Johnine and I have spent the past week in Florida, the second biggest market for our wines outside of California. By the time we finish, we will have traveled more than 1500 miles around the state.
We kicked off the trip with our first ever visit to the Florida Keys, that string of islands south of the main part of the state. We hosted a Wine Dinner at a private club in Key Largo called the Ocean Reef Club where we met many people from the Midwest and East Coast who spend their winters at the club. We also hosted a lunch for 26 customers, many from Key West who drove two hours to meet us and taste our wines, at the historic Cheeca Lodge. As we tasted the wines and talked about the unique character of the Arroyo Grande Valley, I kept thinking about those Corona ads we see on TV. It turns out that many are filmed in this area.
After two days in the Keys, it was time to head toward Miami, where I spent the day calling on customers with Melissa Lugo. We finished the day with a special tasting and dinner at the Hakassan at the Fontainebleu Hotel in Miami Beach. This is an amazing upscale Asian themed restaurant where they are pouring the Estate Pinot Noir by the glass. It was a special evening to taste through our portfolio with the salespeople who represent our wines in the area, and to say thank you to the sommelier at Hakassan who had chosen our wine from a lineup of more than 25 as his selection.
After South Florida we moved to a part of the state I’ve never visited before, the northwest “Panhandle” region. People in this area refer to it as “South Alabama.” We are participating in the annual South Walten Beaches Festival, one of the top 10 wine auctions in the United States, and which raises more than $1 million for local charities. We started with a low key welcome party featuring wine and beer tasting as well as Nashville based songwriters. The weekend includes several tastings, dinners and an auction. It will be a fun way to promote our wines and also raise money for a very worthy cause.
During our travels, we’ve had the pleasure of getting to know the people who sell our wines in the state. Our distributor in Florida, Augustan Wine Imports, sets the standard for the way that wholesale wine companies should operate. The company was originally founded by Proal and Connie Perry in the early 1990s, and we started doing business shortly thereafter. They have instilled a dedication to excellence at Augustan that I find inspiring. Johnine and I have enjoyed getting to know people here who love wine and are as passionate about the wine business as we are. We’re having a great time in Florida, and I encourage you to visit if you haven’t been here recently. The seafood is perfect with our chardonnay and pinot noir!
This week has been one of those weeks that I ask myself “why the heck didn’t I become a banker instead of a farmer?” This question usually runs through my head a few times a year between late February and early April as I am out in the vineyard running frost protection. Typically here in the Arroyo Grande and Edna Valleys, the coldest time of year for us is during the winter when the vines are dormant, but it seems like there is always a cold spell sometime in mid April when Mother Nature decides she wants to show us who is really in control.
As the vines begin to bud in early March, we begin to worry about frost. As temperatures drop into the low 30’s, this year’s delicate new growth can be severely stunted by only a couple hours of below freezing temperatures. Fortunately, we’ve got a few tools in the bag to help battle these cold temperatures. Utilizing some pretty cool technology, our vineyards are all hooked up to weather monitoring stations that send me and my frost supervisor a text message any time the temperature drops below 35 degrees F. From then, it’s a mad dash to hop in the truck and get to the ranch. Typically at this point I’m still about half asleep!
The first step is to turn on the wind machines like you’ll see in Brian’s video below. The wind machines keep the air circulating, (warm air from above, mixed with the cool air on the vineyard floor) preventing the formation of frost. The echoes of the wind machines can be heard from miles away on a really cold and clear night. In some of our vineyards we do not have wind machines, but fortunately we do have plenty of water. In these vineyards we depend on overhead irrigation to keep the vines protected. As water turns to ice, heat is given off and this typically will keep the vines from being damaged. It’s a pretty scary thing when the first light breaks through and you begin to see a thick layer of ice coated around the vines, but amazingly it works.
After these frosty nights, it only takes a few days of warm weather in the vineyard and a few nights of sleep to remind me that I chose the right job. Spring time in our vineyards is pretty hard to beat…as long as there is no frost!
