The wine industry is an amazing industry to work in. Wine is made in so many places throughout the world. We have the ability to travel around talking to growers and winemakers to learn more and more about refining our craft. One of the many perks.
Last week I was lucky enough to travel to France with Brian Talley and explore the Mecca of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Burgundy, France. I have been visited Burgundy before but not like this. This time I felt that I was really able to ingrain myself in the area, the vineyards, the wines, and the culture. We were staying in the middle of Burgundy at the Francois Frères house in St. Romain, a small town outside of Beaune. Francois Freres are our main supplier of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay barrels at Talley. The Francois’ are such an amazing family and their hospitality is unlike anyone I have met.
From St. Roamin we traveled to Domaine Jacques-Frederic (Freddy) Mugnier in Chambolle- Musigny. He is a very humble man with a masterful winemaking touch. I absolutely loved his wines. We were lucky enough to barrel taste his 2012’s and taste through most of his 2011’s. He even brought out a 1993 Chambolle-Musigny that blew everyone’s mind. For its age, it still had great youth and energy.
From Chambolle we would travel to Gevrey-Chambertin for a visit to Domaine Fourrier. We were able to taste through a vast majority of their 2011’s. Great wines with amazing structure. These wines will have no problem ageing for years to come. From Gevrey-Chambertin we traveled south to the illustrious home of white Burgundy Puligny-Montrachet and a visit to the famed Domaine Leflaive. Leflaive has been one of my favorite Chardonnay producers for a while now and it was amazing to be able to visit and taste through their 2011’s. The depth of flavor, finesse, and searing acidity leaves no doubt in your mind as to why Domaine Leflaive is one of the greatest Chardonnay producers in the world.
Our last visit was to the jack of all trades Domaine Comte Lafon. I say that because owner/ winemaker Dominique Lafon not only produces amazing Meursault and Montrachet but just as amazing Volnay and Monthelie. It’s pretty unique that Lafon produces red and white Burgundy especially at the quality that they do. His wines have an amazing intensity but a beautiful elegance that drifts throughout the palette. I would say Dominique was the most open winemaker we spoke to. It didn’t matter how technical or intrusive the question was, he answered it. I have to say I probably learned the most speaking with Dominique. Looking back at my notes, Most of them involve things he said regarding the way he likes to make wine. My favorite topic was how to achieve the optimal amount of “noble” reduction in his white Burgundies. A technique that has eluded me in the past yet one that I would love to figure out because I find this characteristic irresistible in Chardonnays.
My Burgundian travels reminded me why Burgundy is the Mecca of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. It is the mother land when it comes to these grapes and there really is no place like it. As we were leaving Domain Mugnier I asked Freddy Mugnier what advice he could give to a young winemaker such as myself. He stood silent for a moment until his eyes lit up saying, “I always accomplish more when I do less.” The perfect advice that I will never forget
It’s that time of year again. The winery seems to move into hibernation mode after harvest, with the 2012 wines aging in barrel and the vines dormant. And then the bottling line gets started up and the clanking of bottles begins. To be honest, bottling days don’t usually rank high as a favorite winemaking activity among winemakers and production staff. The stringent quality control guidelines, repetitive work, and endless bottling line repairs and adjustments just can’t compete with the fun of harvest days, fermentations, tastings, blend trials, and all that other good stuff we get to call work.
|Bottles before the labels||Bottles after the labels|
The bright side of bottling is that we are always excited to see our finished wines going into bottle. It is the point when the wines leave our hands to begin the bottle aging process and eventually be released to the public. Last week was an especially enjoyable bottling run because we got to see the delicious 2011 Single Vineyard Chardonnays get bottled! This week was equally as enjoyable as we bottled the 2011 Estate Pinot Noir which by all indications, will be a great bottle of wine.
We are also excited to announce that we have added a new Single Vineyard bottling to the already great lineup of Rosemary’s, Rincon, and Oliver’s Chardonnays. The 2011 Monte Sereno Chardonnay comes from our smallest vineyard, located just a couple miles west of the winery in the Arroyo Grande appellation. The 2011 bottling is a blend of the two blocks comprising both clone 548 and clone 4. The finished wine showcases beautiful tropical aromas and a rich, creamy texture on the palate. We only made two barrels of this delicious wine, so if you can get your hands on it you’ll be in for a treat!
It’s winter time, which might seem like a slow time around the winery, but that’s not the case. In reality, some of the most important activities in our winegrowing happen now.
In the vineyard, this is when we prune. Critical decisions that will affect the crop for this season, as well as subsequent years, are made right now. It all depends on how many buds we leave on the vine. More buds mean more potential crop, but less vigorous growth. These decisions are made on a block-by-block basis depending on previous growth and our production goals. This is an area where quality, focus and attention to detail really pay off, and I’m proud of our vineyard team. To see a video of pruning, check out our pinot noir pruning video .
In the winery we are focused on nother critical activities. One of these activities is our assessment of the quality of the previous vintage. Eric Johnson, Nicole Pope, Travis Monk and I conducted a complete tasting of every wine we produced from the 2012 vintage (more than 150 separate lots) on January 14 and 15. As we suspected, quality is excellent across the board with juicy approachable wines reminiscent of the highly successful 2005 vintage.
