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Winegrower's Blog

Nicole Bertotti Pope, 2010-2014
 

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, 2007-2013
 
July 26, 2013 | Anna Heacock, 2007-2013

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!

Brian Talley, Vintner
 
July 5, 2013 | Brian Talley, Vintner

A day in the life at Talley Farms and Talley Vineyards

As I thought about what to write about for this week’s blog post, it occurred to me that so many things are going on around here that it would be fun to include them in a video montage, shot in a single day.  For those who would rather read than watch video, here are a few highlights.

The sun rose just after 6AM over the beautiful fog laden Arroyo Grande Valley.  At Talley Farms, we’re in the full swing of things, harvesting cilantro, nappa cabbage, lettuce and spinach.  We’re also packing harvest boxes and there’s some fun video of that.  Meanwhile, we’re planting bell peppers, our key fall crop.

On the vineyard side, our crews are focused on two aspects of canopy management.  The men are lifting wires and tucking shoots (included in the video), while the ladies are removing leaves (visit our archive for that video).  The goal in both cases is to expose the clusters to air and sunlight to prevent mildew and botrytis and to promote even ripening and optimal flavor development.  In the winery, we’ve just completed racking together the 2012 Chardonnays, so the crew is busy washing barrels.  You can watch Nacho Zarate and Pat Sigler discuss the finer points of barrel washing.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this brief tour of Talley Farms and Talley Vineyards on a typical July day.  Cheers!

Eric Johnson, Winemaker
 
June 28, 2013 | Eric Johnson, Winemaker

My Trip to Burgundy

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