On a foggy morning in August, we began picking Pinot Noir in Rosemary’s Vineyard. We picked a little shy of 2 tons that day and with the cool conditions were able to sleep in and start at 6:30am. The exact date was the 22nd of August; with the cool summer we had experienced we had thought our harvest would begin a week or two later. Typically, our harvest runs about 6 weeks, so on the 22nd we all felt excited to be done by Halloween. I’ve got two young kids, so Halloween is a good benchmark for me to be liberated and able to walk blissfully house to house, with the kids in whatever the hell costume they’ve come up with and my favorite libation hidden in an insulated coffee mug. (Lately it’s been Spritzes with ½ Campari and ½ Aperol- I’m a sucker for light Italian cocktails)
Returning to the topic at hand, heres what actually happened. Mother Nature took our dreams of finishing harvest by Halloween, crumpled them into a metaphorical wad of newspaper, and tossed tossed dreams into a metaphorical dumpster fire that quickly consumed any thought of wrapping up harvest in the usual amount of time. After 10 whole weeks of waking up in the middle of the night to pick grapes, we “wrapped up” harvest on November 12th, my youngest kid’s 4th birthday. It was one for the books!
Why the long harvest? Well, remember my mention that it was a cool summer? It’s ok if you don’t, I’ll say it again. It was a cool summer meaning it took a while for some vineyard blocks to ripen and prior to plants going through veraison (the ripening process of grape berries) there was a long berry development phase. With all that extended time prior to ripening, fruit clusters got big, especially in the Chardonnay blocks. The result was that harvest continued on and on, early mornings and long days continued, and our team tried not to get sick of each other.
Luckily, we have an amazing crew here at Talley Vineyards and we found ways to keep motivated and pick on! In the end, we brought in a lot of fruit, we are very pleased with the quality, and we can finally call harvest complete!
Last week I was serving a delightful couple from Alabama who were vacationing on the Central Coast. They were visiting Talley due to a recommendation from friends to try our excellent wines, and they just HAD to stop in. They loved our Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs so much they wanted to ship a case of wine to their home in Alabama so they could share it with their wine-appreciating neighbors. Unfortunately, when I checked our list of state alcohol laws I discovered that we could not ship into Alabama. They were disappointed, and had to settle for purchasing two bottles that they could safely put into their checked baggage on the fight home.
Although I had experienced this before, this incident interested me to investigate further why certain states allowed unlimited shipments to their residents, and others did not. Come to find out, the after-effects of Prohibition are still with us today.
Prohibition in the United States was enacted through the Eighteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution (effective on January 17, 1920), and effectively established the prohibition of intoxicating liquors in the United States by declaring the production, transport, and sale of intoxicating liquors (though not the consumption or private possession) illegal. There were certain intoxicating liquors excluded, for example, those liquors used for medical and religious purposes. Forty six states ratified the amendment, with Connecticut and Rhode Island rejecting it.
The Amendment was in effect for the following 13 years. It was repealed in 1933 by ratification of the Twenty-First Amendment, and essentially shifted regulation of the production, sales and distribution of alcohol from the federal government to the states. So, how does that affect our current shipping policies? The federal government, in returning the control of alcohol distribution to the individual states, opened the door for 50 different thoughts on how alcohol distribution should be controlled, and as a result, we have 50 different regulations to deal with. Currently seven states prohibit wine shipments to residents: Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Kentucky, Mississippi, Rhode Island and Utah.
While some states specifically prohibit the direct shipment of alcoholic beverages to consumers, some have statutory provisions that require orders to be processed and shipped through licensed wholesalers. Still others have regulations that allow wine to be shipped into the state, but only when purchased by the customer on-site at the winery. (So you can ship to yourself, ONLY if you are physically in the winery when you place that order you are shipping from.)
Also, most states have some limit to the amount of wine you can have shipped to consumers within a year – ranging from two cases per calendar year (Minnesota and Missouri), increasing to “unlimited” (California, Colorado, Florida, Iowa, and Washington). My favorite state’s restriction is Alaska, which limits the quantity to “a reasonable amount”! Now, THAT’S not ambiguous at all!
The individual states’ regulation control sometimes have several groups of interest involved. For example, many states have liquor control boards that forbid or restrict retailers to offer anything but what the state brings in. Middleman wholesalers have become monopolies in these states and the only wines you can buy are the wines they carry.
Generally, the cost of alcohol based goods in state run markets are going to be much higher in cost due to the amount of taxation they endure. There are benefits in having aggressive laws from a state perspective, as the state Legislature can help protect its business’s (such as Distributors) and make sure that the taxes are generating money for the state.
