The saying goes that the squeaky wheel gets the grease and I admit I do my fair share of squeaking. Over the last several years I have squeaked once or twice, or twenty or thirty times, about the fact my office lacked a window to the outside world. As a fan of fresh air and natural light, it has long been my only complaint about my work space.
Last year we began a handful of improvement projects in the winery. These included opening an interior wall to increase forklift access and replacing floor drains. In other words, they were construction projects that would have an immediate impact on improving the winemaking process. I was well aware that my pet project wouldn’t have the same impact. But as long as so much construction activity was happening all around me, I figured there was no harm in asking. So I squeaked again about my windowless office - and at last the squeaky wheel has been greased!
As is usually the case, the window installation was lengthier and more painful than anyone might have guessed. I quickly learned that the moment I received a phone call, someone would begin cutting through the stucco wall with a high speed grinder. Or the day I came in early to tackle an extra long “to-do” list, painters would arrive and give me a few minute’s notice to vacate my workspace. However, in contrast to my usual squeaking, I tried very hard to not complain during the process, because I was confident it would be well worth any inconvenience.
The end result, an office with a window, has been so worth any temporary nuisance. Weeks later, I continue to be pleasantly surprised every time I walk into my office. Fresh air, natural light and I no longer have to consider the irony of being surrounded by an amazing natural landscape that I can’t see. I couldn’t imagine a better way to begin a new year than with a new view to the outside world!
|The wall that cried out for a window....||My new view of the world.|
Followers of this blog know that I often write about the weather. Given the kind of weather we’ve experienced so far this year, it’s apropos that I take up the topic again. As I write this, the East Coast is suffering through another massive snow storm to be followed by the second extremely cold snap of 2014. On the other hand, California is in the midst of a severe drought that has resulted in Governor Jerry Brown declaring a State of Emergency. More locally, San Luis Obispo and Arroyo Grande have experienced record high temperatures during the first weeks of January, including January 16 when it was over 91 degrees at San Luis Obispo airport, making it the hottest place in the US.
There is general consensus that a high pressure system is sitting over California that is blocking the Jetstream, and any storms, from coming into the state. There is less consensus on why this is. Local meteorologist John Lindsey wrote a very interesting article citing a theory that melting of the polar ice cap is at least partly responsible for this phenomenon, as well as lower pressure over the East Coast that has resulted in the severe weather they have experienced. To read the detail on this, go to www.sanluisobispo.com/2014/01/18/2883449/loss-of-arctic-ice-leads-to-drought.html.
What does all this mean for us? First, we are frantically pruning our vines right now in anticipation of early bud break. This means that our frost season (which lasts from bud break until about May 1) will be longer than normal. Second, we are irrigating more this winter to substitute for lack of rainfall. Finally, we have little to no covercrop established on our hillsides. This means that should we receive significant rainfall, which could still happen, we may experience erosion. We also depend on our covercrop to improve soil conditions and host the beneficial insects that protect our vines.
As bad as all of this sounds, I remind myself all the time that if you don’t like the weather, you shouldn’t be a farmer. Cheers!
Every January Vintner Brian Talley, Assistant Winemaker Nicole Pope , Vineyard Manager Travis Monk, and myself get together to taste the latest vintage. It's nice to do this early in the maturation process so we can get a peek into the vintage as a whole. Most of the time I'm excited to taste the wines but it is the first time we taste them blind so you never know what your thoughts are going to be.
This is a weird time to taste barrel samples. For one, the wines are only a couple of months old, babies in their development process. The wines are also in an awkward state. We have a very slow and cool native malolactic fermentation that usually doesn’t finish up until early spring. There are some wines that have finished malolactic fermentation and have had sulfur dioxide added. Others are still fermenting and this can create quite a bit of difference from wine to wine.
As a winemaker, I want to see how the wines are tasting and how this relates to our current winemaking approach. Several questions come to mind. Are we picking the grapes at the right time? Is the wine too ripe? Is it too green? Why do/ don't we like the wine? Is the wine too extracted? Should we increase/ decrease our punchdowns during fermentation? Is a flaw present? How do we fix said flaw? All of these questions go through my head for each wine. We taste 140 wines over two days so obviously I take a lot of notes. I feel like I need a couple of days after the tasting, to debrief my thoughts and determine what actions, if any, need to be taken.
