Eric introduces us to one of our harvest interns, Graham Walker -
I visited Cal Poly for an expo day at the College of Agriculture. I heard from Ag Business and liked it, but when I went to Wine & Vit’s presentation I thought to myself "All I want in life is to live in SLO, be a head winemaker at a winery in Arroyo Grande with a large farm around it, and drive a mid-to-late 2000's GMC SUV."
I grew up with parents and grandparents that have a love for wine, so I've been trying wines with them from a young age. In high school I was forced to take an art class as a part of California's requirements to graduate. I wound up with quite a fondness and appreciation for art and being creative. Knowing how difficult and unusual it'd be to pursue a career in ceramics I sought out a much more mainstream and unoriginal, but creative, profession in the wine industry.
My internship has been going phenomenally well thus far. I couldn't be happier with the small bit of experience in the wine industry that I've been fortunate enough to be a part of here at Talley. I get to wake up every day and go to work in a beautiful place with exceptionally supportive coworkers in a much more favorable climate than I'm used to coming from Los Angeles.
Yes, mentally it has given me a greater appreciation for what my life could potentially look like after I graduate, as well as a good goal to look forward to and work hard for while I am in school. Physically, I now walk with a limp and have a permanent crick in my neck.
I hope to continue to work hard while I'm in school and pursue more opportunities to work harvests in the industry so that I can come out with as much experience and as many valuable relationships as possible.
Assuming that I can get my classes fast enough, hopefully graduated from Cal Poly 5 years from now. And, should my luck hold, I can see myself still working in the wine industry.
The National Anthem, because it's my favorite song.
200 yards of paracord, a multitool with a corkscrew and fire starter on it, and a pallet of 375 ml bottles of Oliver's Chardonnay. I'd have everything I'd need, including 672 bottles for messages once they're empty. (But only if I'm 21 when I'm stuck on this island, of course.)
|Preparing East Rincon Soil for planting before it rains.|
We wrapped up the earliest harvest ever for Talley Vineyards in September and took advantage of our early post-harvest downtime to begin on our new vineyard development in the East Rincon Vineyard Blocks 3 and 5. This planting is planned for 2017, but with our drought conditions and the hope for lots of rain this winter, we decided to get the big dozers in and fracture some dirt while it’s dry. The soils on this specific site are shallow Los Osos- Diablo Clay Loam soils with a lot of serpentine rock below. It took some extensive dirt work to break through the rocky sections of this site but the vines will be very happy with it as it allows their roots to move deeper into the soil sub-sections. This area, known as regolith, is the horizon of soil that consists of parent material from the underlining bedrock and greatly contributes to the terroir of wines.
|Talley team with Jeffery Patterson at Mount Eden Vineyards.|
This coming spring, we will be planting out new Pinot Noir sites in mostly West Rincon and one Chardonnay site at the very top of East Rincon. This site in East Rincon will be planted with Chardonnay clones from the iconic Mount Eden Vineyard in the Santa Cruz Mountains. A team of us had the wonderful opportunity to meet Jeffrey Patterson at his special vineyard and talk some shop. We are very much looking forward to planting these clones this spring. Although, we’re probably looking forward more to the wines that take on the unique characteristics that develop from the ideal Chardonnay growing conditions of the Arroyo Grande Valley!
Big cities, glamorous restaurants, sensational wines, and celebrity chefs are things that come to mind when considering the life of a sommelier. This week at Talley Vineyards we had the opportunity to show sommeliers what the life of a Central Coast farmer looks like. In conjunction with Tablas Creek Vineyard, we hosted seven sommeliers and beverage directors from across the country for a week of activities here on the Central Coast.
When they flew into San Luis Obispo , it was most of the group's first time to our little slice of heaven and as we drove into Pismo Beach a pod of whales near the pier put on an exceptional show. I tried to take credit for the spectacular welcome, but they didn't buy it. After a little sightseeing, it was time for dinner at Lido Restaurant at Dolphin Bay Resort in Shell Beach. From the ocean front reception and appetizers, to the selection of 2010 Talley Vineyards and Tablas Creek wines, to the dessert course, the meal (and wines!) offered the perfect welcome to the Central Coast life.
