With a little over a week left before we celebrate the coming of 2013, I wish everyone a very merry Christmas and a happy New Year! While it is not my style to get sentimental and reminisce about highlights of the year gone past, 2012 is a little bit different. In the most succinct terms possible, it really was a great year.
As it pertains to my life and what I’m passionate about, two amazing things happened this year. First, and most importantly, this is the year I married my amazing wife, Erin. On April 14th, the Talley family was gracious enough to allow us to host our small, intimate wedding ceremony in the barrel room. After six years of dating and now over six months of marrage, I am happy to be able to tell everyone that married life is great!
Secondly, 2012 was an awesome vintage for just about every region of California, especially here on the central coast. While I am proud to have been a part of Talley Vineyards for what has been a really excellent string of vintages (2007-2012), this year is special because it is the first year in a while with both high quality and above-average yields. Some of you may know that I dabble in wine production. This is the second year that the Talleys have allowed us to tend a section of vines in Edna Valley and make a small batch of wine. I, my wife, and co-workers, Mike and Ken, harvested twice the fruit as last year and so far we think the wine may be twice as good! Furthermore, now that some of the wines in the barrel room have had a few months of age, we are really starting to see that the Talley chardonnays and pinot noirs are going to be very special wines.
For a wine geek like myself, there is no better feeling than knowing that I can stock up on the 2012 vintage when they come out and be assured that the quality of the wine is going to reflect the way I feel about the year in which the fruit was grown. Since we have some time before those wines come out, I’m going to go back to my first vintage here at Talley and enjoy a bottle of 2007 Rincon Vineyard Pinot Noir for Christmas. For the rest of you, I suggest that you pull out a great bottle and share some stories with loved ones about the special things that happened in your lives this year. Cheers!
Harvest is finally over. Well almost over. Theoretically harvest is over because there are no more early mornings and long work days but the lasting effects of harvest are still present.
|Looking inside a barrel with malolatic fermentation|
Here at Talley we have a certain affinity with native fermentation both primary and secondary. Primary fermentation is just about wrapped up and we are now beginning secondary fermentation called malolactic fermentation. Simply put, we allow the native lactic acid bacteria to convert the malic acid in the wine to lactic acid. I like to say that malic acid is the apple acid and lactic acid is the milk acid. Malic acid is more acidic and lactic acid is smoother and is less acidic. Because we do not inoculate, our wines, our secondary fermentations tends to take longer. We allow this to happen in the majority of our wines excluding out Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc and Bishops Peak Chardonnay. The majority of our Chardonnays go through a very slow secondary fermentation with most not finishing until late spring and in some years, early summer.
|Special fermentation bung allows gas to escape without letting air in.|
So why are we doing this? Well first off we want the malic acid converted to lactic acid for the mouth feel. Secondly, we let malolactic fermentation happen intentionally so it doesn’t happen unintentionally in the bottle when it gets to your house. If you have ever had an “active” fermentation occur in bottle, you know it is not a fun wine to drink. Stale beer comes to mind when I think of this.
I didn’t write this to teach everyone about secondary fermentation but to explain that once the harvest is over, it’s not really over.
I often tell people that you can’t be a farmer if you don’t love the weather. More precisely, I mean that we must accept the fact that the weather is beyond our control and we adjust our schedule and practices accordingly. It’s important to keep this in mind as we ride the roller coaster that is harvest.
This week, we’re experiencing our annual Indian Summer—that last bit of warm weather that finishes harvest. We’ve had some of the warmest weather of the year during this period, with temperatures in the high 90s. This is due to high pressure moving over our area and the presence of Santa Ana conditions—a warm offshore flow as opposed to our typical pattern of cool onshore breezes. This mini heat wave came right on the heels of a rainstorm last week that dumped just over an inch of rain in the Arroyo Grande Valley.
At this point, everything on our ranches has been harvested with the exception of some chardonnay in the Rincon Vineyard, which we will finish on Monday. The other exception is about three tons of sauvignon blanc in Oliver’s Vineyard that we will attempt to make into a sweet dessert wine. The rain we received last week created perfect conditions for botrytis cinerea, often referred to as the “noble rot.” Botrytis is a fungus that grows ongrapes due to wet conditions and which causes the grapes to shrivel and the sugar and acid to become extremely concentrated. This is undesirable in most of the wines we produce, and we typically go to great lengths to prevent it, including leaf removal and thinning of infected grape clusters. Botrytis is critical for the production of white dessert wines and sauvignon blanc is one of the white grape varieties most suited to make this wine. Consequently, we decided to leave those grapes on the vine with the hope to let botrytis grow and to make our second ever late harvest sauvignon blanc. The only other time we did this was in 1994, when we had a very rainy harvest. That wine was legendary.