With all of the uncertainty involved with this tasting, it is still one of my favorite times of the year. When tasting wines blind, you may not have the same opinion as you would when tasting wines unblind. Throughout the years, there have been certain lots of wine that I have had a biased opinion about and after the wines were revealed, I was blown away. We all tend to have some bias in aspects of life. For me, I always think the Niners will win even when they were dogs not too long ago. The same goes with wine. Our vineyard manager Travis Monk may not really like a certain block because of how it performs from a growing standard. It could be a block that is difficult to farm or needs a lot of attention but once he tastes it beside other lots he could be blown away by the quality. I have had grapes come in with flavors that I'm not thrilled about and the wine turns out great.
Though the tasting is quite rigorous and tends to leave us craving lunch, it provides us with some great insight. We will use this knowledge during our next harvest in 2014. The more knowledge we have, the better the wines will become. The next harvest is just around the corner.
Well it's official, the new year is underway. Most of the vineyard employees are returning to work this week and soon we will begin pruning. It's been pretty quiet in the vineyards over the last couple of weeks, but with the warm winter we've been having and the lack of any rain, it's time to begin our season and prepare for bud break in the upcoming weeks.
Currently we are pre pruning. So what is pre pruning? Pre pruning is a step we take just before pruning in some of our blocks, that removes a large portion of last year's growth but will not complete our pruning pass. At pruning we take last year's growth down to 1 or 2 buds for optimal vine balance and grape quality. With pre pruning however, we are only removing the tops of last year's shoots, but still leaving behind 5 to 6 buds.
Following pre pruning, we will revisit these blocks and make our final pruning cuts just before bud break. So why prune twice? It's a good question, and certainly there are a lot of vineyards that do not pre prune, but there are some advantages to it for us at Talley. First, it's a way to keep our vineyard employees working during the slower winter season. As mentioned above, some of our employees enjoy taking a break to return home for the holidays, but for those that don't we can keep them busy pre pruning during this time. Pre pruning also speeds up our pruning process. Because pre pruning does not require much attention to detail, vineyard employees are able to make quick passes through the vineyard removing the excessive growth from last year. When we come back to prune these same vines, the attention to detail will be necessary, but there will also be a lot less growth to fight through and remove. Last, pre pruning also helps to delay bud break a little longer. For this reason we will pre prune in areas of the vineyard that the temperatures can be a little colder. By delaying bud break by just a week or two, we buy ourselves a little more time in not having to worry about frost damage. Late February and March are the riskiest times of year for us here in the Arroyo Grande and Edna valleys as our fresh new vine growth is very susceptible to damage when temperatures drop into the low 30's.
There's a lot that goes into deciding how to prune, and here at Talley we certainly have adopted many different techniques of pruning and training our vines for the utmost quality. This week we will complete one of the last tasks that really helps us in deciding how to prune, our production tasting. All day Wednesday and Thursday, alongside our owner, winemaker, and assistant winemaker, I will taste through every single lot of wines we produced for 2013. It's a tough job, but somebody's gotta do it, right?
As fun as it sounds to taste wine all day and actually call it work, these next two days are extremely important for many reasons. During the tasting we are scoring each wine on its quality and are focused on being extremely critical. It's important for us to identify the wines we think are the highest quality and discuss why we think they turned out so well, and conversely we identify the wines that we're not so proud of and brainstorm what we can do differently. Green unripe flavors or pale color could indicate a wine that was made from grapes that had not ripened enough or could have been over cropped. Maybe this wine would have benefited from some increased pruning, which would lead to less grapes but potentially higher sugars and more flavor development. Maybe we'll taste a wine we all really like, but look back to find out our yields were extremely low. Changing the pruning technique could be a possible tool to help us get more from this site. This tasting is extremely important and valuable to me as a vineyard manager, and will truly help us make our final pruning decisions before we start pruning next week. After this week one thing's for sure, our pruning plans will be set and my taste buds will be shot! Two full days of wine tasting can be pretty overwhelming, so wish me luck...and pray for some rain!
