The warehouse being located on one corner of the winery gives me an unobstructed view of our East Rincon vineyard and the surrounding hills.
Shortly after I started working here I told my brother that I work in a warehouse. Immediately he tells me about the mental picture that came to mind of some nondescript building in some anonymous industrial park. It was not until I had sent him some pictures (and a bottle of wine) that he confessed he now daydreams of giving up his cubicle if we have a job opening.
Having worked here now for a full year I've been able to see the 4 seasons through the vineyards. I've watched the leavesturn in the late fall. I'll take notice of the bare grapevines on a chilly January morning. I've witnessed the first buds break with a hint of green color in the early spring. I've seen the vineyards transform through the summer as the fruit comes in. Then in the fall, we come full circle with harvest time and the grape leaves turning into their kaleidoscope of colors again.
As with every job, I get consumed with the task at hand. I have my desk, my computer, and paperwork that define my workday. Every once in a while, usually when I'm preoccupied with filling orders, moving pallets, packing, etc. I will hit the "open" button on the automated warehouse door and, like a theatre curtain rising, the vineyard, the hillsides, and the sky will come into view and make me stop for a moment and just say, "Wow."
My brother who lives in Los Angeles keeps promising to visit. I've told him, "The invitations open my man, pull your convertible out of the garage, buy Cindy (his wife) a nice hat, and come up and check out the view here."
We started our 33rd Harvest here at Talley Vineyards on Wednesday, August 22 with a little bit of Rosemary’s Vineyard Pinot Noir that we picked from the section directly behind my mother’s house. Things really kicked off over Labor Day weekend, and we picked the very best Pinot Noir that we farm, from the section that my dad planted in 1987 in front of my mother’s house, on Labor Day.
Every harvest has its theme: in 2016 it was the perfect growing season (“chill AF” according to Vineyard Manager Ben Taylor), that resulted in some of the best Pinot Noirs we’ve ever made. Last year it was general weirdness as reflected by the solar eclipse that we couldn’t see because it was so foggy.
This year, the theme feels like “something old/something new.”
Not quite so old, but getting there:
This harvest marks Eric Johnson’s (pictured right) 12th harvest at Talley Vineyards and his 9th as the Winemaker. Even with all that experience, he’s still the youngest winemaker in the San Luis Obispo Coast region.
Vineyard and Orchard Manager Ben Taylor (pictured left) joined us in 2013, so this marks his 6th harvest. He admits that harvesting grapes and avocados, at the same time as he’s planting new avocado and lemon orchards, is what makes him feel old.
Our two full time production workers, Edwin Amador and Emma Lyon, joined us this summer. Edwin comes with a wealth of production experience in the Paso Robles region while Emma is a brand new Cal Poly graduate (class of 2018, along with my daughter Elizabeth) who got her start at Claiborne and Churchill Winery just a few miles up the road.
Fulltime Cellar Crew:
Emma Lyon, Ignacio Zarate & Edwin Amador
Our harvest interns are all brand new, but that happens every year. So that’s really kind of something old.
Pictured left: harvest interns Noah Knebel, Rachel Martin, Jeremy Retornaz, & Allie Donegan
A great bottle of wine expresses the dichotomy of old and new--Mother Nature, old vines, and respect for tradition mashed up with youthful vigor, new ideas and the ever changing growing season--all come together to produce the ultimate expression of our interaction with Earth. It’s a story that changes every year and I love it.
Cheers to the 2018 Harvest! BT
My daughter, a student at UT Austin, is home for a couple of weeks and two of her Texas college friends visited us on a summer road trip from San Francisco to Austin. Since these kids are of drinking age I invited them to Talley Vineyards for wine tasting and a tour, a new experience for both.
We started in the tasting room so I could acquaint them with Talley Vineyards and get a sense of the wines they like. I wanted to tailor the tasting to their preferences and maybe introduce them to some wines they’d never tried. It’s a pleasure for me to initiate newbies to wine as it’s been a love of mine for many years.