So here’s another way of expressing my “learn to love the weather” mantra: when you have lemons, make lemonade. When you have rain, make dessert wine!
This past summer Brian Talley packed his bags and set out to meet with some of the top food and wine writers in the country to share our 25 year portfolio of chardonnays. This precarious mission to meet with these most discerning reviewers and host a retrospective tasting has proven to be an incredible success. Over the past few months, numerous articles have surfaced in magazines and around the web about the true age worthiness of our wines. One of the most flattering in our recent accolades was when Food and Wine Magazine named Talley Vineyards as one of “The World’s Most Trustworthy Wineries”. We’ve been regularly sharing this press with our friends on Facebook, but just in case you missed it, here are a few exciting highlights of what the experts had to say:
Wow, it’s already October, which means we have been harvesting for over a month now! Almost daily picks of Pinot Noir kept us busy all September, with the sorting table and destemmer going nonstop. The winery has been at capacity, with fermentors of grape must in every open corner, and hand punchdowns happening nonstop. Now that many of the Pinot fermentations have been finishing up, we’ve been able to start pressing dry lots and racking them to barrel, where they can finish malo-lactic fermentation and give us a chance to start focusing on the Chardonnay.
With last weekend’s heat wave, many of our Rosemary’s and Oliver’s Chardonnay blocks got just the push they needed to finish ripening. As the seemingly endless bins of Chardonnay arrive we will send them straight to the presses to be whole cluster pressed and then put straight to barrel for fermentation.
During hot weather weeks like this, we really see what a difference it makes that our vineyard crews hand harvest at night. On big pick days the crews will start anywhere from 8 PM to midnight and continue until sunrise, delivering beautiful, cool fruit that’s ready to be processed at the winery. Big thanks to the vineyard crews for all their hard work and crazy hours to get us the best fruit possible!
So far harvest 2012 looks like a dream come true. After the vintages of 2010 and 2011, which featured excellent quality, but lower yields, 2012 looks to be one of those very special years that combines exceptional quality and good production, especially for pinot noir. Best of all, the weather forecast for the next few weeks looks just like what we've had for the past two months--highs in the mid to upper 70s.
While weather is important to the quality of the finished wines, the key role that our production team plays can't be understated. Winemaker Eric Johnson has been with us 5 years and has come to know the characteristics that make each of our vineyards special and unique. He is ably assisted by Assistant Winemaker Nicole Pope, Cellarmaster Ignacio Zarate (who just celebrated 30 years in our family farming operations), Nicole Morris and a great team of Cal Poly interns.
The vineyard team is charged with farming our vineyards and ensuring that the grapes are harvested as gently and efficiently as possible. This team is lead by Vineyard Manager Kevin Wilkinson and Travis Monk, who will assume the role of Vineyard Manager after this harvest. Longtime Vineyard Foreman Daniel Martinez leads a dedicated and experienced vineyard crew during late night and early morning harvests to ensure that the grapes arrive at the winery early and cool.
The final element that will make the wines of 2012 so special is the deployment of the right tools to capture all of the potential quality of the vintage. These include a state-of-the-art destemmer that very gently removes the grapes from the stems, vibrating tables that allow for careful sorting of clusters and individual berries, and a stainless steel basket press that gently extracts the wine from the skins.
Perfect weather, a great team, and all the right tools--it all adds up to what I believe will be a very special vintage.
It’s been quite a year for Talley Vineyards in the press. If you’re our friend on Facebook, follow our Twitter feed or read this blog, I’m sure you’ve seen some of the fantastic accolades our wines have garnered this year. It seems that there is a consensus in the trade that our wines are “ageworthy”, “world-class” and according to a recent Food and Wine Magazine article, Talley Vineyards is one of the “World’s Most Trustworthy Wineries”. With all that in mind, I have to pose the question…Why doesn’t anyone know where we’re located?