Daniel Posner, president of the National Association of Wine Retailers, and owner of “Grapes the Wine Company”, commented - “As in anything in business, this is pure greed. There are very few industries that are so regulated. We have an authority that looks over us, that makes sure we pay our bills on time. We have a very rigid system in place, state by state,” he said. “These wholesalers, they hold all the cards.”
Wholesalers on the other hand, suggest that the need to enforce the interstate laws is to protect the public from under-aged drinking and fraud. Craig Wolf, president and chief executive of the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America, expressed that “The tight laws will keep states honest and held accountable for their commerce, whereas before “allowing retailers to sell out of state created a scenario for an unregulated system.”
Things are changing, albeit slowly. For example, just a few months ago, Oklahoma lifted their prohibition to incoming wine shipments direct to consumers, and now only requires a Direct Wine Shipper’s Permit to do so.
Bottom line? Prohibition is gone, but the individual state imposed carry-over controls are not. So keep enjoying wines in our tasting room, and, if you like what you are tasting and want to ship some home, keep your fingers crossed that you live in a state where that’s possible.
Would you like to see winery shipments open up in your state? You might want to check out this organization:
Free the Grapes! is a national, grassroots coalition of consumers, wineries and retailers who seek to remove restrictions in states that still prohibit consumers from purchasing wines directly from wineries and retailers.
A few weeks ago I sat with our harvest interns for our weekly staff lunch. They started asking me some thought provoking questions, which inspired the idea that they would interview me. Check out this YouTube video for our conversation.
It’s hard to tell with the warm weather we’ve had lately, but fall is in the air! It’s one of my favorite times of the year. I love seeing all the gourds and pumpkins in the field, and lined up in front of the Tasting Room and Adobe.
To kick off the fall season we had our 2nd annual Sip n’ pick in early October. The windy afternoon didn’t stop people from coming out to the Adobe and enjoying wine, music, pizza and of course picking out their own pumpkin from the patch!
Last week we hosted a Succulent Pumpkin workshop with Zest it Up and was a huge success! I was excited to attend and had a great time! I felt like a kid again, going to the patch picking out my own pumpkin, carving it and then decorating with beautiful succulents (which I can transplant later). It was such a great experience and fun to watch other attendees walking around curious to see what beautiful creations others did. I heard many say how much they loved the way others decorated theirs.
October to me is the beginning of the crazy, fun holiday season, and to be able to attend 2 wonderful events hosted at work makes it more enjoyable. I look forward to what the rest of the year has to bring.
If you need a pumpkin, there's still time to come out and pick your own!
For upcoming events, visit our events page. Hope to see you at an upcoming event!
A few weekends ago I had the opportunity to pour for our wine club members at the Adobe Member lounge, and I can say it was one of my favorite days working here at Talley Vineyards. After being promoted recently, it took me a few months to truly settle into my new position and a lot of my time I dedicated to hours in the office acquainting myself with the ins and outs of our company. During that period, I missed out on the exhilarating and rewarding experience of pouring alongside our gifted staff and serving our loyal club members. However, this Saturday renewed my love for what I do and inspired me to continue to generate new ideas to show our members just how much they mean to us.
Our member lounge is our way of expressing our appreciation for our members and allows us to interact with our guests in a way we couldn’t before. Our staff works diligently to continuously improve the experience, whether it’s through showcasing the delicious seasonal produce we have available from the Farm, pouring special library wines we’ve secretly fallen in love with, and providing the highest standard of service we can to our guests. We appreciate everyone who takes the time to come out and visit us at the lounge, and we hope you all continue to enjoy the experience as much as we do.
Stay tuned for a special winter edition of the Member Lounge, coming soon!
The warehouse being located on one corner of the winery gives me an unobstructed view of our East Rincon vineyard and the surrounding hills.
Shortly after I started working here I told my brother that I work in a warehouse. Immediately he tells me about the mental picture that came to mind of some nondescript building in some anonymous industrial park. It was not until I had sent him some pictures (and a bottle of wine) that he confessed he now daydreams of giving up his cubicle if we have a job opening.
Having worked here now for a full year I've been able to see the 4 seasons through the vineyards. I've watched the leavesturn in the late fall. I'll take notice of the bare grapevines on a chilly January morning. I've witnessed the first buds break with a hint of green color in the early spring. I've seen the vineyards transform through the summer as the fruit comes in. Then in the fall, we come full circle with harvest time and the grape leaves turning into their kaleidoscope of colors again.
