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.)
Our 30th Anniversary harvest is shaping up to be our best ever. I'm not making any predictions about the wines just yet, but things are coming together for a spectacular vintage. Since harvest really got rolling in mid-August, we've had perfect weather with lots of foggy mornings followed by afternoons that top out in the mid-70s. The grapes have ripened slowly, but steadily and the acid profiles are excellent.
Ben Taylor and Kevin Wilkinson and their teams have done a great job in the vineyard this year. So far yields are significantly better than last year, and will probably end up just below our 5 year averages of about 3 tons per acre in Chardonnay and 2 1/2 in Pinot Noir. Harvest days have been starting between 2AM and 4AM, and we've harvested just about all of the Pinot Noir as of today, with only a little bit of fruit in the Rincon Vineyard remaining. We've picked about 30% of the Chardonnay at this point.
To capture the amazing potential of this fruit, we have an inspiring production team and our cellar is running like a well-oiled machine. Eric, Nicole, and Nacho may have been nervous to have two new members of the team going into harvest, but Connor Bonetti and Aubrey Kommer, both of whom joined us this past spring, have stepped up big time, as have interns Will Talty, Graham Walker and Megan Coletti. We started using a new Armbruster Rotovib destemmer this year, which is both more efficient and more effective than its predecessor. The Pinot Noir fermentation room is filled with the most intense raspberry aromas that I can remember.
Finally, harvest always coincides with the Single Vineyard Selection Pinot Noir release. We just started shipping the 2014s on September 1. Very much in keeping with the 2012s and 2013s, the wines are distinctive reflections of 4 different vineyards: Stone Corral, Rincon, East Rincon and Rosemary's Vineyards. Jeb Dunnuck just gave them glowing reviews in the Wine Advocate.
Cheers to Harvest 2016--we’ve been at it for 30 years now, and I love it more than ever! - BT
One of my favorite community fundraising projects is our annual Branch Elementary Pumpkin Patch. We have been growing pumpkins as a fundraiser for the school since the late 1990s when my dad came up with the idea to raise money, to get people out to the farm and to be a good neighbor by supporting our local school.
Our family has a long history with Branch Elementary, dating to the days when my grandparents moved from Santa Maria to Arroyo Grande in the early 1950s. In those days it was a two room schoolhouse, and my father often expressed to me that he learned some of the most profound lessons of his life there. By the time my sister went to Branch in the late 70s, it was a more typical multi room school, but still a very special place because of its beautiful rural setting in the middle of a cow pasture overlooking the Arroyo Grande Valley all the way to the ocean. In addition to my dad, uncle and sister, both of my daughters and 5 of my cousins have attended Branch. It’s the smallest elementary school in our local Lucia Mar School District and recognized as a California Distinguished School.
The thing I love about the pumpkin patch is the opportunity for kids and their parents to come out to the farm and pick out their very own pumpkins and gourds. It’s also the second biggest fundraiser for the school as all proceeds from the sales benefit the school. Finally, it’s a collaborative effort between Talley Farms and Santa Maria Seed, who donates all the seed for our amazing array of pumpkins and gourds.
There are many places to buy pumpkins in our area but I encourage those who live locally to buy their pumpkins right here. The pumpkin patch is open every weekend in October. If you can’t make it on the weekend, pumpkins are available for sale every day in the tasting room. As my daughter Olivia pointed back when she was a first grader at Branch, “where else can you pick out a pumpkin and taste wine at the same time?”
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.
What’s the theme of harvest 2015? Talking to winemakers up and down the state, the same two words keep coming up: “early” and “light.” That pretty much sums up what we’ve seen here as well. Our July 28 start date was the earliest in our history, beating last year’s record by 3 days. Interestingly, our harvest numbers this year almost exactly match where we were at the same time last year: 104 tons of pinot noir and 39 tons of chardonnay (2014 statistics were 100 tons of pinot noir and 45 tons of chardonnay). The big difference in 2014 was that we still had much more to harvest. This year, we are much further along and I project that our total production will be down between 25% and 33%, within the range projected by Vineyard Manager Kevin Wilkinson and his assistant Ben Taylor.
So far, flavors are beautiful in pinot noir. We pressed off Rosemary’s Block 7 (the backbone of the Rosemary’s Vineyard bottling that my father planted back in 1987) on Tuesday and the color was vibrant cranberry and the flavors primal and intense. Chardonnay is fermenting nicely, but still sweet and hard to assess. Acidity is higher than 2014 and I expect more concentration due to the lower yields. Speaking of chardonnay, check out this video shot by my daughter Elizabeth that shows how we process chardonnay from the moment it’s picked until it goes into barrel.
