Johnine and I have spent the past week in Florida, the second biggest market for our wines outside of California. By the time we finish, we will have traveled more than 1500 miles around the state.
We kicked off the trip with our first ever visit to the Florida Keys, that string of islands south of the main part of the state. We hosted a Wine Dinner at a private club in Key Largo called the Ocean Reef Club where we met many people from the Midwest and East Coast who spend their winters at the club. We also hosted a lunch for 26 customers, many from Key West who drove two hours to meet us and taste our wines, at the historic Cheeca Lodge. As we tasted the wines and talked about the unique character of the Arroyo Grande Valley, I kept thinking about those Corona ads we see on TV. It turns out that many are filmed in this area.
After two days in the Keys, it was time to head toward Miami, where I spent the day calling on customers with Melissa Lugo. We finished the day with a special tasting and dinner at the Hakassan at the Fontainebleu Hotel in Miami Beach. This is an amazing upscale Asian themed restaurant where they are pouring the Estate Pinot Noir by the glass. It was a special evening to taste through our portfolio with the salespeople who represent our wines in the area, and to say thank you to the sommelier at Hakassan who had chosen our wine from a lineup of more than 25 as his selection.
After South Florida we moved to a part of the state I’ve never visited before, the northwest “Panhandle” region. People in this area refer to it as “South Alabama.” We are participating in the annual South Walten Beaches Festival, one of the top 10 wine auctions in the United States, and which raises more than $1 million for local charities. We started with a low key welcome party featuring wine and beer tasting as well as Nashville based songwriters. The weekend includes several tastings, dinners and an auction. It will be a fun way to promote our wines and also raise money for a very worthy cause.
During our travels, we’ve had the pleasure of getting to know the people who sell our wines in the state. Our distributor in Florida, Augustan Wine Imports, sets the standard for the way that wholesale wine companies should operate. The company was originally founded by Proal and Connie Perry in the early 1990s, and we started doing business shortly thereafter. They have instilled a dedication to excellence at Augustan that I find inspiring. Johnine and I have enjoyed getting to know people here who love wine and are as passionate about the wine business as we are. We’re having a great time in Florida, and I encourage you to visit if you haven’t been here recently. The seafood is perfect with our chardonnay and pinot noir!
This week has been one of those weeks that I ask myself “why the heck didn’t I become a banker instead of a farmer?” This question usually runs through my head a few times a year between late February and early April as I am out in the vineyard running frost protection. Typically here in the Arroyo Grande and Edna Valleys, the coldest time of year for us is during the winter when the vines are dormant, but it seems like there is always a cold spell sometime in mid April when Mother Nature decides she wants to show us who is really in control.
As the vines begin to bud in early March, we begin to worry about frost. As temperatures drop into the low 30’s, this year’s delicate new growth can be severely stunted by only a couple hours of below freezing temperatures. Fortunately, we’ve got a few tools in the bag to help battle these cold temperatures. Utilizing some pretty cool technology, our vineyards are all hooked up to weather monitoring stations that send me and my frost supervisor a text message any time the temperature drops below 35 degrees F. From then, it’s a mad dash to hop in the truck and get to the ranch. Typically at this point I’m still about half asleep!
The first step is to turn on the wind machines like you’ll see in Brian’s video below. The wind machines keep the air circulating, (warm air from above, mixed with the cool air on the vineyard floor) preventing the formation of frost. The echoes of the wind machines can be heard from miles away on a really cold and clear night. In some of our vineyards we do not have wind machines, but fortunately we do have plenty of water. In these vineyards we depend on overhead irrigation to keep the vines protected. As water turns to ice, heat is given off and this typically will keep the vines from being damaged. It’s a pretty scary thing when the first light breaks through and you begin to see a thick layer of ice coated around the vines, but amazingly it works.
After these frosty nights, it only takes a few days of warm weather in the vineyard and a few nights of sleep to remind me that I chose the right job. Spring time in our vineyards is pretty hard to beat…as long as there is no frost!
One of the most common questions I get is “when should I drink that?” We had a tasting a few days ago to help answer that question. I sat down with Winemaker Eric Johnson, Vineyard Manager Travis Monk and Cellar Workers Nicole Morris and Pat Sigler for a tasting of 2005-2011 Estate Chardonnay and Pinot Noir—the two signature wines of Talley Vineyards.
We have produced both wines since our very first vintage, in 1986, and these wines are a real barometer of the season. Both are blends from our various vineyard blocks in the Arroyo Grande Valley—historically Rincon and Rosemary’s Vineyards, but soon to incorporate newer plantings in our Monte Sereno and Las Ventanas Vineyards.