One of the most common questions I get is “when should I drink that?” We had a tasting a few days ago to help answer that question. I sat down with Winemaker Eric Johnson, Vineyard Manager Travis Monk and Cellar Workers Nicole Morris and Pat Sigler for a tasting of 2005-2011 Estate Chardonnay and Pinot Noir—the two signature wines of Talley Vineyards.
We have produced both wines since our very first vintage, in 1986, and these wines are a real barometer of the season. Both are blends from our various vineyard blocks in the Arroyo Grande Valley—historically Rincon and Rosemary’s Vineyards, but soon to incorporate newer plantings in our Monte Sereno and Las Ventanas Vineyards.
We started with the chardonnays. I found the 2005 and 2006 wines to be just a bit past their prime. Both were pleasurable and would be wonderful with rich dishes like grilled chicken, lobster or a triple crème cheese, but they lacked a bit of freshness. The 2007-2010 wines were all in a sweet spot, displaying the lemon curd and mineral notes that make our chardonnays so distinctive. The 2008 especially had an elegant mineral aspect, and was my favorite of the flight. The consensus favorite was the 2010. Everyone loved the potential of the 2011, but felt that it was young relative to the others in the flight. My take home message for Estate Chardonnay, drink 3-6 years after the vintage.
Next we turned our attention to the pinot noirs. As is typical of pinot noir, these wines were more variable by vintage, and tended to evolve more in the glass as they sat open. For instance, many of us loved the delicate floral aroma and hints of leather in the 2005, but felt it faded with air. On the other hand, the 2006 was a leaner and more elegant wine that became more expressive as it sat in the glass. The 2007 and 2009 were riper vintages, emphasizing more black fruit, tannin and power—which some in the group loved and others didn’t. The 2010 had a beautiful floral aspect and penetrating raspberry elegance. The 2011 built on the character of the 2010, but with more richness. Feelings about these wines were all over the place—which is typical of pinot noir, and why it’s such a fickle grape to work with. All of these are fun to drink now. Cheers!
So I’ll just assume that you’ve heard about the Talley Farms Fresh Harvest program. (If not http://talleyfarmsfreshharvest.com ) Being part of this very inspiring produce program for almost a year now, I’ve started thinking different about dinner, and also where it comes from. I’ve noticed I’m not the only one.
After the last few decades of growing ingenuity in the food industry to produce more processed and genetically modified foods in large corporate facilities, the pendulum has really begun to swing the other way in the foodie culture. There has been a significant boom in the “eating local” movement, and with that, a public interest in supporting and meeting their local farmers and ranchers. I, along with the other 1,000 or so members that get a weekly Fresh Harvest box definitely fall into this category.
It’s my opinion that the wine industry initiated this way of thinking. For years, wine drinkers have willingly been inundated with information about terroir, vineyard practices, and the farming ethics that all contribute to the differing profiles of their wines. General interest in this topic has been piqued and it’s only natural that it would translate to food and other products. But really, who would have ever guessed that a discussion about soil, irrigation, and pesticides would be so necessary- especially at meal time?
Recently, there have been several new food and wine events created in an effort to bring the public closer to their local growers. This month alone, there are two major events here on the Central Coast that aim to put farmers, wineries, and consumers together. Talley Vineyards will be participating in both.
First, we will be attending the Earth Day Food and Wine Festival on April 20th up at Pomar Junction in Paso Robles http://earthdayfoodandwine.com. This very hip annual event celebrates everything food and wine with a focus on sustainable, bio-dynamic, and organic. Second, we will be participating in the first annual Farmfest at the Dinosaur Caves Park in Shell Beach http://www.slowine.com/events/farmfest.php. This event will feature over 25 wineries and an unprecedented number of local producers from Central Coast Creamery to our own Talley Farms Fresh Harvest!
At Talley Vineyards, and now Talley Farms, we’re always eager for an opportunity to educate. Hopefully you too will have the chance to attend these events and “shake the hand that feeds you”.