As we head into the final month of our 30th Year at Talley Vineyards, I'm taking a moment to reflect on all the things that I'm grateful for. It's rained over four inches so far and even though this has had no measurable effect on Lopez Lake, it has made the hills green which puts me in a good mood. I'm thankful to be finished with my cookbook. From the day after Thanksgiving 2015, when I called publisher Bob Morris to discuss my idea for a farm to table cookbook, it has been almost exactly a year. I expect the final files to be delivered to the printer within days and Our California Table will be released in March of 2017. Follow this link for a sneak peak. I'm grateful to farm and make wine in such a special part of the world that affords me the opportunity to produce such a diverse array of fruits, vegetables and truly distinctive wine.
But when I reflect on what I'm truly grateful for, it's the people in my life. Johnine and I have enjoyed 21 years of marriage and are blessed with our daughters, Elizabeth and Olivia, who are growing into thriving young women that I'm really proud of. At Talley Farms, it's a privilege to work so closely with my mother and my cousins. I'm aware that many families struggle in their relationships and I appreciate the love, trust and respect we share, both at work and away from the farm. At both Talley Farms and Talley Vineyards, I'm grateful to be surrounded by dedicated and passionate people who strive every day to make the vegetables we grow and the wine we make better than ever, and to ensure that the connections with our customers are more meaningful. Finally, I appreciate the support of our customers and partners who love what we produce and share it with the world. Best wishes to you and your family this holiday season.
Our 30th Anniversary harvest is shaping up to be our best ever. I'm not making any predictions about the wines just yet, but things are coming together for a spectacular vintage. Since harvest really got rolling in mid-August, we've had perfect weather with lots of foggy mornings followed by afternoons that top out in the mid-70s. The grapes have ripened slowly, but steadily and the acid profiles are excellent.
Ben Taylor and Kevin Wilkinson and their teams have done a great job in the vineyard this year. So far yields are significantly better than last year, and will probably end up just below our 5 year averages of about 3 tons per acre in Chardonnay and 2 1/2 in Pinot Noir. Harvest days have been starting between 2AM and 4AM, and we've harvested just about all of the Pinot Noir as of today, with only a little bit of fruit in the Rincon Vineyard remaining. We've picked about 30% of the Chardonnay at this point.
To capture the amazing potential of this fruit, we have an inspiring production team and our cellar is running like a well-oiled machine. Eric, Nicole, and Nacho may have been nervous to have two new members of the team going into harvest, but Connor Bonetti and Aubrey Kommer, both of whom joined us this past spring, have stepped up big time, as have interns Will Talty, Graham Walker and Megan Coletti. We started using a new Armbruster Rotovib destemmer this year, which is both more efficient and more effective than its predecessor. The Pinot Noir fermentation room is filled with the most intense raspberry aromas that I can remember.
Finally, harvest always coincides with the Single Vineyard Selection Pinot Noir release. We just started shipping the 2014s on September 1. Very much in keeping with the 2012s and 2013s, the wines are distinctive reflections of 4 different vineyards: Stone Corral, Rincon, East Rincon and Rosemary's Vineyards. Jeb Dunnuck just gave them glowing reviews in the Wine Advocate.
Cheers to Harvest 2016--we’ve been at it for 30 years now, and I love it more than ever! - BT
As we wrap up our spring shipping season, it makes me reflect back to the very early days of the Estate Subscriber Program, back in the mid-1990s before wine clubs were as common as they are now. We began that program within a couple of years of releasing our first Single Vineyard Selection Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs because we wanted to make sure that our best customers had access to our best and most sought after wines. We started a precedent in those early years of having great parties where we shared special wines from older vintages or large format bottles to show appreciation to our most loyal customers. That tradition continues to this day. Our Estate Subscriber Program is still the best way to ensure that you can get the very best from our Estate, direct from the winery.
In 2000, we introduced our Bishop's Peak wines, which expanded our offering beyond estate grown Chardonnay and Pinot Noir to include other varietals from Paso Robles. In short order, we learned that many customers were interested in receiving a more diverse selection of wines, so we introduced the Talley Family Program to celebrate this diversity. To my way of thinking, this is more of a sampler program where people can get an overview of what we do and taste a greater array of wines. It's also a fun way to engage with us and other like minded people at our regular "pick up parties" throughout the year.