As with every job, I get consumed with the task at hand. I have my desk, my computer, and paperwork that define my workday. Every once in a while, usually when I'm preoccupied with filling orders, moving pallets, packing, etc. I will hit the "open" button on the automated warehouse door and, like a theatre curtain rising, the vineyard, the hillsides, and the sky will come into view and make me stop for a moment and just say, "Wow."
My brother who lives in Los Angeles keeps promising to visit. I've told him, "The invitations open my man, pull your convertible out of the garage, buy Cindy (his wife) a nice hat, and come up and check out the view here."
We started our 33rd Harvest here at Talley Vineyards on Wednesday, August 22 with a little bit of Rosemary’s Vineyard Pinot Noir that we picked from the section directly behind my mother’s house. Things really kicked off over Labor Day weekend, and we picked the very best Pinot Noir that we farm, from the section that my dad planted in 1987 in front of my mother’s house, on Labor Day.
Every harvest has its theme: in 2016 it was the perfect growing season (“chill AF” according to Vineyard Manager Ben Taylor), that resulted in some of the best Pinot Noirs we’ve ever made. Last year it was general weirdness as reflected by the solar eclipse that we couldn’t see because it was so foggy.
This year, the theme feels like “something old/something new.”
Not quite so old, but getting there:
This harvest marks Eric Johnson’s (pictured right) 12th harvest at Talley Vineyards and his 9th as the Winemaker. Even with all that experience, he’s still the youngest winemaker in the San Luis Obispo Coast region.
Vineyard and Orchard Manager Ben Taylor (pictured left) joined us in 2013, so this marks his 6th harvest. He admits that harvesting grapes and avocados, at the same time as he’s planting new avocado and lemon orchards, is what makes him feel old.
Our two full time production workers, Edwin Amador and Emma Lyon, joined us this summer. Edwin comes with a wealth of production experience in the Paso Robles region while Emma is a brand new Cal Poly graduate (class of 2018, along with my daughter Elizabeth) who got her start at Claiborne and Churchill Winery just a few miles up the road.
Fulltime Cellar Crew:
Emma Lyon, Ignacio Zarate & Edwin Amador
Our harvest interns are all brand new, but that happens every year. So that’s really kind of something old.
Pictured left: harvest interns Noah Knebel, Rachel Martin, Jeremy Retornaz, & Allie Donegan
A great bottle of wine expresses the dichotomy of old and new--Mother Nature, old vines, and respect for tradition mashed up with youthful vigor, new ideas and the ever changing growing season--all come together to produce the ultimate expression of our interaction with Earth. It’s a story that changes every year and I love it.
Cheers to the 2018 Harvest! BT
My daughter, a student at UT Austin, is home for a couple of weeks and two of her Texas college friends visited us on a summer road trip from San Francisco to Austin. Since these kids are of drinking age I invited them to Talley Vineyards for wine tasting and a tour, a new experience for both.
We started in the tasting room so I could acquaint them with Talley Vineyards and get a sense of the wines they like. I wanted to tailor the tasting to their preferences and maybe introduce them to some wines they’d never tried. It’s a pleasure for me to initiate newbies to wine as it’s been a love of mine for many years.
I started my daughter’s friends off with Bishop’s Peak Sauvignon Blanc and immediately one of them said, “This is probably a stupid question, but what does Sauvignon Blanc mean?” I did not find the question stupid and was happy to explain grape varieties and how they make wines that taste different from one another. As we continued the wine tasting and toured the winery for the next hour, I loved the many questions they had. But they always started with “this is probably a dumb question…” or “I know this is stupid of me to ask…”
And that got me thinking, why is wine so intimidating?
The intimidation factor is not a part of discovering beer. The major craft beer boom of the past few years has brought us Saisons, Hazys, IPAs, Double IPAs, Nitro Stouts and on and on. I visit a lot of craft breweries and I’ve never heard anyone start a question about beer with, “I know this might be dumb of me, but…” They simply ask without fear of judgement.
Does the anxiety about looking dumb stem from how we as an industry present the product, with the whole swirl, sniff, suck in air method? Is it that we offer descriptors of the wine’s aromas and taste, so people feel stupid if they don’t pick up on them? Is it the “We shall sell no wine before it’s time” advertising? I don’t know the answer, but I do feel that as an industry we have failed to create an unintimidating atmosphere for our new customers. The sad thing is, I’ve been drinking wine for many years, I’ve asked lots of questions of many different winemakers and tasting room staff, and I’ve never been made to feel dumb; so the actual experience of tasting is very different from the perception.
