For the Talley Family, Christmas of 2013 was special in so many ways. It should come as no surprise that it revolved around food and family. We kicked things off with our traditional Christmas Eve celebration and a meal featuring tamales and Christmas lima beans from our Fresh Harvest box. Our dinner table featured a handmade candle holder that cellarworker Patrick Sigler created out of a barrel stave and gave to me as part of our Secret Santa gift exchange. We enjoyed some nice wines, including a magnum of 2003 Rosemary’s Vineyard Chardonnay and some 2012 Blanc de Noir Sparkling wine that we made from Rincon Vineyard Pinot Noir.
Christmas breakfast is one of my favorite meals of the year and we celebrated with homemade cinnamon rolls, omelets and ham. Our family exchanged gifts, including more handmade gifts than ever before--knitted hats, scarves and a Christmas stocking from Olivia. Elizabeth created craft cork items, a beautiful photo book of our summer vacation and a custom puzzle featuring our family in the Swiss Alps. After our big breakfast, Olivia and I took a walk and enjoyed the unseasonably warm Christmas weather. At 83 degrees, it was the second warmest day on record in San Luis Obispo. The celebration continued Christmas night with a special dinner at my mom’s house featuring grilled filet of beef, (perfect with Rincon and Rosemary’s Vineyard Pinot Noir magnums) an assortment of vegetables from our Fresh Harvest box and my mother’s wonderful cheesecake.
Johnine and I are thankful to enjoy the bounty of our land, to work with so many passionate and dedicated people, and to live close to our families so that we can savor these special experiences. Best wishes to you and your family this season and for all of 2014!
It is a much loved Talley Vineyards tradition for some rare large format bottles to make their way out of the wine library and appear at our annual company holiday party. For obvious reasons, this generates a lot of excitement among staff members. But this year an additional level of excitement was added when Brian Talley suggested using the unlabeled bottles as a blank canvas for group art projects. The various departments turned into artistic teams and heads were put together to come up with some unique and festive decoration. Of course, in typical Talley Vineyards fashion, what could have been an all in fun creative endeavor quickly devolved into a (mostly) good natured competition. A great deal of trash talk took place, some still continues a full week later, as self declared winners explained why their bottle was the best.
So who were the true winners the night of the holiday party? I am going to say it and I don’t care how cheesy is sounds - we were all winners! While each of the large format bottles may have looked imaginative and festive on the outside, it was trying the amazing wine inside that was truly a win. The standout for me was a magnum of 1996 Rincon Vineyard Chardonnay. Despite the many years spent in bottle, the wine remained bright and balanced with great structure and a remarkable amount of vibrant fruit on the palate. It is always a special treat to try these remarkable old vintages and a great reminder that we are fortunate to work for a company that produces incredible wine.
I sometimes feel that we winemakers are gluttons for punishment. We go through a long, painstaking event like harvest and then almost immediately follow up with the most painful winemaking process of all, bottling.
Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t completely hate bottling, but I feel like we have a love/ hate relationship. Bottling is obviously a pivotal part of winemaking, but I don’t think most people realize how stress inducing it can be. You have to get the wine in the perfect state before putting it to its final resting place.
Is the SO2 level right? Are we going to filter? If not, how will we make sure the wine has the appropriate clarity? Is the amount of dissolved oxygen high? Should we sparge the tank? Is the wine heat stable? Is it cold stable? These are just some of the questions that go through my head when planning a bottling. Remember if you screw up, there is no going back. That wine is cemented in history.
Preparing the wine is only the beginning. Once the wine is ready to bottle you have to make sure you purchase the right packaging materials. That might not sound like a big deal, but if any of the packaging is slightly off or flawed, it can create a series of problems. For example, in the past we had glass delivered for a very important bottling. We inspected the bottles as we always do and since they looked like the same ones that I have purchased for years we went ahead with our planned bottling. But once the bottling began we realized there was something different about this particular shipment of glass because the labels were wrinkling . It turns out the shape of the bottle was off by just a couple of millimeters. Only a couple of millimeters and that slight change in shape meant labels completely wrinkled beyond repair. We had to cancel bottling, send the crew home, ship the glass back to the supplier and plead for new glass. Then a week or two later we start the process all over again and hope for the best.