For the record, Talley Vineyards is located in Arroyo Grande, California. I get it, Arroyo Grande is a fly-over city, but so was Anaheim before Walt built Disneyland. I’m not suggesting Talley Vineyards is a destination like Disneyland, but it is a special place. Our terrior, the sense of a place that influences and shapes our wines, has been nationally recognized by some of the most highly regarded names in the wine industry. With that in mind, I think it’s important that people understand where we are located in order to better appreciate what environmental influences are contributing to our wines. And equally important, so they can visit us!
When most people think of California wine growing regions they think of Napa and Sonoma. Some may know about Monterey and Santa Barbara Counties. The very savvy are familiar with Paso Robles. But where exactly does that leave Talley Vineyards? I’ll tell you where. Halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, more specifically halfway between Santa Barbara and Paso Robles, sits San Luis Obispo County’s tiny little coastal town of Arroyo Grande Valley, home of Talley Vineyards, where we grow world class chardonnay and pinot noir. So next time you hear about Talley Vineyards, we hope you think of us here at home in the Arroyo Grande Valley.
Regular readers of the Winegrower’s Blog might point out that Winemaker Eric Johnson announced the start of harvest in his August 17 post. Indeed, we harvested two small lots of pinot noir for a rosé and a sparkling wine. Both of these wines are made in a low alcohol, clean crisp style that calls for harvest much earlier than for our classically styled pinot noir. Removing these two outliners from the equation, our harvest started about 1 week later than it has over the past 2 years.
If you visit the winery now, you can watch our cellar crew making wine, but you will be hard pressed to see anyone harvesting grapes. This is because almost all of our harvesting is done at night. This keeps the grapes as cool as possible and also helps with harvest flow because the first grapes are already at the winery when the winemaking team arrives in the morning.
Many people ask me, “how is 2012?” It’s a very simple question, but the answer unfolds over time as we gather more information. Here’s what I can say now. Because this was a relatively dry growing season, we’ve experienced less mildew and botrytis pressure than normal. This generally implies better quality. The crop is about average in size for chardonnay, and above average for pinot noir. I sum it up as “good quality, good crop.” We will have a much better idea after we’ve harvested more and the first wines go dry.
In January, when we conduct our first extensive tastings of the vintage, we can draw more conclusions. Finally, in the late spring of 2013, we will conduct the tastings that will determine the Single Vineyard Selections and the Estate wines for the vintage. That’s when I can more definitively answer the question “how was 2012?”
If you want another person’s perspective of our 2010 vintage wines, I invite you to check out the Wine Advocate Reviews that just came out.
Harvest is just around the corner and I thought I this would be a great time to discuss one of the most important pieces of equipment at the winery. The wine press is used to extract juice (in the case of white wine) or wine (for red) from the grapes. We have a number of presses at the winery. Here’s an introduction to each, from smallest to largest. Winemaker Eric Johnson is in each picture to lend perspective.
Ethan’s Press—this small press belongs to Ethan Etnyre, local doctor, friend of the winery and home winemaker. His wife Karen gave it to him a few years ago as a gift. Ethan has determined that he prefers to bring the grapes he grows at his house to Talley Vineyards to be pressed, so we accommodate him. Consequently, this press doesn’t get much use. Maybe we’ll use it for a micro batch this year, just for fun.
Traditional Basket Press—This small basket press was recently restored by my friend Stan Shahan, who also happens to be a home winemaker. It now stands near the front door of the tasting room and is a real showpiece. Like all traditional basket presses, it employs a steel plate that is ratcheted down from the top, applying pressure to the must (crushed red grapes). The basket consists of slats of oak. The wine runs into a steel channel at the bottom, then into a bucket or other small container.
New Basket Press—This is Winemaker Eric Johnson’s pride and joy. It is the state-of-the-art press used in the production of many of the best red wines produced in the world, including our single vineyard pinot noirs. It works with the same principle as the traditional wood basket press, though employs a hydraulic ram (as opposed to a hand rachet system). It is also made of stainless steel. This press yields beautiful clear red wine with soft tannins.
Europress—This is a tank press. While the basket press is ideal for red wine production, this is perfect for white wine, especially chardonnay. All of our chardonnay is whole cluster pressed, which yields clean juice with good acid balance and little phenolic bitterness. Whole clusters of grapes are loaded into the press, through doors at the top. Inside the press is a giant bag that inflates with air. The juice runs into the pan at the bottom of the press before being pumped into a tank. Check out this video on operating the press taken in 2009, back when Eric Johnson, now winemaker, was the enologist at Talley Vineyards.