Our newest "club concept" doesn't include wine at all--it's a vegetable subscription club from Talley Farms. We started Talley Farms Fresh Harvest in 2012 as a way to share our produce, along with that of other local growers, with the San Luis Obispo County community. The response to the program has been overwhelming. I often hear people say that they view it as a weekly gift to themselves. We are currently working on a new website that will facilitate expanding the program to include more overnight home delivery throughout California. I'd like to figure out a way to someday include wine in those produce shipments.
If you're a member of the Estate Subscriber, Talley Family, or Fresh Harvest Programs, I offer my sincere thanks to you for your loyal support for what we do. If you're not a member, but like what we do, I encourage you to learn more and consider joining one of our clubs--it's the best way you can support what we do in a truly sustainable way.
While this year marks the 30th Anniversary of Talley Vineyards’ first vintage back in 1986, it also marks our 20th Anniversary bottling of our Single Vineyard Selection Chardonnays, which we first produced in 1994. They are now among the oldest continuously bottled estate grown vineyard designated chardonnays produced in California. The imminent release of the 2014 wines makes me recall a few highlights that have occurred along the way:
These wines obviously have great pedigree. So what should you expect from 2014? First of all, there are a total of four wines in the lineup, as we’ve added the distinctive Monte Sereno bottling (available only direct from the winery) to the traditional mix of Oliver’s Vineyard, Rincon Vineyard, and Rosemary’s Vineyard. These chardonnays continue our progression toward an ever more focused and elegant style, with descriptors like “lemon curd, bright, energy, meyer lemon and mouthwatering” popping up in the tasting notes. For complete notes on the wines, go to our website's Our Wines page.
Given the balance, persistence and acidity levels of these wines I expect them to age gracefully over the next decade. For an example of how these are likely to develop, I encourage you to visit the tasting room where we have just released library selections of 2006 and 2007 Oliver’s Vineyard as well as the 2006 Rincon Vineyard Chardonnay. All are drinking nicely, but the 2006s are exceptional right now. But you don’t have to wait 10 years to enjoy our new releases--they are perfect now with grilled halibut, seafood paella, roasted chicken or your favorite triple crème cheese. Cheers! BT
El Niño is everywhere in the news due to severe weather in Texas, flooding in Missouri and unseasonably warm winter temperatures on the East Coast, all of which have been attributed to this weather phenomenon which is marked by warm Pacific Ocean temperatures near the equator.
|The best way to chill chardonnay in Sun Valley!|
In Sun Valley Idaho, where I spent the week between Christmas and New Year's Day, early predictions were for a "snow drought" with less than average snowfall. It's been anything but a drought there with the most snow I've seen in recent years and residents and visitors alike enjoying near perfect conditions. The Sun Valley Ski Resort set records for attendance during my stay. So far, El Niño has been all good for this part of the country and everyone looks forward to a beautiful spring with green hills and copious wildflowers.
Much of the focus in California has been on how El Niño will affect our ongoing drought. The early part of the season has been good for the Sierra Nevada snowpack which was measured to be 108% of average in December. Things haven't been quite so good for our local water supplies on the Central Coast, which receive very little benefit from snow that falls in the Sierra Nevada. Lopez Lake, which supplies water to our local cities and downstream release for the Arroyo Grande Creek, is at its lowest level since the dam was completed in 1969. Other local reservoirs, including Nacimiento, San Antonio and Cachuma are even lower.
As of December 31, total seasonal rainfall in Arroyo Grande was just over 5 inches, about average for this time of year. All of this appears likely to change as the latest prediction is that El Niño will have a greater impact in our area during the month of January when the jet stream shifts to the south. Hopefully this means accumulating snow in the Sierras and more local rainfall which will refill our reservoirs, recharge our aquifers and turn our hillsides green. This will be good for everything we grow, especially our oldest chardonnay vines, which have really struggled during the drought.
It is widely acknowledged that a single wet year won’t solve California’s long term water supply issues, but it’s better than the alternative. Cheers to rain in 2016!
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?”
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|
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!
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.