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.)
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.
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.
Lately I’ve been thinking about the past as well as the future. Stumbling across hundreds of photographs from my grandmother’s photo albums was what got me thinking about the past.
My grandfather, Oliver Talley, started farming here in the Arroyo Grande Valley in 1948. This photograph of him was taken in front of a bean field (our main crop at that time) sometime in the late 40s or early 50s, the early days at Talley Farms. My grandfather established a reputation for treating everyone he worked with, whether a customer, competitor or employee with honesty, fairness and respect. Those are core values that continue to this day.
Fast forward nearly 40 years to when my parents, Don and Rosemary, founded Talley Vineyards in 1986. Their vision was to create a special winery that produced wines that tasted like the grapes they grew. They were just a few years younger than Johnine and I are now when they began this journey, and we are proud to carry it on. We’ve refined the objective a bit over the years, but fundamentally, we strive to make and share distinctive wines that capture the special character of our place.
A family get together this Sunday made me think about the future. There are 10 members of the fourth generation of the Talley Family. Those of us leading Talley Farms and Talley Vineyards now (my mother, Johnine, my cousins and me) are united in the vision that we want to create the best possible opportunity for those members of the next generation who choose to carry on. It’s our mission to do our best with our people, our land and in our community to make that vision a reality.
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 have two teenage daughters and one of the questions people ask me all the time is, “do either of your girls want to take over the winery?” or something along those lines. My honest answer is that I don’t know. My hope is that my girls follow their passion, get a good education and do what makes them happy.
|Elizabeth & Olivia, 2005||Olivia & Elizabeth, 2014|
We just spent three wonderful days in Southern California looking at potential universities for Olivia. She is leaning toward UC Berkeley and would become the fourth generation in our family to attend that school, but she also really likes Boston College and UCLA. Elizabeth has been accepted to Cal Poly (following in her mother’s footsteps) and will start next fall in the Agricultural Communications Department. The girls have come to enjoy and appreciate certain aspects of the business, especially the part that involves travel and dining in restaurants like Spago in Beverly Hills or Gordon Ramsay in New York. They’ve become very adept at helping us entertain and can do everything from setting the table, assisting in the kitchen, baking dessert and serving the meal to cleaning up at the end. Elizabeth has extensive knowledge of social media and photography and gives me tips about how to better engage our customers. Olivia is currently working as an intern for our local Assemblyman where she’s learning the finer details of constituent service. They both sound like absolute naturals for this business….
Eric listens to Paul Draper of
Last week I took Winemaker Eric Johnson and Vineyard Manager Travis Monk on a field trip to visit some of my favorite wineries in California. I find it inspiring to visit people who are as passionate and committed as we are here at Talley Vineyards. We started on Monday with a visit to Ridge Vineyards, the legendary producer of Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon located high in the Santa Cruz Mountains, overlooking the Silicon Valley. Paul Draper, one of the icons of California wine, shared with us the amazing history of Monte Bello, the estate vineyard that produces one of California’s most highly regarded Cabernets. Before we knew it, three hours had passed and we were scrambling to make it to San Francisco in time for dinner at Restaurant Gary Danko.
Tuesday was all about pinot noir and chardonnay. Longtime Williams Selyem Winemaker Bob Cabral shared his insights on the evolution of his iconic pinot noir over the last 17 years. We finished with a tour of the estate vineyard which features a field blend of various pinot noir clones before joining our friends David Fischer and Cameron Frey for lunch and a comprehensive tasting of Ramey wines. Much like Talley Vineyards, they focus on flavor development and balance in their elegantly crafted chardonnays.
Eric and Travis at Williams Selyem.
The Sonoma County chardonnay and pinot noir theme continued on Wednesday. We took an extensive tour of the Littorai property just outside Sebastopol with much focus on Ted Lemon’s biodynamic farm and a tasting of some of the most elegant chardonnay and pinot noir produced in California. After that, we joined Geoff Labitzke for a tasting at Kistler Vineyards, which many consider to be the benchmark for Sonoma County chardonnay.
Thursday’s visits were focused in the Napa Valley. Failla is a winery owned by Winemaker Ehren Jordan that is located south of Calistoga on the Silverado Trail though the majority of this wines come from grapes grown on the Sonoma Coast. We were impressed with Ehren’s outside the box thinking with respect to winegrowing and the impeccable balance of his wines. Our final visit of the trip was to Tim Mondavi’s Continuum Estate on Pritchard Hill in the Napa Valley. It was great to tour this amazing site, though it was even better to talk to Tim Mondavi, taste the current release of Continuum and learn how his long tenure as the Winemaker at Robert Mondavi informs his approach now. It was an inspiring and thought provoking week and I can’t wait to do it again!