We started with the chardonnays. I found the 2005 and 2006 wines to be just a bit past their prime. Both were pleasurable and would be wonderful with rich dishes like grilled chicken, lobster or a triple crème cheese, but they lacked a bit of freshness. The 2007-2010 wines were all in a sweet spot, displaying the lemon curd and mineral notes that make our chardonnays so distinctive. The 2008 especially had an elegant mineral aspect, and was my favorite of the flight. The consensus favorite was the 2010. Everyone loved the potential of the 2011, but felt that it was young relative to the others in the flight. My take home message for Estate Chardonnay, drink 3-6 years after the vintage.
Next we turned our attention to the pinot noirs. As is typical of pinot noir, these wines were more variable by vintage, and tended to evolve more in the glass as they sat open. For instance, many of us loved the delicate floral aroma and hints of leather in the 2005, but felt it faded with air. On the other hand, the 2006 was a leaner and more elegant wine that became more expressive as it sat in the glass. The 2007 and 2009 were riper vintages, emphasizing more black fruit, tannin and power—which some in the group loved and others didn’t. The 2010 had a beautiful floral aspect and penetrating raspberry elegance. The 2011 built on the character of the 2010, but with more richness. Feelings about these wines were all over the place—which is typical of pinot noir, and why it’s such a fickle grape to work with. All of these are fun to drink now. Cheers!
So I’ll just assume that you’ve heard about the Talley Farms Fresh Harvest program. (If not http://talleyfarmsfreshharvest.com ) Being part of this very inspiring produce program for almost a year now, I’ve started thinking different about dinner, and also where it comes from. I’ve noticed I’m not the only one.
After the last few decades of growing ingenuity in the food industry to produce more processed and genetically modified foods in large corporate facilities, the pendulum has really begun to swing the other way in the foodie culture. There has been a significant boom in the “eating local” movement, and with that, a public interest in supporting and meeting their local farmers and ranchers. I, along with the other 1,000 or so members that get a weekly Fresh Harvest box definitely fall into this category.
It’s my opinion that the wine industry initiated this way of thinking. For years, wine drinkers have willingly been inundated with information about terroir, vineyard practices, and the farming ethics that all contribute to the differing profiles of their wines. General interest in this topic has been piqued and it’s only natural that it would translate to food and other products. But really, who would have ever guessed that a discussion about soil, irrigation, and pesticides would be so necessary- especially at meal time?
Recently, there have been several new food and wine events created in an effort to bring the public closer to their local growers. This month alone, there are two major events here on the Central Coast that aim to put farmers, wineries, and consumers together. Talley Vineyards will be participating in both.
First, we will be attending the Earth Day Food and Wine Festival on April 20th up at Pomar Junction in Paso Robles http://earthdayfoodandwine.com. This very hip annual event celebrates everything food and wine with a focus on sustainable, bio-dynamic, and organic. Second, we will be participating in the first annual Farmfest at the Dinosaur Caves Park in Shell Beach http://www.slowine.com/events/farmfest.php. This event will feature over 25 wineries and an unprecedented number of local producers from Central Coast Creamery to our own Talley Farms Fresh Harvest!
At Talley Vineyards, and now Talley Farms, we’re always eager for an opportunity to educate. Hopefully you too will have the chance to attend these events and “shake the hand that feeds you”.
One of the things that I have always enjoyed about my job at Talley Vineyards is that I have a lot of freedom to do unique projects. This last week, I had the opportunity to go out in the field with our vineyard manager Travis Monk and irrigation supervisor Ben Jauregui to dig out soil pits and collect soil samples from our six vineyards in the Arroyo Grande and Edna Valleys. Our goal is to create displays in the tasting room that show the uniqueness of the soils in our growing region, and also to help to explain the differences in our wines from each of these sites.
I think it’s important to mention that Travis and Ben are both exceptionally talented. Ben, the best dressed of most Talley employees, is a madman on the big John Deere backhoe. If, for any reason you need a wedge-shaped pit dug six feet deep in less than five minutes, Ben’s your man. Travis made light work of the pickaxe/hand hoe and kept me from getting dirty, though I did come ready to work. I suppose it was a good thing that I didn’t get dirty, because this work that I expected to take a whole day or two was skillfully done in one morning before lunch.
As we moved from vineyard to vineyard, we were really struck by the uniqueness of the soils from location to location. The biggest fear is that we would take all of these samples and find the soils too similar to each other for our displays. On paper, the soils are all very different, with many changes in soil even within the same vineyard, but you really don’t know what to expect from a single dig site within a vineyard. The challenge now is to rebuild these unique soils in clear cylinders to display in the tasting room. This will involve carefully drying the soils and scaling each layer down to the correct depth to fit the cylinders, which are still pretty big at 42 inches tall.
