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Winegrower's Blog

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 me...my 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
Brian Talley, Vintner
 
August 30, 2013 | Brian Talley, Vintner

First Day of Harvest, 2013

Today marks the start of the 27th  harvest since Talley Vineyards was founded back in 1986.  We began harvesting pinot noir in two sections of Rosemary’s Vineyard.  Our August 30 start date was very typical:  5 days earlier than last year, 4 days later than 2011 and 1 day later than 2010.  At 2.95 tons, the crop was just under Travis Monk’s estimate of 3 tons, and almost exactly what we harvested from these sections last year.  Our expectation is that the pinot noir crop will be very similar to 2012 and I expect a slightly larger chardonnay crop.

Every harvest has themes or storylines that play out as we progress through our vineyards.  After only one day, there’s not much of a story to tell, except that 2013 is a severe drought year (fortunately, we are blessed with adequate ground water) and the crop looks healthy.  We also expect a more condensed harvest in 2013 as many areas of our vineyards appear to be ripening simultaneously.  In particular, I anticipate more of an overlap between pinot noir and chardonnay than we typically see.

Will 2013 be a great vintage?  This is the million dollar question that everyone wonders about, and I go into every harvest expecting to make the very best wines we’ve ever produced.  The fruit is exceptionally clean with very little evidence of botrytis or mildew, the two fungal diseases that can dramatically reduce quality in our area.  So far, we like the ripe flavors we taste at lower sugar levels, and acidity appears to be higher than 2012 and more in line with 2010 and 2011.  This bodes well for refreshing wines of depth and concentration—just the kinds of wines we seek to produce every year.  I hope you follow along to see how the story of 2013 unfolds.

Cellar crew sorting pinot noir grapes on first day of harvest. First light on the first day of harvest in Rosemary's Vineyard.
Brian Talley, Vintner
 
August 23, 2013 | Brian Talley, Vintner

Grape Sampling

As harvest approaches, one of the most critical tasks to determine wine quality is grape sampling. Sampling guides our harvest schedule because we measure the sugar and acid content of the grapes, which are key indicators of ripeness. At the same time, we also refine our crop estimates because we weigh the clusters we sample.

I shot a short video featuring Harvest Intern Ben Taylor and Winemaker Eric Johnson that illustrates the entire process. For those who prefer to read rather than watch, here’s a brief synopsis: Eric and Vineyard Manager Travis Monk determine which vineyard blocks to sample. Ben walks through each block, randomly gathering about 25 clusters, brings them back to the winery, weighs then crushes them with a small hand crusher. The juice is analyzed for brix (sugar content), and pH (a measure of acidity). This information, along with cluster weights is recorded and emailed to me, Eric and Travis. We use this information to determine which blocks to visit and taste, which is the final determinant of the harvest schedule.

This is the actual grape maturity sheet we look at every day from samples we pulled on August 20 from the West Rincon Vineyard. We will likely harvest this block in 2-3 weeks.

Date

Vineyard

Block

Varietal

Brix

pH

lbs/cluster

Comments

8/20/2013

WR

1101

PN

20.7

2.94

0.166

cluster

8/20/2013

WR

1102

PN

20.9

2.91

0.095

cluster

8/20/2013

WR

1103

PN

21.3

2.91

0.129

cluster

8/20/2013

WR

1104

PN

20

2.89

0.133

cluster

8/20/2013

WR

1105

PN

21.1

2.93

0.146

cluster

8/20/2013

WR

1106

PN

20.7

2.91

0.139

cluster

8/20/2013

WR

1107

PN

21

2.97

0.116

cluster

Based on what we learned today, we think harvest will start sometime next week, in Rosemary’s Vineyard Block 8, a tiny high density block that we farm by hand, and that often makes it into the Rosemary’s Vineyard Pinot Noir bottling. We’ve had perfect ripening weather for the last 8 weeks and we’ve got a beautiful crop. I have high hopes for the 2013 harvest!

Brian Talley, Vintner
 
August 16, 2013 | Brian Talley, Vintner

World’s Shortest Bottling Video/Harvest Just Around the Corner!

We are right in the middle of bottling our signature wine, the 2012 Estate Chardonnay.  My daughter, Elizabeth, has an interest in photography and video, so she agreed to shoot a video.  Check it out—it’s only 32 seconds long! 

Harvest is just around the corner and we’re busily sampling pinot noir throughout our vineyards.  Our best guess now is that we will start the first week of September.  The vines in the East Rincon Vineyard, just outside my office, are historically the last we harvest in late September or early October.  Vineyard Manager Travis Monk estimates that the pinot noir crop will be a little smaller than last year and chardonnay a bit larger.  I look forward to keeping you posted on our progress.

