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Winegrower's Blog

Kelly Soares, Tasting Room Ast. Manager

Finding the Perfect Pairing, or Not

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. 

Alyssa Ball, Direct Sales Manager

Giving Thanks… for Pinot Noir

Thanksgiving has always been a favorite holiday of mine.  As I child, Thanksgiving meant anxiously awaiting the arrival of out of town relatives, including a large contingent of cousins whose appearance turned our home into a kid free for all.  In retrospect, I wonder if my parents were as anxious for the holiday weekend to end as I was for it to start! 

As an adult, I still love Thanksgiving.  A big part of that is due to the pleasure of having family and close friends together.  But I also love to cook - and I really love to eat - so Thanksgiving is certainly a day that speaks to me on that level.  The last few weeks I have started excitedly working on the Thanksgiving menu and planning what I will put on the holiday table.

One thing I am always eager to serve at Thanksgiving is Talley Vineyards Pinot Noir.  That might surprise those who are well acquainted with my wine preferences.  It is not an easy thing to admit considering who signs my paycheck, but the truth is that I’ve never been a huge fan of Pinot Noir.  However, over the past several years my appreciation for the varietal has grown by leaps and bounds.  How could it not considering the many Talley Vineyards wines I’ve been given the opportunity to taste?  And the Thanksgiving meal, with its many complex flavors, surely gives our beautifully balanced Pinot Noirs the chance to shine.  When I open a bottle (or two or three) for the Thanksgiving dinner crowd, I know that I am offering them something really special that will be truly enjoyed.  That is definitely something to feel thankful for!        

Best wishes for a wonderful Thanksgiving for each of you.  Here’s to hoping you have something special in your glass to toast with!

Brian Talley, Vintner
November 15, 2013 | Brian Talley, Vintner

El Niño, La Niña or La Nada

Harvest is over and our weather wishing has changed accordingly.  During harvest, the last thing we want is rain.  Rain during harvest makes a mess, dilutes the flavors and causes the growth of various molds, including botrytis.  We were blessed with a beautiful dry harvest this year.  Now we want rain.

Long range weather forecasting has improved dramatically since I started farming full time about 25 years ago.  Much of the focus of the long range winter forecast is directed toward determining whether we have the formation of El Niño or La Niña conditions.  There is a great explanation of these phenomena on Wikipedia. In a nutshell, El Niño refers to warming of the equatorial ocean water off of South America which accompanies high air surface pressure in the western Pacific and which typically results in more rainfall on the Central Coast of California.  La Niña refers to cooler ocean water and dryer conditions in this area.

So what do we have in store for the winter of 2013/2014? According to an article on GRIST, the current condition is stuck somewhere between the extremes of El Niño and La Niña, which writer John Upton refers to as “La Nada”.  The upshot is that it will be harder for forecasters to predict what kind of weather to expect this winter.  What we do know now is that it’s dry.  The little bit of rain that was predicted for this week was dialed back.  This makes it easier for us to work in the field, to clean up our fields after harvest, to plant cover crops and vegetables, but dry isn’t good for us in the long term.  Please join me in praying for rain—ideally about 25 inches, about 1 inch at a time, every 2 weeks between now and April 15.  Cheers!

The Rincon Adobe photo taken with green hills after rain in prior years.
The Rincon Adobe with brown hills because of the lack of rain.
Nicole Morris, Enologist
November 8, 2013 | Nicole Morris, Enologist

The Calm After the Storm

My name is Nicole Morris and I am the cellar assistant here at Talley Vineyards.  As you may have heard, 2013 was a plentiful and intense harvest. Harvest 2013 was my seventh in the wine industry. As much fun as it was, I am glad it is over.

Now that we have time to sit back and reflect on the long hours and craziness we have just endured, there are still many winery tasks that need to be accomplished. Currently we have over twenty fermenters that are in the late stages of fermentation. They are mostly Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Verdot, and Syrah. Towards the end of harvest, the cooler temperatures in the cellar contribute to a slower fermentation time. Most of these reds varietals, which are from the Paso Robles area, will be finished fermenting and pressed off by next week.

Another task we are working on is the consolidation of the chardonnay barrels. Chardonnay that is fermented in barrels is initially filled only three-fourths full. The head space is left for the fizzle and foam of fermentation. So a 60 gallon barrel is only filled with chardonnay to 45 gallons. A barrel filled to the top would overflow leaving the liquid gold, as we call the foam, all over the barrel room floor. Still, some barrels do end up overflowing during fermentation.  Once the fermentation is complete the barrels are consolidated, filled and topped off. They will now go through secondary fermentation and age in the cellar.

Eventually, all barrels in the barrel room will be topped off and stored. From here on out, barrel topping will happen about once a month because about a half a gallon of wine evaporates from a barrel each month. This head space from evaporation puts wine in a more vulnerable state for spoilage organisms to take over. Topping the barrels prevents this from happening.

The intensity of harvest is coming to an end and we are being rewarded by the beautiful autumn colors in the vineyard. Even though we are we are still keeping busy with these “end of harvest” activities, one cannot help but feel accomplished and surprised that yet another harvest has passed. We here at Talley Vineyards are very excited to see the results of the 2013 harvest, and even more excited about having a whole weekend off.

Alyssa Ball, Direct Sales Manager

Putting our Dirt on Display

Last March Andy McDaniel, our then Guest Services Coordinator, contributed a blog entry entitled Playing in the Dirt.  In that blog Andy described the complicated logistics of collecting soil samples from our various vineyards in the Arroyo Grande and Edna Valleys.  He also shared the reason behind this dirty effort - the creation of a soil sample display for our tasting room. 

The end result of all that digging can now be viewed by tasting room visitors.  At first glance it may appear that we’ve simply filled seven large cylinders with dirt.  But take a closer look and I think you will agree that it is much more than that.  To even my untrained eye, it is remarkable to see the variation in color, texture and structure of the soils displayed.  These differences are not just evident when comparing the different vineyards, but exist even within the layers of a single vineyard site.  Seeing the uniqueness of the soils, I can’t help but think how that is all a part of what makes each of our wines so distinctive.  It makes it easy to embrace the concept of terrior, that sense of place, and to realize how Talley Vineyards wines are truly a reflection of the vineyard site they originate from.    

Next time you visit our tasting room, I encourage you to spend some time looking at each of the soil samples, as well as the beautiful vineyard photographs alongside them.  Enjoy your wine tasting, pay special attention to the vineyard source for each wine you try and think about the diversity of the soil sample displays.  I believe there is a lot to learn from those cylinders of dirt!

Ben Taylor, Viticultural Technician

My First Harvest

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. 

Time Posted: Oct 25, 2013 at 10:00 AM
Brian Talley, Vintner
October 18, 2013 | Brian Talley, Vintner

Not Just Grapes...

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,, 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!

Kelly Soares, Tasting Room Ast. Manager

A Harvest Newbie

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. 

Alyssa Ball, Direct Sales Manager

The Dog Days of Harvest

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?"


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!