There have been times I’ve wished I could just cut out the middle part of the process and find a way to get our wine straight from a barrel into our customer’s glass. If it were possible, I would not hesitate to sell off our bottling line. In the meantime, I have to maintain my love/hate relationship with bottling in order to make wines people can enjoy.
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.
For the past several weeks, my co-worker Christina Bailey and I have been doing food and wine pairing research in order to come up with a sensory experience to offer Talley customers as a fun way to delve a little deeper into our wines, as well as to help them plan a nice meal at home featuring a Talley Vineyards or Bishop’s Peak wine. Looking back, I think of what a couple of rookies we were back then, with no clue of what a Pandora’s Box we’d opened of convoluted, contradictory information at every turn. Show me a website that says Pinot Noir pairs well with salmon and I’ll show you two that say the metallic taste in your mouth from such a pairing will make your teeth ache. Caesar salad; is it wine’s natural enemy? Or is the garlicky anchovy dressing a dream come true when paired with a citrusy Sauvignon Blanc? (For me, it’s the latter.) Also this news flash: NEVER pair chocolate with red wine. Am I the last to know?! Apparently you’re not to pair chocolate and red wine because the tannins in chocolate ruin the many nuances and complexities of the wine. Port or Muscato wine paired with dark chocolate is the possible exception but it’s one of the few cases where the wine is the sweeter item. So why did I love the milk chocolate Hershey’s kiss with our Estate Pinot Noir so much? I could pair a whole bag of them with a bottle and call it dinner. Is my knowing it’s ruining the wine even though they taste so delicious together to me, still a good enough reason not to do so? Is someone else tasting what I am when I pair these items and actually not enjoying it? And if so, whose right?
Don’t get me wrong, this is the most fun research I’ve ever had to do, as well as a fairly privileged dilemma to have on my plate. Given that, what started out as an exciting journey of putting together a menu quickly spiraled down a rabbit hole into a disorienting world of do’s and don’ts, rules and exceptions, and utter frustration when I myself loved a pairing one day and completely disagreed with myself the next. And then there was the trial tastings with various tasting room, winemaking, sales and production staff members. Not a consensus among them and their tastes when it came to the good, the bad and the ugly. This ironically, has been quite helpful, because I learned even more from the reasons behind their varied opinions. Also, the things you learn about your co-workers when asking them to try such pairings is priceless. Watching Christina struggle to nibble on a tomato (not her favorite food) and choke it down with our Cabernet Sauvignon was an exercise in hilarity. She is the epitome of professionalism in the name of research. And finding out there wasn’t a single food item on our list that our Tasting Room Manager was even willing to eat was even more amusing. In the end, we decided our best bet is to find a majority rules item within all the opinions that makes good pairing sense and not worry about the fact that you can’t please every palate.
After the many weeks of research I’ve put into this project, I should be qualified to hold entire weekend long seminars on the subject. And yet with all the knowledge I’ve absorbed, it seems to be falling back on the old adage “the more you know, the more you don’t.” Not only that, but every food and wine pairing “rule” based on a particular varietal can be discounted entirely given a particular winemaker’s take on that varietal. Until you pair a particular bottle with a particular food item, expect curve balls. For a person like myself, who spends a great deal of free time reading food and wine blogs just for fun, it’s been a most humbling experience trying to put together a fun, educated and eye-opening sensory experience to help people learn how to make smart choices when putting together a nice dinner party. Or helping our customers choose a winning food and wine combination when spending their hard-earned money dining out. But we’re getting there. I mean, it’s not rocket science…but it is science.
Thanksgiving has always been a favorite holiday of mine. As I child, Thanksgiving meant anxiously awaiting the arrival of out of town relatives, including a large contingent of cousins whose appearance turned our home into a kid free for all. In retrospect, I wonder if my parents were as anxious for the holiday weekend to end as I was for it to start!