It is during these blind tastings that we first recognize special wines that are likely candidates for our single vineyard bottlings. Last January, we discovered how much we enjoyed the 2011 Monte Sereno Vineyard Chardonnay and East Rincon Vineyard Pinot Noir; so much so that we decided to release these as separate Single Vineyard Selections for the first time ever. We bottled only two barrels of each of these—so I anticipate that they will sell out immediately upon release. Enjoy!
With a little over a week left before we celebrate the coming of 2013, I wish everyone a very merry Christmas and a happy New Year! While it is not my style to get sentimental and reminisce about highlights of the year gone past, 2012 is a little bit different. In the most succinct terms possible, it really was a great year.
As it pertains to my life and what I’m passionate about, two amazing things happened this year. First, and most importantly, this is the year I married my amazing wife, Erin. On April 14th, the Talley family was gracious enough to allow us to host our small, intimate wedding ceremony in the barrel room. After six years of dating and now over six months of marrage, I am happy to be able to tell everyone that married life is great!
Secondly, 2012 was an awesome vintage for just about every region of California, especially here on the central coast. While I am proud to have been a part of Talley Vineyards for what has been a really excellent string of vintages (2007-2012), this year is special because it is the first year in a while with both high quality and above-average yields. Some of you may know that I dabble in wine production. This is the second year that the Talleys have allowed us to tend a section of vines in Edna Valley and make a small batch of wine. I, my wife, and co-workers, Mike and Ken, harvested twice the fruit as last year and so far we think the wine may be twice as good! Furthermore, now that some of the wines in the barrel room have had a few months of age, we are really starting to see that the Talley chardonnays and pinot noirs are going to be very special wines.
For a wine geek like myself, there is no better feeling than knowing that I can stock up on the 2012 vintage when they come out and be assured that the quality of the wine is going to reflect the way I feel about the year in which the fruit was grown. Since we have some time before those wines come out, I’m going to go back to my first vintage here at Talley and enjoy a bottle of 2007 Rincon Vineyard Pinot Noir for Christmas. For the rest of you, I suggest that you pull out a great bottle and share some stories with loved ones about the special things that happened in your lives this year. Cheers!
Harvest is finally over. Well almost over. Theoretically harvest is over because there are no more early mornings and long work days but the lasting effects of harvest are still present.
|Looking inside a barrel with malolatic fermentation|
Here at Talley we have a certain affinity with native fermentation both primary and secondary. Primary fermentation is just about wrapped up and we are now beginning secondary fermentation called malolactic fermentation. Simply put, we allow the native lactic acid bacteria to convert the malic acid in the wine to lactic acid. I like to say that malic acid is the apple acid and lactic acid is the milk acid. Malic acid is more acidic and lactic acid is smoother and is less acidic. Because we do not inoculate, our wines, our secondary fermentations tends to take longer. We allow this to happen in the majority of our wines excluding out Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc and Bishops Peak Chardonnay. The majority of our Chardonnays go through a very slow secondary fermentation with most not finishing until late spring and in some years, early summer.
|Special fermentation bung allows gas to escape without letting air in.|
So why are we doing this? Well first off we want the malic acid converted to lactic acid for the mouth feel. Secondly, we let malolactic fermentation happen intentionally so it doesn’t happen unintentionally in the bottle when it gets to your house. If you have ever had an “active” fermentation occur in bottle, you know it is not a fun wine to drink. Stale beer comes to mind when I think of this.
I didn’t write this to teach everyone about secondary fermentation but to explain that once the harvest is over, it’s not really over.
I often tell people that you can’t be a farmer if you don’t love the weather. More precisely, I mean that we must accept the fact that the weather is beyond our control and we adjust our schedule and practices accordingly. It’s important to keep this in mind as we ride the roller coaster that is harvest.
This week, we’re experiencing our annual Indian Summer—that last bit of warm weather that finishes harvest. We’ve had some of the warmest weather of the year during this period, with temperatures in the high 90s. This is due to high pressure moving over our area and the presence of Santa Ana conditions—a warm offshore flow as opposed to our typical pattern of cool onshore breezes. This mini heat wave came right on the heels of a rainstorm last week that dumped just over an inch of rain in the Arroyo Grande Valley.
At this point, everything on our ranches has been harvested with the exception of some chardonnay in the Rincon Vineyard, which we will finish on Monday. The other exception is about three tons of sauvignon blanc in Oliver’s Vineyard that we will attempt to make into a sweet dessert wine. The rain we received last week created perfect conditions for botrytis cinerea, often referred to as the “noble rot.” Botrytis is a fungus that grows ongrapes due to wet conditions and which causes the grapes to shrivel and the sugar and acid to become extremely concentrated. This is undesirable in most of the wines we produce, and we typically go to great lengths to prevent it, including leaf removal and thinning of infected grape clusters. Botrytis is critical for the production of white dessert wines and sauvignon blanc is one of the white grape varieties most suited to make this wine. Consequently, we decided to leave those grapes on the vine with the hope to let botrytis grow and to make our second ever late harvest sauvignon blanc. The only other time we did this was in 1994, when we had a very rainy harvest. That wine was legendary.
