Two weeks ago I was working with our distributor in New Orleans selling our wine. After our Friday morning sales meeting where I introduced the 2011 single vineyard chardonnays, I had a sales appointment (along with our rep Jeff Heaviside) at Restaurant August. This restaurant is a very fine dining establishment in New Orleans (not your typical Cajun Creole hang out). When we arrived, just before 1:00pm, there was a curious scene out front with several armed policemen and stretched limos. As we entered the building, we noticed that an exceptionally busy lunch crowd had already collected before our appointment.
Now earlier in the week, this same security scene was visible at the Roosevelt Hotel, but we later learned that was for the Governor’s Convention. This time it was even bigger. The Dalai Lama, yes, the religious leader of the Buddhist people of Tibet-- was dining at Restaurant August! They were eating in the private room upstairs, and we were in the main dining room where everyone was totally on edge, anxiously awaiting their opportunity to say “Hello Dalai”.
Now, the closest I got to him was when I went to use the washroom…upstairs. As I made my way down the hall, I passed Head Chef John Besh, two plain clothes security men, the Maitre de, an armed policeman, a man wearing a turban, and another man wearing a yarmulke. An eclectic bunch.
Later, as the Dalai Lama left the building, we were all looking out the window watching him get escorted to his limo. It was a real sign of the times, with everyone holding their arms in the air aiming their smartphones in his direction in an attempt to capture a picture. It actually reminded me of a Grateful Dead concert. Needless to say, lunch at August was a divine experience. Jeff, and the Dalai Lama had the vegetarian risotto.
Regular readers will note that my last blog post was about my trip to Florida. This week I’m in New York. This may bring to mind some obvious questions, such as “Why do you travel?” and “How much do you travel?” Taking the second question first, I travel about 60 days per year, but much of it is focused this time of year. This is because springtime is when we release our chardonnays, and it’s a great time to visit and share the new releases. Springtime is also when many wine buyers are preparing for the summer season, so the timing is perfect.
There are several reasons why I travel. First, I really enjoy meeting the people who buy and sell our wines. I spend days with dynamic people in all aspects of the wine business—sales people, retailers, sommeliers and wine directors, as well as the managers and principals of our distributors. This is an invaluable way for me to learn about what is happening in our industry, which helps inform our decision making at the winery. Second, the wine industry is fundamentally a people business. It’s no longer good enough to make great wine—you need to effectively communicate what makes your wine special to be successful in this business.
This has been a great visit to New York. I’ve caught up with old friends from New York City, Westchester and New Jersey. I’ve learned how the demand for world class chardonnay and pinot noir continues to grow. I’ve enjoyed some great meals, including the best rendition of Tuscan Kale I’ve ever eaten. We are blessed to do business with two great distributors in the New York area—Michael Skurnik Wines for Talley Vineyards and T. Edward for Bishop’s Peak. Reconnecting with old friends, making new ones and sharing the story of Talley Vineyards—that’s why I travel.
It’s time for another vineyard update. Since my last blog in mid April, following a few frosty mornings, the paradise weather has returned here in the Arroyo Grande and Edna Valleys. We’ve had some above normal temperatures so far in May, one day over 100 degrees, and even a little rain. The weather has been pretty ideal. The month of May can always be a weird weather month for us as we begin to see the marine layer move in during the night and morning hours with windy afternoons. This weather is not ideal, because typically in the middle of May, clusters on the vines are starting to bloom. Warm weather and low winds lead to a faster bloom and a more successful fruit set. Fruit set refers to the cluster stage immediately following bloom, where we get our first real look at this year’s crop. Some of our pinot noir blocks are finishing up with bloom and we’re at about 70% bloom in our chardonnay. In the next 2 weeks we’ll get our first real glimpse of the 2013 vintage.
