It’s 9:30am on Thursday, October 24th and we just picked our last block of grapes. This concludes the 2013 harvest at Talley that began on August 30th. Harvest, harvest, harvest. I heard that word so much the month before we picked our first grapes that I’d find myself harvesting in my dreams. I was hired in July as the Harvest Intern, assisting Travis Monk, the Vineyard Manager at Talley Vineyards. Everything that I worked on prior to harvest led to this almost mythical happening in the vineyard world known as The Harvest. You see, I came from a different world of fruit and vegetable production and although I had participated in many harvests, none of them ever began with this much anticipation. I thought, “How hard can it be?” Ha! What a naïve harvest intern! There are reasons for the anticipation and there are many reasons why vineyard harvests are different. I wish I could articulate on these many reasons but my mind is recovering from the past 7+ weeks. So instead, how about I recap some of the good and the ugly from my first harvest at Talley Vineyards?
It all started by agreeing to shave my beard. Eric Johnson, the winemaker, and Travis decided to incorporate the tradition of harvest beards, which is basically giving oneself a clean shave to start harvest and then not shaving for the duration. It had been some time since I last rocked the clean shaven look and I didn’t recognize the baby face under the whiskers, nor did my wife or our one-year old son. So the next morning we started our first pick at 5:30 in the morning and I felt the cold air on my face for the first time in a long time. The first pick was done in a few hours and I was still wondering why all the fuss about harvest.
Well, the next week the dial was turned up and we found ourselves in full-go harvest. Starting at 5:33 am seemed like a long-gone dream as the start times went from 4:30 to 3:30 to 2:30 to 1:30 am in the morning, and finally to 10 pm at night. The nights became a blur but the adrenaline kept us going and the caffeine kept us focused. There were some very cold nights out in Oliver’s Vineyard and nights like the one when we picked Rosemary’s Block 7 with the Harvest Moon and warm air abound. Harvest became an endless rotation of bins and harvest trailers. It was spending many hours with our awesome crew, learning new words in Spanish, and making them laugh at my bad Spanish. It was getting to the coffee before the production crew showed up and hoping there might be one frozen breakfast sandwich left. It was driving to work on empty roads at night and watching little towns pop up as we raised our lights and began picking grapes. There were lots of frozen meals eaten, washed down with Emergen-C and Zicam. Then there were those beautiful fall sun rises that came like a paycheck for those cold hours working through the night.
My first harvest at Talley Vineyards was hard but very rewarding. I learned a ton from Travis and our crew. As difficult as it was at times, I always felt a part of the team here at Talley and that made it all much easier. I’m happy that it’s over and that I’m able to catch up on some sleep and spend time with my family. However, it was a great experience that I hope I’m a part of for years to come. Oh, and my beard grew back and my kid recognizes me again.
These bells have just been washed and about to be sorted by size and grade.
Visitors to the winery are often surprised at the diversity of crops they see growing in the fields adjacent to the Rincon Vineyard. In fact, our family farming heritage stretches back 65 years to 1948 when my grandfather began growing vegetables here in the Arroyo Grande Valley. That tradition continues to this day, and just as fall is our peak harvest period for wine grapes, so too is it for our vegetable production. The single biggest crop that we grow at Talley Farms is bell peppers, and the entire crop is harvested between early August and mid-November. Just as in our vineyards, we’ve enjoyed a bumper crop of bell peppers, with perhaps the best yields in our history. This is attributable to near perfect growing conditions as well as continuous improvement and refinement of our growing practices under the leadership of my cousin, Ryan Talley, who oversees our vegetable farming operations.
In addition to bell peppers, we grow about 20 different kinds of fruits and vegetables, many of which we grow exclusively for Talley Farms Fresh Harvest, www.talleyfarmsfreshharvest.com, our weekly harvest box program. Because of the extremely moderate climate of the Arroyo Grande Valley, it is one of the few places in the world where vegetables can be grown year round, though the selection varies with the season. Right now we are producing beautiful tomatoes, basil, squash, pasillas, jalapenos, beans, lettuce and padron peppers. In the winter, we focus on leeks, beets, radishes and Brussels sprouts. We grow items like green onions, carrots, spinach, cilantro, lemons, avocados and nappa cabbage year round.
One of my favorite seasonal projects is the annual pumpkin patch that we grow in conjunction with Branch Elementary School. This project was conceived by my dad as a fundraiser for the school almost 15 years ago when my daughters attended Branch. Now Ryan (who currently has two daughters at the school) oversees the project. This is a great local fundraiser and a great place for locals to get pumpkins and decorative gourds for the autumn season. They are available for purchase every day in the Tasting Room, or you can come out on the weekend and pick your own. Enjoy the bounty of the season!
