This week marks the release of our 2015 Single Vineyard Selection Chardonnays, our 21st anniversary vintage for this series which started in 1994. This is a great time for me to discuss my philosophy about chardonnay and how that links to these wines. I believe that, grown in the right place and treated with respect, the chardonnay grape produces the world's greatest dry white wine. Coastal San Luis Obispo County is one of the best places in the world to grow chardonnay due to the cool climate and marine sedimentary soils of the region, which yields flavorful grapes with high natural acidity, the perfect ingredient required to make world class wine. Our approach to producing chardonnay embraces the idea that purity of aroma and flavor is the ultimate virtue. This means that every step of the process-- sustainable vineyard practices, whole cluster pressing, native yeast fermentation, extended barrel aging with minimal new French oak, and careful bottling without filtration--is meant to capture all of the potential of our remarkable place.
What does all of this mean with respect to what the wines actually taste like? It means that our wines are more elegant, with a lighter and more refreshing feel than most other California chardonnays. Each of our Single Vineyard Selections has its own distinctive personality driven by the soil and microclimate of each site, as opposed to variations in winemaking. Citrus notes, ranging from lemon to tangerine are predominant. Oak flavors and aromas play a background role. For detailed winegrowing and tasting notes, see our Chardonnays on the website.
Fundamentally, these are wines that are refreshing to drink, evolve slowly in the glass over the course of a meal, and taste best with food. These are not big wines made to appeal to certain wine critics or beauty contest wine competitions. These wines reflect our mission: to make and share distinctive wines that capture the special character of our place.
My favorite food pairing with chardonnay celebrates one of my favorite items we grow: avocados. In fact, Coastal San Luis Obispo County is one of the unique places in the world where both chardonnay and avocados thrive. Whether with a simple guacamole or using avocados to accompany local seafood such as Petrale sole, Black Cod or White Sea Bass, chardonnay and avocado is a match made in heaven. Try it yourself with one of our 2015 Single Vineyard Selection Chardonnays. Cheers! - BT
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.)
In 2014, Talley Vineyards officially became SIP certified. The Sip Certification, which stands for Sustainability in Practice, is a “rigorous sustainable vineyard and wine certification with strict, non-negotiable requirements committed to standards based on science and expert input, independent verification, transparency, and absence of conflict of interest.” As rigorous as some of the SIP requirements are, we were already farming and making wine to many of these standards, and just needed to officially document the way we do things here. Some of the sustainable practices we implement on the vineyard side are new, but many are things we’ve been doing for awhile.
One of the practices we’ve used for years in our vineyards is cover cropping in and around our vineyard blocks. We cover crop to help with erosion on the steep hills that we grow our grapes in and to improve the soil structure. This last year we seeded most blocks with a cover crop that consisted of oats and bell beans. The oats have powerful root structures that help open up the soil as they grow, while the bell beans add nitrogen to the soil as they are disked back into the soil. These cover crops add not only nitrogen to the soil, but they are a great source of organic matter that gets mixed back into the soil. This helps with biodiversity in the soil and root development of our grapes. Over time, this practice improves our soil structure as each year a new crop of grasses and legumes are tilled into the soil.
One of our newer viticultural practices that we’ve implemented is the discontinued use of herbicides. We have been an herbicide free vineyard since 2015. We decided to move away from herbicides as part of our commitment to sustainability. We’ve noticed certain weeds developing resistance to herbicides, and instead of trying stronger chemicals, we decided to go herbicide free. Besides the lack of chemicals in our soil, we’ve witnessed a huge improvement in the tilth under the vines. This is because of the three different tractor implements and good-old fashioned hoeing that is now consistently turning the soil under the vines. Each implement works best in different blocks, depending on the soil structure, terrain, and growth of the weeds. The newest, most versatile, and by far the best of these implements is the Clemens Weed Knife. This Clemens consists of two blades that are at the end of hydraulic arms. These arms extend, or contract, depending on the width of the vineyard row. The knives cut just below the surface of the ground below the vines, cutting weed at their nutrient leaching roots. The final product is a weed-free soil that is chemical free!
