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Winegrower's Blog

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.

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!

Brian Talley, Vintner
 
June 14, 2013 | Brian Talley, Vintner

Visiting a Cooperage in France

Join Brian Talley and winemaker, Eric Johnson, as they visit a cooperage in France.

Brian Talley, Vintner
 
May 24, 2013 | Brian Talley, Vintner

New York State of Mind

Brooklyn Bridge

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.

Historic Bedford Sign

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.

Sunset over the Hudson River

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.

Brian Talley, Vintner
 
April 26, 2013 | Brian Talley, Vintner

Brian and Johnine’s Excellent Florida Adventure

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!

Brian Talley, Vintner
 
April 12, 2013 | Brian Talley, Vintner

When Should I Drink That?

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!

Brian Talley, Vintner
 
March 22, 2013 | Brian Talley, Vintner

20 Years of Service

Readers of this blog are aware that I’ve used this space to introduce new employees.  Today, I’d like to recognize the service of two members of our team who have worked with my family for 20 years apiece, and who have been critical to our success.

Ignacio (Nacho) Zarate is our Cellarmaster.  He leads our cellar crew and ensures that the workorders created by Winemaker Eric Johnson are executed accurately and efficiently.  I first met Nacho in 1978 when we picked beans together at Talley Farms.  Over the years, he worked in a number of different roles on the farm until 1995 when we had an opening at the winery and he came to work here.  Since that time, he has mastered all of the key cellar tasks including operating our presses, destemmers and bottling equipment.  Most recently, he has taken charge of the operation of our state-of-the-art cross flow filter, and he filtered the 2012 Bishop’s Peak white wines that we bottled a few weeks ago.  Nacho is widely regarded to have the best sense of humor at the winery and especially enjoys pranks and practical jokes.   

Our Director of Business Operations, Michele Good, joined us in 1993 as our Tasting Room Manager.  At that time, the full-time employees consisted of Winemaker Steve Rasmussen, Cellarmaster Jose Cuevas, Johnine and me.  Michele had graduated from Cal Poly’s business school with a concentration in marketing and had worked in the tasting room at Maison Duetz (now Laetitia).  Over time, Michele’s role changed and grew.  As is the case with any small but growing business, she had to cover many bases: harvesting grapes, punching down pinot noir, bottling wine, handling collections and pouring at countless events.  In her current role she oversees all aspects of winery and vineyard administration and is a critical member of our management team.  Michele is the pragmatic member of our team who isn’t afraid to tell me I’m crazy. 

Nacho and Michele have the longest tenures of service of any of the full-time employees here at the winery.  I’m thankful for their dedication to Talley Vineyards and for their contribution to our success.

Time Posted: Mar 22, 2013 at 2:50 PM