Well it’s official, today marks the first day of summer. So what does summertime mean for us in the vineyard? Well first, it means we are no longer pruning. I say it jokingly as it is one of the questions people always ask me “So what’s going on in the vineyard, lots of pruning?” Pruning is the first task of the season and was completed in early February. There’s more to it than just pruning.
Summertime is also synonymous with vacation…but not in the vineyard. It’s a busy time of year for us with a lot of different things going on. Leaf pulling is about 70% complete for all the vineyards. We have finished leafing in all of the pinot vineyards, and are close to 30% through our chardonnay vineyards. Our vine canopies have nearly reached full growth so we are trying to finish shoot positioning. Shoot positioning is where we go through tucking shoots through their last catch wire, which keeps the shoots tight and vertical for optimal sun exposure. We are still irrigating in a handful of blocks, but will start to shut the water off, in an attempt to stop growth and focus the vines energy on ripening the clusters. A little stress on the vines will lead to a more mature cluster later in the season.
Another tool we have to convince the vines to slow their growth is hedging. During hedging, we make a pass through the vineyard topping the vines about 8-10 inches above their last catch wire. This tells the vine to stop growing up and usually pushes lateral shoot growth. New leaves that grow on lateral shoots lead to more energy for the vine and will help with ripening. Speaking of ripening, we are about 3 weeks away from Veraison in our earliest pinot noir. Veraison is the change of the cluster maturity. Berries will soften up and gain color as they are ripening. I have heard reports of the start of veraison in the earliest areas of the state, so certainly it won’t be long until we start to see it in our vineyards. Once clusters begin to color up, we will begin putting out bird netting, which covers the fruit zone of the vines and protects them from the birds that like to eat them.
Last, summertime marks a unique time of year here at Talley Vineyards because we have some new faces in the vineyards. Students have joined us to help in our efforts to grow the best chardonnay and pinot noir possible. Each summer, Talley Farms invites the children of our employees to join us for part of their summer vacation. It gives them some hands on experience with farming, an opportunity to make some fun spending money, and helps them appreciate the hard work their parents do all year
Sunday, June 2nd was the 20th running of the Marianne Talley Memorial Fun Run. It was a record-breaking day with over 480 participants, the most ever in the history of the run. A new course record was set in the 5K by Christian Ricketts, a 13 year old Paulding Middle School student with a time of 16:11. However, the biggest record that was broken that day had nothing to do with attendance or speed. It was 3 ½ year old Trevor Bell who broke all the records by having the biggest heart in his display of strength, courage and determination.
Trevor ran the entire 1-mile kid’s course on a prosthetic leg, and when he turned the corner towards the finish line, the cheers that erupted in the crowd were like nothing I’d ever heard before. When he crossed the finish line to a standing ovation, I don’t believe there was a dry eye in the crowd. He was so proud of his accomplishment and posed with his arms up in the air like Hulk Hogan for a picture! I spoke with Trevor’s mom after the run, and she shared with me that Trevor was born without his left femur. The youngest of three, he’s just a regular kid trying to keep up with his older brother and sister!
While we love to recognize the fastest, and deservingly so, we also can’t help but recognize this little champion who embodies the true spirit of competition. The Marianne Talley run was established to honor Marianne’s love of health and fitness for people of all ages and abilities and is the primary fundraiser for the Marianne Talley Foundation. This run is not just for the seasoned runners, it’s also for all the walkers and joggers and those who were out there participating in an event like this for the first time. Everyone who started and finished had their own personal victories as well, and perhaps broke their own personal records. We thank all the participates this year in raising much needed funds for the Marianne Talley Foundation that will be used for scholarships for college-bound athletes from Arroyo Grande High School.
Two weeks ago I was working with our distributor in New Orleans selling our wine. After our Friday morning sales meeting where I introduced the 2011 single vineyard chardonnays, I had a sales appointment (along with our rep Jeff Heaviside) at Restaurant August. This restaurant is a very fine dining establishment in New Orleans (not your typical Cajun Creole hang out). When we arrived, just before 1:00pm, there was a curious scene out front with several armed policemen and stretched limos. As we entered the building, we noticed that an exceptionally busy lunch crowd had already collected before our appointment.
Now earlier in the week, this same security scene was visible at the Roosevelt Hotel, but we later learned that was for the Governor’s Convention. This time it was even bigger. The Dalai Lama, yes, the religious leader of the Buddhist people of Tibet-- was dining at Restaurant August! They were eating in the private room upstairs, and we were in the main dining room where everyone was totally on edge, anxiously awaiting their opportunity to say “Hello Dalai”.
Now, the closest I got to him was when I went to use the washroom…upstairs. As I made my way down the hall, I passed Head Chef John Besh, two plain clothes security men, the Maitre de, an armed policeman, a man wearing a turban, and another man wearing a yarmulke. An eclectic bunch.