I started my daughter’s friends off with Bishop’s Peak Sauvignon Blanc and immediately one of them said, “This is probably a stupid question, but what does Sauvignon Blanc mean?” I did not find the question stupid and was happy to explain grape varieties and how they make wines that taste different from one another. As we continued the wine tasting and toured the winery for the next hour, I loved the many questions they had. But they always started with “this is probably a dumb question…” or “I know this is stupid of me to ask…”
And that got me thinking, why is wine so intimidating?
The intimidation factor is not a part of discovering beer. The major craft beer boom of the past few years has brought us Saisons, Hazys, IPAs, Double IPAs, Nitro Stouts and on and on. I visit a lot of craft breweries and I’ve never heard anyone start a question about beer with, “I know this might be dumb of me, but…” They simply ask without fear of judgement.
Does the anxiety about looking dumb stem from how we as an industry present the product, with the whole swirl, sniff, suck in air method? Is it that we offer descriptors of the wine’s aromas and taste, so people feel stupid if they don’t pick up on them? Is it the “We shall sell no wine before it’s time” advertising? I don’t know the answer, but I do feel that as an industry we have failed to create an unintimidating atmosphere for our new customers. The sad thing is, I’ve been drinking wine for many years, I’ve asked lots of questions of many different winemakers and tasting room staff, and I’ve never been made to feel dumb; so the actual experience of tasting is very different from the perception.
Like I said, I’m not sure how to fix the problem, but I encourage you to not fall victim to that feeling of intimidation. When you come out to Talley Vineyards, please come filled with questions about wine, wine making, growing, or anything else. There are no dumb questions and our exceptional and friendly tasting room staff will gladly enlighten and encourage you.
On July 3rd of this strange year, we hit 60 degrees in the Arroyo Grande Valley. The sun decided to take the day off and sleep the day under the thick covers of the occasional “No-Sky July” marine layer. This was kind of the norm for most of the spring, except for the North winds that blow the marine layer out in the afternoon. These winds start to lighten up by May, allowing the May Gray to linger a little longer past 10am. By June, you get the occasional all day June Gloom, but it usually starts blowing out with gentler winds by 10am. That’s pretty much it: marine layer until 10am, stronger winds until June, calm winds after that, temps ranging from 50’ to the high 70’s, and occasionally you’ll see temps hit the 90’s. However, this year was different. Mostly cool temps with the marine layer hanging later in the day: a cool vintage.
So three days later from that cool day in July, there was not a cloud in the sky and the temps were a raging 107 degrees by 10 in the morning in the Arroyo Grande Valley. It was HOT. The air was hot, the ground was hot, the wind was hot, and of course the plants were hot. We’ve experienced occasional temps in the 100’s, and as stressful as it is- we usually come out ok. Our protocol is to put a little water out (1-2 gallons per plant) to help the plants deal with the stress of the heat. We also pull leaves in the fruit zone on the morning sun side as it’s the side that will receive sunlight at the coolest time of the day. Leaf pulling is done to allow air flow on the fruit to naturally keep moisture off the fruit and preventing mildew. It also allows sunlight to penetrate and help the ripening process. (I strongly recommend reading Sunlight Into Wine, by Richard Smart and Mike Robinson, to any aspiring viticulturalist looking to understand vineyard canopy management)
Unfortunately, this particular heat wave saw temperatures rise to 110 degrees before noon. It was too hot for some Pinot Noir blocks, regardless of our normal heat wave procedures and we had some berries go from unripe green berries to dried-up raisins in a matter of days. That 10 degree increase at an early point in the day was too much for the thin skinned berries of Pinot Noir. Fortunately it was just isolated to a few areas, but regardless it was heartbreaking to see good fruit burn.
As for it affecting our wine quality, the dried fruit is getting cut out before it even has the chance to make it to the sorting tables come harvest time. We are beginning to drop under ripe fruit as our Pinot blocks are around 80% verasion: “change of color of the grape berries; ie ripening”. With the green drop, we’ll be cutting out the dry fruit so you can expect the same quality that you expect from Talley wines!