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.
I often get the question: “What's the difference between organic and sustainable farming?” As a farmer and winegrower, I would love to grow everything according to an organic ideal where I simply plant a grape vine, harvest the grapes, make wine, and let Mother Nature take care of the rest. Unfortunately, this ideal doesn’t exist in commercial winegrowing, where we rely on numerous additional inputs to grow grapes and make wine. The reality is that “certified organic" and "certified sustainable" are designations with specific meanings. Sustainable farming as reflected in the Sustainable in Practice (SIP) program, is the more comprehensive program with respect to true sustainability, and therefore the better fit for us. As they say on their website, “SIP Certified is about great wines, healthy vineyards and the well being of workers.”
A mechanical tiller controls weeds without herbicides. Note the beautiful cover crop, good for soil and beneficials!
At Talley Vineyards and Talley Farms, we strive to do our best with our people, our land and in our community. This global approach, along with our commitment to preserve and enhance our business for the fourth generation, has lead me to embrace SIP. The SIP certification consists of an exhaustive audit where all aspects of our operations, including all inputs (water, pesticides and fertilizers), employee welfare, soil health and conservation, air quality, fruit quality, business sustainability and social benefit are considered. Organic certification focuses much more narrowly on whether or not certified organic pesticides and fertilizers are used.
Many of the questions about sustainable versus organic farming center on pesticide use. Most people don’t realize that all commercially grown winegrapes, whether organically or sustainably farmed, are sprayed with pesticides. The difference is that certified organic grapes can only be treated with certified organic pesticides whereas SIP certified grown grapes can be treated with a wider range of products, all of which must be registered as safe for winegrapes. The newest generation insecticides more effectively target pests while leaving beneficial insects unharmed. Many of the old generation certified organic products are broad spectrum insectides that kill a wider range of insects and are more harmful to beneficials. This is important because beneficial insects play a critical role in protecting our vines.
|My daughters Elizabeth and Olivia Talley, members of our Fourth Generation.|
Coastal San Luis Obispo County is blessed with a wonderfully mild climate that allows for the perfect maturation of chardonnay and pinot noir. It's also an ideal climate for pests like powdery mildew, Botrytis cinerea and vine mealy bug, all of which pose unique challenges to certified organic solutions. Every great winegrowing region in the world faces its own set of challenges whether it's hail in Burgundy, rain in Oregon or the issues I outlined for our region. Each winegrower must determine the best methods to face those challenges. The consensus among my colleagues in our area is that SIP works better for us than certified organic. Our sustainable approach accommodates the customized farming approach that is critical to our mission of making and sharing distinctive wines that capture the special character of our place.
While I respect those who support the certified organic approach to viticulture, I proudly embrace the SIP designation. My family's commitment to sustainability in our operations is why I feel good about living and working on our land, as do many of our employees. We’ve sustained ourselves for three generations and now we’re focused on making our place even better for the fourth.
Riesling has a special place in my heart. Not only do I consider it to be the second most profound and exciting white wine varietal, after chardonnay, but its history at Talley Vineyards dates to our origins.
There’s consensus in the fine wine world that riesling is one of the truly noble grape varieties because, along with pinot noir, it is considered to be the most reflective of the place it’s grown. It also produces a wide variety of wines, from low alcohol/high acid German Spatlese, to the dry and moderate alcohol wines of Alsace to the legendary Trockenbeerenausle produced entirely from botrytis affected grapes. Riesling is also incredibly ageworthy.
One must ask, why doesn’t riesling enjoy a better reputation in California? I think it’s because the traditional wines produced here were made in a softer off dry style produced from grapes grown in warmer regions. In fact, this is the kind of riesling my grandfather loved and the kind of wine he encouraged my father to produce way back in the early 1980s when we started planting our vineyards. Consequently, my dad included riesling in the original plantings in 1982. We have made riesling at Talley Vineyards ever since our first vintage in 1986. Most of the wines have been made in the off dry style that my grandfather liked.
