at Kistler Vineyards, which many consider to be the benchmark for Sonoma County chardonnay.

Thursday’s visits were focused in the Napa Valley.  Failla is a winery owned by Winemaker Ehren Jordan that is located south of Calistoga on the Silverado Trail though the majority of this wines come from grapes grown on the Sonoma Coast.  We were impressed with Ehren’s outside the box thinking with respect to winegrowing and the impeccable balance of his wines.  Our final visit of the trip was to Tim Mondavi’s Continuum Estate on Pritchard Hill in the Napa Valley.  It was great to tour this amazing site, though it was even better to talk to Tim Mondavi, taste the current release of Continuum and learn how his long tenure as the Winemaker at Robert Mondavi informs his approach now.  It was an inspiring and thought provoking week and I can’t wait to do it again!

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.

 

 

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
Travis Monk, Vineyard Manager
 

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!

Nicole Morris, Cellar Assistant
 

The Calm After the Storm

My name is Nicole Morris and I am the cellar assistant here at Talley Vineyards.  As you may have heard, 2013 was a plentiful and intense harvest. Harvest 2013 was my seventh in the wine industry. As much fun as it was, I am glad it is over.

Now that we have time to sit back and reflect on the long hours and craziness we have just endured, there are still many winery tasks that need to be accomplished. Currently we have over twenty fermenters that are in the late stages of fermentation. They are mostly Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Verdot, and Syrah. Towards the end of harvest, the cooler temperatures in the cellar contribute to a slower fermentation time. Most of these reds varietals, which are from the Paso Robles area, will be finished fermenting and pressed off by next week.

Another task we are working on is the consolidation of the chardonnay barrels. Chardonnay that is fermented in barrels is initially filled only three-fourths full. The head space is left for the fizzle and foam of fermentation. So a 60 gallon barrel is only filled with chardonnay to 45 gallons. A barrel filled to the top would overflow leaving the liquid gold, as we call the foam, all over the barrel room floor. Still, some barrels do end up overflowing during fermentation.  Once the fermentation is complete the barrels are consolidated, filled and topped off. They will now go through secondary fermentation and age in the cellar.

Eventually, all barrels in the barrel room will be topped off and stored. From here on out, barrel topping will happen about once a month because about a half a gallon of wine evaporates from a barrel each month. This head space from evaporation puts wine in a more vulnerable state for spoilage organisms to take over. Topping the barrels prevents this from happening.

The intensity of harvest is coming to an end and we are being rewarded by the beautiful autumn colors in the vineyard. Even though we are we are still keeping busy with these “end of harvest” activities, one cannot help but feel accomplished and surprised that yet another harvest has passed. We here at Talley Vineyards are very excited to see the results of the 2013 harvest, and even more excited about having a whole weekend off.

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!

 
Nicole Bertotti Pope, Assistant Winemaker
 

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.
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

 
Nicole Bertotti Pope, Assistant Winemaker
 

Bottling Pinot Noir and Single Vineyard Chardonnay

It’s that time of year again.  The winery seems to move into hibernation mode after harvest, with the 2012 wines aging in barrel and the vines dormant.  And then the bottling line gets started up and the clanking of bottles begins.  To be honest, bottling days don’t usually rank high as a favorite winemaking activity among winemakers and production staff.  The stringent quality control guidelines, repetitive work, and endless bottling line repairs and adjustments just can’t compete with the fun of harvest days, fermentations, tastings, blend trials, and all that other good stuff we get to call work. 

Bottles before the labels Bottles after the labels

The bright side of bottling is that we are always excited to see our finished wines going into bottle. It is the point when the wines leave our hands to begin the bottle aging process and eventually be released to the public. Last week was an especially enjoyable bottling run because we got to see the delicious 2011 Single Vineyard Chardonnays get bottled!  This week was equally as enjoyable as we bottled the 2011 Estate Pinot Noir which by all indications, will be a great bottle of wine.

We are also excited to announce that we have added a new Single Vineyard bottling to the already great lineup of Rosemary’s, Rincon, and Oliver’s Chardonnays.  The 2011 Monte Sereno Chardonnay comes from our smallest vineyard, located just a couple miles west of the winery in the Arroyo Grande appellation.  The 2011 bottling is a blend of the two blocks comprising both clone 548 and clone 4.  The finished wine showcases beautiful tropical aromas and a rich, creamy texture on the palate.  We only made two barrels of this delicious wine, so if you can get your hands on it you’ll be in for a treat!  

 

Time Posted: Feb 15, 2013 at 12:15 PM