As I write this, Eric Johnson and I are preparing to attend the 32nd Annual International Pinot Noir Celebration (IPNC) in McMinnville Oregon. Occurring every July in the heart of the Willamette Valley, which is widely recognized to be one of great regions in the world for Pinot Noir, IPNC brings together the very best producers from Oregon, California, Burgundy and other regions where Pinot Noir thrives. Only 15 wineries from California are invited to attend so simply being invited is to be recognized as one of the very best producers in the state. I’m proud to say that Talley Vineyards has participated about a dozen times since our inaugural year in 1992.
IPNC was one of the events that inspired me, along with Archie McLaren and a number of vintners in our area, to establish the World of Pinot Noir back in 2000. I wanted to replicate the feeling of camaraderie among the participants, as well as the very high level of education and discourse that are the hallmarks of IPNC. I should also add that the food is exceptional and that it’s all around good fun! The Saturday night Salmon Bake with whole filets of salmon roasting over huge open fires, is one of the greatest wine dinners in the world!
Over the years I’ve made lots of friends at IPNC. One of those people is Daniel Shanks, who is this year’s Master of Ceremonies. We ended up sitting next to one-another at a Burgundy tasting in the late 90s, and struck up a nice conversation. When we traded business cards, I learned that he was the Head Usher for Food and Wine at the White House.
Over the years, I got to visit Daniel on two occasions at the White House, and he featured our wines on a number of menus, including a State Dinner with Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji in 1999.
This will be my first time back to IPNC since 2010. Eric has been a couple of times since then, so he’ll be showing me the ropes. I encourage you to follow us on Instagram and Facebook to see what we’re up to. Cheers! BT
We’ve had no shortage of Cal Poly SLO Alums here at Talley Vineyards and recently we were able to add another to the club. Joining the production team is Emma Lyon, one of our newest production assistants. Emma is fresh out of Cal Poly’s Wine & Viticulture program having graduated just last month. We are excited to have her here at Talley Vineyards and are looking forward to a great 2018 harvest.
I’ve asked Emma some ice-breaker questions so that you can all get to know her a little bit better.
Where are you from originally and what brought you to the Central Coast?
What experience really solidified that you wanted to have a career in the wine industry?
What’s your favorite part about Harvest?
What’s your least favorite part about Harvest?
What are you most excited for this summer?
How do you like to spend your free time outside of work?
Speaking of happy hours, what’s your favorite happy hour drink?
What would you say is your spirit animal?
If you could eat anything in the world right now, what would it be?
What’s something on your bucket list?
Summer brings us sunshine, lakefront dining, beach days, BBQ’s, and clam bakes. With all these fun gatherings taking place and the summer months warming up, we are tempted to reach into our cellar or on the shelves for a nice cold white wine to sip on -- especially since most us have already laid our reds down to rest and have brought out the summer classics, like Rosé and Chardonnay. Well, I am here to tell you that you should throw a red into the summer mix!
If you have put all your reds to bed, go wake up your Pinots. Summer nights and sunsets need a companion just as much as the hot days do. I believe the perfect summer is filled with both white and red. Rosé on a beach day is a match made in heaven – the crispness of a light dry Rosé at the beach with the salty air on your face is what I love most about June and July. However, when that bonfire starts crackling, and you are reaching in your beach bag for your favorite poncho, you might want to have a soft, luscious Pinot Noir to go along with it.
Great food comes along with all the fun and playing that takes place in the summer. Menus get lighter and brighter... another reason you should keep a bottle of Pinot around. Pinot Noir is an excellent match for grilled veggies, BBQ chicken, and fresh seafood! You may even be surprised by how well it goes with a golden-brown marshmallow that was just roasted on an open flame! No need for the chocolate and graham cracker, just the Pinot and marshmallow will do, thanks!
So, before all your reds go way down in the cellar to hibernate, I suggest that you keep the Pinot Noir alive, awake, and around, for its versatility may surprise you.
You can find a delicious list of Talley Pinot below! Here’s to great summer sips!!!!
