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.
Well it's official, the new year is underway. Most of the vineyard employees are returning to work this week and soon we will begin pruning. It's been pretty quiet in the vineyards over the last couple of weeks, but with the warm winter we've been having and the lack of any rain, it's time to begin our season and prepare for bud break in the upcoming weeks.
Currently we are pre pruning. So what is pre pruning? Pre pruning is a step we take just before pruning in some of our blocks, that removes a large portion of last year's growth but will not complete our pruning pass. At pruning we take last year's growth down to 1 or 2 buds for optimal vine balance and grape quality. With pre pruning however, we are only removing the tops of last year's shoots, but still leaving behind 5 to 6 buds.
Following pre pruning, we will revisit these blocks and make our final pruning cuts just before bud break. So why prune twice? It's a good question, and certainly there are a lot of vineyards that do not pre prune, but there are some advantages to it for us at Talley. First, it's a way to keep our vineyard employees working during the slower winter season. As mentioned above, some of our employees enjoy taking a break to return home for the holidays, but for those that don't we can keep them busy pre pruning during this time. Pre pruning also speeds up our pruning process. Because pre pruning does not require much attention to detail, vineyard employees are able to make quick passes through the vineyard removing the excessive growth from last year. When we come back to prune these same vines, the attention to detail will be necessary, but there will also be a lot less growth to fight through and remove. Last, pre pruning also helps to delay bud break a little longer. For this reason we will pre prune in areas of the vineyard that the temperatures can be a little colder. By delaying bud break by just a week or two, we buy ourselves a little more time in not having to worry about frost damage. Late February and March are the riskiest times of year for us here in the Arroyo Grande and Edna valleys as our fresh new vine growth is very susceptible to damage when temperatures drop into the low 30's.
There's a lot that goes into deciding how to prune, and here at Talley we certainly have adopted many different techniques of pruning and training our vines for the utmost quality. This week we will complete one of the last tasks that really helps us in deciding how to prune, our production tasting. All day Wednesday and Thursday, alongside our owner, winemaker, and assistant winemaker, I will taste through every single lot of wines we produced for 2013. It's a tough job, but somebody's gotta do it, right?
As fun as it sounds to taste wine all day and actually call it work, these next two days are extremely important for many reasons. During the tasting we are scoring each wine on its quality and are focused on being extremely critical. It's important for us to identify the wines we think are the highest quality and discuss why we think they turned out so well, and conversely we identify the wines that we're not so proud of and brainstorm what we can do differently. Green unripe flavors or pale color could indicate a wine that was made from grapes that had not ripened enough or could have been over cropped. Maybe this wine would have benefited from some increased pruning, which would lead to less grapes but potentially higher sugars and more flavor development. Maybe we'll taste a wine we all really like, but look back to find out our yields were extremely low. Changing the pruning technique could be a possible tool to help us get more from this site. This tasting is extremely important and valuable to me as a vineyard manager, and will truly help us make our final pruning decisions before we start pruning next week. After this week one thing's for sure, our pruning plans will be set and my taste buds will be shot! Two full days of wine tasting can be pretty overwhelming, so wish me luck...and pray for some rain!
My name is Nicole Morris and I am the cellar assistant here at Talley Vineyards. As you may have heard, 2013 was a plentiful and intense harvest. Harvest 2013 was my seventh in the wine industry. As much fun as it was, I am glad it is over.
Now that we have time to sit back and reflect on the long hours and craziness we have just endured, there are still many winery tasks that need to be accomplished. Currently we have over twenty fermenters that are in the late stages of fermentation. They are mostly Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Verdot, and Syrah. Towards the end of harvest, the cooler temperatures in the cellar contribute to a slower fermentation time. Most of these reds varietals, which are from the Paso Robles area, will be finished fermenting and pressed off by next week.
Another task we are working on is the consolidation of the chardonnay barrels. Chardonnay that is fermented in barrels is initially filled only three-fourths full. The head space is left for the fizzle and foam of fermentation. So a 60 gallon barrel is only filled with chardonnay to 45 gallons. A barrel filled to the top would overflow leaving the liquid gold, as we call the foam, all over the barrel room floor. Still, some barrels do end up overflowing during fermentation. Once the fermentation is complete the barrels are consolidated, filled and topped off. They will now go through secondary fermentation and age in the cellar.
Eventually, all barrels in the barrel room will be topped off and stored. From here on out, barrel topping will happen about once a month because about a half a gallon of wine evaporates from a barrel each month. This head space from evaporation puts wine in a more vulnerable state for spoilage organisms to take over. Topping the barrels prevents this from happening.
The intensity of harvest is coming to an end and we are being rewarded by the beautiful autumn colors in the vineyard. Even though we are we are still keeping busy with these “end of harvest” activities, one cannot help but feel accomplished and surprised that yet another harvest has passed. We here at Talley Vineyards are very excited to see the results of the 2013 harvest, and even more excited about having a whole weekend off.
Last March Andy McDaniel, our then Guest Services Coordinator, contributed a blog entry entitled Playing in the Dirt. In that blog Andy described the complicated logistics of collecting soil samples from our various vineyards in the Arroyo Grande and Edna Valleys. He also shared the reason behind this dirty effort - the creation of a soil sample display for our tasting room.
The end result of all that digging can now be viewed by tasting room visitors. At first glance it may appear that we’ve simply filled seven large cylinders with dirt. But take a closer look and I think you will agree that it is much more than that. To even my untrained eye, it is remarkable to see the variation in color, texture and structure of the soils displayed. These differences are not just evident when comparing the different vineyards, but exist even within the layers of a single vineyard site. Seeing the uniqueness of the soils, I can’t help but think how that is all a part of what makes each of our wines so distinctive. It makes it easy to embrace the concept of terrior, that sense of place, and to realize how Talley Vineyards wines are truly a reflection of the vineyard site they originate from.
Next time you visit our tasting room, I encourage you to spend some time looking at each of the soil samples, as well as the beautiful vineyard photographs alongside them. Enjoy your wine tasting, pay special attention to the vineyard source for each wine you try and think about the diversity of the soil sample displays. I believe there is a lot to learn from those cylinders of dirt!
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!|
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.|
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!
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!
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