Brian, Oliver and Don Talley
After thinking carefully about our Riesling program, and especially about the wines we really like, Eric Johnson and I decided that we would prefer to make a more “serious” dry style. The 2014 has classic aromas of peach, tangerine with the typical riesling touch of kerosene. It has steely minerality and crisp acidity and will taste great with Thai food or shellfish. Think of my grandfather, Oliver Talley, as you enjoy it.
We have farmed in the Arroyo Grande Valley for three generations and one of the things that makes me proud is the commitment we’ve made in our family business to making our community a better place. I feel very fortunate to be part of a local family business, as that allows for many opportunities for community involvement. In fact this is now stated in the second sentence of our company mission statement: We strive to do our very best with our people, our land and in our community.
The tradition of community commitment began in my grandparents’ generation and they did what they could at the same time as they built a fledgling farming operation from scratch. My parents' generation learned from my grandparents' example and their investment in the community grew. My father served on the Arroyo Grande City Council and as Mayor of Arroyo Grande in the early 1970s. My mother took a very active leadership role in the fundraising effort that resulted in the Performing Arts Center at Cal Poly.
In my generation, led by the efforts of my wife Johnine, we established the Fund for Vineyard and Farm Workers in 2004 to provide charitable support to non-profit organizations that benefit the farm worker community in San Luis Obispo County. Our main fundraiser for this effort is a charity wine called Mano Tinto which results in an annual contribution of nearly $50,000 to the Fund. Mano Tinta connects us to the artists in our community through a label art contest (which is currently underway) where we select artwork for the label that changes with each vintage.
Our other key charitable initiative is the Marianne Talley Foundation, a Memorial Scholarship Foundation that we established in 1993 when my sister passed away. What began as a single scholarship for female student athletes has blossomed into the three separate scholarships that has benefited more than 40 students over the past 22 years. Marian Fiorentino is hard at work organizing the Marianne Talley Fun Run on June 7, our annual fundraiser for the Foundation.
My family and I are grateful that the community has embraced and supported the Marianne Talley Foundation and the Fund for Vineyard and Farm Workers. We are also inspired by the great community support we witness in some of the smaller ongoing programs we participate in. We have hosted the Branch School Pumpkin Patch, a fundraiser for our local public elementary school for about 15 years. We make a weekly donation of produce to the San Luis Obispo County Food Bank. We partner with GleanSLO to minimize waste of unharvested vegetables. We are active supporters of Arroyo Grande Community Hospital.
I speak for my family and our employees when I say that we do these things because we consider ourselves blessed to live in a very special community. It brings us joy to know that we’re doing something to make our place a little more special.
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.
|Monte Sereno Vineyard after the first rains.|
Batten down the hatches! Winter has finally decided to show up here in Arroyo Grande. Weather experts are calling it a major storm, and if their forecasts are correct, we should be getting pounded by some heavy rain this afternoon. The first storm arrived Wednesday afternoon and brought us about half an inch of rain. The second storm followed bringing us about an inch of rain over night with some heavy winds. This morning has been pretty calm, but the next phase of the storm looks to be building strength out over the ocean and should be arriving on land in the next couple of hours.
|Rincon Vineyard in the midst of a downpour on Friday morning.|
In the vineyard we are just about to wrap up pruning for the year. We' have a little over an acre left to prune of sauvignon blanc in our Oliver's vineyard and should be able to finish this early next week as soon as the fields dry out. A lot of people have been asking me if the heavy rain will hurt us at all in the vineyard, but the truth is we need the water, and we welcome as much rain as we can get. Ideally we get a steady supply of rain during December and January when the vines are still dormant, but unfortunately this year it was pretty dry. Heavy rains now will hold us up a bit, and certainly make this last little bit of pruning a little slower, but we should be able to wrap up the pruning by next week.