Visitors to Talley Vineyards often notice the large fallow sections of the West Rincon Vineyard immediately outside the windows of our Tasting Room. These are some of the original vineyard blocks planted by my father back in 1982 and 1983, when I was still in high school. Many people ask why they are fallow and what we plan to do in these areas. The vines were removed in 2010 and 2012 because both production and quality had declined to the point that they weren’t viable to continue farming. This was largely due to the leaf roll and red blotch grapevine viruses which are now affecting vineyards, especially older plantings, throughout California. In addition to reducing berry size and cluster weight (which reduces crop) these viruses adversely affect photosynthesis and inhibit ripening (which lowers quality).
A key element of our mission at Talley Vineyards and Talley Farms is to do our very best with our land. This means that when we have areas in our vineyards or elsewhere in our farming operations that are underperforming, we do whatever it takes to improve them. Generally, this consists of focusing on vine or plant health, sometimes it means replanting, and other times it means changing the crop that we grow entirely. Sections of the Rincon Vineyard, Rosemary’s Vineyard, Las Ventanas and Oliver’s Vineyard were all planted to vegetables before they were converted to vineyards. The best part of Rosemary’s Vineyard was an avocado orchard before it was planted to chardonnay and pinot noir. In every case, we have better results with vines in these areas.
I am convinced that the highest and best use for land in the West Rincon Vineyard is pinot noir, largely because we have produced some of the very best pinot noir in our history from the very land that is currently fallow and which we will replant with that variety in 2015 and 2016. In the East Rincon Vineyard, much the same thing is happening, though in that case we are currently removing chardonnay with the intention to replant with chardonnay in 2016 and 2017. Check out this short video to see how we remove the vines. We are planting the vines that I hope will someday become the backbone of the Rincon Vineyard Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, perhaps when my grandchildren are in high school. That’s truly the long view.
Best wishes to you and your family this holiday season!
Thanksgiving is around the corner and I am anxiously awaiting its' arrival! I have a relatively small family that gathers on Thanksgiving so I most look forward to spending the day in the kitchen. As I've gotten older, I spend more and more time learning from my mom how to create the perfect Thanksgiving meal (which she does seamlessly every year). We start the morning with pastries from the Arroyo Grande Bakery and then it's into the kitchen we go. Basting the turkey and preparing the stuffing, all the while sipping on some lovely Talley wines of course!
Having grown up on the Central Coast, at this time of year we aren't getting ready to bundle up or anticipating snow. So Thanksgiving is usually spent outside playing corn hole and drinking wine on the front porch. Our family has been growing as my siblings have starting having kids, so our days of sitting around relaxing are long gone. Besides helping in the kitchen, my role as auntie includes games of tag, hiding in bushes, singing Frozen songs and keeping them from filling up on candy and cookies. When we finally gather around the table the room fills with laughter and love as we pass the plates around and dive into the vast wine selection.
My position at Talley Vineyards has dubbed me the wine provider for my family, and this Thanksgiving will be no different. We've always drank Talley Vineyards wines at Thanksgiving (my parents were wine club members long before I started working here) but now it is my job to create our wine menu. Of course we will have the 2012 Estate Pinot Noir but I definitely foresee opening some single vineyards, like the 2010 Rincon Vineyard Pinot Noir. I hope as you gather around the table with your loved ones this year, you are filled with good food, good fun, and great Talley Vineyards wines!
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!
One of my favorite sections of a winery website, actually any website, is an About Us page that tells a little something about the company employees. I love to look at the pictures, find out their hobbies, learn their cat’s name… What can I say, I guess I am a people person!
With that in mind, for this week’s blog I decided to interview my coworker Devon King. There are three reasons I decided that Devon should be my interview subject. The first reason is that Devon has worked such a variety of tasks that I feel she has a well rounded view of Talley Vineyards. The second reason is that I have been tremendously fond of Devon since she was the sweet, smart and ambitious nineteen year old that I interviewed for an unpaid internship in the spring of 2011. And finally, the third reason is that I knew she might be the only person I could talk into doing the interview with me. So enjoy a few questions with Devon -
Q1: So you’ve worked at Talley Vineyards doing data entry, wine club work, packing in the warehouse, tasting room attendant, your current role as cellar worker… Does that about cover it?
A1: I think that’s about it!
Q2: Did you know a lot about Talley Vineyards prior to interviewing here?
A2: Not really, I was just trying to get a foot in the door of the wine industry. Almost everyone I sent a resume to said they were sorry I was too young and they would put me in the file until I turned 21. Only Talley Vineyards and Paso Robles Wine Alliance offered to meet with me and I ended up working for both for a time. I thought PR Wine Alliance would be a good idea so I could see if I liked the marketing side of wine. It was really worthwhile and I got to meet a lot of people who are important in the Paso Robles wine world. Now I’ve been at Talley for 3 ½ years and I feel like I started a new trend since we have a lot of younger folks working who do jobs that don’t require being 21, such as event set up or cleaning glasses.
Q3: Since you’ve had the chance to do so much, what have been your least favorite jobs?
