We are in the midst of the earliest harvest in our history, and it’s not just grapes--this is the first time I can remember having heirloom tomatoes in Arroyo Grande in July. I looked back through my records and our previous early grape harvest occurred in 1997 when we started on August 5. This year, we started August 1, almost exactly a month before we started last year.
What explains the early harvest? The obvious answer is the weather, starting with unseasonably warm weather in January, which caused early budbreak. A persistent high pressure weather system resulted in warm temperatures and dry conditions through the winter, spring and into the early summer. Consequently, every step of our growing season occurred earlier than normal. The weather turned foggy and much cooler in July, though by then the die was cast for an early harvest.
To date, we’ve harvested 18 tons of pinot noir and 12 tons of chardonnay from the West Rincon, Rosemary’s and Monte Sereno Vineyards. We are seeing excellent ripeness at lower sugars, and lower acidity than normal. We attribute this to the warmer nights we’ve been experiencing lately, which tends to cause the respiration of malic acid. Yields are very close to our projections and the crop is slightly smaller than 2013.
Our early harvest didn’t prevent us from hosting the fourth annual Picnic in the Vineyard luncheon last Saturday. This popular event is open to members of our wine clubs and features tables under tents set up right in the middle of the East Rincon Vineyard. This year’s lunch was dedicated to the memory of Travis Monk, our Vineyard Manager who passed away this spring. It was a beautiful day in the vineyard, made more meaningful when we reflected Travis’s hard work, commitment and dedication to his job. As we bring in the harvest of 2014, we are truly finishing what Travis started.
This past Sunday marked the 21st Annual Marianne Talley Memorial Fun Run. With about 500 participants, including runners, walkers, volunteers, and sponsors, this is the single biggest annual event we host at the winery. My appreciation goes to Race Director Marian Fiorentino who organizes and orchestrates the whole thing. Along with our Cioppino Dinner, the Fun Run is one of two key fundraising activities for the Marianne Talley Foundation, which grants college scholarships to Arroyo Grande High School students. To date, the Foundation has donated more than $200,000 and supported the college education of 42 students.
The Fun Run has special meaning for me because it’s a way to celebrate my sister’s life that I know she would have enjoyed--she was an avid athlete who competed in sports throughout her life. It’s also a fitness motivator for me because, since the first year, we’ve given special t-shirts to everyone who beats me in the race. This year, 14 people “Beat the Vintner” and earned one of the coveted t-shirts. Overall winners were Audrey McClish and John Nichols in the 5K, Kara Thorne and Kevin Cooper in the 10K and Taylor Jones and Joshua Bell in the Youth Mile. Complete results, photos and video are available on the Marianne Talley Fun Run Page. (link)
As much as I enjoy the friendly competition, it’s really the sense of camaraderie and community I feel when everyone gathers to support a worthy cause, get some exercise and enjoy a beautiful morning that makes me feel good. I also feel inspired by people with physical challenges who come out and compete: people like four year old Trevor Bell who completed the mile run with his prosthetic leg and 10 year old Heaven Vallejo, who is blind, and ran the 5K with two guides assisting her every step of the way.
Next year’s fun run is already scheduled for Sunday, June 7. There’s something for everyone—a 5K, 10K, 1 mile walk and 1 mile youth run. For those of you who came out this year—come on back. If you haven’t participated before, I urge you to join us for a truly special day. Cheers!
One of my favorite days of the year is just around the corner. Sunday, June 1 will mark the 21st Annual Marianne Talley Fun Run which serves as a key fundraiser for the Marianne Talley Foundation as well as a celebration of my sister’s life. Marianne was born a little more than a year after me and was an avid athlete all of her life, a high school league champion in swimming and a finisher of the famed Ironman Triathlon in Hawaii. She passed away suddenly in 1993 after a brief workout with one of her personal training clients. We established the Marianne Talley Foundation to support college bound students from Arroyo Grande High School and have now granted more than $200,000 in scholarships since that time. We established the Fun Run in 1994 to financially support the scholarship program, but also to bring together many of my sister’s friends in the running and fitness community for a day of celebration.
Since the beginning, the event has been special day for our family, but now it’s bigger and better than ever. The most popular feature is the 5K, both because it’s a distance that many people feel comfortable running or walking and because everyone who beats me gets a special t-shirt that says “I Beat the Vintner.” This will be the third year we’ve had a 10K, a popular fun run distance. We also have a 1 mile walk and a 1 mile youth run for those 13 and under. After the run, we have an awards ceremony, a great raffle and this year we’ve added a bonus raffle with $10 tickets and a chance to win some special prizes including a complete dinner for 8 at Ventana Grill.
