For the past several weeks, my co-worker Christina Bailey and I have been doing food and wine pairing research in order to come up with a sensory experience to offer Talley customers as a fun way to delve a little deeper into our wines, as well as to help them plan a nice meal at home featuring a Talley Vineyards or Bishop’s Peak wine. Looking back, I think of what a couple of rookies we were back then, with no clue of what a Pandora’s Box we’d opened of convoluted, contradictory information at every turn. Show me a website that says Pinot Noir pairs well with salmon and I’ll show you two that say the metallic taste in your mouth from such a pairing will make your teeth ache. Caesar salad; is it wine’s natural enemy? Or is the garlicky anchovy dressing a dream come true when paired with a citrusy Sauvignon Blanc? (For me, it’s the latter.) Also this news flash: NEVER pair chocolate with red wine. Am I the last to know?! Apparently you’re not to pair chocolate and red wine because the tannins in chocolate ruin the many nuances and complexities of the wine. Port or Muscato wine paired with dark chocolate is the possible exception but it’s one of the few cases where the wine is the sweeter item. So why did I love the milk chocolate Hershey’s kiss with our Estate Pinot Noir so much? I could pair a whole bag of them with a bottle and call it dinner. Is my knowing it’s ruining the wine even though they taste so delicious together to me, still a good enough reason not to do so? Is someone else tasting what I am when I pair these items and actually not enjoying it? And if so, whose right?
Don’t get me wrong, this is the most fun research I’ve ever had to do, as well as a fairly privileged dilemma to have on my plate. Given that, what started out as an exciting journey of putting together a menu quickly spiraled down a rabbit hole into a disorienting world of do’s and don’ts, rules and exceptions, and utter frustration when I myself loved a pairing one day and completely disagreed with myself the next. And then there was the trial tastings with various tasting room, winemaking, sales and production staff members. Not a consensus among them and their tastes when it came to the good, the bad and the ugly. This ironically, has been quite helpful, because I learned even more from the reasons behind their varied opinions. Also, the things you learn about your co-workers when asking them to try such pairings is priceless. Watching Christina struggle to nibble on a tomato (not her favorite food) and choke it down with our Cabernet Sauvignon was an exercise in hilarity. She is the epitome of professionalism in the name of research. And finding out there wasn’t a single food item on our list that our Tasting Room Manager was even willing to eat was even more amusing. In the end, we decided our best bet is to find a majority rules item within all the opinions that makes good pairing sense and not worry about the fact that you can’t please every palate.
After the many weeks of research I’ve put into this project, I should be qualified to hold entire weekend long seminars on the subject. And yet with all the knowledge I’ve absorbed, it seems to be falling back on the old adage “the more you know, the more you don’t.” Not only that, but every food and wine pairing “rule” based on a particular varietal can be discounted entirely given a particular winemaker’s take on that varietal. Until you pair a particular bottle with a particular food item, expect curve balls. For a person like myself, who spends a great deal of free time reading food and wine blogs just for fun, it’s been a most humbling experience trying to put together a fun, educated and eye-opening sensory experience to help people learn how to make smart choices when putting together a nice dinner party. Or helping our customers choose a winning food and wine combination when spending their hard-earned money dining out. But we’re getting there. I mean, it’s not rocket science…but it is science.
If you’ve visited the Talley Vineyards tasting room, you would know that we have a lot of faces behind the bar. It takes a lot of people to cover our staffing needs to be open seven days a week and it’s not very often that we can get them all in the same place at the same time. Earlier this month, however, we were able to get sixteen of us together for an awesome day of wine tasting in Paso Robles.
Entrusting our tasting room to ex-tasting room employees Michele (now our operations manager), Alyssa (now our direct sales manager), and Belinda (now our direct sales assistant), all sixteen of us were chauffeured to Paso Robles, in style, on the Central Coast Trolley. We hit some of the best on the far west side of Paso Robles – Justin, Tablas Creek, Halter Ranch, and Jack Creek.
Beyond tasting a broad variety of different wines, from the delicious cabernets and Bordeaux blends at Justin and Halter Ranch, to the Rhone varietals at Tablas Creek and Jack Creek, the day was a great opportunity for the staff to build camaraderie. Many of our staff members work a few days or less a month, some only on the weekends, and some only during the weekdays. The ability to have our entire team together, learning about wine and witnessing how other wineries operate and being able to socialize and catch up with one another was priceless. It was also a great success in that staff members have given us valuable feedback on the experience, including many ideas that could really strengthen us as we move forward.
For me, the one universal theme that I noticed is that what impressed our group wasn’t so much about the actual winery, but more about how the staff presented them. A visit to the new tasting room at Tablas Creek, the vineyards and caves at Justin, and the new winery facility at Halter Ranch are enough to make anyone in the wine industry very jealous. Following those up with a stop at Jack Creek, an equally remarkable facility at a sliver of the size of the other three, allowed us to see that it’s not all about size of the building. With great hospitality at all four locations, and knowing what a beautiful place and great people we have here at Talley, the key thing I learned is that a successful winery isn’t all about the facility, it is about a group of people with enough passion to produce a great product anywhere.
August has arrived in seemingly no time at all, which is great because I look forward to this month the entire year. While summer traffic begins to die down, a whole new crowd descends on our tasting room. They are here to taste our Single Vineyard Pinot Noirs from Stone Corral, Rincon, and Rosemary’s Vineyards. These three wines, all set to be released on August 25th, represent the best of what each respective vineyard has to offer. If you enjoy the Edna Valley and Estate Pinot Noirs, these wines share the same winemaking style, but with more structure and intensity. I have admitted that it is the Chardonnays here at Talley Vineyards that are my favorites, though I have two reasons to love our pinots – the vast range of food pairings and the even better people watching.