A3: Washing glasses in the tasting room, cleaning presses in the winery and working the bottling line. Most people would think of bottling as interesting but it is really repetitious work and I always end up in charge of foiling. It is stressful because you have two feet to get the foil on each bottle and not mess up the line and the bottles just keep coming!
Q4: What are some favorite jobs or experiences?
A4: I’ve had so many good experiences. When the whole tasting room staff went on a trip to visit Paso area tasting rooms, it was really fun to get to know everyone’s outside of work personalities. A highlight was the first time I ever loaded the press, because no one realized I hadn’t done it before, but all the grapes made it in. I loved working at the dinner we hosted in our barrel room during this past summer’s Wine Classic weekend. I had helped do the work to make the barrel room look so beautiful so it was good to see the whole event. And of course the harvest pool party at the Talley’s house!
Q5: This past spring you worked a harvest at Whitehaven in New Zealand. How did that experience compare to the two harvests you’ve worked at Talley Vineyards?
A5: It was so different. There was such a level of organization needed for a huge facility like Whitehaven. Everything is planned many weeks in advance, whereas at Talley Vineyards we can be a lot more flexible and things might need to change as the day goes along. I felt much less rushed during my New Zealand harvest because they have interns working around the clock. When your shift is over, you just stop what you are doing and hand your work order to the next person. At Talley there is a greater sense of accomplishment since you have to see everything through to the end. I also like that there is a more hands on aspect from the winemaker at Talley; at the really large facilities a lot of their work is at a desk and that is your only interaction with them. I really enjoy the harvest camaraderie at Talley Vineyards, although I am still in touch with the other Americans I interned with in New Zealand and that is fun. The hardest part of that harvest was that it rained everyday and I had to wear a yellow jumpsuit.
Q6: Where do you ultimately see yourself?
A6: Ultimately, I’d like to be a winemaker, but that is in the distant future. I have a lot to learn. I’d like the chance to learn what you can’t in school, such as problem solving and logistics. I think I’d like to work in a lab, maybe as an enologist in the future, since I really like the science of things. Now that I am a full time cellar worker at Talley Vineyards, I feel like I’ll have the chance to learn a lot more of what happens between when a wine is barreled down and when it is bottled.
Q7: Any “aha” moments with wine or working in the wine industry?
A7: I like telling people I work for a winery and it is funny how excited they get when to me it sometimes just seems like any other job. I don’t drink very much, not just wine, but any alcohol. But I really enjoy the bonding experience when my mom visits and I can open something really special that we can enjoy together. I definitely had an amazing wine experience recently when the Talleys let us raid their cellar. I chose a 2010 William Fevre Valmur Chablis Grand Cru and it really sparked something in me to want to learn more about making chardonnay and about French wines. And about how to find a way to taste more of those special wines!
Q8: Do you feel like you want to give a shout out to a coworker that took a chance on hiring a young intern and set you on the path to all your success at Talley Vineyards?
A8: No one comes to mind…
A couple weeks ago we planted 28 olive trees along our driveway in memory of Travis Monk, our vineyard manager who died tragically at the too young age of 28. We all gathered with Travis’s family and friends and ceremonially planted the first tree, each one of us taking a few turns with a shovel to fill in the hole surrounding the tree, another step in helping us all heal from his passing. These trees are incredibly important to me because the last conversation I had with Travis was about trying to convince Brian and Johnine that now was the perfect time to finally plant the olive trees that we had been talking about for so many years. One of Travis’s many jobs, besides vineyard manager, was that of supervisor to the landscaping crew and he had a plan on where we could get some trees for a good price and a plan on spacing. We were going to pitch the idea to the Talley’s during the next week but we never had a chance to do that as a team. In my debilitating grief shortly after his passing, I told them about our plan for the olive trees and they felt it was the perfect way to honor our dear friend and co-worker.
The trees that were planted are 42 years old and came from a farm in the valley that had run out of water. They were going to be bulldozed unless they were moved and replanted. Having trees that have now found a new and purposeful home are a fitting honor to Travis as he also gave new life and hope to 70 people who received organ and tissue donations. I love these trees. They are beautiful and they were meant to be here and they have great meaning. We will all continue to grieve Travis but now we have a place to go and honor him and a constant reminder of what a truly wonderful man he was. We hope you have a chance to come and visit and drive past the trees and know their story. And when you are tasting our wines, give a little toast to a young man who is gone too soon.
Although my title here at Talley Vineyards is Event Coordinator, when you work at a small family owned winery you never really know what jobs might come your way on any given day. Learning new point of sale systems, helping production do punch downs, mastering graphic design to make pretty signage for events and the fine art of putting up and taking down pop-up tents all come with the territory. But one thing I hadn’t really pictured doing as part my career here was radio. Now that we are offering a small group Estate Tour and Tasting in the El Rincon Adobe, we needed to get it promoted and what better way to do that than a radio ad? I assumed that would fall to the marketing department, which it did, until I was asked to be the voice of the ad. Like I said, you never know what your day might be like working at a winery. So off to 92.5 The Krush I went, where in less than an hour I was in and out of the sound booth reading our ad into a big microphone with their audio engineer. I have to admit it was pretty fun, if not somewhat disconcerting to listening to playbacks of my voice over and over. And as I hear my radio ad every now and then on my way to work at Talley, for whatever reason, it makes me giggle every time. The ad sounds great; I just think I’ll never get over the sound of my own voice talking to me from the car radio.