The next morning I picked up everyone bright and early and headed to Talley Vineyards where we met with our harvesting crew and Viticultural Technician Ben Taylor in West Rincon Vineyard block 704 to put the sommeliers to work! Hand-harvesting grapes can produce an array of emotions. Anxious energy when you first begin, confidence as you start moving through the vines, and humbled respect as the crew laps you with minimal effort. Our visiting sommeliers experienced the whole range, but luckily left the vines with all their fingers. We returned to the winery to decide on the winemaking process for our ton of chardonnay, then continued the afternoon with tours and tastings.
That evening we were joined by Winemaker Eric Johnson and National Sales Manager David Block and his wife Julie, at Brian and Johnine Talley's home. The wood burning pizza oven and exceptional selections of wines from the Talley cellar were only complemented by the breathtaking views of the Arroyo Grande Valley. We dined on homemade pizzas, Hearst Ranch tri tip, and a bounty of fresh vegetables grown at Talley Farms. The food was enhanced by bottles of Pierre Gimonnet Blanc de Blancs Champagne, Patrick Piuze Chablis Les Forets, Domaine Huet Le Mont Vouvray Sec, and 1997 Talley Vineyards Estate Chardonnay, plus a beautiful trio of dessert wines, including a 1994 Talley Vineyards Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc.
The following morning we said goodbye to the seven sommeliers and they made their way to Paso Robles to visit Tablas Creek Vineyard. A week like this reminds me how amazing this area is. I was so thankful this awesome group made the trek and we were able to share the best of the Central Coast, and (after fermentation and some barrel aging) hopefully we’ll all enjoy the fruits of our labor.
We just completed a library tasting of all the chardonnays and pinot noirs we produced between 2006 and 2009. A few weeks ago, we tasted everything from 2005 back. These tastings are among my favorite things to do because I really enjoy revisiting our wines after a few years of age. In addition, it’s fun to share wines and perspectives with the people I work with. Our tasting yesterday included people like Devon King and Patrick Sigler who joined us after any of the wines they tasted were produced. On the other hand, our Controller Michele Good has been with us for more than 20 years and has distinct memories associated with specific vintages.
One of the surprising things to everyone is how well our chardonnays age. This is because the cool climate of Coastal San Luis Obispo County yields wines of high natural acidity, excellent balance and good concentration, all important components of age worthy wine. Highlights of the tastings included our chardonnays from 1996 and 1997, which we currently have for sale on our website We have a more extensive selection available in the tasting room. I encourage you to visit and explore these wines. Not only are they enjoyable in their own right, they’re fun to share with friends while you reminisce about what you were doing when they were produced.
If you have ever hung out at a winery you might have noticed all sorts of equipment needed to turn grapes to wine. Some of the obvious are destemmers, presses, tanks and barrels, but there are other less obvious pieces needed to ensure the wine is clean and without microbial problems. If you think about food production, any surface the food touches must be clean to ensure the safety of the consumer and to maintain high quality. Winemaking is very similar and constant daily cleaning must be done to ensure a high quality final product. We take sanitation very serious at Talley because the last thing we want to do is slack off with cleaning and ruin a wine before you even get to drink it.
With this is mind, we continue to invest in equipment that supports our sanitation endeavors. Right now, I am super stoked about our brand new steam generator. This might sound strange but trust me, steam is everywhere in the wine industry. The steam generator may be the most popular piece of equipment right now. Steam allows us to do many things in the winery that we were not able to accomplish before. Water turns to steam at 212 Fahrenheit and, because of this heat, steam can be used as a sanitation source. I like to think that it melts all the bad stuff off of whatever it touches. Another benefit to using steam is the water conservation. We are constantly trying to shrink our resource foot print at Talley and the steam generator adds to the effort. So what do we use the steam for? First of all, we can use it on our bottling line as a very fast way to sanitize without using a massive amount of water. Another use for steam is barrel cleaning. Once or twice a year we will steam the inside of our barrels to clean out anything stuck within the wood that a surface cleaner cannot access. Wood is porous but water alone cannot penetrate it. Steam, on the other hand, can penetrate the wood staves. The steam has the ability to extract any possible microbial growth, such as acetobacter that contribute to higher levels of volatile acidity, without doing harm to the barrel itself.