This has been a whirlwind of a year! I started here at the Talley Vineyards Tasting Room in August of 2012 with the hopes of someday making a career with the Talley Vineyards team. Although I loved working in the tasting room and experiencing the day to day thrills of spending each day with different customers, I jumped at the opportunity when a sales and marketing assistant position opened up. Through multiple interviews with people I had become friends with over the past year, and the unfortunate task of working in the tasting room and having to come face to face with my competition as they came in for their interviews, it felt like the hardest application process I had ever been through. After what felt like months (although I'm pretty sure it was just a few weeks) I was beyond thrilled to sit in the room I most feared during the interview process and be offered the job of Sales & Marketing Assistant. I think I must have had the biggest smile on my face because after exclaiming, "I'M SO EXCITED!" Brian Talley replied, "I can tell!" I don't think I could wipe that smile off my face that entire day, probably that entire week! I spent the next few weeks finishing up my time in the tasting room and on October 1st, 2013 I started in my new position.
Having been working since I was 15 years old, usually multiple jobs at a time, having the weekends off for the first time in my life is a treat I have yet to find normal. As challenging as a new job can be, I can honestly say that I've enjoyed every day of it. Learning new tasks, taking on challenges, and getting the opportunity to represent Talley Vineyards at trade and consumers events are all things I am excited about. And as this year comes to a close, I think I am most looking forward to what is to come; my first sales trip with National Sales Manager, David Block, is already on the calendar and I can't wait.
But enough about me! If you live on the Central Coast or need a vacation after your holiday vacation, this is the place to be. January brings one of my favorite times of the year, Restaurant Month. This wonderful tradition allows you to treat your family, your spouse, your friends, or just yourself to a beautiful three course meal at a local restaurant for the unbeatable price of $30! What makes restaurant month on the Central Coast even better is the added bonus of every restaurant hosting a local winery. This year Talley Vineyards is proud to announce that we are partnered with Novo Restaurant & Lounge in San Luis Obispo! Stop by for a night out and enjoy the newly released 2012 Talley Vineyards Estate Chardonnay paired with Novo's Portuguese-inspired salt cod fritters with lemon aioli and pickled vegetables. Don't miss the chance to experience the very best of SLO County during the month of January and indulge in the new year!
For the Talley Family, Christmas of 2013 was special in so many ways. It should come as no surprise that it revolved around food and family. We kicked things off with our traditional Christmas Eve celebration and a meal featuring tamales and Christmas lima beans from our Fresh Harvest box. Our dinner table featured a handmade candle holder that cellarworker Patrick Sigler created out of a barrel stave and gave to me as part of our Secret Santa gift exchange. We enjoyed some nice wines, including a magnum of 2003 Rosemary’s Vineyard Chardonnay and some 2012 Blanc de Noir Sparkling wine that we made from Rincon Vineyard Pinot Noir.
Christmas breakfast is one of my favorite meals of the year and we celebrated with homemade cinnamon rolls, omelets and ham. Our family exchanged gifts, including more handmade gifts than ever before--knitted hats, scarves and a Christmas stocking from Olivia. Elizabeth created craft cork items, a beautiful photo book of our summer vacation and a custom puzzle featuring our family in the Swiss Alps. After our big breakfast, Olivia and I took a walk and enjoyed the unseasonably warm Christmas weather. At 83 degrees, it was the second warmest day on record in San Luis Obispo. The celebration continued Christmas night with a special dinner at my mom’s house featuring grilled filet of beef, (perfect with Rincon and Rosemary’s Vineyard Pinot Noir magnums) an assortment of vegetables from our Fresh Harvest box and my mother’s wonderful cheesecake.
Johnine and I are thankful to enjoy the bounty of our land, to work with so many passionate and dedicated people, and to live close to our families so that we can savor these special experiences. Best wishes to you and your family this season and for all of 2014!
