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.