The focus of my blog post this week is crop thinning, a critical activity that occurs every year at this time. Below is a video featuring Vineyard Manager Travis Monk discussing how and why we thin chardonnay. In summary, we remove clusters from vines where the clusters have a tendency to pile up on one-another. If we don’t remove some of these clusters, we risk botrytis or mildew, which reduces both quality and the size of the crop. Enjoy the video!
As I thought about what to write about for this week’s blog post, it occurred to me that so many things are going on around here that it would be fun to include them in a video montage, shot in a single day. For those who would rather read than watch video, here are a few highlights.
The sun rose just after 6AM over the beautiful fog laden Arroyo Grande Valley. At Talley Farms, we’re in the full swing of things, harvesting cilantro, nappa cabbage, lettuce and spinach. We’re also packing harvest boxes and there’s some fun video of that. Meanwhile, we’re planting bell peppers, our key fall crop.
On the vineyard side, our crews are focused on two aspects of canopy management. The men are lifting wires and tucking shoots (included in the video), while the ladies are removing leaves (visit our archive for that video). The goal in both cases is to expose the clusters to air and sunlight to prevent mildew and botrytis and to promote even ripening and optimal flavor development. In the winery, we’ve just completed racking together the 2012 Chardonnays, so the crew is busy washing barrels. You can watch Nacho Zarate and Pat Sigler discuss the finer points of barrel washing.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this brief tour of Talley Farms and Talley Vineyards on a typical July day. Cheers!
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.
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!
One of the most common questions I get is “when should I drink that?” We had a tasting a few days ago to help answer that question. I sat down with Winemaker Eric Johnson, Vineyard Manager Travis Monk and Cellar Workers Nicole Morris and Pat Sigler for a tasting of 2005-2011 Estate Chardonnay and Pinot Noir—the two signature wines of Talley Vineyards.
We have produced both wines since our very first vintage, in 1986, and these wines are a real barometer of the season. Both are blends from our various vineyard blocks in the Arroyo Grande Valley—historically Rincon and Rosemary’s Vineyards, but soon to incorporate newer plantings in our Monte Sereno and Las Ventanas Vineyards.
We started with the chardonnays. I found the 2005 and 2006 wines to be just a bit past their prime. Both were pleasurable and would be wonderful with rich dishes like grilled chicken, lobster or a triple crème cheese, but they lacked a bit of freshness. The 2007-2010 wines were all in a sweet spot, displaying the lemon curd and mineral notes that make our chardonnays so distinctive. The 2008 especially had an elegant mineral aspect, and was my favorite of the flight. The consensus favorite was the 2010. Everyone loved the potential of the 2011, but felt that it was young relative to the others in the flight. My take home message for Estate Chardonnay, drink 3-6 years after the vintage.
Next we turned our attention to the pinot noirs. As is typical of pinot noir, these wines were more variable by vintage, and tended to evolve more in the glass as they sat open. For instance, many of us loved the delicate floral aroma and hints of leather in the 2005, but felt it faded with air. On the other hand, the 2006 was a leaner and more elegant wine that became more expressive as it sat in the glass. The 2007 and 2009 were riper vintages, emphasizing more black fruit, tannin and power—which some in the group loved and others didn’t. The 2010 had a beautiful floral aspect and penetrating raspberry elegance. The 2011 built on the character of the 2010, but with more richness. Feelings about these wines were all over the place—which is typical of pinot noir, and why it’s such a fickle grape to work with. All of these are fun to drink now. Cheers!
Readers of this blog are aware that I’ve used this space to introduce new employees. Today, I’d like to recognize the service of two members of our team who have worked with my family for 20 years apiece, and who have been critical to our success.
Ignacio (Nacho) Zarate is our Cellarmaster. He leads our cellar crew and ensures that the workorders created by Winemaker Eric Johnson are executed accurately and efficiently. I first met Nacho in 1978 when we picked beans together at Talley Farms. Over the years, he worked in a number of different roles on the farm until 1995 when we had an opening at the winery and he came to work here. Since that time, he has mastered all of the key cellar tasks including operating our presses, destemmers and bottling equipment. Most recently, he has taken charge of the operation of our state-of-the-art cross flow filter, and he filtered the 2012 Bishop’s Peak white wines that we bottled a few weeks ago. Nacho is widely regarded to have the best sense of humor at the winery and especially enjoys pranks and practical jokes.
Our Director of Business Operations, Michele Good, joined us in 1993 as our Tasting Room Manager. At that time, the full-time employees consisted of Winemaker Steve Rasmussen, Cellarmaster Jose Cuevas, Johnine and me. Michele had graduated from Cal Poly’s business school with a concentration in marketing and had worked in the tasting room at Maison Duetz (now Laetitia). Over time, Michele’s role changed and grew. As is the case with any small but growing business, she had to cover many bases: harvesting grapes, punching down pinot noir, bottling wine, handling collections and pouring at countless events. In her current role she oversees all aspects of winery and vineyard administration and is a critical member of our management team. Michele is the pragmatic member of our team who isn’t afraid to tell me I’m crazy.