Alyssa Ball, Direct Sales Manager
 

Picnic in the Rincon Vineyard

Last Saturday we hosted our Picnic in the Vineyard, the third year we have offered this event for members of our wine clubs.  This event has quickly become one of my favorites for a variety of reasons. 
To be perfectly honest, one reason I truly love the Picnic in the Vineyard is I have almost no responsibility for its planning, preparation and implementation.  Could anything be better than simply showing up for a delicious meal in a beautiful setting?  Yes, it is even better when you show up and everyone thanks you assuming you helped make it happen!  The truth is that Belinda Christensen really leads the charge on organizing the picnic and she is probably smart to keep me on the sidelines.  It is a well known fact among Talley Vineyards employees that it will rain on any event I help organize.  Truly.  Maybe some of you remember the infamous Marianne Talley “Mud” Run of June 2011?
It has become tradition at the picnic for our Vineyard Manager Travis Monk and our Winemaker Eric Johnson to give a casual presentation and this has become another reason I love the event.  After all my years working at Talley Vineyards I am sometimes surprised that I can still learn something new every day.  It is great to sit back, listen to the experts share their knowledge and walk away with a deeper understanding of the vineyard and production processes.  There were a lot of questions for Travis and Eric about the upcoming harvest and how soon it would be underway.  Was it my imagination that some subtle signs of panic began to creep onto Travis’s and Eric’s faces as the discussion brought home the reality that harvest is right around the corner?  Maybe it was, but it was still fun to imagine!
Of all there is to enjoy, the best part of the picnic is getting to know some of our wine club members in a fun and casual environment.  I spend my days immersed in our wine club member database and if you give me a name I can probably tell you where that person lives, their favorite wine, how long they’ve been a wine club member.   But it is rare that I am given the opportunity to meet the person behind the wine club membership.  It is truly a pleasure to share good food, good wine and good company at the Picnic in the Vineyard.

Eric Johnson, Winemaker
 
August 2, 2013 | Eric Johnson, Winemaker

A Splash of Color

About the time when colorful fireworks are hitting the sky to celebrate our nation’s independence a different kind of colorful fireworks is occurring out in the vineyard. What I’m talking about is the arrival of color to the grape clusters which is most commonly referred to as veraison.  Veraison literally means “the onset of color” in French and the term symbolizes the transition from berry growth to berry ripening.

We have several vineyards at Talley with different terriors and most of the vineyards start and finish veraison at different times. Typically the first blocks that start veraison will be the first grapes harvested but that is not always the case. At this time of the year we are in the thick of it when it comes to veraison. We have some blocks that are finished and some that have just started. Pinot noir is are first varietal to get going and syrah is our last. Below I have photos of our three main vineyards to demonstrate the timing and characteristics of veraison.

Stone Corral Pinot Noir: As you can see Stone Corral is about 50-60% through veraison.  Veraison takes place one berry at a time making the clusters look similar to fireworks. Stone Corral Pinot Noir is typically one of the last vineyards we harvest.
 
West Rincon Pinot Noir: As you can see the West Rincon vineyard is about 85-90% through veraison.  Some clusters are completely colored up and other are a little pink. You even see some green berries still present. We typically have a couple of early ripening blocks followed by a waiting period before we pick the remaining.
 
Rosemary’s Pinot Noir: You can clearly see that this block of pinot noir in Rosemary’s is completely through veraison. All clusters have colored up and it will be a matter of weeks before we pick this block. This particular block in Rosemary’s is almost always our first block harvested.

 

Anna Heacock, Marketing
 
July 26, 2013 | Anna Heacock, Marketing

Someone Else's Memories

Over the past couple of weeks, I have been busy archiving and assembling the pieces to a very extensive, permanent timeline display for our Rincon Room.  (Will be ready by September).    I have been digging in the basement, rummaging through closets and emptying cupboards in search of forgotten piles of newspaper clippings and old photographs.  What I didn’t anticipate, was how much fun it would be to stumble across so many keepsakes of milestone events, both for the Talley Family and the winery.

I’m pretty sentimental, so my favorite part has been going through all the old pictures.  Much like how you think your parents didn’t exist before you did- that’s kinda how it was for me and Talley Vineyards.  Hard to imagine that Talley had already been up and running for over 20 years before I started here, 6 years ago.  Now I have a more complete view and appreciation for their history as wine industry pioneers in the area.

I wanted to share with you some of my favorite pictures.

Don and Rosemary Talley in front of the Adobe in the early 1990’s.
Don Talley mid-punch down from one of our first harvests, circa 1986 or 87
Brian and Johnine Talley at the first San Luis Obispo Vintner’s festival in 1994
Tasting Room being built in 2002

 

Brian Talley, Vintner
 
July 19, 2013 | Brian Talley, Vintner

Crop Thinning

The focus of my blog post this week is crop thinning, a critical activity that occurs every year at this time.  Below is a video featuring Vineyard Manager Travis Monk discussing how and why we thin chardonnay.  In summary, we remove clusters from vines where the clusters have a tendency to pile up on one-another.  If we don’t remove some of these clusters, we risk botrytis or mildew, which reduces both quality and the size of the crop.  Enjoy the video!