I often tell people that you can’t be a farmer if you don’t love the weather. More precisely, I mean that we must accept the fact that the weather is beyond our control and we adjust our schedule and practices accordingly. It’s important to keep this in mind as we ride the roller coaster that is harvest.
This week, we’re experiencing our annual Indian Summer—that last bit of warm weather that finishes harvest. We’ve had some of the warmest weather of the year during this period, with temperatures in the high 90s. This is due to high pressure moving over our area and the presence of Santa Ana conditions—a warm offshore flow as opposed to our typical pattern of cool onshore breezes. This mini heat wave came right on the heels of a rainstorm last week that dumped just over an inch of rain in the Arroyo Grande Valley.
At this point, everything on our ranches has been harvested with the exception of some chardonnay in the Rincon Vineyard, which we will finish on Monday. The other exception is about three tons of sauvignon blanc in Oliver’s Vineyard that we will attempt to make into a sweet dessert wine. The rain we received last week created perfect conditions for botrytis cinerea, often referred to as the “noble rot.” Botrytis is a fungus that grows ongrapes due to wet conditions and which causes the grapes to shrivel and the sugar and acid to become extremely concentrated. This is undesirable in most of the wines we produce, and we typically go to great lengths to prevent it, including leaf removal and thinning of infected grape clusters. Botrytis is critical for the production of white dessert wines and sauvignon blanc is one of the white grape varieties most suited to make this wine. Consequently, we decided to leave those grapes on the vine with the hope to let botrytis grow and to make our second ever late harvest sauvignon blanc. The only other time we did this was in 1994, when we had a very rainy harvest. That wine was legendary.
So here’s another way of expressing my “learn to love the weather” mantra: when you have lemons, make lemonade. When you have rain, make dessert wine!
This past summer Brian Talley packed his bags and set out to meet with some of the top food and wine writers in the country to share our 25 year portfolio of chardonnays. This precarious mission to meet with these most discerning reviewers and host a retrospective tasting has proven to be an incredible success. Over the past few months, numerous articles have surfaced in magazines and around the web about the true age worthiness of our wines. One of the most flattering in our recent accolades was when Food and Wine Magazine named Talley Vineyards as one of “The World’s Most Trustworthy Wineries”. We’ve been regularly sharing this press with our friends on Facebook, but just in case you missed it, here are a few exciting highlights of what the experts had to say:
I would confidently put any of the Talley wines toe-to-toe with Grand Cru French Burgundy. Talley’s wines definitely made a statement; not all California Chardonnays are equal, and California Chardonnays crafted in a classical style and grown in cooler climates deserve a second look. They also merit a place in your cellar, to be savored today and twenty years from now.- Katie Kelley Bell, Forbes
Talleys wines don’t have to be old to taste good. We also tasted five delicious Chardonnays that were brand new. The important thing about these wines is that they have generous acidity and restrained fruit. In other words, they are far more reminiscent of a European wine. - Austin Chronicle
Made in a Burgundian-style with an emphasis on the vineyards and creating a true sense of place, instead of manipulation in the winery, Talley Vineyards succeeds in delivering a lively white filled with citrus and stone fruit notes, balanced with layers of spice and nuttiness. Enjoy a bottle young, and then let one age for a few years and you’ll see the flavors develop into rich caramel notes while maintaining the acidity and brightness of the fruit. - Hayley Hamilton
The two best surprises came from the oldest bottle we tasted, the 1994 Talley’s Vineyard, as well as the 2001 Rosemary’s Vineyard which both maintained their consistency in structure, balance and acidity, proving that these wines could easily continue to age an additional number of years. – D Magazine
- Talley remains one of the great estates in California that has yet to be fully discovered. As a result, prices remain exceedingly fair considering the quality of what goes into the bottle. - Antonio Galloni, The Wine Advocate
Wow, it’s already October, which means we have been harvesting for over a month now! Almost daily picks of Pinot Noir kept us busy all September, with the sorting table and destemmer going nonstop. The winery has been at capacity, with fermentors of grape must in every open corner, and hand punchdowns happening nonstop. Now that many of the Pinot fermentations have been finishing up, we’ve been able to start pressing dry lots and racking them to barrel, where they can finish malo-lactic fermentation and give us a chance to start focusing on the Chardonnay.
With last weekend’s heat wave, many of our Rosemary’s and Oliver’s Chardonnay blocks got just the push they needed to finish ripening. As the seemingly endless bins of Chardonnay arrive we will send them straight to the presses to be whole cluster pressed and then put straight to barrel for fermentation.