I hope you can join us on Sunday, June 1. For all the details, including registration information, go to the Fun Run page of our website. For questions, email Race Director Marian Fiorentino, firstname.lastname@example.org. I hope to see you race day! BT
I have two teenage daughters and one of the questions people ask me all the time is, “do either of your girls want to take over the winery?” or something along those lines. My honest answer is that I don’t know. My hope is that my girls follow their passion, get a good education and do what makes them happy.
|Elizabeth & Olivia, 2005||Olivia & Elizabeth, 2014|
We just spent three wonderful days in Southern California looking at potential universities for Olivia. She is leaning toward UC Berkeley and would become the fourth generation in our family to attend that school, but she also really likes Boston College and UCLA. Elizabeth has been accepted to Cal Poly (following in her mother’s footsteps) and will start next fall in the Agricultural Communications Department. The girls have come to enjoy and appreciate certain aspects of the business, especially the part that involves travel and dining in restaurants like Spago in Beverly Hills or Gordon Ramsay in New York. They’ve become very adept at helping us entertain and can do everything from setting the table, assisting in the kitchen, baking dessert and serving the meal to cleaning up at the end. Elizabeth has extensive knowledge of social media and photography and gives me tips about how to better engage our customers. Olivia is currently working as an intern for our local Assemblyman where she’s learning the finer details of constituent service. They both sound like absolute naturals for this business….
Eric listens to Paul Draper of
Last week I took Winemaker Eric Johnson and Vineyard Manager Travis Monk on a field trip to visit some of my favorite wineries in California. I find it inspiring to visit people who are as passionate and committed as we are here at Talley Vineyards. We started on Monday with a visit to Ridge Vineyards, the legendary producer of Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon located high in the Santa Cruz Mountains, overlooking the Silicon Valley. Paul Draper, one of the icons of California wine, shared with us the amazing history of Monte Bello, the estate vineyard that produces one of California’s most highly regarded Cabernets. Before we knew it, three hours had passed and we were scrambling to make it to San Francisco in time for dinner at Restaurant Gary Danko.
Tuesday was all about pinot noir and chardonnay. Longtime Williams Selyem Winemaker Bob Cabral shared his insights on the evolution of his iconic pinot noir over the last 17 years. We finished with a tour of the estate vineyard which features a field blend of various pinot noir clones before joining our friends David Fischer and Cameron Frey for lunch and a comprehensive tasting of Ramey wines. Much like Talley Vineyards, they focus on flavor development and balance in their elegantly crafted chardonnays.
Eric and Travis at Williams Selyem.
The Sonoma County chardonnay and pinot noir theme continued on Wednesday. We took an extensive tour of the Littorai property just outside Sebastopol with much focus on Ted Lemon’s biodynamic farm and a tasting of some of the most elegant chardonnay and pinot noir produced in California. After that, we joined Geoff Labitzke for a tasting at Kistler Vineyards, which many consider to be the benchmark for Sonoma County chardonnay.
Thursday’s visits were focused in the Napa Valley. Failla is a winery owned by Winemaker Ehren Jordan that is located south of Calistoga on the Silverado Trail though the majority of this wines come from grapes grown on the Sonoma Coast. We were impressed with Ehren’s outside the box thinking with respect to winegrowing and the impeccable balance of his wines. Our final visit of the trip was to Tim Mondavi’s Continuum Estate on Pritchard Hill in the Napa Valley. It was great to tour this amazing site, though it was even better to talk to Tim Mondavi, taste the current release of Continuum and learn how his long tenure as the Winemaker at Robert Mondavi informs his approach now. It was an inspiring and thought provoking week and I can’t wait to do it again!
Johnine and the girls at the main temple building, Fushimi-ku, Kyoto Japan.
I’m writing this post in the midst of my second ever visit to Japan. This has been a great trip, made even more special because Johnine and our daughters, Elizabeth and Olivia, were able to join me. Elizabeth did much pre arrival research and planning and our itinerary has been filled with visits to temples and shrines in Tokyo and Kyoto and a planned visit to Hiroshima. Having said that, my major focus has been business and I’m proud of the fact that we will likely sell more wine in Japan than all but our largest markets in the US this year. We have the enthusiastic support of an importer called Jalux who has made a serious commitment to Talley Vineyards.
Food and wine are serious business in Japan and there are more Michelin starred restaurants in this country than in France. The great wines of the world are prominently featured in wine shops, wine bars and on restaurant wine lists. A trade tasting and seminar featuring chardonnay and pinot noir from Talley Vineyards, Au Bon Climat and DuMol had amazing attendance and a super engaged audience. Sommeliers and retailers here take their craft seriously, pay special attention during tastings and ask great questions, though the translation slows things down a bit.
Kozo and Diana Hasegawa with us at their restaurant, Tableaux.
Wines like ours that are made in a balanced and elegant style are celebrated here because they complement Japanese cuisine, renowned for its refinement and subtlety. Culinary highlights included Johnine’s birthday dinner at Kurasawa where the chef prepared a tempura tasting menu in a private room for our family as well as a ten course Kaseiki (traditional Japanese tasting menu) dinner at a Michelin 2 star restaurant in Kyoto called Roan Kikuni. I also reconnected with the first person to import our wines into Japan, Kozo Hasegawa, when he hosted a special wine dinner featuring Talley Vineyards and three other wineries, at his famed Tokyo restaurant Tableaux.
It’s rewarding to see our business grow in a place that cherishes food and wine. I can’t wait to come back!
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!
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!
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.|
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, www.talleyfarmsfreshharvest.com, 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!