2015 Talley Vineyards Estate Pinot Noir
2015 Rincon Vineyard Pinot Noir ~ Summer Special 25% off for wine club,
15% off for non-wine club
2015 Rosemary's Vineyard Pinot Noir
2016 Edna Valley Pinot Noir
2016 Bishop's Peak Pinot Noir
The other day I was comparing notes on the growing season with my neighbors up the road, George Donati, in our San Luis Obispo Coast region for more than 20 years, and Howard Carroll, who has lived in the Edna Valley for more than 30 years. Howard and I both remarked on how cold and windy is has been this spring, and George pointed out that this is typical of the way it used to be, before the onset of the drought in 2012 and warmer, dryer weather. George told us that his standard response to anyone who complained about the wind in the old days was, “the wind blows until June 20. After that, it will warm up.”
Fog over Rosemary's VIneyard
What does this cold spring mean for our crop in 2018? Here are a few key takeaways so far:
We estimate that we are about 3 weeks behind last year in terms of key milestones in our growing season.
Flowering (the period when the grapes are pollinated) has been extended for a period of about 6 weeks, about double the normal time. This extended flowering has resulted in inconsistent development of the grape clusters and more unfertilized flowers (shatter), especially in Chardonnay. Clusters are smaller, which will reduce the size of the crop.
Chardonnay cluster that has set next to flowering clusters
In general, vine growth has been uneven. For instance, the Monte Sereno Vineyard started growing early in the season and was affected by a frost at the end of February. On the other hand, Oliver’s Vineyard started growing about a month later and both vine growth and the crop looks better there. Rincon Vineyard Chardonnay appears to have the most variability from vine to vine.
Inconsistent vine growth, Rincon Vineyard Chardonnay
To summarize what all this means for the 2018 vintage, we will likely harvest a smaller than average Chardonnay crop and an average sized Pinot Noir crop. Unless we have an exceptionally warm summer, I expect that the majority of grapes will be harvested in September and October, which bodes well for wine quality, since I think we make our best wines in cooler years when we harvest later. In the meantime, our vineyard crew is working diligently--leafing, managing the vine canopy and removing suckers--to ensure that the 2018 crop is the very best it can be. All of us look forward to warmer weather after June 20th. Cheers!
We have always tried to continually give our Wine Club Members the best possible service and options when they decide to spend time with us here at the Vineyard. As we continue that effort, we are VERY excited to announce our newest addition for our Club Members, our Wine Club Members Lounge at our El Rincon Adobe.
Starting June 9th, we will offer full table service tastings, outdoor and indoor seating, comparative tastings and much more to our Wine Club Members. Our Rincon Adobe building has long been the symbol of Talley Vineyards and what better way than to use it to give upscale, seated tastings to those who love this place as much as we do!
We know that our historic building and beautiful surroundings will be a great setting for people to come and enjoy an elevated experience. We are incredibly excited to have this as an offering and hope you all come join us for our grand opening on June 9th to see what we have put together for you!
What could be better than running through a beautiful vineyard and raising money for scholarships? June 3, 2018 will be the
25th Anniversary of the Marianne Talley Fun Run at Talley Vineyards and we would love for you to come out, get some exercise and help us raise money for scholarships for Arroyo Grande High School students. There is something for everyone: a 10K, 5K, 1 mile kids run, and a 1 mile walk; or you can volunteer or donate to help!
My sister, Olivia, is currently training for the 5K because she really wants the very coveted “I Beat the Vintner” T-shirt. My dad, the vintner, is also training. You can see his very intense training video here (but please be warned it is very hard core!)
Marianne Talley was my Aunt, who passed away before I was born. Although I never got the chance to meet her, I am able to hear wonderful stories about her from my parents, my grandmother and her friends. Marianne was an avid athlete: she swam on the USC swim team and she completed the 1992 Iron Man Triathlon. After she passed away my father started the Marianne Talley Fun Run as a way to honor Marianne by encouraging people to exercise and support our local community.
Please think about joining my family and me on June 3, 2018 at 8 a.m.
You can walk with my grandmother and cousins,
you can try and beat my sister and father in the 5K, you can volunteer with my mother and the others who help put on this special event, or you can pose for some pictures that I will be taking. See you there!