I’m thankful for our fantastic production team this harvest. Winemaker Eric Johnson and his team of Ignacio Zarate, Nicole Morris, Pat Sigler and Devon King are supported by Cal Poly interns Sean Pihl (back for his second harvest), Cody Alt, Austin Griffin and Christina Soares. This same group, led by Ken Hasek, managed to bottle our 2014 Estate Chardonnay at the same time as they processed grapes. Our Controller, Michele Good, refers to the days when we bottle and harvest simultaneously as “Crazytown Cellars.”
Eric Johnson and Ben Taylor discuss Chardonnay from West Rincon.
|Harvest 2015 Interns||Eric inspecing pinot noir grapes early morning during harvest.|
On another note, we are looking forward to autumn, the season we see the full bounty of what we produce at Talley Farms and Talley Vineyards. At Talley Vineyards we are nearing the release of our Single Vineyard Selection Pinot Noirs. Meanwhile, just across the road at Talley Farms, we have heirloom tomatoes, sweet corn, avocados, peppers, and a plethora of other fall vegetables. I encourage you to visit soon and experience my favorite season of the year. Cheers!
|2015 Talley Vineyards Harvest Crew|
The Pinot Noir grapes are dark, the Chardonnay is golden, the canes lignifying throughout, and there is a grumble coming from the production staff. This could only mean one thing: harvest is coming. Harvest is a time we all love and hate. It is hard work, it is complete chaos, and it’s possibly the most rewarding part of the year.
In the cellar, all harvest specific pieces of equipment are coming out of a 9 month hibernation. Cellarmaster Nacho Zarate will begin by moving the fermenters and harvest bins out of the storage barn. He will likely be driving the forklift without a shirt and will definitely be complaining about the vineyard equipment in his way. One of the first tasks for the newly hired harvest interns is to clean this equipment. On day one they will get badly sunburned and on day two they will wear sunscreen and a big hat. The interns will also start learning about harvest by listening to the veteran production crew’s complaints of “having no life” and “not getting enough sleep” in the coming days. Seriously, that is all they talk about…
In the vineyard, it is the calm before the storm. The crew is wrapping up viticultural practices like tucking vines, bird nets, and dropping fruit that is ripening slower than the rest. Our equipment is being serviced and we’re ordering the rented lights that will illuminate night picks. It is also time to ready FYBs, the yellow buckets that we pick into. They are such bright yellow they seem to taunt us, screaming “Harvest is coming!” Because of this, everyone hates the FYB’s, so while I will refrain from explaining the entire acronym in this classy, family-oriented blog, you can probably guess what it stands for.
As the work continues, the production and vineyard teams’ preparation begins to overlap more and more, and there are regular discussions between the winemaker and vineyard manager. The interns are sent to collect grape clusters that will show us the sugar content, cluster weight, pH, and acids of the fruit and we all come together to analyze the results. Our harvest anticipation builds and bets are made about what will be picked first until Brian Talley and Winemaker Eric Johnson give the final “GO!” and harvest begins!
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.
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.
Another harvest is already here! We’ve only been harvesting for a week and the winery is already packed with fermenters. With this warm weather, everything seems to be ripening quickly and it is looking like it is going to be an exceptionally fast and intense harvest.
The 2013 vintage will definitely be a memorable one for me. This is the ninth grape harvest I’ve worked, my fourth harvest at Talley Vineyards, and my first harvest as a new mother. The notion of being tired new parents will take on a whole new meaning once we add the onslaught of grapes to the equation. My husband and I will be passing in the night as he manages night picks at Halter Ranch; and I’m just hoping that our son, Grayson, recognizes our efforts and lets us have some uninterrupted sleep every once in awhile!
Grayson may not understand it yet, but this is just the first of many harvests to come during his childhood, when his parents will be blurry eyed, sticky, and purple handed for weeks on end. Without a doubt he will become familiar with smells of fermentation in the winery and the sights and sounds of grapes being picked and processed.
We are planning to start a tradition of saving wines from Grayson’s birth year to share with him when he turns 21, and what better wines to save than the age worthy Talley Pinots and Chardonnays that I had a hand in making! If the beautiful growing conditions continue, the 2013 wines should be spectacular. Twenty-one years from now, I look forward to opening these wines together and recounting the crazy and wonderful memories we will have from our first vintage as a new family. Okay, time to get back to those grapes!
|Pinot noir fermenting in the cellar.||Grayson reacts to the news harvest has started!|