Which brings me to the subject at hand: the Estate Tour and Tasting at the El Rincon Adobe. We had our first one last week and it was a blast for both our wine club members who attended and our staff that put it on. We had a group of four visitors from Chicago who are fans of our Single Vineyard Pinot Noirs. This worked out well since we recently released our 2012 Pinot Noirs and were able to tailor a flight of wines to their tastes. With the scenic views from the windows and a delicious platter of gourmet cheese from Fromagerie Sophie, tasting at the Adobe is truly an intimate, next level wine experience. In that beautifully restored, hand-crafted home from the 1860's, you can feel the rich history and sense of place that is part of Talley Vineyards. In addition, autumn is the best time for a Talley tour as Harvest is in full swing and there’s nothing quite like seeing a working winery in action. I’m happy to chalk up the Estate Tour and Taste at the Adobe as yet another unique experience to add to my ever-evolving roster of activities here at Talley Vineyards. If you would like to experience an Estate Tour and Tasting at the Adobe yourself, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
|Pinot Noir Punch Down|
The 2014 Harvest came with a vengeance. Between the first grapes coming in on August 1st and our largest bottling of the year happening at the same time, the winery resembles something my mother would call "controlled chaos." Every morning I arrive to a different scene; grapes traveling through the destemmer, interns doing punch downs, pinot noir being pressed in the basket press, chardonnay being pressed in the huge bladder press, or fermented juice being put into barrels. If you ever wanted to learn about how wine is made, this would be the time to come visit the winery!
|Pinot Noir Press and "cake"|
I was able to take a group from Florida on a tour last week and it was so fun to be able to share this process with people who have enjoyed our wines for years. I walked them through the vineyard, around the winery, and into the barrel room. With their jaws dropped and eyes wide open, they snapped photos of every piece of this hand crafted puzzle. The favorite moment for them was watching our pinot noir go through the basket press, ending with something referred to as the pinot noir "cake". I explained to the group the process that brought these grapes here. They begin with a midnight picking and are then brought to the winery to be destemmed and sorted. The grapes are then moved to small, 1.5 ton fermenters. For the next two weeks the pinot noir receives hand punch downs three times a day to ensure the skins that rise to the top continue to mix with the juice on the bottom. Once the wine has reached full fermentation, the fermenter is poured into the opening of the basket press. Here it stays for about two hours as the press slowly and gently presses the juice off the skins, until you have a tank full of juice and a densely packed cake of pinot noir skins. The cake is then transported to Talley Farms to be composted. Watching the group’s reaction to the entire process makes me wish everyone who enjoys Talley wines could experience this. It tells the story of a family farm, a small grape destined to fill big shoes, and the people who dedicate their lives to it.
|Destemming Pinot Noir|
Harvest is a romanticized process by most, but it really is hard work with early mornings and 12 hour days. As I show up for work and wish the crew, who have been there for hours, a good morning, and leave in the evening while they are still working, wishing them a good night, I realize more and more what goes into that beautiful bottle of wine I enjoy so much. Seeing their exhausted faces and hearing their stories of getting up at 2 AM, brings out what my friends call my motherly-instinct to want to take care of everyone. Even if that only means delivering coffee and breakfast treats, or a piece of chocolate when someone needs a pick-me-up. I find myself fascinated by the whole process, which reminds me everyday why I'm in this industry. But let me clarify, I find it fascinating from my well rested, warm office, bee sting free point of view.
The incredible harvest of 2014 continues, now at full speed. To date, we have harvested 100 tons of pinot noir and 45 tons of chardonnay. So far the pace has been steady and it’s amazing how much our team has accomplished while making it look easy. We’re blessed with a great production team this harvest. Winemaker Eric Johnson and his team of Ignacio Zarate, Nicole Morris, Pat Sigler and Devon King are supported by interns Alex Frost, Sean Pihl, and Kate Barrett. The pinot noirs we’ve pressed off taste great and the first chardonnays are now going dry. I look forward to wines that are elegant, refined and charming in their youth due to relatively low acidity and alcohol.
Bottling has been a complicating factor. Keeper of the Wine Ken Hasek and his team are now in the midst of our biggest bottling of the year, the 2013 Estate Chardonnay. It’s hard to capture the frenetic energy of the season with words, so check out this video that my daughter Elizabeth shot to experience a single day of harvest here at Talley Vineyards.
On another note, autumn is the season for the full bounty of what we produce at Talley Farms and Talley Vineyards. We’re releasing our Single Vineyard Selection Pinot Noirs plus we have heirloom tomatoes, basil, peppers, and a plethora of other fall vegetables. I look forward to sharing this bounty with our customers at a series of Farm to Table dinners around the country. Please check the Talley Vineyards Events page for updates on dinners from Paso Robles to New York, Hawaii and beyond. Cheers!
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.