Well it's official, winter is here. Unfortunately winter has not yet brought us any rain, but it's sure been cold. I'm sure many of you have seen on the local news the threats that frost brings to farmers here on the Central Coast. A few people have been asking me what the cold weather means for us at Talley Vineyards. Luckily on the vineyard side of things, the cold winter frosts do not do us much harm. Most of the vines have shut down for the year and are going into dormancy. The leaves have mostly dried up and blown off with the strong winter winds we've been having. Colder temperatures will help to keep these vines dormant until mid to late February. So what the heck do we do the rest of the year? Well, there's still quite a bit going on.
Our vineyard crews are busy getting ready for next year. There's quite a bit of maintenance work fixing broken end posts, tightening trellis wire and dropping the training wires back down to get them out of the way for next year's growth. The crew has also been busy helping the winery with their winter bottling. The tractor drivers have completed the cover crop planting and will begin to focus on some winter weed control. With the lack of rain, our irrigator has stayed busy getting water to the vines and I've been busy on the computer working on budgets and coming up with next year's pruning plans. We will most likely begin some pre-pruning at the end of the month.
So what else is going on at Talley Vineyards? Well today is one of my favorite days of the year to work here at Talley. Today is the Talley Farms Annual Ranch Barbecue. All the employees from Talley Vineyards and Talley Farms, along with many of our local growers and vendors, will congregate at the packing shed tomorrow around lunch time for a Santa Maria style feast. The tostadas are the biggest hit! It's my favorite event of the year, because it is the one time of the year that nearly all 200+ employees can come together and celebrate the year. It is a great time to let us show thanks to all of our employees for the hard work that makes our business possible. One of the big events of the day is the long term employees photo. Each year the Talley's take an updated group photo with all the employees that have been with the company 20 years or longer. It's amazing how large this group has become and really shows what a great place this is to work. I'm only bringing about 6 years with Talley to the table, so I still have a ways to go before I'm photo worthy, but it's amazing how quickly the seasons pass by. This season is winding down, but the next one is just right around the corner. I hope everyone can enjoy the end of the season and best wishes for a Happy Holiday.
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.|
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!
I am going to have to ask you all to forgive my spelling this week, as my simple grammar skills aren’t too sharp during the busy harvest season. Harvest is probably the busiest time of year for both winery and vineyard employees, but here on the central coast harvesting is typically done at night. For us here at Talley, that typically means starting between 2:00am and 4:00am depending on the amount of grapes to pick. A busy harvesting day can typically last for about an eight hour shift and consist of 10-40 tons of grapes depending on the variety.
The reason we are harvesting at night is driven by quality. Temperature is the key here. With daytime temperatures in the upper 70’s to low 80’s (ideally!!!), there is a lot going on inside the grape cluster itself. Higher temperatures typically lead to more maturation which translates to quicker ripening. By picking at night, when the temperatures are typically in the 50’s, sugar levels remain more stable. The grape clusters themselves are also a little more firm at lower temperatures which keeps them from breaking open while we are picking. Both of these factors give the winery a little more control of the grapes being harvested and help them to avoid any surprises down the road with fermentation. Night harvesting is also beneficial for the harvesting crews. Grape harvesting is pretty labor intensive and very fast paced, so lower temperatures allow for longer hours of picking and a more comfortable environment to be working in. The bees don’t come out until mid morning either… a huge benefit!
So obviously it’s dark at night, how the heck do we pull this off? The full moon is key….
Just kidding.Call it superstition, but here at Talley we do have one block that we like to pick during the full moon every year. In the picture to the left, you can see the moon dropping behind the hills overlooking Rosemary’s pinot noir. For every other night we depend on diesel generator of lights that we tow behind our tractors. With these lights, we are able to light up the vineyard rows just like it is daytime. Our harvesters also wear headlamps to light up any blind spots that may exist. We typically pick four rows at a time per crew of 8 employees. Each harvester carries a yellow picking bin, “FYB” for those that work in the industry (…use your imagination) that they harvest directly into. These bins can hold up to about 40 pounds of grapes, and are then emptied into a larger macro bin towed behind our harvest tractor. Once the bins on the trailer are full, they’re off to the winery for processing.
