I love chardonnay. I love it lean, bright and austere. I love it round, buttery and oaky. I love it everywhere in between. Talley Vineyards is a pretty happy place to land for someone with my palate.
It isn’t that I have a singular focus. I enjoy a wide variety of wines, am always excited to try something new, and certainly believe there are different wines that are exactly right for different meals or occasions. But my dad always asked, “Why get off a winning horse?” and I suppose I consider chardonnay my winning horse.
With that background knowledge, it will surprise no one to learn that I am eagerly looking forward to attending the upcoming International Chardonnay Symposium. Held May 28th through 30th in Pismo Beach and the surrounding area – practically our backyard – the lineup of attending wineries has me filled with anticipation. If the mention of chardonnay brings a smile to your face, I recommend investigating the Symposium. There are still tickets available for several events, including Friday’s La Paulee Dinner emceed by our own Brian Talley.
If you see me there, please say hello, but understand I won’t have time to chat. There will be way too many chardonnays waiting for me to taste them. Cheers!
One of my favorite days of the year is just around the corner. Sunday, June 7 will mark the 22nd Annual Marianne Talley Fun Run which serves as a key fundraiser for the Marianne Talley Foundation as well as a celebration of my sister’s life. The Fun Run unifies several important themes in my life. First it reflects a commitment to healthy living, both in the training that leads up to the big day as well as the exertion during the event itself. Second, it’s our single biggest event at the winery and brings together a diverse array of people, many of whom only visit once a year. We are thankful for the sponsorship support of many local businesses, especially our presenting sponsors, Compass Health, Left Lane Sports and the SLO Tribune. Finally, it’s the key fundraiser for the Marianne Talley Foundation, which has contributed nearly $250,000 in scholarship money to college bound students from Arroyo Grande High School
Marianne was born a little more than a year after me and was an avid athlete all of her life, a high school league champion in swimming and a finisher of the famed Ironman Triathlon in Hawaii. She passed away suddenly in 1993 after a brief workout with one of her personal training clients. We established the Marianne Talley Foundation to support college bound students from Arroyo Grande High School, then started the Fun Run in 1994 to both support the scholarship program and also to bring together many of my sister’s friends in the running and fitness community for a day of celebration.
Since the beginning, the event has been special day for our family, but now it’s bigger and better than ever. The most popular feature is the 5K, both because it’s a distance that many people feel comfortable running or walking and because everyone who beats me gets a special t-shirt that says “I Beat the Vintner.” This will be the fourth year we’ve had a 10K, a popular fun run distance. We also have a 1 mile walk and a 1 mile youth run for those 13 and under. After the run, we have an awards ceremony, a great raffle and this year we’ve added a bonus raffle with $10 tickets and a chance to win some special prizes including a complete dinner for 8 at Ventana Grill.
I hope you can join us on Sunday, June 7. For all the details, including registration information, go to our Fun Run webpage. For questions, email Race Director Marian Fiorentino at firstname.lastname@example.org. I hope to see you race day!
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.
This week San Luis Obispo Wine Country hosted a group of sommeliers as part of our "Go Coastal" Wine Camp. With a bit of rain on Tuesday we feared we might have poor weather for our day to host on Wednesday but as the Central Coast usually does, it delivered a beautiful day. The SLO Wine Camp was put on by a few wineries in the Edna and Arroyo Grande Valleys and consisted of a three day in-depth look at what Coastal San Luis Obispo County is all about. We were thrilled with the turnout of sommeliers like Fred Dame, Peter Palmer, Adrianna Camacho and many more.
Arriving on Tuesday, they spent the day in the Edna Valley, ending with a beautiful dinner at Marisol Restaurant at The Cliffs Resort. After a tour at Center of Effort and Kynsi Winery on Wednesday morning, we met the group of sommeliers in our Stone Corral Vineyard. The picnic grounds under the shade of towering oak trees created the perfect setting for a seated tasting overlooking the expansive Edna Valley. Owned by Talley Vineyards, Stone Corral Vineyard is divided into parcels that supply grapes to three different wineries who all produce their own Stone Corral Pinot Noir. Winemakers Steve Dooley (Stephen Ross), Don Othman (Kynsi Winery), and Talley Vineyards winemaker Eric Johnson, lead an interesting discussion and tasting showcasing the vineyard management and winemaking styles that make up their very different pinot noirs.
From Stone Corral Vineyard we lead the group to Rosemary's Vineyard, located behind Talley Farms, and discussed the differences between the Arroyo Grande and Edna Valleys. Perched on top of Rosemary's Vineyard, with the view of the ocean in the distance, a clear picture was painted of the Arroyo Grande Valley and it's coastal influence. Leaving Rosemary's Vineyard behind, we headed towards the winery. After a tour of Rincon Vineyard we indulged in a farm to table lunch prepared by our in-house chef with produce grown next door at Talley Farms.
We concluded our day with the sommeliers with a chardonnay focused tasting and panel discussion. It was such a great pleasure and honor to spend a day with some of the most notable names in the wine industry and be given the opportunity to show them our little slice of paradise. Don't miss the opportunity to read more about our "Go Coastal" SLO Wine Camp feature coming soon in Somm Journal Magazine!
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.