For instance, if you enjoy Chardonnay or Cabernet Sauvignon, how many clones of those varietals can you name? If the answer is none, it may not be that you don’t love your favorite wine varietal as much as “Pinophiles” love theirs. It’s just that while you are drinking your favorite wine, they are spouting off a list of letters and numbers from 2A to 777. Pinot Noir drinkers as a whole tend to want to be more educated more about their wine – they want to know about the punch downs, the cold soak, the yeast, the forests from which the wood for the barrels was harvested. If the last sentences leave you feeling lost, but you want to learn more, visit us for a Harvest Tour to learn all about how we make our Pinot Noirs.
Now to explain my blog title. Pinot Noir drinkers love the word “revisit,” especially as it pertains to tasting more of one of our most popular wines, our Rosemary’s Vineyard Pinot Noir. This definitely qualifies as one of the “well-used phrases in the tasting room,” although it is rarely said so eloquently. My favorite version: “Can you hit me again with another shot of that Rosemary’s Pinot?”
Whether you are a diagnosed Pinot Noir addict or just appreciate the varietal, visit us on August 25th for our annual Pinot Noir Release Day. We will be featuring a flight of all five of our 2010 Talley Vineyards Pinot Noirs, plus a secret selection from our library in a five-liter format. Not to mention there will be food available for purchase by a great new food truck, Anna Andriese’s Haute Skillet, and music by Doug Groshart of the JD Project. I hope to see you there!
I’ve decided to start each of my blogs with a segment that I like to call “well-used phrases in the tasting room.” Some apply to Talley only, some are universal. Here’s one for this week: “Wow, you really must get tired of looking at this view all the time!” For those of you who haven’t been to our tasting room, we have big picture windows that overlook rolling hills, our vineyards, and vegetable fields.
I’ve heard people comment on the view thousands of times, as this July marks my fifth year at Talley Vineyards. During this time, I have met guests from all different corners of the world and enjoyed the pleasure of working with a great group of people over the years. Early on I noticed that this is not the place to work for the private, mind-your-own-business type – this is like having a whole other family. "When are you going to graduate?" "When are you getting married?" "When are you going to wash the 'Just Married' off of your truck?" I’m not complaining here, by the way. I have co-workers and customers who have become friends, on top of having one of the best views from any office, anywhere.
As I’ve enjoyed watching the company grow, I have seen lots of changes and lots of things that have remained the same. The most important things that have stayed the same are the great people which I’ve already mentioned, as well as our lineup of wines. One such wine is our Bishop’s Peak Petite Sirah, a single-vineyard wine entirely from Ranchita Canyon Vineyard in Paso Robles. We have purchased old-vine Petite Sirah grapes from this family vineyard for over a decade, and it is a consistent favorite in the tasting room. During the summertime, you wouldn’t expect our most full-bodied red to be our best seller – though it is! People are flocking in for this wine – and why not? – it’s rich, smooth, and reminds me of a juicy, ripe plum. Come join us for a glass while it lasts!
Early in my winegrowing career, I handled the sales of our wines in Northern California. During that time, I called on a wine shop called Pacific Wine Company, one of the most iconic wine merchants in the United States. It was a badge of honor to sell wine here because they carried an amazing collection of Burgundy and the very best California wines.
In addition to a world class wine selection, Pacific Wine Company was also known for a monthly catalog that featured a distinctive cartoon cover. The cartoons were a collaboration between artist Bob Johnson and Pacific Wine Company owner Mike Lynch. Sadly, Pacific Wine Company closed its doors in the mid 90s after an ill fated move to a new location. But, the cartoons lived on as a feature in Wine Enthusiast Magazine. After a 3 year run there, Mike and Bob moved on to other projects, and the classic “Lynch Bob” cartoon series came to an end…….until now.
As we were brainstorming ideas to get people thinking a little differently about Talley Vineyards, we hit upon the idea of bringing the cartoons back. I’m pleased to announce the first in the series. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do. If you do, be among the first 100 people to mention it in our Tasting Room and receive a free copy.
As the summertime nears, guests in our tasting room are starting to wonder if the weather is ever less than perfect here in the Arroyo Grande Valley. While we do get our fair share of weather, I’m often left scratching my head to think of the last gloomy day. It’s a great time for picnickers, who are loving our new patio tables and lounge furniture – not to mention our outside bar and sauvignon blanc on tap - which we have available on the weekends.
The main feature right now, however, is our lineup of world-class Chardonnays. Displaying the perfect balance of rich fruit and refreshing acidity, it is my secret pleasure to show guests how truly amazing this varietal can be. To learn more about this classic grape, join us for The Chardonnay Experience on June 16th. This is a fun, intimate event that includes tastings of past, present, and future releases from our estate Rincon Vineyard, a winery and vineyard tour, and lunch.
Later on this month, we are gearing up for Roll out the Barrels on June 23rd. This is one of my favorite events of the year – though let’s be honest – I’m going to be at any event that includes a barrel tasting. New this year is the music of Matt Suarez and the Movement, a great local singer-songwriter with a distinct blues/reggae sound. For more information on these and other events this summer, check out our events page. - Andy