If you visit our tasting room in the summertime, be sure to check out our Rincon Room which will be a fun, educational room dedicated to the uniqueness of the Arroyo Grande and Edna Valleys. We will have history, timelines, vineyard maps and photos, as well as soil displays and multimedia presentations – all of which we hope will enhance your wine tasting experience here in the tasting room!
Readers of this blog are aware that I’ve used this space to introduce new employees. Today, I’d like to recognize the service of two members of our team who have worked with my family for 20 years apiece, and who have been critical to our success.
Ignacio (Nacho) Zarate is our Cellarmaster. He leads our cellar crew and ensures that the workorders created by Winemaker Eric Johnson are executed accurately and efficiently. I first met Nacho in 1978 when we picked beans together at Talley Farms. Over the years, he worked in a number of different roles on the farm until 1995 when we had an opening at the winery and he came to work here. Since that time, he has mastered all of the key cellar tasks including operating our presses, destemmers and bottling equipment. Most recently, he has taken charge of the operation of our state-of-the-art cross flow filter, and he filtered the 2012 Bishop’s Peak white wines that we bottled a few weeks ago. Nacho is widely regarded to have the best sense of humor at the winery and especially enjoys pranks and practical jokes.
Our Director of Business Operations, Michele Good, joined us in 1993 as our Tasting Room Manager. At that time, the full-time employees consisted of Winemaker Steve Rasmussen, Cellarmaster Jose Cuevas, Johnine and me. Michele had graduated from Cal Poly’s business school with a concentration in marketing and had worked in the tasting room at Maison Duetz (now Laetitia). Over time, Michele’s role changed and grew. As is the case with any small but growing business, she had to cover many bases: harvesting grapes, punching down pinot noir, bottling wine, handling collections and pouring at countless events. In her current role she oversees all aspects of winery and vineyard administration and is a critical member of our management team. Michele is the pragmatic member of our team who isn’t afraid to tell me I’m crazy.
Nacho and Michele have the longest tenures of service of any of the full-time employees here at the winery. I’m thankful for their dedication to Talley Vineyards and for their contribution to our success.
Following a cold winter with less than average rainfall, the vineyards here at Talley are finally deciding to wake up. There’s no denying it now, another season is upon us! We began pruning in early January in the Rincon and Rosemary’s vineyards. We finally wrapped up pruning the last week of February at Oliver’s vineyard in the Edna Valley.
The first week of March brought us about a half inch of some much needed rain and this week we are experiencing some summertime weather with bright su nshine and temperatures in the mid 70’s. With St. Patty’s day just around the corner, the vineyards are all getting their green on. This warm weather has triggered a frenzy in our vineyards, as about 30% of our vineyards are now at “bud break.” Bud break refers to the time when the dormant grapevine buds begin expanding and give emergence to the first leaves of the year. This is a very exciting time of year for us in the vineyard as we get our first glimpse of this years’ coming crop. It is also a very crucial period in our farming, as this new growth is very delicate in its early stages. For me, this time of year can be a bit nerve racking as nighttime frost risk leads to quite a few sleepless nights. I’m going to be optimistic this year though, and gladly welcome this summertime weather we are experiencing.
Last weekend marked the 13th Anniversary of the World of Pinot Noir, probably the world’s most comprehensive celebration of the varietal. This came just a week after another pinot centric event we held at the winery, our annual Pinot/Cioppino fundraiser for the Marianne Talley Foundation.
It’s hard to believe that it’s been 13 years since the inaugural World of Pinot Noir when Archie McClaren and I, along with a group of vintners from the San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara Counties, decided to host a world-class pinot noir event right here in our own backyard. This was the pre-Sideways era when there was enthusiasm for pinot noir, but not the frenzy that occurred just a few years later after the release of the film that ignited the pinot noir craze. We started out with around 50 wineries, a single walk around tasting and some great seminars held at the Cliffs Resort and nearby wineries. This year’s event included more than 150 wineries, a two day technical symposium for winemakers, and tents spanning the bluff from the Cliffs Resort to Dolphin Bay, all overlooking the beautiful Pacific Ocean. Talley Vineyards was featured with a special retrospective tasting of our 2007-2010 Rincon and Rosemary’s Vineyard Pinot Noirs. It was truly a special weekend.