During hot weather weeks like this, we really see what a difference it makes that our vineyard crews hand harvest at night. On big pick days the crews will start anywhere from 8 PM to midnight and continue until sunrise, delivering beautiful, cool fruit that’s ready to be processed at the winery. Big thanks to the vineyard crews for all their hard work and crazy hours to get us the best fruit possible!
So far harvest 2012 looks like a dream come true. After the vintages of 2010 and 2011, which featured excellent quality, but lower yields, 2012 looks to be one of those very special years that combines exceptional quality and good production, especially for pinot noir. Best of all, the weather forecast for the next few weeks looks just like what we've had for the past two months--highs in the mid to upper 70s.
While weather is important to the quality of the finished wines, the key role that our production team plays can't be understated. Winemaker Eric Johnson has been with us 5 years and has come to know the characteristics that make each of our vineyards special and unique. He is ably assisted by Assistant Winemaker Nicole Pope, Cellarmaster Ignacio Zarate (who just celebrated 30 years in our family farming operations), Nicole Morris and a great team of Cal Poly interns.
The vineyard team is charged with farming our vineyards and ensuring that the grapes are harvested as gently and efficiently as possible. This team is lead by Vineyard Manager Kevin Wilkinson and Travis Monk, who will assume the role of Vineyard Manager after this harvest. Longtime Vineyard Foreman Daniel Martinez leads a dedicated and experienced vineyard crew during late night and early morning harvests to ensure that the grapes arrive at the winery early and cool.
The final element that will make the wines of 2012 so special is the deployment of the right tools to capture all of the potential quality of the vintage. These include a state-of-the-art destemmer that very gently removes the grapes from the stems, vibrating tables that allow for careful sorting of clusters and individual berries, and a stainless steel basket press that gently extracts the wine from the skins.
Perfect weather, a great team, and all the right tools--it all adds up to what I believe will be a very special vintage.
It’s been quite a year for Talley Vineyards in the press. If you’re our friend on Facebook, follow our Twitter feed or read this blog, I’m sure you’ve seen some of the fantastic accolades our wines have garnered this year. It seems that there is a consensus in the trade that our wines are “ageworthy”, “world-class” and according to a recent Food and Wine Magazine article, Talley Vineyards is one of the “World’s Most Trustworthy Wineries”. With all that in mind, I have to pose the question…Why doesn’t anyone know where we’re located?
For the record, Talley Vineyards is located in Arroyo Grande, California. I get it, Arroyo Grande is a fly-over city, but so was Anaheim before Walt built Disneyland. I’m not suggesting Talley Vineyards is a destination like Disneyland, but it is a special place. Our terrior, the sense of a place that influences and shapes our wines, has been nationally recognized by some of the most highly regarded names in the wine industry. With that in mind, I think it’s important that people understand where we are located in order to better appreciate what environmental influences are contributing to our wines. And equally important, so they can visit us!
When most people think of California wine growing regions they think of Napa and Sonoma. Some may know about Monterey and Santa Barbara Counties. The very savvy are familiar with Paso Robles. But where exactly does that leave Talley Vineyards? I’ll tell you where. Halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, more specifically halfway between Santa Barbara and Paso Robles, sits San Luis Obispo County’s tiny little coastal town of Arroyo Grande Valley, home of Talley Vineyards, where we grow world class chardonnay and pinot noir. So next time you hear about Talley Vineyards, we hope you think of us here at home in the Arroyo Grande Valley.
Regular readers of the Winegrower’s Blog might point out that Winemaker Eric Johnson announced the start of harvest in his August 17 post. Indeed, we harvested two small lots of pinot noir for a rosé and a sparkling wine. Both of these wines are made in a low alcohol, clean crisp style that calls for harvest much earlier than for our classically styled pinot noir. Removing these two outliners from the equation, our harvest started about 1 week later than it has over the past 2 years.
If you visit the winery now, you can watch our cellar crew making wine, but you will be hard pressed to see anyone harvesting grapes. This is because almost all of our harvesting is done at night. This keeps the grapes as cool as possible and also helps with harvest flow because the first grapes are already at the winery when the winemaking team arrives in the morning.
Many people ask me, “how is 2012?” It’s a very simple question, but the answer unfolds over time as we gather more information. Here’s what I can say now. Because this was a relatively dry growing season, we’ve experienced less mildew and botrytis pressure than normal. This generally implies better quality. The crop is about average in size for chardonnay, and above average for pinot noir. I sum it up as “good quality, good crop.” We will have a much better idea after we’ve harvested more and the first wines go dry.