In the vineyards our crews are extremely busy completing a number of different tasks each day. We will be finished with shoot thinning by the end of this week, as we have about 7 acres left in Oliver’s vineyard Riesling and sauvignon blanc to shoot thin. Shoot thinning is a pass we make through each of our blocks to remove undesirable or excessive shoots from canes and spurs in order to manage the canopy and the crop. Along with shoot thinning, we have been busy lifting trellis wires and shoot positioning in our pinot noir. This allows us to keep our canopies tight and vertical in an attempt to get as much sunlight into the canopy as possible. Leaf pulling will be our next big task in the vineyard, and will most likely start in pinot noir early next week. Leaf pulling is simply the removal of excess leaves in the fruit zone of the vines. This is done to increase sunlight exposure to the cluster which will help the cluster mature. Leaf pulling also opens up the canopy providing more air flow and less compaction. It is one of the most important things we can do to help ripen the year’s crop.
Well, with all that said it sure looks like we’ve got a lot of work ahead of us, so I better get back to it. Cheers!
Every year we hold an appreciation event for your Estate Subscriber Program wine club members. This year, Alyssa decided it would be fun to have a pizza maker and pasta. Out on the lawn in front of the winery building, on a perfect afternoon, our club members enjoyed pizzas, wonderful wines and a lovely pasta meal. Words cannot describe the "fun" but a few photos might.
|Estate Subscriber event in progress|
|The pizza maker||Pizzas fresh from the oven|
|Toss a cork, win a magnum of wine||Great library and current wines|
|A fun day at Talley Vineyards|
Every once in a while things need a little face lift. Maybe that means a fresh coat of paint or a new addition to a familiar sight. In Talley Vineyards’ case, it means a winery renovation. The Talley Vineyards winery was built in 1991. At the time, it was the eponymy of a modern day winery. Concrete tank stands, modern drains, and plenty of space for day-to-day winery activities. After twenty vintages in this space, we felt it was time to give the winery a revitalization.
|Knock down of wall in progress.||New catwalk in the winery.|
The first thing we did was knock out a wall to give us more space for fermentation and barrel work. The area we gained was more than we ever imagined. Next, we tore out our old catwalk that accessed the top of our tanks and replaced it with a stunning aluminum catwalk. Not only does it look clean but it makes it much easier for us to clean around the tanks.
The last renovation we had done was completely resurfacing the concrete floor in the winery. We patched all cracks and seams and through a long process, added a special coating. This coating consists of a polyurethane matrix system. It’s anti-microbial, durable and skid resistant that will hold up to heavy machinery, high traffic and dust. And more importantly, it makes the winery look really clean.
This is by far, the biggest upgrade of the facility since the winery was built. We’re all really excited to move back into our “new” winery. I’ve always felt there was a romantic quality to our 20-year old winery and I believe that after this renovation we’re prepared for the next 20 vintages.
Johnine and I have spent the past week in Florida, the second biggest market for our wines outside of California. By the time we finish, we will have traveled more than 1500 miles around the state.
We kicked off the trip with our first ever visit to the Florida Keys, that string of islands south of the main part of the state. We hosted a Wine Dinner at a private club in Key Largo called the Ocean Reef Club where we met many people from the Midwest and East Coast who spend their winters at the club. We also hosted a lunch for 26 customers, many from Key West who drove two hours to meet us and taste our wines, at the historic Cheeca Lodge. As we tasted the wines and talked about the unique character of the Arroyo Grande Valley, I kept thinking about those Corona ads we see on TV. It turns out that many are filmed in this area.
After two days in the Keys, it was time to head toward Miami, where I spent the day calling on customers with Melissa Lugo. We finished the day with a special tasting and dinner at the Hakassan at the Fontainebleu Hotel in Miami Beach. This is an amazing upscale Asian themed restaurant where they are pouring the Estate Pinot Noir by the glass. It was a special evening to taste through our portfolio with the salespeople who represent our wines in the area, and to say thank you to the sommelier at Hakassan who had chosen our wine from a lineup of more than 25 as his selection.
After South Florida we moved to a part of the state I’ve never visited before, the northwest “Panhandle” region. People in this area refer to it as “South Alabama.” We are participating in the annual South Walten Beaches Festival, one of the top 10 wine auctions in the United States, and which raises more than $1 million for local charities. We started with a low key welcome party featuring wine and beer tasting as well as Nashville based songwriters. The weekend includes several tastings, dinners and an auction. It will be a fun way to promote our wines and also raise money for a very worthy cause.