Harvest here at Talley began this year on August 30, and will most likely end sometime in mid October with the last of our chardonnay being picked. We have currently picked about 60% of our total pinot noir and about 15% of our chardonnay. There’s still a lot of busy nights ahead of us, that’s for sure, but so far so good.
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!
Well it’s official, today marks the first day of summer. So what does summertime mean for us in the vineyard? Well first, it means we are no longer pruning. I say it jokingly as it is one of the questions people always ask me “So what’s going on in the vineyard, lots of pruning?” Pruning is the first task of the season and was completed in early February. There’s more to it than just pruning.
Summertime is also synonymous with vacation…but not in the vineyard. It’s a busy time of year for us with a lot of different things going on. Leaf pulling is about 70% complete for all the vineyards. We have finished leafing in all of the pinot vineyards, and are close to 30% through our chardonnay vineyards. Our vine canopies have nearly reached full growth so we are trying to finish shoot positioning. Shoot positioning is where we go through tucking shoots through their last catch wire, which keeps the shoots tight and vertical for optimal sun exposure. We are still irrigating in a handful of blocks, but will start to shut the water off, in an attempt to stop growth and focus the vines energy on ripening the clusters. A little stress on the vines will lead to a more mature cluster later in the season.
Another tool we have to convince the vines to slow their growth is hedging. During hedging, we make a pass through the vineyard topping the vines about 8-10 inches above their last catch wire. This tells the vine to stop growing up and usually pushes lateral shoot growth. New leaves that grow on lateral shoots lead to more energy for the vine and will help with ripening. Speaking of ripening, we are about 3 weeks away from Veraison in our earliest pinot noir. Veraison is the change of the cluster maturity. Berries will soften up and gain color as they are ripening. I have heard reports of the start of veraison in the earliest areas of the state, so certainly it won’t be long until we start to see it in our vineyards. Once clusters begin to color up, we will begin putting out bird netting, which covers the fruit zone of the vines and protects them from the birds that like to eat them.
Last, summertime marks a unique time of year here at Talley Vineyards because we have some new faces in the vineyards. Students have joined us to help in our efforts to grow the best chardonnay and pinot noir possible. Each summer, Talley Farms invites the children of our employees to join us for part of their summer vacation. It gives them some hands on experience with farming, an opportunity to make some fun spending money, and helps them appreciate the hard work their parents do all year
It’s time for another vineyard update. Since my last blog in mid April, following a few frosty mornings, the paradise weather has returned here in the Arroyo Grande and Edna Valleys. We’ve had some above normal temperatures so far in May, one day over 100 degrees, and even a little rain. The weather has been pretty ideal. The month of May can always be a weird weather month for us as we begin to see the marine layer move in during the night and morning hours with windy afternoons. This weather is not ideal, because typically in the middle of May, clusters on the vines are starting to bloom. Warm weather and low winds lead to a faster bloom and a more successful fruit set. Fruit set refers to the cluster stage immediately following bloom, where we get our first real look at this year’s crop. Some of our pinot noir blocks are finishing up with bloom and we’re at about 70% bloom in our chardonnay. In the next 2 weeks we’ll get our first real glimpse of the 2013 vintage.
In the vineyards our crews are extremely busy completing a number of different tasks each day. We will be finished with shoot thinning by the end of this week, as we have about 7 acres left in Oliver’s vineyard Riesling and sauvignon blanc to shoot thin. Shoot thinning is a pass we make through each of our blocks to remove undesirable or excessive shoots from canes and spurs in order to manage the canopy and the crop. Along with shoot thinning, we have been busy lifting trellis wires and shoot positioning in our pinot noir. This allows us to keep our canopies tight and vertical in an attempt to get as much sunlight into the canopy as possible. Leaf pulling will be our next big task in the vineyard, and will most likely start in pinot noir early next week. Leaf pulling is simply the removal of excess leaves in the fruit zone of the vines. This is done to increase sunlight exposure to the cluster which will help the cluster mature. Leaf pulling also opens up the canopy providing more air flow and less compaction. It is one of the most important things we can do to help ripen the year’s crop.
Well, with all that said it sure looks like we’ve got a lot of work ahead of us, so I better get back to it. Cheers!