So here’s another way of expressing my “learn to love the weather” mantra: when you have lemons, make lemonade. When you have rain, make dessert wine!
This past summer Brian Talley packed his bags and set out to meet with some of the top food and wine writers in the country to share our 25 year portfolio of chardonnays. This precarious mission to meet with these most discerning reviewers and host a retrospective tasting has proven to be an incredible success. Over the past few months, numerous articles have surfaced in magazines and around the web about the true age worthiness of our wines. One of the most flattering in our recent accolades was when Food and Wine Magazine named Talley Vineyards as one of “The World’s Most Trustworthy Wineries”. We’ve been regularly sharing this press with our friends on Facebook, but just in case you missed it, here are a few exciting highlights of what the experts had to say:
I would confidently put any of the Talley wines toe-to-toe with Grand Cru French Burgundy. Talley’s wines definitely made a statement; not all California Chardonnays are equal, and California Chardonnays crafted in a classical style and grown in cooler climates deserve a second look. They also merit a place in your cellar, to be savored today and twenty years from now.- Katie Kelley Bell, Forbes
Talleys wines don’t have to be old to taste good. We also tasted five delicious Chardonnays that were brand new. The important thing about these wines is that they have generous acidity and restrained fruit. In other words, they are far more reminiscent of a European wine. - Austin Chronicle
Made in a Burgundian-style with an emphasis on the vineyards and creating a true sense of place, instead of manipulation in the winery, Talley Vineyards succeeds in delivering a lively white filled with citrus and stone fruit notes, balanced with layers of spice and nuttiness. Enjoy a bottle young, and then let one age for a few years and you’ll see the flavors develop into rich caramel notes while maintaining the acidity and brightness of the fruit. - Hayley Hamilton
The two best surprises came from the oldest bottle we tasted, the 1994 Talley’s Vineyard, as well as the 2001 Rosemary’s Vineyard which both maintained their consistency in structure, balance and acidity, proving that these wines could easily continue to age an additional number of years. – D Magazine
- Talley remains one of the great estates in California that has yet to be fully discovered. As a result, prices remain exceedingly fair considering the quality of what goes into the bottle. - Antonio Galloni, The Wine Advocate
Wow, it’s already October, which means we have been harvesting for over a month now! Almost daily picks of Pinot Noir kept us busy all September, with the sorting table and destemmer going nonstop. The winery has been at capacity, with fermentors of grape must in every open corner, and hand punchdowns happening nonstop. Now that many of the Pinot fermentations have been finishing up, we’ve been able to start pressing dry lots and racking them to barrel, where they can finish malo-lactic fermentation and give us a chance to start focusing on the Chardonnay.
With last weekend’s heat wave, many of our Rosemary’s and Oliver’s Chardonnay blocks got just the push they needed to finish ripening. As the seemingly endless bins of Chardonnay arrive we will send them straight to the presses to be whole cluster pressed and then put straight to barrel for fermentation.
During hot weather weeks like this, we really see what a difference it makes that our vineyard crews hand harvest at night. On big pick days the crews will start anywhere from 8 PM to midnight and continue until sunrise, delivering beautiful, cool fruit that’s ready to be processed at the winery. Big thanks to the vineyard crews for all their hard work and crazy hours to get us the best fruit possible!
So far harvest 2012 looks like a dream come true. After the vintages of 2010 and 2011, which featured excellent quality, but lower yields, 2012 looks to be one of those very special years that combines exceptional quality and good production, especially for pinot noir. Best of all, the weather forecast for the next few weeks looks just like what we've had for the past two months--highs in the mid to upper 70s.
While weather is important to the quality of the finished wines, the key role that our production team plays can't be understated. Winemaker Eric Johnson has been with us 5 years and has come to know the characteristics that make each of our vineyards special and unique. He is ably assisted by Assistant Winemaker Nicole Pope, Cellarmaster Ignacio Zarate (who just celebrated 30 years in our family farming operations), Nicole Morris and a great team of Cal Poly interns.
The vineyard team is charged with farming our vineyards and ensuring that the grapes are harvested as gently and efficiently as possible. This team is lead by Vineyard Manager Kevin Wilkinson and Travis Monk, who will assume the role of Vineyard Manager after this harvest. Longtime Vineyard Foreman Daniel Martinez leads a dedicated and experienced vineyard crew during late night and early morning harvests to ensure that the grapes arrive at the winery early and cool.
The final element that will make the wines of 2012 so special is the deployment of the right tools to capture all of the potential quality of the vintage. These include a state-of-the-art destemmer that very gently removes the grapes from the stems, vibrating tables that allow for careful sorting of clusters and individual berries, and a stainless steel basket press that gently extracts the wine from the skins.
Perfect weather, a great team, and all the right tools--it all adds up to what I believe will be a very special vintage.