Later, as the Dalai Lama left the building, we were all looking out the window watching him get escorted to his limo. It was a real sign of the times, with everyone holding their arms in the air aiming their smartphones in his direction in an attempt to capture a picture. It actually reminded me of a Grateful Dead concert. Needless to say, lunch at August was a divine experience. Jeff, and the Dalai Lama had the vegetarian risotto.
Regular readers will note that my last blog post was about my trip to Florida. This week I’m in New York. This may bring to mind some obvious questions, such as “Why do you travel?” and “How much do you travel?” Taking the second question first, I travel about 60 days per year, but much of it is focused this time of year. This is because springtime is when we release our chardonnays, and it’s a great time to visit and share the new releases. Springtime is also when many wine buyers are preparing for the summer season, so the timing is perfect.
There are several reasons why I travel. First, I really enjoy meeting the people who buy and sell our wines. I spend days with dynamic people in all aspects of the wine business—sales people, retailers, sommeliers and wine directors, as well as the managers and principals of our distributors. This is an invaluable way for me to learn about what is happening in our industry, which helps inform our decision making at the winery. Second, the wine industry is fundamentally a people business. It’s no longer good enough to make great wine—you need to effectively communicate what makes your wine special to be successful in this business.
This has been a great visit to New York. I’ve caught up with old friends from New York City, Westchester and New Jersey. I’ve learned how the demand for world class chardonnay and pinot noir continues to grow. I’ve enjoyed some great meals, including the best rendition of Tuscan Kale I’ve ever eaten. We are blessed to do business with two great distributors in the New York area—Michael Skurnik Wines for Talley Vineyards and T. Edward for Bishop’s Peak. Reconnecting with old friends, making new ones and sharing the story of Talley Vineyards—that’s why I travel.
It’s time for another vineyard update. Since my last blog in mid April, following a few frosty mornings, the paradise weather has returned here in the Arroyo Grande and Edna Valleys. We’ve had some above normal temperatures so far in May, one day over 100 degrees, and even a little rain. The weather has been pretty ideal. The month of May can always be a weird weather month for us as we begin to see the marine layer move in during the night and morning hours with windy afternoons. This weather is not ideal, because typically in the middle of May, clusters on the vines are starting to bloom. Warm weather and low winds lead to a faster bloom and a more successful fruit set. Fruit set refers to the cluster stage immediately following bloom, where we get our first real look at this year’s crop. Some of our pinot noir blocks are finishing up with bloom and we’re at about 70% bloom in our chardonnay. In the next 2 weeks we’ll get our first real glimpse of the 2013 vintage.
In the vineyards our crews are extremely busy completing a number of different tasks each day. We will be finished with shoot thinning by the end of this week, as we have about 7 acres left in Oliver’s vineyard Riesling and sauvignon blanc to shoot thin. Shoot thinning is a pass we make through each of our blocks to remove undesirable or excessive shoots from canes and spurs in order to manage the canopy and the crop. Along with shoot thinning, we have been busy lifting trellis wires and shoot positioning in our pinot noir. This allows us to keep our canopies tight and vertical in an attempt to get as much sunlight into the canopy as possible. Leaf pulling will be our next big task in the vineyard, and will most likely start in pinot noir early next week. Leaf pulling is simply the removal of excess leaves in the fruit zone of the vines. This is done to increase sunlight exposure to the cluster which will help the cluster mature. Leaf pulling also opens up the canopy providing more air flow and less compaction. It is one of the most important things we can do to help ripen the year’s crop.
Well, with all that said it sure looks like we’ve got a lot of work ahead of us, so I better get back to it. Cheers!
Every year we hold an appreciation event for your Estate Subscriber Program wine club members. This year, Alyssa decided it would be fun to have a pizza maker and pasta. Out on the lawn in front of the winery building, on a perfect afternoon, our club members enjoyed pizzas, wonderful wines and a lovely pasta meal. Words cannot describe the "fun" but a few photos might.
|Estate Subscriber event in progress|
|The pizza maker||Pizzas fresh from the oven|
|Toss a cork, win a magnum of wine||Great library and current wines|
|A fun day at Talley Vineyards|
Every once in a while things need a little face lift. Maybe that means a fresh coat of paint or a new addition to a familiar sight. In Talley Vineyards’ case, it means a winery renovation. The Talley Vineyards winery was built in 1991. At the time, it was the eponymy of a modern day winery. Concrete tank stands, modern drains, and plenty of space for day-to-day winery activities. After twenty vintages in this space, we felt it was time to give the winery a revitalization.
|Knock down of wall in progress.||New catwalk in the winery.|
The first thing we did was knock out a wall to give us more space for fermentation and barrel work. The area we gained was more than we ever imagined. Next, we tore out our old catwalk that accessed the top of our tanks and replaced it with a stunning aluminum catwalk. Not only does it look clean but it makes it much easier for us to clean around the tanks.