As an adult, I still love Thanksgiving. A big part of that is due to the pleasure of having family and close friends together. But I also love to cook - and I really love to eat - so Thanksgiving is certainly a day that speaks to me on that level. The last few weeks I have started excitedly working on the Thanksgiving menu and planning what I will put on the holiday table.
One thing I am always eager to serve at Thanksgiving is Talley Vineyards Pinot Noir. That might surprise those who are well acquainted with my wine preferences. It is not an easy thing to admit considering who signs my paycheck, but the truth is that I’ve never been a huge fan of Pinot Noir. However, over the past several years my appreciation for the varietal has grown by leaps and bounds. How could it not considering the many Talley Vineyards wines I’ve been given the opportunity to taste? And the Thanksgiving meal, with its many complex flavors, surely gives our beautifully balanced Pinot Noirs the chance to shine. When I open a bottle (or two or three) for the Thanksgiving dinner crowd, I know that I am offering them something really special that will be truly enjoyed. That is definitely something to feel thankful for!
Best wishes for a wonderful Thanksgiving for each of you. Here’s to hoping you have something special in your glass to toast with!
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.|
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!
It’s 9:30am on Thursday, October 24th and we just picked our last block of grapes. This concludes the 2013 harvest at Talley that began on August 30th. Harvest, harvest, harvest. I heard that word so much the month before we picked our first grapes that I’d find myself harvesting in my dreams. I was hired in July as the Harvest Intern, assisting Travis Monk, the Vineyard Manager at Talley Vineyards. Everything that I worked on prior to harvest led to this almost mythical happening in the vineyard world known as The Harvest. You see, I came from a different world of fruit and vegetable production and although I had participated in many harvests, none of them ever began with this much anticipation. I thought, “How hard can it be?” Ha! What a naïve harvest intern! There are reasons for the anticipation and there are many reasons why vineyard harvests are different. I wish I could articulate on these many reasons but my mind is recovering from the past 7+ weeks. So instead, how about I recap some of the good and the ugly from my first harvest at Talley Vineyards?
It all started by agreeing to shave my beard. Eric Johnson, the winemaker, and Travis decided to incorporate the tradition of harvest beards, which is basically giving oneself a clean shave to start harvest and then not shaving for the duration. It had been some time since I last rocked the clean shaven look and I didn’t recognize the baby face under the whiskers, nor did my wife or our one-year old son. So the next morning we started our first pick at 5:30 in the morning and I felt the cold air on my face for the first time in a long time. The first pick was done in a few hours and I was still wondering why all the fuss about harvest.
Well, the next week the dial was turned up and we found ourselves in full-go harvest. Starting at 5:33 am seemed like a long-gone dream as the start times went from 4:30 to 3:30 to 2:30 to 1:30 am in the morning, and finally to 10 pm at night. The nights became a blur but the adrenaline kept us going and the caffeine kept us focused. There were some very cold nights out in Oliver’s Vineyard and nights like the one when we picked Rosemary’s Block 7 with the Harvest Moon and warm air abound. Harvest became an endless rotation of bins and harvest trailers. It was spending many hours with our awesome crew, learning new words in Spanish, and making them laugh at my bad Spanish. It was getting to the coffee before the production crew showed up and hoping there might be one frozen breakfast sandwich left. It was driving to work on empty roads at night and watching little towns pop up as we raised our lights and began picking grapes. There were lots of frozen meals eaten, washed down with Emergen-C and Zicam. Then there were those beautiful fall sun rises that came like a paycheck for those cold hours working through the night.
My first harvest at Talley Vineyards was hard but very rewarding. I learned a ton from Travis and our crew. As difficult as it was at times, I always felt a part of the team here at Talley and that made it all much easier. I’m happy that it’s over and that I’m able to catch up on some sleep and spend time with my family. However, it was a great experience that I hope I’m a part of for years to come. Oh, and my beard grew back and my kid recognizes me again.