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.
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!