The second new toy we have recently purchased is an ozone generator. We have always had one, but we recently upgraded to a more current model. To me, ozone is a miracle. It is such an amazing sanitation agent and is used in all sorts of industries all over the world. To those of you not familiar, ozone is O3 and is formed from dioxygen by the action of ultraviolet light and atmospheric electrical discharges. Ozone is a powerful oxidant and has many industrial and consumer applications related to oxidation. Ozone is often used to make sure drinking water is clean. Sounds crazy, right? Well, it's not! Ozone is a strong oxidant but has a relatively quick half-life, meaning it degrades rapidly after its production and turns back to normal drinking water. In the winery, ozone is very useful for rapidly sanitizing equipment. We will occasionally use it on our bottling line to ensure there isn't anything growing in some cracks or crevices. The ozone generator may be my favorite piece of equipment and I am so grateful that we have a new model to play with.
I realize these might not seem like traditional toys, but I promise you that winemakers around the world are giddy when they can bring in some new equipment. The problem is that, just like with actual toys, there is always one more that we want.
A couple of interesting things come to mind when I think of the 2014 vintage. First of all, the harvest was very early, August 1st , the earliest harvest Talley Vineyards has ever had. An ongoing drought and warmer springtime weather pushed the grapes to ripen earlier than normal. More importantly, when tasting grapes, we noticed favorable flavors arriving at lower sugar levels than is typically the case. I was ecstatic to taste these flavors and it allowed us to pick early. A benefit to picking early is lower alcohol content, which is something we always want to keep in check in order to have well balanced wines.
Another interesting thing about this vintage is how good the wines are tasting right now. I typically refrain from tasting until December, but because of the uniqueness of this harvest I’ve already tasted in order to get an early feel of the vintage. The Chardonnays had such great fermentations in barrel and in tank and they are super clean and very aromatic. The Pinots had a great reaction to their transition from fermenter to barrel. Haven't had a stinky barrel yet! At this point, my notes for the vintage would be that the wines are very pretty, elegant and have the classic Talley body and texture that we all love. The wines will also be softer than previous years because of lower natural acidity present in the grapes. We believe this is also due to the stress the drought has put on the grapes.
Something else that comes to mind regarding this harvest was everyone's positive attitude. All of us in the winery got along great. This may seem like not that a big deal, but when you work long hours every day with the same people you tend to get a little frustrated with each other. This year was the most relaxed bunch of people that I've seen. As a whole this was a great group of hard working employees and interns and I'm sure the positive energy will impact the quality of the wines. The combination of quality fruit and good people really made this harvest fun and I would say I enjoyed it more than any others. Hope 2015 is just as good!
We are in the midst of the earliest harvest in our history, and it’s not just grapes--this is the first time I can remember having heirloom tomatoes in Arroyo Grande in July. I looked back through my records and our previous early grape harvest occurred in 1997 when we started on August 5. This year, we started August 1, almost exactly a month before we started last year.
What explains the early harvest? The obvious answer is the weather, starting with unseasonably warm weather in January, which caused early budbreak. A persistent high pressure weather system resulted in warm temperatures and dry conditions through the winter, spring and into the early summer. Consequently, every step of our growing season occurred earlier than normal. The weather turned foggy and much cooler in July, though by then the die was cast for an early harvest.
To date, we’ve harvested 18 tons of pinot noir and 12 tons of chardonnay from the West Rincon, Rosemary’s and Monte Sereno Vineyards. We are seeing excellent ripeness at lower sugars, and lower acidity than normal. We attribute this to the warmer nights we’ve been experiencing lately, which tends to cause the respiration of malic acid. Yields are very close to our projections and the crop is slightly smaller than 2013.
Our early harvest didn’t prevent us from hosting the fourth annual Picnic in the Vineyard luncheon last Saturday. This popular event is open to members of our wine clubs and features tables under tents set up right in the middle of the East Rincon Vineyard. This year’s lunch was dedicated to the memory of Travis Monk, our Vineyard Manager who passed away this spring. It was a beautiful day in the vineyard, made more meaningful when we reflected Travis’s hard work, commitment and dedication to his job. As we bring in the harvest of 2014, we are truly finishing what Travis started.
Well it's official, the new year is underway. Most of the vineyard employees are returning to work this week and soon we will begin pruning. It's been pretty quiet in the vineyards over the last couple of weeks, but with the warm winter we've been having and the lack of any rain, it's time to begin our season and prepare for bud break in the upcoming weeks.
Currently we are pre pruning. So what is pre pruning? Pre pruning is a step we take just before pruning in some of our blocks, that removes a large portion of last year's growth but will not complete our pruning pass. At pruning we take last year's growth down to 1 or 2 buds for optimal vine balance and grape quality. With pre pruning however, we are only removing the tops of last year's shoots, but still leaving behind 5 to 6 buds.
