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.
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.
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!
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!
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.