It is a much loved Talley Vineyards tradition for some rare large format bottles to make their way out of the wine library and appear at our annual company holiday party. For obvious reasons, this generates a lot of excitement among staff members. But this year an additional level of excitement was added when Brian Talley suggested using the unlabeled bottles as a blank canvas for group art projects. The various departments turned into artistic teams and heads were put together to come up with some unique and festive decoration. Of course, in typical Talley Vineyards fashion, what could have been an all in fun creative endeavor quickly devolved into a (mostly) good natured competition. A great deal of trash talk took place, some still continues a full week later, as self declared winners explained why their bottle was the best.
So who were the true winners the night of the holiday party? I am going to say it and I don’t care how cheesy is sounds - we were all winners! While each of the large format bottles may have looked imaginative and festive on the outside, it was trying the amazing wine inside that was truly a win. The standout for me was a magnum of 1996 Rincon Vineyard Chardonnay. Despite the many years spent in bottle, the wine remained bright and balanced with great structure and a remarkable amount of vibrant fruit on the palate. It is always a special treat to try these remarkable old vintages and a great reminder that we are fortunate to work for a company that produces incredible wine.
I sometimes feel that we winemakers are gluttons for punishment. We go through a long, painstaking event like harvest and then almost immediately follow up with the most painful winemaking process of all, bottling.
Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t completely hate bottling, but I feel like we have a love/ hate relationship. Bottling is obviously a pivotal part of winemaking, but I don’t think most people realize how stress inducing it can be. You have to get the wine in the perfect state before putting it to its final resting place.
Is the SO2 level right? Are we going to filter? If not, how will we make sure the wine has the appropriate clarity? Is the amount of dissolved oxygen high? Should we sparge the tank? Is the wine heat stable? Is it cold stable? These are just some of the questions that go through my head when planning a bottling. Remember if you screw up, there is no going back. That wine is cemented in history.
Preparing the wine is only the beginning. Once the wine is ready to bottle you have to make sure you purchase the right packaging materials. That might not sound like a big deal, but if any of the packaging is slightly off or flawed, it can create a series of problems. For example, in the past we had glass delivered for a very important bottling. We inspected the bottles as we always do and since they looked like the same ones that I have purchased for years we went ahead with our planned bottling. But once the bottling began we realized there was something different about this particular shipment of glass because the labels were wrinkling . It turns out the shape of the bottle was off by just a couple of millimeters. Only a couple of millimeters and that slight change in shape meant labels completely wrinkled beyond repair. We had to cancel bottling, send the crew home, ship the glass back to the supplier and plead for new glass. Then a week or two later we start the process all over again and hope for the best.
There have been times I’ve wished I could just cut out the middle part of the process and find a way to get our wine straight from a barrel into our customer’s glass. If it were possible, I would not hesitate to sell off our bottling line. In the meantime, I have to maintain my love/hate relationship with bottling in order to make wines people can enjoy.
Well it's official, winter is here. Unfortunately winter has not yet brought us any rain, but it's sure been cold. I'm sure many of you have seen on the local news the threats that frost brings to farmers here on the Central Coast. A few people have been asking me what the cold weather means for us at Talley Vineyards. Luckily on the vineyard side of things, the cold winter frosts do not do us much harm. Most of the vines have shut down for the year and are going into dormancy. The leaves have mostly dried up and blown off with the strong winter winds we've been having. Colder temperatures will help to keep these vines dormant until mid to late February. So what the heck do we do the rest of the year? Well, there's still quite a bit going on.
Our vineyard crews are busy getting ready for next year. There's quite a bit of maintenance work fixing broken end posts, tightening trellis wire and dropping the training wires back down to get them out of the way for next year's growth. The crew has also been busy helping the winery with their winter bottling. The tractor drivers have completed the cover crop planting and will begin to focus on some winter weed control. With the lack of rain, our irrigator has stayed busy getting water to the vines and I've been busy on the computer working on budgets and coming up with next year's pruning plans. We will most likely begin some pre-pruning at the end of the month.