In January, when we conduct our first extensive tastings of the vintage, we can draw more conclusions. Finally, in the late spring of 2013, we will conduct the tastings that will determine the Single Vineyard Selections and the Estate wines for the vintage. That’s when I can more definitively answer the question “how was 2012?”
If you want another person’s perspective of our 2010 vintage wines, I invite you to check out the Wine Advocate Reviews that just came out.
Harvest is just around the corner and I thought I this would be a great time to discuss one of the most important pieces of equipment at the winery. The wine press is used to extract juice (in the case of white wine) or wine (for red) from the grapes. We have a number of presses at the winery. Here’s an introduction to each, from smallest to largest. Winemaker Eric Johnson is in each picture to lend perspective.
Ethan’s Press—this small press belongs to Ethan Etnyre, local doctor, friend of the winery and home winemaker. His wife Karen gave it to him a few years ago as a gift. Ethan has determined that he prefers to bring the grapes he grows at his house to Talley Vineyards to be pressed, so we accommodate him. Consequently, this press doesn’t get much use. Maybe we’ll use it for a micro batch this year, just for fun.
Traditional Basket Press—This small basket press was recently restored by my friend Stan Shahan, who also happens to be a home winemaker. It now stands near the front door of the tasting room and is a real showpiece. Like all traditional basket presses, it employs a steel plate that is ratcheted down from the top, applying pressure to the must (crushed red grapes). The basket consists of slats of oak. The wine runs into a steel channel at the bottom, then into a bucket or other small container.
New Basket Press—This is Winemaker Eric Johnson’s pride and joy. It is the state-of-the-art press used in the production of many of the best red wines produced in the world, including our single vineyard pinot noirs. It works with the same principle as the traditional wood basket press, though employs a hydraulic ram (as opposed to a hand rachet system). It is also made of stainless steel. This press yields beautiful clear red wine with soft tannins.
Europress—This is a tank press. While the basket press is ideal for red wine production, this is perfect for white wine, especially chardonnay. All of our chardonnay is whole cluster pressed, which yields clean juice with good acid balance and little phenolic bitterness. Whole clusters of grapes are loaded into the press, through doors at the top. Inside the press is a giant bag that inflates with air. The juice runs into the pan at the bottom of the press before being pumped into a tank. Check out this video on operating the press taken in 2009, back when Eric Johnson, now winemaker, was the enologist at Talley Vineyards.
It feels like harvest is right around the corner. Although it will be over a month until the first grapes are picked, you can’t help but feel the buzz and anticipation start to build at the winery. After bottling the 2011 Bishop’s Peak Chardonnay and Pinot Noir last week, and now blending and aging the rest of the wines until next year, the work on the 2011 vintage is winding down and the preparations for the 2012 vintage have begun.
New oak barrels have started arriving from our favorite French cooperages, and soon enough we will be dusting off the de-stemmers, presses, and picking bins that have been in hibernation since last fall. The cleaning tasks are not glamorous and are never-ending, but there is nothing like having a sparkling crush pad and freshly power-washed barrel room to get you (or just me!) excited about bringing in those first grapes of the season.
I think most winemakers can agree that the weeks before harvest bring out all kinds of emotions, from hope to excitement to anxiety. With how the 2012 growing season is going so far, it looks like there should be nothing but excitement for the grape quality this year.
Every year around early summer I feel that the previous year’s Pinot Noirs start to turn the corner. The flavors have matured to a point that they start to taste like wine and are no longer as young and awkward tasting as they were in the winter. Once the wines have “turned the corner” the winemaking staff is involved in hours of tastings which ultimately leads to the finale of blending of the various estate and single vineyard wines. This is a great time of year because we can really get a vision of how the vintage faired and honestly, we can see if we did our job in the vineyard and winery.
As much as I love making the Rosemary’s and Rincon Vineyards blends I have to say that I am extremely intrigued when it comes to the Stone Corral Pinot Noir. The Stone Corral Vineyard is unique in that the Talley family collaborated with local winemakers, Stephen Ross Dooley (Stephen Ross Wines) and Don Othman (Kynsi), in a long-term lease arrangement to share the grapes. The vineyard is divided into 5 distinct vineyard blocks, with each block divided into thirds and designated for Talley Vineyards, Stephen Ross Wines and the Kynsi Winery.
Around this time of year the production staff from all three wineries, get together and taste the previous year’s pinot noir from the Stone Corral Vineyard, block by block. I always look forward to this tasting because it clearly shows the influence of the winery’s house style. It amazes me how different the wines are, they are all very distinctive. If I didn’t know, I would swear the pinots were from different vineyards across California. Even though you have the same grapes, the wines are still defined by the winery. I guess that’s what makes this process so interesting for me.