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!
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!
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.
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.
It’s winter time, which might seem like a slow time around the winery, but that’s not the case. In reality, some of the most important activities in our winegrowing happen now.
In the vineyard, this is when we prune. Critical decisions that will affect the crop for this season, as well as subsequent years, are made right now. It all depends on how many buds we leave on the vine. More buds mean more potential crop, but less vigorous growth. These decisions are made on a block-by-block basis depending on previous growth and our production goals. This is an area where quality, focus and attention to detail really pay off, and I’m proud of our vineyard team. To see a video of pruning, check out our pinot noir pruning video .
In the winery we are focused on nother critical activities. One of these activities is our assessment of the quality of the previous vintage. Eric Johnson, Nicole Pope, Travis Monk and I conducted a complete tasting of every wine we produced from the 2012 vintage (more than 150 separate lots) on January 14 and 15. As we suspected, quality is excellent across the board with juicy approachable wines reminiscent of the highly successful 2005 vintage.
It is during these blind tastings that we first recognize special wines that are likely candidates for our single vineyard bottlings. Last January, we discovered how much we enjoyed the 2011 Monte Sereno Vineyard Chardonnay and East Rincon Vineyard Pinot Noir; so much so that we decided to release these as separate Single Vineyard Selections for the first time ever. We bottled only two barrels of each of these—so I anticipate that they will sell out immediately upon release. Enjoy!
It’s the New Year and we are focused on planning for our 65th year of farming in the Arroyo Grande Valley. While most of the effort is directed toward things we’ve done many times before, things like pruning, planting schedules and budgets, there are some truly new happenings to announce, especially related to people.
On the vineyard side, I am pleased to announce the appointment of Travis Monk as our new Vineyard Manager. Travis has worked with us since 2008 when he started in the Tasting Room. Lucy Parkin was extremely impressed with his work ethic, great attitude and especially his BBQ skills. After graduating from Cal Poly with a degree in Agricultural Business Management in 2009, Travis joined former Vineyard Manager Kevin Wilkinson as Viticulturalist and was appointed Assistant Vineyard Manager at the end of 2011. Travis worked closely with Kevin this past year to ensure a seamless transition to his new role. He oversaw the planting of more than 20 acres of avocados and now turns his attention to the replanting of the Rincon Vineyard, which will start in 2015. In his spare time, Travis enjoys hunting and golf. I’ve enjoyed working with Travis and look forward to the new ideas and the commitment to quality that he brings to our vineyard operations.
We’ve added another full time cellar worker in the winery. Patrick Sigler was one of three harvest interns who helped us during the 2012 harvest. Pat’s main responsibility was grape sampling, but he proved to be dedicated, conscientious and hardworking in the cellar as well. Pat just graduated from the Wine and Viticulture program at Cal Poly. In addition to his studies, he enjoyed much success on the Cal Poly soccer team, scoring the game winning goal against arch rival UCSB in 2011. Pat was raised in Sonoma County where he was exposed to the wine industry through friends and looks forward to becoming a winemaker someday.
Regular readers of this blog know that I pay special attention to the weather. In my line of work, the weather is critically important—rain, heat, frost, fog, and wind all profoundly affect our activities and ultimately the quality of our products.
Sometimes, especially this time of year, I can simply observe and enjoy the weather and associated phenomena. Lately, we’ve had a series of beautiful sunsets. One of my favorite things to do is sit outside with Johnine, watch the sunset over the Pacific and enjoy a glass of wine. Our daughter, Elizabeth, captured the moment especially artfully this past Sunday evening as we shared some chardonnay.
During the hustle and bustle of this holiday season, I hope you too can sit with those you love and appreciate what makes life so special. Best wishes for a joyous holiday season!
Thanksgiving is upon us, which is a great time to consider those things that make life so special. These are some of the things that I am thankful for.
I’m thankful for my wonderful family, both those who are with me now as well as those who came before. I was so lucky to work with both my grandfather and my dad and to learn many of the valuable lessons about integrity and respect that I try to practice every day. I’m blessed to be married to my wonderful wife and to have two great daughters. Johnine and I appreciate living so close to our mothers and our extended families.