During our travels, we’ve had the pleasure of getting to know the people who sell our wines in the state. Our distributor in Florida, Augustan Wine Imports, sets the standard for the way that wholesale wine companies should operate. The company was originally founded by Proal and Connie Perry in the early 1990s, and we started doing business shortly thereafter. They have instilled a dedication to excellence at Augustan that I find inspiring. Johnine and I have enjoyed getting to know people here who love wine and are as passionate about the wine business as we are. We’re having a great time in Florida, and I encourage you to visit if you haven’t been here recently. The seafood is perfect with our chardonnay and pinot noir!
This week has been one of those weeks that I ask myself “why the heck didn’t I become a banker instead of a farmer?” This question usually runs through my head a few times a year between late February and early April as I am out in the vineyard running frost protection. Typically here in the Arroyo Grande and Edna Valleys, the coldest time of year for us is during the winter when the vines are dormant, but it seems like there is always a cold spell sometime in mid April when Mother Nature decides she wants to show us who is really in control.
As the vines begin to bud in early March, we begin to worry about frost. As temperatures drop into the low 30’s, this year’s delicate new growth can be severely stunted by only a couple hours of below freezing temperatures. Fortunately, we’ve got a few tools in the bag to help battle these cold temperatures. Utilizing some pretty cool technology, our vineyards are all hooked up to weather monitoring stations that send me and my frost supervisor a text message any time the temperature drops below 35 degrees F. From then, it’s a mad dash to hop in the truck and get to the ranch. Typically at this point I’m still about half asleep!
The first step is to turn on the wind machines like you’ll see in Brian’s video below. The wind machines keep the air circulating, (warm air from above, mixed with the cool air on the vineyard floor) preventing the formation of frost. The echoes of the wind machines can be heard from miles away on a really cold and clear night. In some of our vineyards we do not have wind machines, but fortunately we do have plenty of water. In these vineyards we depend on overhead irrigation to keep the vines protected. As water turns to ice, heat is given off and this typically will keep the vines from being damaged. It’s a pretty scary thing when the first light breaks through and you begin to see a thick layer of ice coated around the vines, but amazingly it works.
After these frosty nights, it only takes a few days of warm weather in the vineyard and a few nights of sleep to remind me that I chose the right job. Spring time in our vineyards is pretty hard to beat…as long as there is no frost!
One of the most common questions I get is “when should I drink that?” We had a tasting a few days ago to help answer that question. I sat down with Winemaker Eric Johnson, Vineyard Manager Travis Monk and Cellar Workers Nicole Morris and Pat Sigler for a tasting of 2005-2011 Estate Chardonnay and Pinot Noir—the two signature wines of Talley Vineyards.
We have produced both wines since our very first vintage, in 1986, and these wines are a real barometer of the season. Both are blends from our various vineyard blocks in the Arroyo Grande Valley—historically Rincon and Rosemary’s Vineyards, but soon to incorporate newer plantings in our Monte Sereno and Las Ventanas Vineyards.
We started with the chardonnays. I found the 2005 and 2006 wines to be just a bit past their prime. Both were pleasurable and would be wonderful with rich dishes like grilled chicken, lobster or a triple crème cheese, but they lacked a bit of freshness. The 2007-2010 wines were all in a sweet spot, displaying the lemon curd and mineral notes that make our chardonnays so distinctive. The 2008 especially had an elegant mineral aspect, and was my favorite of the flight. The consensus favorite was the 2010. Everyone loved the potential of the 2011, but felt that it was young relative to the others in the flight. My take home message for Estate Chardonnay, drink 3-6 years after the vintage.
Next we turned our attention to the pinot noirs. As is typical of pinot noir, these wines were more variable by vintage, and tended to evolve more in the glass as they sat open. For instance, many of us loved the delicate floral aroma and hints of leather in the 2005, but felt it faded with air. On the other hand, the 2006 was a leaner and more elegant wine that became more expressive as it sat in the glass. The 2007 and 2009 were riper vintages, emphasizing more black fruit, tannin and power—which some in the group loved and others didn’t. The 2010 had a beautiful floral aspect and penetrating raspberry elegance. The 2011 built on the character of the 2010, but with more richness. Feelings about these wines were all over the place—which is typical of pinot noir, and why it’s such a fickle grape to work with. All of these are fun to drink now. Cheers!