The week before, we held our annual Pinot/Cioppino fundraiser with longtime friends Tim Sugishita and Louie Bonino. Tim had approached my dad back in the mid-90’s with the idea for the dinner. Cioppino is the classic San Francisco seafood soup, featuring a tomato base and lots of Dungeness crab and Tim and Louie had been hosting cioppino dinners in their hometown of San Martin. Inspired by our friend, local restaurateur Leonard Cohen, we decided that pinot noir would be the best wine to match with the dish. For the 2013 dinner, we celebrated with a beautiful selection of wines including a 5 liter bottle of 2004 Rosemary’s Vineyard that was the highlight of the evening.
In addition to enjoying great fellowship, food and wine, this evening also serves as the key fundraiser for the Marianne Talley Foundation which funds scholarships for Arroyo Grande High School students. Marianne was my sister and we established the foundation in her name after she passed away in 1993. Later, we added scholarships to honor my dad and grandfather. To date, we’ve distributed almost $200,000 to recipients of the Marianne Talley, Oliver Talley, and Don Talley Memorial Scholarships. I truly appreciate the community support for this worthwhile effort. In addition, everyone seems to enjoy the side benefit of the pinot noir that accompanies dinner.
This weekend is WOPN! World of Pinot Noir is the must-attend event for any serious pinot noir enthusiast. This experience features hundreds of pinot noirs from all over the globe through seminars, walk-around tastings and dinner events. Renowned producers of this coveted varietal pour tastes of their current release wines at the grand tastings, while rare and old vintage wines are usually poured in special seminars and dinners. As an added bonus, the event is primarily held on the bluff in Shell Beach at both the Dolphin Bay and Cliffs Resorts, overlooking the beautiful Pacific Ocean. (Oh, and Brian Talley was one of the founders of this event!)
This year, Talley Vineyards will be the focus of one of the educational “breakout sessions”. This sold-out seminar will feature Rosemary’s and Rincon Vineyard wines from 2007-2010. It is my opinion that these wines are some of the best we’ve ever made, and now is a wonderful time to taste them side by side. Many pinot noirs have a relatively short shelf life, but the Talley wines are known for their exceptional ageability. Our pinot noirs show incredible structure and depth and can begin peaking more than 4-5 years after bottling. Brian Talley and Eric Johnson will be hosting this special event and discussing what is unique about each vintage and what contributes to the beauty of these wines today.
If you want to taste as many pinot noirs as possible, I recommend going to both the Friday and Saturday afternoon tastings. Each day features a different group of wineries. If you haven’t bought your tickets yet, it’s not too late. You can still purchase them at http://www.worldofpinotnoir.com. This event provides the opportunity to enjoy the many variations of this wonderful varietal in a fun, educational and beautiful environment.
If you’ve visited the Talley Vineyards tasting room, you would know that we have a lot of faces behind the bar. It takes a lot of people to cover our staffing needs to be open seven days a week and it’s not very often that we can get them all in the same place at the same time. Earlier this month, however, we were able to get sixteen of us together for an awesome day of wine tasting in Paso Robles.
Entrusting our tasting room to ex-tasting room employees Michele (now our operations manager), Alyssa (now our direct sales manager), and Belinda (now our direct sales assistant), all sixteen of us were chauffeured to Paso Robles, in style, on the Central Coast Trolley. We hit some of the best on the far west side of Paso Robles – Justin, Tablas Creek, Halter Ranch, and Jack Creek.
Beyond tasting a broad variety of different wines, from the delicious cabernets and Bordeaux blends at Justin and Halter Ranch, to the Rhone varietals at Tablas Creek and Jack Creek, the day was a great opportunity for the staff to build camaraderie. Many of our staff members work a few days or less a month, some only on the weekends, and some only during the weekdays. The ability to have our entire team together, learning about wine and witnessing how other wineries operate and being able to socialize and catch up with one another was priceless. It was also a great success in that staff members have given us valuable feedback on the experience, including many ideas that could really strengthen us as we move forward.
For me, the one universal theme that I noticed is that what impressed our group wasn’t so much about the actual winery, but more about how the staff presented them. A visit to the new tasting room at Tablas Creek, the vineyards and caves at Justin, and the new winery facility at Halter Ranch are enough to make anyone in the wine industry very jealous. Following those up with a stop at Jack Creek, an equally remarkable facility at a sliver of the size of the other three, allowed us to see that it’s not all about size of the building. With great hospitality at all four locations, and knowing what a beautiful place and great people we have here at Talley, the key thing I learned is that a successful winery isn’t all about the facility, it is about a group of people with enough passion to produce a great product anywhere.