I’m thankful for the work that I do. I’m privileged to work with a great group of people who bring passion and commitment to work every day. I love to spend time with passionate people. I’m also proud to produce tangible things that people enjoy—whether it’s a special bottle of wine or the latest shipment of Talley Farms Fresh Harvest.
I’m thankful to live on the Central Coast. Not only is this one of those special places on Earth capable of producing world class chardonnay and pinot noir, it also has beautiful weather year round and all kinds of fun stuff to do.
I hope this causes you to reflect on those things that are special in your life and that you are thankful for.
Best wishes for a joyous Thanksgiving!
Thanksgiving, is just around the corner. It's my favorite holiday because I love to cook. This year I plan to brine my turkey then roast it in my wood burning oven. Every year people ask me what I drink with the meal. My favorite choice is our Estate Pinot Noir because of its balance and elegance, which I find works well with the complex flavors of the meal. The magnums we're featuring this month are perfect for extended family. I asked our crew here at Talley Vineyards what they plan to serve. Best wishes to everyone for a joyous Thanksgiving!
Nicole Bertotti-Pope, Assistant Winemaker, 2010 Rincon Pinot Noir
“Pinot Noir is a great match for turkey and all the usual side dish suspects, and what better excuse than Thanksgiving to pull out those single vineyard pinots you've been saving all year! The 2010 Rincon Pinot Noir is tasting great right now, and has just the right balance of fruit, spice and earthiness to pair with just about everything on the table. I think it will go perfectly with my dish of maple chipotle mashed sweet potatoes.”
David Block, Sales Manager, 2011 Bishop’s Peak Riesling
“I vote for the 2011 Bishop’s Peak Riesling. I would serve that as the cook’s prep wine to be consumed in copious amounts with light snacks such as seasoned nuts like Rosemary almonds or wasabi spiced peanuts.Drink up sailors it’s time to cook!”
Alyssa Ball, Direct Sales Manager, 2010 Oliver’s Vineyard Chardonnay
“One of my favorite fall foods is butternut squash and I always like to include it in my Thanksgiving meal. This year I plan to roast the butternut squash and serve it with browned butter and fresh herbs. I recommend enjoying a glass of Oliver’s Vineyard Chardonnay along with this delicious and simple side dish.”
Eric Johnson, Winemaker, 2010 Rincon Chardonnay
“At the Thanksgiving meal, my favorite food on the plate is stuffing. I like a stuffing that uses tart green apples as a primary ingredient, because the apples add so much extra flavor. Rincon Vineyard Chardonnay is the perfect wine to pair with apple stuffing and I plan to enjoy a glass or two for the holiday. ”
Michele Good, Director of Business Operations, 2010 Talley Vineayards Estate Chardonnay
“I’m going Estate Chard. Love that wine and goes good with Turkey, gravy, potatoes, appetizers, and everything else I eat on T-day.”
Anna Heacock, Marketing Manager, 2005 Rosemary's Pinot Noir
“I plan on bringing a few bottles. I’m finally going to open a 2005 Rosemary’s Vineyard Pinot Noir. While I know this wine still has many good years left, I’m not very patient and I know it’s drinking beautifully now. I will savor this wine from appetizer to dessert- it doesn’t need a complement. Because I will want to enjoy at least a full glass (or two), I need to provide a distraction that I can feel good about. For that, I will also bring a few Bishop’s Peak Chardonnays, absolutely delicious as an aperitif and a perfectly refreshing pairing to all the traditional Thanksgiving flavors of savory, nutty and fruity.”
Belinda Christensen, Direct Sales Assistant, assorted Talley and Bishop's Peak wines
“If you were to come to the Christensen family Thanksgiving table, you would find Prime Rib, not turkey. And at the very crowded table, would be multiple bottles of wine including Stone Corral Pinot Noir, some Rincon Pinot Noir, Bishop’s Peak Cabernet, maybe some Elevation Red, a bottle of Riesling for my mother, and a bottle of Rosemary’s Chardonnay for those white wine drinkers. Something for everyone."
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!