Following pre pruning, we will revisit these blocks and make our final pruning cuts just before bud break. So why prune twice? It's a good question, and certainly there are a lot of vineyards that do not pre prune, but there are some advantages to it for us at Talley. First, it's a way to keep our vineyard employees working during the slower winter season. As mentioned above, some of our employees enjoy taking a break to return home for the holidays, but for those that don't we can keep them busy pre pruning during this time. Pre pruning also speeds up our pruning process. Because pre pruning does not require much attention to detail, vineyard employees are able to make quick passes through the vineyard removing the excessive growth from last year. When we come back to prune these same vines, the attention to detail will be necessary, but there will also be a lot less growth to fight through and remove. Last, pre pruning also helps to delay bud break a little longer. For this reason we will pre prune in areas of the vineyard that the temperatures can be a little colder. By delaying bud break by just a week or two, we buy ourselves a little more time in not having to worry about frost damage. Late February and March are the riskiest times of year for us here in the Arroyo Grande and Edna valleys as our fresh new vine growth is very susceptible to damage when temperatures drop into the low 30's.
There's a lot that goes into deciding how to prune, and here at Talley we certainly have adopted many different techniques of pruning and training our vines for the utmost quality. This week we will complete one of the last tasks that really helps us in deciding how to prune, our production tasting. All day Wednesday and Thursday, alongside our owner, winemaker, and assistant winemaker, I will taste through every single lot of wines we produced for 2013. It's a tough job, but somebody's gotta do it, right?
As fun as it sounds to taste wine all day and actually call it work, these next two days are extremely important for many reasons. During the tasting we are scoring each wine on its quality and are focused on being extremely critical. It's important for us to identify the wines we think are the highest quality and discuss why we think they turned out so well, and conversely we identify the wines that we're not so proud of and brainstorm what we can do differently. Green unripe flavors or pale color could indicate a wine that was made from grapes that had not ripened enough or could have been over cropped. Maybe this wine would have benefited from some increased pruning, which would lead to less grapes but potentially higher sugars and more flavor development. Maybe we'll taste a wine we all really like, but look back to find out our yields were extremely low. Changing the pruning technique could be a possible tool to help us get more from this site. This tasting is extremely important and valuable to me as a vineyard manager, and will truly help us make our final pruning decisions before we start pruning next week. After this week one thing's for sure, our pruning plans will be set and my taste buds will be shot! Two full days of wine tasting can be pretty overwhelming, so wish me luck...and pray for some rain!
My name is Nicole Morris and I am the cellar assistant here at Talley Vineyards. As you may have heard, 2013 was a plentiful and intense harvest. Harvest 2013 was my seventh in the wine industry. As much fun as it was, I am glad it is over.
Now that we have time to sit back and reflect on the long hours and craziness we have just endured, there are still many winery tasks that need to be accomplished. Currently we have over twenty fermenters that are in the late stages of fermentation. They are mostly Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Verdot, and Syrah. Towards the end of harvest, the cooler temperatures in the cellar contribute to a slower fermentation time. Most of these reds varietals, which are from the Paso Robles area, will be finished fermenting and pressed off by next week.
Another task we are working on is the consolidation of the chardonnay barrels. Chardonnay that is fermented in barrels is initially filled only three-fourths full. The head space is left for the fizzle and foam of fermentation. So a 60 gallon barrel is only filled with chardonnay to 45 gallons. A barrel filled to the top would overflow leaving the liquid gold, as we call the foam, all over the barrel room floor. Still, some barrels do end up overflowing during fermentation. Once the fermentation is complete the barrels are consolidated, filled and topped off. They will now go through secondary fermentation and age in the cellar.
Eventually, all barrels in the barrel room will be topped off and stored. From here on out, barrel topping will happen about once a month because about a half a gallon of wine evaporates from a barrel each month. This head space from evaporation puts wine in a more vulnerable state for spoilage organisms to take over. Topping the barrels prevents this from happening.
The intensity of harvest is coming to an end and we are being rewarded by the beautiful autumn colors in the vineyard. Even though we are we are still keeping busy with these “end of harvest” activities, one cannot help but feel accomplished and surprised that yet another harvest has passed. We here at Talley Vineyards are very excited to see the results of the 2013 harvest, and even more excited about having a whole weekend off.