So far harvest 2012 looks like a dream come true. After the vintages of 2010 and 2011, which featured excellent quality, but lower yields, 2012 looks to be one of those very special years that combines exceptional quality and good production, especially for pinot noir. Best of all, the weather forecast for the next few weeks looks just like what we've had for the past two months--highs in the mid to upper 70s.
While weather is important to the quality of the finished wines, the key role that our production team plays can't be understated. Winemaker Eric Johnson has been with us 5 years and has come to know the characteristics that make each of our vineyards special and unique. He is ably assisted by Assistant Winemaker Nicole Pope, Cellarmaster Ignacio Zarate (who just celebrated 30 years in our family farming operations), Nicole Morris and a great team of Cal Poly interns.
The vineyard team is charged with farming our vineyards and ensuring that the grapes are harvested as gently and efficiently as possible. This team is lead by Vineyard Manager Kevin Wilkinson and Travis Monk, who will assume the role of Vineyard Manager after this harvest. Longtime Vineyard Foreman Daniel Martinez leads a dedicated and experienced vineyard crew during late night and early morning harvests to ensure that the grapes arrive at the winery early and cool.
The final element that will make the wines of 2012 so special is the deployment of the right tools to capture all of the potential quality of the vintage. These include a state-of-the-art destemmer that very gently removes the grapes from the stems, vibrating tables that allow for careful sorting of clusters and individual berries, and a stainless steel basket press that gently extracts the wine from the skins.
Perfect weather, a great team, and all the right tools--it all adds up to what I believe will be a very special vintage.
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’s the middle of summer and there’s lots of fun stuff going on. I just returned from a wonderful family vacation to San Diego. This is an annual family get-together that includes the entire extended Talley family. San Diego has lots of fun things to do: we visited college campuses, we went to the zoo, we went to Sea World, we went shopping, we hung out by the pool.
We had some wonderful food and wine experiences during the trip. Highlights included dinner at JRDN at Tower 23 in Ocean Beach. They pour our Estate Chardonnay by the glass, which is a great match for all the seafood they have on the menu. Everyone loved Donovan’s, widely regarded as one of the best steakhouses in the United States. 2009 Rincon Vineyard Pinot Noir and prime New York steak is a great pairing. The biggest revelation was dinner at the Marina Kitchen, the signature restaurant at the Marriott Marquis San Diego Marina. Beverage Manager Josh Orr is a Cal Poly graduate who started in the wine industry in San Luis Obispo before moving to Las Vegas where he met chef Seth Aaron. The combination of a well selected and well priced wine list, and “modern comfort food” featuring local sustainable food, was unbeatable. We finished the evening with a fireworks display over the marina and the signature Makers Mark Milkshake with fresh baked oatmeal chocolate chip cookies. Three generations of Talleys were in heaven after that dinner!
Closer to home, veraison makes for fun in the vineyard. This is the time of year when the grapes change color and begin to accumulate sugar. Its our signal that harvest is just around the corner. To learn more about veraison, check out my short video on the subject.
Best wishes for a great summer to you!
Early in my winegrowing career, I handled the sales of our wines in Northern California. During that time, I called on a wine shop called Pacific Wine Company, one of the most iconic wine merchants in the United States. It was a badge of honor to sell wine here because they carried an amazing collection of Burgundy and the very best California wines.
In addition to a world class wine selection, Pacific Wine Company was also known for a monthly catalog that featured a distinctive cartoon cover. The cartoons were a collaboration between artist Bob Johnson and Pacific Wine Company owner Mike Lynch. Sadly, Pacific Wine Company closed its doors in the mid 90s after an ill fated move to a new location. But, the cartoons lived on as a feature in Wine Enthusiast Magazine. After a 3 year run there, Mike and Bob moved on to other projects, and the classic “Lynch Bob” cartoon series came to an end…….until now.
As we were brainstorming ideas to get people thinking a little differently about Talley Vineyards, we hit upon the idea of bringing the cartoons back. I’m pleased to announce the first in the series. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do. If you do, be among the first 100 people to mention it in our Tasting Room and receive a free copy.
The middle of May marks a weather transition in the Arroyo Grande Valley. The cold harsh winds of early spring give way to foggy mornings and gentle afternoon breezes typical of summer in this area. The vines are flowering and the potential crop for the season is largely determined at this time. Warm, sunny weather means that most berries will be pollinated, the clusters are full, and the crop will be average to above average. Rain or cool cloudy weather leads to poor pollination and a small crop. The weather has been dry since mid April and temperatures warmer than average, implying good pollination and full clusters. Since the number of clusters in the vineyard is higher than average, all indications are for a larger crop for the 2012 season.
To follow the growing season, check out our ongoing series of photographs of an individual chardonnay vine in the East Rincon Vineyard.
|Chardonnay Vine 4/23/12|
Springtime is a beautiful time of year in most places. Here in Arroyo Grande, springtime means that the hills are green, the wildflowers are blooming, and our vines are growing. Bud break occurred the first week of March in many of our vineyards and the longest shoots are now 4-5 inches long. As the days get longer, the soil warms and growth accelerates.
This rapid spring growth means two things. First, we have to protect the tender young shoots. Even in our exceedingly moderate climate, frost is a danger. On the coldest nights we run wind machines or sprinklers for protection. The danger typically passes in mid to late April. Rapid vine growth also means shoot thinning--the removal of excess shoots from the vine to allow the remaining shoots to grow more evenly.
|Char Cluster 4-23-12|
Finally, spring time also means the release of our chardonnays. The 2010 Estate Chardonnay, the 25th anniversary bottling, has just been released. It’s perfect with local halibut or the salmon that are rumored to be running off the coast of California right now. On May 1, we release our three single vineyard bottlings from Oliver’s Vineyard, the Rincon Vineyard and Rosemary’s Vineyard. What can be better than springtime, chardonnay and fresh local seafood?