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.
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 email@example.com. 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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
This past Sunday marked the 21st Annual Marianne Talley Memorial Fun Run. With about 500 participants, including runners, walkers, volunteers, and sponsors, this is the single biggest annual event we host at the winery. My appreciation goes to Race Director Marian Fiorentino who organizes and orchestrates the whole thing. Along with our Cioppino Dinner, the Fun Run is one of two key fundraising activities for the Marianne Talley Foundation, which grants college scholarships to Arroyo Grande High School students. To date, the Foundation has donated more than $200,000 and supported the college education of 42 students.
The Fun Run has special meaning for me because it’s a way to celebrate my sister’s life that I know she would have enjoyed--she was an avid athlete who competed in sports throughout her life. It’s also a fitness motivator for me because, since the first year, we’ve given special t-shirts to everyone who beats me in the race. This year, 14 people “Beat the Vintner” and earned one of the coveted t-shirts. Overall winners were Audrey McClish and John Nichols in the 5K, Kara Thorne and Kevin Cooper in the 10K and Taylor Jones and Joshua Bell in the Youth Mile. Complete results, photos and video are available on the Marianne Talley Fun Run Page. (link)
As much as I enjoy the friendly competition, it’s really the sense of camaraderie and community I feel when everyone gathers to support a worthy cause, get some exercise and enjoy a beautiful morning that makes me feel good. I also feel inspired by people with physical challenges who come out and compete: people like four year old Trevor Bell who completed the mile run with his prosthetic leg and 10 year old Heaven Vallejo, who is blind, and ran the 5K with two guides assisting her every step of the way.
Next year’s fun run is already scheduled for Sunday, June 7. There’s something for everyone—a 5K, 10K, 1 mile walk and 1 mile youth run. For those of you who came out this year—come on back. If you haven’t participated before, I urge you to join us for a truly special day. Cheers!