Here we are at the end of February and one might think we are well into April. The wildflowers are out, the sages are blooming and the green grass is on the edge of turning a dull yellow if it doesn’t get a drink of rain. As of February 26, we’re also done with pruning in the vineyards . That finish date is about three and a half weeks earlier than last year’s. In 2014, we started our prune (la poda) about two weeks later than this year and as a result found ourselves racing to beat the bud break. The unseasonably warm weather of January and February 2014 meant we finished pruning just in time. This year, in order to adjust to the changes in climate (not meaning to get political, but it’s real) we decided to do a few things differently in our vineyards and one of those was an earlier start to pruning. Since January 2015 was one of the driest on record it seems like we made the right decision.
Pruning is truly a sculptural process that demands a trained mind and eye. Canes and cordons must be observed for evenly spaced buds and then the decision must be made to remove or save the bud for the upcoming growing season. Once you make a cut, that’s it, you can’t go back. If you choose poorly and cut the better of two canes, the subsequent grapes could be of lesser quality. A skilled pruner is also looking at the balance of the vine, making sure there is an even number of quality canes or spaced spurs. Fortunately, at Talley Vineyards we have one of the most skilled pruners in the area, our foreman Daniel Martinez. A former machinist and longtime vineyard worker, Daniel prunes vines with amazing care and dexterity that is evidence of his extensive experience.
|Spur Pruning||Scott Henry Pruning|
Pruning decisions represent the culmination of many factors – the experiences of previous years and observations from our vineyard manager, foreman, wine maker and vintner. Some vineyard blocks will be changed from spur pruning to cane and possibly back to spur again to obtain the quality that we expect for our wines. Canes might be trained apart so that half the vines grow up and half grow down (known as Scott-Henry) to balance the vines’ energy in blocks with more vigor. At times, canes are spaced apart to allow more light to fruit and improve color in wines. The list of pruning techniques can go on, but with every pruning decision the goal is always the same for us - quality and balance in the finished wines.
Two things happened this week that made me realize I can be pretty easy to please. And I believe that is a very good thing!
The first was the installation of new shelves in the warehouse. (Behind it all, we are a working winery!) These new shelves are a thing of beauty… Room for so many wines! So easy to access! Even a spot to affix the name of each wine! Everything that my obsessively organized self could desire. Which, I suppose, explains my totally spontaneous reaction shown in the photo that accompanies this blog. Yep, that is me, clutching my chest with excitement because my heart was so full of joy in that moment. Some might say that it is a little bit sad that shelving could create such a response, and there could be some hard to argue points made about the level of excitement in my life. But I choose to view it as a positive that I could experience such happiness in such a seemingly mundane moment.
The second instance that made me consider the value of the little things came in the form of an email from a wine club member. It was a short note, not overly effusive or detailed. It was just someone who took a moment to write that she is grateful for the quality of wine that arrives in her shipments. But my spirits were so buoyed to read it, just as they are anytime I hear such things from a customer. It wasn’t a huge gesture, but it was very meaningful to me. Again I realized how much life’s small moments can encourage and uplift me.
So what have I learned here? Definitely that I love organized shelving and happy email messages. However, I also feel that this week was a great reminder that small things can make a big difference, that it is a good habit to find happiness in them and an equally good habit to try to offer those small moments of happiness to others.
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.
To say the staff here at Talley Vineyards has a competitive edge is a major understatement. Case in point: the annual “decorating of the large format bottles” that the Talleys put out for our annual Holiday Party. In reality it’s just a silly, friendly competition amongst the various departments and the only “trophy” is bragging rights. As it turns out, nothing could be more motivating.
This year we happen to have a couple of very crafty Tasting Room staff who love nothing more than an excuse to get out the glue gun and some glitter. Determined not to let the Production Crew “run away with the grand prize” as Winemaker Eric Johnson claimed they had done the year before, much thought was put into the message and beauty of our bottle. We turned our 2010 Rincon Chardonnay into a Christmas tree theme with a base that was a Talley Farms Fresh Harvest box. We adorned it with ornaments of Talley Chardonnay and Pinot Noir bottles and topped it with a Christmas star that was a photo of Nacho Zarate, our Cellar Master and beloved Talley employee of thirty years. Add to that some tinsel and blinking lights and our bottle was a shoo-in. Or so we thought.
Last night at Ember Restaurant we had our holiday party and as always, I’m amazed at what a thoughtful, talented bunch of people my co-workers are. The Direct Sales team evoked old-timey nostalgia by decorating their bottle with cut-out paper designs of snow flakes and paper chains. The Business/Sales office represented with an adorable Snowman with a jaunty hat covering their bottle. And the Production Team produced a touching tribute to Travis Monk, our dear friend and Vineyard Manager who passed away this year, with a gorgeous rendering of an olive tree with some beer cans scattered around the base. In light of such heartfelt sentiment, the “competition” didn’t even matter anymore. I just felt grateful to enjoy the older vintages of the Talley Vineyards Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in those beautiful bottles at such an awesome holiday party with all our wonderful staff.
In the end, we did have a rousing applause-o-meter vote for the best bottle and our Tasting Room bottle won. It’s hard to say though, as there’s far more Tasting Room staff than there is in the other departments, and we’re an exceptionally loud bunch. That said, we’ll still be sure to enjoy our bragging rights for the next year. Sometimes it’s the little things.