So I’ll just assume that you’ve heard about the Talley Farms Fresh Harvest program. (If not http://talleyfarmsfreshharvest.com ) Being part of this very inspiring produce program for almost a year now, I’ve started thinking different about dinner, and also where it comes from. I’ve noticed I’m not the only one.
After the last few decades of growing ingenuity in the food industry to produce more processed and genetically modified foods in large corporate facilities, the pendulum has really begun to swing the other way in the foodie culture. There has been a significant boom in the “eating local” movement, and with that, a public interest in supporting and meeting their local farmers and ranchers. I, along with the other 1,000 or so members that get a weekly Fresh Harvest box definitely fall into this category.
It’s my opinion that the wine industry initiated this way of thinking. For years, wine drinkers have willingly been inundated with information about terroir, vineyard practices, and the farming ethics that all contribute to the differing profiles of their wines. General interest in this topic has been piqued and it’s only natural that it would translate to food and other products. But really, who would have ever guessed that a discussion about soil, irrigation, and pesticides would be so necessary- especially at meal time?
Recently, there have been several new food and wine events created in an effort to bring the public closer to their local growers. This month alone, there are two major events here on the Central Coast that aim to put farmers, wineries, and consumers together. Talley Vineyards will be participating in both.
First, we will be attending the Earth Day Food and Wine Festival on April 20th up at Pomar Junction in Paso Robles http://earthdayfoodandwine.com. This very hip annual event celebrates everything food and wine with a focus on sustainable, bio-dynamic, and organic. Second, we will be participating in the first annual Farmfest at the Dinosaur Caves Park in Shell Beach http://www.slowine.com/events/farmfest.php. This event will feature over 25 wineries and an unprecedented number of local producers from Central Coast Creamery to our own Talley Farms Fresh Harvest!
At Talley Vineyards, and now Talley Farms, we’re always eager for an opportunity to educate. Hopefully you too will have the chance to attend these events and “shake the hand that feeds you”.
One of the things that I have always enjoyed about my job at Talley Vineyards is that I have a lot of freedom to do unique projects. This last week, I had the opportunity to go out in the field with our vineyard manager Travis Monk and irrigation supervisor Ben Jauregui to dig out soil pits and collect soil samples from our six vineyards in the Arroyo Grande and Edna Valleys. Our goal is to create displays in the tasting room that show the uniqueness of the soils in our growing region, and also to help to explain the differences in our wines from each of these sites.
I think it’s important to mention that Travis and Ben are both exceptionally talented. Ben, the best dressed of most Talley employees, is a madman on the big John Deere backhoe. If, for any reason you need a wedge-shaped pit dug six feet deep in less than five minutes, Ben’s your man. Travis made light work of the pickaxe/hand hoe and kept me from getting dirty, though I did come ready to work. I suppose it was a good thing that I didn’t get dirty, because this work that I expected to take a whole day or two was skillfully done in one morning before lunch.
As we moved from vineyard to vineyard, we were really struck by the uniqueness of the soils from location to location. The biggest fear is that we would take all of these samples and find the soils too similar to each other for our displays. On paper, the soils are all very different, with many changes in soil even within the same vineyard, but you really don’t know what to expect from a single dig site within a vineyard. The challenge now is to rebuild these unique soils in clear cylinders to display in the tasting room. This will involve carefully drying the soils and scaling each layer down to the correct depth to fit the cylinders, which are still pretty big at 42 inches tall.
If you visit our tasting room in the summertime, be sure to check out our Rincon Room which will be a fun, educational room dedicated to the uniqueness of the Arroyo Grande and Edna Valleys. We will have history, timelines, vineyard maps and photos, as well as soil displays and multimedia presentations – all of which we hope will enhance your wine tasting experience here in the tasting room!