Like I said, I’m not sure how to fix the problem, but I encourage you to not fall victim to that feeling of intimidation. When you come out to Talley Vineyards, please come filled with questions about wine, wine making, growing, or anything else. There are no dumb questions and our exceptional and friendly tasting room staff will gladly enlighten and encourage you.
On July 3rd of this strange year, we hit 60 degrees in the Arroyo Grande Valley. The sun decided to take the day off and sleep the day under the thick covers of the occasional “No-Sky July” marine layer. This was kind of the norm for most of the spring, except for the North winds that blow the marine layer out in the afternoon. These winds start to lighten up by May, allowing the May Gray to linger a little longer past 10am. By June, you get the occasional all day June Gloom, but it usually starts blowing out with gentler winds by 10am. That’s pretty much it: marine layer until 10am, stronger winds until June, calm winds after that, temps ranging from 50’ to the high 70’s, and occasionally you’ll see temps hit the 90’s. However, this year was different. Mostly cool temps with the marine layer hanging later in the day: a cool vintage.
So three days later from that cool day in July, there was not a cloud in the sky and the temps were a raging 107 degrees by 10 in the morning in the Arroyo Grande Valley. It was HOT. The air was hot, the ground was hot, the wind was hot, and of course the plants were hot. We’ve experienced occasional temps in the 100’s, and as stressful as it is- we usually come out ok. Our protocol is to put a little water out (1-2 gallons per plant) to help the plants deal with the stress of the heat. We also pull leaves in the fruit zone on the morning sun side as it’s the side that will receive sunlight at the coolest time of the day. Leaf pulling is done to allow air flow on the fruit to naturally keep moisture off the fruit and preventing mildew. It also allows sunlight to penetrate and help the ripening process. (I strongly recommend reading Sunlight Into Wine, by Richard Smart and Mike Robinson, to any aspiring viticulturalist looking to understand vineyard canopy management)
Unfortunately, this particular heat wave saw temperatures rise to 110 degrees before noon. It was too hot for some Pinot Noir blocks, regardless of our normal heat wave procedures and we had some berries go from unripe green berries to dried-up raisins in a matter of days. That 10 degree increase at an early point in the day was too much for the thin skinned berries of Pinot Noir. Fortunately it was just isolated to a few areas, but regardless it was heartbreaking to see good fruit burn.
As for it affecting our wine quality, the dried fruit is getting cut out before it even has the chance to make it to the sorting tables come harvest time. We are beginning to drop under ripe fruit as our Pinot blocks are around 80% verasion: “change of color of the grape berries; ie ripening”. With the green drop, we’ll be cutting out the dry fruit so you can expect the same quality that you expect from Talley wines!
As I write this, Eric Johnson and I are preparing to attend the 32nd Annual International Pinot Noir Celebration (IPNC) in McMinnville Oregon. Occurring every July in the heart of the Willamette Valley, which is widely recognized to be one of great regions in the world for Pinot Noir, IPNC brings together the very best producers from Oregon, California, Burgundy and other regions where Pinot Noir thrives. Only 15 wineries from California are invited to attend so simply being invited is to be recognized as one of the very best producers in the state. I’m proud to say that Talley Vineyards has participated about a dozen times since our inaugural year in 1992.
IPNC was one of the events that inspired me, along with Archie McLaren and a number of vintners in our area, to establish the World of Pinot Noir back in 2000. I wanted to replicate the feeling of camaraderie among the participants, as well as the very high level of education and discourse that are the hallmarks of IPNC. I should also add that the food is exceptional and that it’s all around good fun! The Saturday night Salmon Bake with whole filets of salmon roasting over huge open fires, is one of the greatest wine dinners in the world!
Over the years I’ve made lots of friends at IPNC. One of those people is Daniel Shanks, who is this year’s Master of Ceremonies. We ended up sitting next to one-another at a Burgundy tasting in the late 90s, and struck up a nice conversation. When we traded business cards, I learned that he was the Head Usher for Food and Wine at the White House.
Over the years, I got to visit Daniel on two occasions at the White House, and he featured our wines on a number of menus, including a State Dinner with Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji in 1999.
This will be my first time back to IPNC since 2010. Eric has been a couple of times since then, so he’ll be showing me the ropes. I encourage you to follow us on Instagram and Facebook to see what we’re up to. Cheers! BT