So what else is going on at Talley Vineyards? Well today is one of my favorite days of the year to work here at Talley. Today is the Talley Farms Annual Ranch Barbecue. All the employees from Talley Vineyards and Talley Farms, along with many of our local growers and vendors, will congregate at the packing shed tomorrow around lunch time for a Santa Maria style feast. The tostadas are the biggest hit! It's my favorite event of the year, because it is the one time of the year that nearly all 200+ employees can come together and celebrate the year. It is a great time to let us show thanks to all of our employees for the hard work that makes our business possible. One of the big events of the day is the long term employees photo. Each year the Talley's take an updated group photo with all the employees that have been with the company 20 years or longer. It's amazing how large this group has become and really shows what a great place this is to work. I'm only bringing about 6 years with Talley to the table, so I still have a ways to go before I'm photo worthy, but it's amazing how quickly the seasons pass by. This season is winding down, but the next one is just right around the corner. I hope everyone can enjoy the end of the season and best wishes for a Happy Holiday.
For the past several weeks, my co-worker Christina Bailey and I have been doing food and wine pairing research in order to come up with a sensory experience to offer Talley customers as a fun way to delve a little deeper into our wines, as well as to help them plan a nice meal at home featuring a Talley Vineyards or Bishop’s Peak wine. Looking back, I think of what a couple of rookies we were back then, with no clue of what a Pandora’s Box we’d opened of convoluted, contradictory information at every turn. Show me a website that says Pinot Noir pairs well with salmon and I’ll show you two that say the metallic taste in your mouth from such a pairing will make your teeth ache. Caesar salad; is it wine’s natural enemy? Or is the garlicky anchovy dressing a dream come true when paired with a citrusy Sauvignon Blanc? (For me, it’s the latter.) Also this news flash: NEVER pair chocolate with red wine. Am I the last to know?! Apparently you’re not to pair chocolate and red wine because the tannins in chocolate ruin the many nuances and complexities of the wine. Port or Muscato wine paired with dark chocolate is the possible exception but it’s one of the few cases where the wine is the sweeter item. So why did I love the milk chocolate Hershey’s kiss with our Estate Pinot Noir so much? I could pair a whole bag of them with a bottle and call it dinner. Is my knowing it’s ruining the wine even though they taste so delicious together to me, still a good enough reason not to do so? Is someone else tasting what I am when I pair these items and actually not enjoying it? And if so, whose right?
Don’t get me wrong, this is the most fun research I’ve ever had to do, as well as a fairly privileged dilemma to have on my plate. Given that, what started out as an exciting journey of putting together a menu quickly spiraled down a rabbit hole into a disorienting world of do’s and don’ts, rules and exceptions, and utter frustration when I myself loved a pairing one day and completely disagreed with myself the next. And then there was the trial tastings with various tasting room, winemaking, sales and production staff members. Not a consensus among them and their tastes when it came to the good, the bad and the ugly. This ironically, has been quite helpful, because I learned even more from the reasons behind their varied opinions. Also, the things you learn about your co-workers when asking them to try such pairings is priceless. Watching Christina struggle to nibble on a tomato (not her favorite food) and choke it down with our Cabernet Sauvignon was an exercise in hilarity. She is the epitome of professionalism in the name of research. And finding out there wasn’t a single food item on our list that our Tasting Room Manager was even willing to eat was even more amusing. In the end, we decided our best bet is to find a majority rules item within all the opinions that makes good pairing sense and not worry about the fact that you can’t please every palate.
After the many weeks of research I’ve put into this project, I should be qualified to hold entire weekend long seminars on the subject. And yet with all the knowledge I’ve absorbed, it seems to be falling back on the old adage “the more you know, the more you don’t.” Not only that, but every food and wine pairing “rule” based on a particular varietal can be discounted entirely given a particular winemaker’s take on that varietal. Until you pair a particular bottle with a particular food item, expect curve balls. For a person like myself, who spends a great deal of free time reading food and wine blogs just for fun, it’s been a most humbling experience trying to put together a fun, educated and eye-opening sensory experience to help people learn how to make smart choices when putting together a nice dinner party. Or helping our customers choose a winning food and wine combination when spending their hard-earned money dining out. But we’re getting there. I mean, it’s not rocket science…but it is science.