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?”
Since everyone loves a good list…here is my list for the Top 10 Things to Do when you are visiting our area (or if you live here and need some refreshers on what makes this area so great). But this week you only get the first 5. Stay tuned for 6-10 in a later blog.
#1. Wine tasting at Talley Vineyards! Of course, this is the number one thing-to -do. For the best experience plan ahead and schedule a private tasting in our Rincon Adobe. You’ll have the opportunity to taste some older vintages, learn a little history and have some nice snacks. Then wrap up your tasting with a picnic on the grounds and a little game of Ping Pong or Corn Hole.
#2. Take a hike…up a hill or along the coast or up a creek. My passion is hiking and there are so many exceptional hikes or walks within an hour or so of Arroyo Grande ranging from an easy stroll to a heart pounding climb. I use an App called All Trails which is a great resource for finding every type of walk or hike imaginable. You can take an easy stroll on the Bluffs Trail in Montana de Oro, or get your heart rate up hiking the Lizzie Street trail to the tower in San Luis Obispo. There are about 50 different options locally for all ranges of fitness and I’ve done most and always find something worth seeing, whether it’s the view from the top of Ontario Ridge or the cool trees in the Elfin Forest (which is good walk if you have strollers or wheel chairs with awesome views of Morro Rock).
#3. Head out to Montana de Oro outside of Los Osos. This state park has no entry fee and a range of activities. My 10 year old nephew loves to go out there and jump off of the sand dunes before heading to the tide pools. This is also a great location to whale watch, hang at the beach, walk along the bluffs, go on a mountain bike ride, hike a peak, surf or have a picnic. Truly a great place to spend a day and they have a campground there, as well.
#4. Check out the Point San Luis Lighthouse in Avila Beach. My favorite way to go to the lighthouse is by paddleboard or kayak. It’s relatively easy to paddle out of Port San Luis through the bay and around the point to the west and park your kayak or paddleboard on the beach. Then it’s a very short walk to the lighthouse where you can swing on a swing hanging from a giant eucalyptus tree before cruising around the grounds. There are guided tours on Wednesdays and Saturdays. If you aren’t into paddling you can sign up for a guided hike or a trolley trip to the lighthouse. You can find all of the tour, hike and trolley information at www.sanluislighthouse.org.
#5. Enjoy the local Craft Brewery explosion. We are blessed in this area with so many great brewmasters. Each has their own unique offerings. In SLO you can enjoy the cool corrugated building and patio of Bang the Drum, or the fire pit and patio of Tap It, or the great live music at SLO Brew. If you head north a little, one of my favorites is Barrel House Brew with its outdoor grassy area and bands playing on an old flat bed truck. In Arroyo Grande you can head to Figueroa Mountain Brew which has taprooms up and down the central coast.
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|
I have a bit of a backpacking bug that started about 18 years ago when my best friend from high school, who was living in Lone Pine, CA, invited me on a backpacking trip with some other lady friends of hers to the Mt. Whitney wilderness area. I hadn’t been backpacking since a very inauspicious trip as an 8 year old with my dad and brother where it rained all night and our dehydrated spaghetti and meatball meal never fully hydrated so I was cold, wet and eating crunchy meatballs and noodles. It didn’t really make me want to go again. However, I saw this trip as a chance to have a break from hanging out with my toddler daughter and drove the 5 + hours from SLO to Lone Pine and hiked up to above 10000 feet with my friend and a couple other ladies and I’ve been hooked ever since. On that first trip as an adult, I decided I didn’t want to hike up a hill for hours without a reward at the top so I took a bottle of wine with me. I didn’t know any better, so I actually packed up a full bottle and corkscrew and it was worth the extra 3 lbs. of weight and the space in my pack and the need to pack it out. On that trip, we drank a bottle of Saucelito Canyon Zinfandel, which was a wine we used to sell out of the Talley Vineyards Adobe tasting room back when I first started in 1994, and my hiking partners were as thrilled as I was to have that wine after a long trek uphill.
Since that first trip 18 years ago, I’ve gone with a group of ladies almost every year since. When my girls were younger, this trip for me was a lovely mini-break from work and my family and I have always brought a bottle of something to enjoy at my destination. It’s a nice little treat that I know I have earned by carrying 40 pounds up a thousand feet or so for 5 to 7 miles. Sometimes I bring a port, sometimes a nice bottle of Talley Pinot Noir, and up on the mountain those first sips are always the best tasting wine I’ve ever had. The one difference from my first trip to now is that before I start hiking I pour the wine out of the bottle into a special backpacking wine carrier (yes they do make these) so that I have a smaller and lighter container to pack in and out.