The last renovation we had done was completely resurfacing the concrete floor in the winery. We patched all cracks and seams and through a long process, added a special coating. This coating consists of a polyurethane matrix system. It’s anti-microbial, durable and skid resistant that will hold up to heavy machinery, high traffic and dust. And more importantly, it makes the winery look really clean.
This is by far, the biggest upgrade of the facility since the winery was built. We’re all really excited to move back into our “new” winery. I’ve always felt there was a romantic quality to our 20-year old winery and I believe that after this renovation we’re prepared for the next 20 vintages.
Johnine and I have spent the past week in Florida, the second biggest market for our wines outside of California. By the time we finish, we will have traveled more than 1500 miles around the state.
We kicked off the trip with our first ever visit to the Florida Keys, that string of islands south of the main part of the state. We hosted a Wine Dinner at a private club in Key Largo called the Ocean Reef Club where we met many people from the Midwest and East Coast who spend their winters at the club. We also hosted a lunch for 26 customers, many from Key West who drove two hours to meet us and taste our wines, at the historic Cheeca Lodge. As we tasted the wines and talked about the unique character of the Arroyo Grande Valley, I kept thinking about those Corona ads we see on TV. It turns out that many are filmed in this area.
After two days in the Keys, it was time to head toward Miami, where I spent the day calling on customers with Melissa Lugo. We finished the day with a special tasting and dinner at the Hakassan at the Fontainebleu Hotel in Miami Beach. This is an amazing upscale Asian themed restaurant where they are pouring the Estate Pinot Noir by the glass. It was a special evening to taste through our portfolio with the salespeople who represent our wines in the area, and to say thank you to the sommelier at Hakassan who had chosen our wine from a lineup of more than 25 as his selection.
After South Florida we moved to a part of the state I’ve never visited before, the northwest “Panhandle” region. People in this area refer to it as “South Alabama.” We are participating in the annual South Walten Beaches Festival, one of the top 10 wine auctions in the United States, and which raises more than $1 million for local charities. We started with a low key welcome party featuring wine and beer tasting as well as Nashville based songwriters. The weekend includes several tastings, dinners and an auction. It will be a fun way to promote our wines and also raise money for a very worthy cause.
During our travels, we’ve had the pleasure of getting to know the people who sell our wines in the state. Our distributor in Florida, Augustan Wine Imports, sets the standard for the way that wholesale wine companies should operate. The company was originally founded by Proal and Connie Perry in the early 1990s, and we started doing business shortly thereafter. They have instilled a dedication to excellence at Augustan that I find inspiring. Johnine and I have enjoyed getting to know people here who love wine and are as passionate about the wine business as we are. We’re having a great time in Florida, and I encourage you to visit if you haven’t been here recently. The seafood is perfect with our chardonnay and pinot noir!
This week has been one of those weeks that I ask myself “why the heck didn’t I become a banker instead of a farmer?” This question usually runs through my head a few times a year between late February and early April as I am out in the vineyard running frost protection. Typically here in the Arroyo Grande and Edna Valleys, the coldest time of year for us is during the winter when the vines are dormant, but it seems like there is always a cold spell sometime in mid April when Mother Nature decides she wants to show us who is really in control.
As the vines begin to bud in early March, we begin to worry about frost. As temperatures drop into the low 30’s, this year’s delicate new growth can be severely stunted by only a couple hours of below freezing temperatures. Fortunately, we’ve got a few tools in the bag to help battle these cold temperatures. Utilizing some pretty cool technology, our vineyards are all hooked up to weather monitoring stations that send me and my frost supervisor a text message any time the temperature drops below 35 degrees F. From then, it’s a mad dash to hop in the truck and get to the ranch. Typically at this point I’m still about half asleep!
The first step is to turn on the wind machines like you’ll see in Brian’s video below. The wind machines keep the air circulating, (warm air from above, mixed with the cool air on the vineyard floor) preventing the formation of frost. The echoes of the wind machines can be heard from miles away on a really cold and clear night. In some of our vineyards we do not have wind machines, but fortunately we do have plenty of water. In these vineyards we depend on overhead irrigation to keep the vines protected. As water turns to ice, heat is given off and this typically will keep the vines from being damaged. It’s a pretty scary thing when the first light breaks through and you begin to see a thick layer of ice coated around the vines, but amazingly it works.
After these frosty nights, it only takes a few days of warm weather in the vineyard and a few nights of sleep to remind me that I chose the right job. Spring time in our vineyards is pretty hard to beat…as long as there is no frost!