It’s my first Harvest here at Talley and I could not be more excited! I started as a part-time Tasting Associate in late November of 2012 and was just recently promoted to Tasting Room Assistant Manager and Event Coordinator. To say it’s been a whirlwind year for me adjusting to a new career and life here on the Central California Coast is an understatement. By now I’ve experienced every season and worked at every party and event here at Talley, waiting all the while with great anticipation for the biggest one of them all; Harvest. The exhilarating buzz of both the copious amounts of bees and staff activity around the winery and cellar right now is palpable. As I come and go from the Tasting Room each day, I find myself coming in a little early just to see what the production crew is up to as they fly past in forklifts to and from the crush pad, the fermenters and the many barrels being filled. It’s endlessly fascinating and the education I’m receiving just walking past the winery each day is priceless.
Working here at Talley also means I was lucky enough to be able to spend a day with our winemaker Eric Johnson, the Production Staff and Harvest Interns who were kind enough to show me the ins and outs of the Burgundian winemaking techniques that are practiced here at Talley. That means up and at ‘em at 4am to be here by 5am when the grapes arrive after being hand-harvested in the wee morning hours by our vineyard crews. I was then put to work in the very sticky business of grape sorting, the back-breaking task of punch downs and the clean-up process of all the equipment. I also learned about the relentless lab work of monitoring the fruit. Although I’d heard plenty of stories of what the harvest season entails from the production staff throughout the past year, it’s not until you spend a day in their rubber boots do you fully understand the truly exhaustive nature of Harvest. Sunburned faces, calloused hands and grape-splattered clothes are practically de rigueur. I was utmost impressed by the crew’s ability to complete these grueling, repetitive tasks while somehow maintaining their cool and sense of humor amidst the constant cyclone of yellow jackets surrounding their every move. Bee stings are an unfortunate part of the job and the staff think nothing of working right through the pain of the red, swollen stings, as well as a fuzzy Benadryl induced haze. Punch downs are their own form of a CrossFit workout and should be considered nothing less. That said, as arduous as breaking through some of the thick grape skin caps can be, once you do and the magenta foam comes burbling up as it releases the carbon dioxide, it’s also incredibly gratifying work. Not to mention you feel a part of the history and time-honored tradition of participating in the process of making handcrafted wine. Which is - to put it in layman’s terms - as legit as it gets. Then again I’ve only done one punch down and it took me about two hours to get through all the fermenters. Punch downs happen three times a day here. You do the math.
The next day, as I slept in until the luxurious hour of 8am with every muscle aching, I couldn’t help thinking that I’m pretty sure I don’t have what it takes to actually work a harvest. Our vineyard and harvest staff does this toil seven days a week for up to two months straight. Uff da! (as my Minnesota grandparents would say). The next time I’m sweating in the hot sun while setting up a couple of dozen tables and chairs for an event, I’ll count my blessings I have it so easy.
As Harvest continues throughout October, I find myself already looking forward to the future release of these 2013 Pinot Noir’s that I helped in some tiny aspect on their way to the bottle. It goes without saying that I’m already a big fan of Talley wines, but from now when I take a sip I’ll be thinking about how much I admire the effort and talent of the Talley staff who make it possible.
After I was asked to write this week’s blog, I decided to look back through the past few entries and remind myself of the topics that have been recently covered. It turns out it has been one topic and one topic only – harvest. When I realized our weekly blogs had become so focused, two questions immediately came to mind.
First of all, I wondered, “Is harvest as fascinating to our readers as we seem to believe?” This question was fairly easy to answer and it turns out our readers do find the subject quite fascinating. A quick check of the numbers confirmed that each week our blog readers come back to get the latest harvest news.
|Scout & Buster|
The second question that popped into my mind wasn’t so simple to answer. One blog after another recounted my colleagues’ hard work in making harvest successful and I couldn’t help but think, “What is my contribution to harvest?” Nothing came to mind. Other than offering sympathetic looks, I don’t have a whole lot I can do to support our vineyard and cellar crews. But desperately wanting to believe I am important to the process, I thought on until it occurred to me – my harvest contribution goes to the dogs. Literally.
When our winemaker Eric Johnson and I ended up with dogs that are littermates, neither of us thought much of it. I assumed my dog and I would go our way and Eric and his dog would go theirs. But it turns out our dogs are more than brother and sister, they are also best friends. So Eric and I are no longer just colleagues, we are the owners of the world’s greatest dogs, siblings and best buddies, Scout and Buster. And I’ve decided that when Buster virtually moves in with me and Scout for the harvest season, that is me making my important contribution to harvest. The winemaker may be working 7 days a week, arriving at the winery hours before sun-up, with critical decisions on his mind, but at least he doesn’t have to worry about his dog.
A few years from now, while enjoying some 2013 Talley Vineyards wine, I will look back on this harvest and convince myself I made sacrifices that helped make it a good one. I had to deal with two crazy dogs, they may have chewed up furniture, chased my neighbor’s cat, gotten into the trash, but these are necessary inconveniences in my efforts to support harvest 2013.
|"Is harvest over yet?"|