One year when my kids were about 8 and 10, Brian Talley invited my husband and daughters to go backpacking with him and his daughters over the same weekend as I was going. It turned out that Brian picked the same backcountry lake as my friends for our trip, completely coincidentally, so my little get-away from work and the family was a bit less of a get-away. Luckily, the lake was big enough so we ladies stayed on one side of the lake while my boss, husband and girls were on the other. The rule for everyone on the other side of the lake was that I would say hi and give hugs if we saw each other but that no one could ask me to do anything for them. It ended up being lovely…having my family with me in the mountains but not having to do “mom” duties. And Brian stuck to the rules of not talking to me about work. It was nice to see their fire across the lake as I was laughing and drinking wine with my friends around our fire without having any responsibilities.
Backpacking is on my mind because I just returned from a wonderful trip with my family and friends where we hiked into the Yosemite Wilderness to Middle Chain Lake. We brought along a bottle of Bishop’s Peak Elevation and some port. We camped at a beautiful location and after a long day’s hike enjoyed our wine around the fire while looking out at the spectacular Sierra Nevada wilderness. I know that not everyone enjoys dirt and sleeping on the ground, so my advice is that wherever you find your happiness, it’s worth the effort to include a nice bottle of wine (especially if its Talley or Bishop’s Peak!). With harvest now upon us, hiking, relaxing around a mountain lake and sharing a glass of wine with my husband and friends was a great way for me to unwind before the crazy that is about to begin. Cheers!
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!
My family just returned from the cruise of a lifetime aboard the Crystal Serenity. Johnine and I, along with my mother Rosemary and our girls Elizabeth and Olivia, got to spend 7 days cruising the Mediterranean, from Venice to Monte Carlo, with some of our very best wine club members. We hosted this cruise in conjunction with our friends Kathy and Doug Filiponni from Ancient Peaks Winery in Santa Margarita.
Every day provided a new highlight. Venice is an amazing city with the best boat drivers in the world. Swimming in the Mediterranean on the Isle of Capri was unforgettable, as was walking the wall that surrounds the ancient city of Dubrovnik. Michaelangelo's statue of David is even more remarkable than I expected, and the leaning tower of Pisa really does lean. We finished in Monte Carlo, a city at the edge of the sea literally built on the side of a mountain.
As much as I enjoyed waking up in a new port every morning, it was spending time onboard during dinners, tastings and receptions with people who really love our wines that made the trip really special. We can’t wait for the next one!
I'm always amused when I get back to the winery after a long stretch of business travel and my co-workers look at me and greet me somewhat curiously. People come into our office and say "Oh, you're here!" Better yet, there are some newly hired people who have no idea who the heck I am. I'm sure I will meet the newbie's very soon and I'll re-acquaint myself to all those seasoned employees who may have thought I moved on or became part of the witness re-location program.
Actually, I have just wrapped up a series of business trips that was very extensive and highly productive in many ways. So far this year I have logged 50 days of traveling for the greater cause of selling Talley Vineyards and Bishop's Peak wines to our wholesale customers around the U.S. Most recently I was in the Massachusetts area and over the three days I was there, I visited 15 accounts, both retail and restaurants, and hosted a dinner with our top sales people and managers from the distributor.
Last week was an interesting journey as well. I started the week in Boise, Idaho, where I spent two nights and worked the area for one day. It's a lovely town of about 200,000 people and growing quickly and the restaurant scene there is vibrant. Later in the week I drove to Ketchum where our distributor stages their annual trade tasting. Ketchum is adjacent to Sun Valley, a beautiful mountain resort, and a great market for our wines. I left Ketchum and drove back to Boise to catch a flight that would eventually land me in Aspen. It's not bad to start your day in Ketchum and end it in Aspen! Winemaker, Eric Johnson met me in Aspen and we attended the Aspen Food & Wines Classic. Describing the F & W Classic would probably take three more pages than anyone would want to read but suffice to say that it is by far the biggest, most elaborate event of this nature that I have ever attended in my 30 years in this business. Not only is there an enormous selection of wines from around the globe, but a vast array of spirits and craft beers. The cooking demos and food sampling is over the top as well. Along the way we met some very interesting wine industry professionals, including sommeliers, importers, buyers, and chefs. Did I mention that I got to meet John Salley, the ex Detroit Pistons player who now has his own brand of wines? Who knows what excitement the next trip might bring!
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.
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.