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Winegrower's Blog

Brian Talley, Vintner
September 27, 2013 | Brian Talley, Vintner

Harvest 2013 - Fast Pace, Good Quality

Harvest began almost a month ago on August 30, which was a very typical start date for us.  Relative to the past three years, the difference has been in the pace of harvest since the start, which has been fast.  It kicked off with a warm period over Labor Day weekend and for the first week of September which ripened just about all of the chardonnay and pinot noir in Rosemary’s Vineyard.  Things cooled dramatically after that, which slowed everything down.  In fact some sugar levels actually went down, implying that the grapes were rehydrating.  Another warming trend coincided with the Harvest Moon, which quickened our pace again.  At this point, we are about 65% done with our harvest in the Arroyo Grande and Edna Valleys and anticipate being just about complete by October 10.  So far all of the lots of pinot noir we’ve pressed off have had good clean flavors and elegant texture, similar to 2012.

Speaking of the Harvest Moon, check out this video we shot on September 19.  It shows every step in our process of producing pinot noir from night harvest in the early morning, through destemming, pressing and finishing with the last punch downs of the day.  I also have a short video with Eric Johnson discussing night harvest at Rosemary’s Vineyard.  Enjoy!

Travis Monk, Vineyard Manager
September 20, 2013 | Travis Monk, Vineyard Manager

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. 

Michele Good, Director of Business Operations

Reflections on Harvest's Past

I participated in my first official harvest at Talley in 1994 (has it been that long?), the year I started here as the Tasting Room Manager in the old adobe.   During that harvest we had an afternoon when it started raining and Brian called every employee out to the Rincon Vineyard to help pick some chardonnay so that it wouldn’t rot.  I remember starting at the top of a row of vines, well above the ladies vineyard crew, more often cutting my fingers than actually cutting off bunches of grapes, only to be passed up by the crew who managed to finish 30 vines before I even finished my one.  A very humbling experience, but a fond memory being part of that first harvest and it gave me a very early appreciation of the expertise of the folks that tend the vines on a daily and yearly basis.  That was the same harvest that we had the intern Bridget, from Switzerland, who told us that she “came from a willage of vitches” and that she was a “good vitch”.  After spending time with her, I did not doubt her witch skills, as she said she had put an attraction charm on herself and literally everywhere we went, men would just walk up to her and start talking even if she was already talking to another guy.  Back then our full time winery crew consisted of me, Brian, Johnine, Steve Rasmussen, Jose Cuevas and Nacho Zarate.  Now we are up to about 15 full time staff.

I’ve always enjoyed harvest and try and help out with punch downs whenever I get a chance.  It’s an opportunity for me to get away from 8 hours at a computer and do some physical labor, all while helping out the crew who are usually exhausted and tired and consider punch downs like necessary homework.  Harvest, for me, is also a way to stamp a memory on the passing of each year, given that we live on the Central Coast and seasons don’t really change.  1994, my first harvest, was the year of rain; 1995 was the harvest I was pregnant with my first child; 2005 was the year we had an abundance of crop and made an ice wine since we had to store chardonnay grapes at Glacier Ice Co. until some tanks became  available.  The 2010 harvest holds two opposing feeling for deepest sorrow and one of my greatest joys.  That was the harvest when my mom passed away after struggling with MS for years and also the harvest of the Giant’s first World Series in San Francisco, something I had waited my whole life to experience

Devon, Sandy and Ryan
Cal Poly Interns

I also mark and remember each harvest by the arrival of the interns.  The bright eyed Cal Poly kids doing their required internship or the ones from New Zealand , France or Chile.  They arrive energetic and excited and full of romance about “making wine”.  They hit the wall about half way through, with lack of sleep and frustration from constantly cleaning bins, before regaining the energy of a job well done when the last load is pressed off and put to bed.  The new crop of interns this year are Devon, Ryan and Sandy, and I know I’ll see them go through the same ups and downs as the Jackson’s, Annabell’s and Kelsey’s before them. 


Sandy doing punch down

I will forever remember this 2013 harvest as the one I sent my first kid off to college.  We’ll be taking her to UC Davis in 2 days and hopefully she will find her passion in whatever field she chooses, like I did with wine.   At the time of her college graduation, I’ll open a bottle of the 2013 Rosemary’s Pinot and toast to her future.  One that I hope will include a job that she can stay at for 20 years plus and look back on with great fondness over the people she’s met and experiences she’s had along the way.

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