Nacho and Michele have the longest tenures of service of any of the full-time employees here at the winery. I’m thankful for their dedication to Talley Vineyards and for their contribution to our success.
Last weekend marked the 13th Anniversary of the World of Pinot Noir, probably the world’s most comprehensive celebration of the varietal. This came just a week after another pinot centric event we held at the winery, our annual Pinot/Cioppino fundraiser for the Marianne Talley Foundation.
It’s hard to believe that it’s been 13 years since the inaugural World of Pinot Noir when Archie McClaren and I, along with a group of vintners from the San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara Counties, decided to host a world-class pinot noir event right here in our own backyard. This was the pre-Sideways era when there was enthusiasm for pinot noir, but not the frenzy that occurred just a few years later after the release of the film that ignited the pinot noir craze. We started out with around 50 wineries, a single walk around tasting and some great seminars held at the Cliffs Resort and nearby wineries. This year’s event included more than 150 wineries, a two day technical symposium for winemakers, and tents spanning the bluff from the Cliffs Resort to Dolphin Bay, all overlooking the beautiful Pacific Ocean. Talley Vineyards was featured with a special retrospective tasting of our 2007-2010 Rincon and Rosemary’s Vineyard Pinot Noirs. It was truly a special weekend.
The week before, we held our annual Pinot/Cioppino fundraiser with longtime friends Tim Sugishita and Louie Bonino. Tim had approached my dad back in the mid-90’s with the idea for the dinner. Cioppino is the classic San Francisco seafood soup, featuring a tomato base and lots of Dungeness crab and Tim and Louie had been hosting cioppino dinners in their hometown of San Martin. Inspired by our friend, local restaurateur Leonard Cohen, we decided that pinot noir would be the best wine to match with the dish. For the 2013 dinner, we celebrated with a beautiful selection of wines including a 5 liter bottle of 2004 Rosemary’s Vineyard that was the highlight of the evening.
In addition to enjoying great fellowship, food and wine, this evening also serves as the key fundraiser for the Marianne Talley Foundation which funds scholarships for Arroyo Grande High School students. Marianne was my sister and we established the foundation in her name after she passed away in 1993. Later, we added scholarships to honor my dad and grandfather. To date, we’ve distributed almost $200,000 to recipients of the Marianne Talley, Oliver Talley, and Don Talley Memorial Scholarships. I truly appreciate the community support for this worthwhile effort. In addition, everyone seems to enjoy the side benefit of the pinot noir that accompanies dinner.
It’s winter time, which might seem like a slow time around the winery, but that’s not the case. In reality, some of the most important activities in our winegrowing happen now.
In the vineyard, this is when we prune. Critical decisions that will affect the crop for this season, as well as subsequent years, are made right now. It all depends on how many buds we leave on the vine. More buds mean more potential crop, but less vigorous growth. These decisions are made on a block-by-block basis depending on previous growth and our production goals. This is an area where quality, focus and attention to detail really pay off, and I’m proud of our vineyard team. To see a video of pruning, check out our pinot noir pruning video .
In the winery we are focused on nother critical activities. One of these activities is our assessment of the quality of the previous vintage. Eric Johnson, Nicole Pope, Travis Monk and I conducted a complete tasting of every wine we produced from the 2012 vintage (more than 150 separate lots) on January 14 and 15. As we suspected, quality is excellent across the board with juicy approachable wines reminiscent of the highly successful 2005 vintage.
It is during these blind tastings that we first recognize special wines that are likely candidates for our single vineyard bottlings. Last January, we discovered how much we enjoyed the 2011 Monte Sereno Vineyard Chardonnay and East Rincon Vineyard Pinot Noir; so much so that we decided to release these as separate Single Vineyard Selections for the first time ever. We bottled only two barrels of each of these—so I anticipate that they will sell out immediately upon release. Enjoy!
It’s the New Year and we are focused on planning for our 65th year of farming in the Arroyo Grande Valley. While most of the effort is directed toward things we’ve done many times before, things like pruning, planting schedules and budgets, there are some truly new happenings to announce, especially related to people.
On the vineyard side, I am pleased to announce the appointment of Travis Monk as our new Vineyard Manager. Travis has worked with us since 2008 when he started in the Tasting Room. Lucy Parkin was extremely impressed with his work ethic, great attitude and especially his BBQ skills. After graduating from Cal Poly with a degree in Agricultural Business Management in 2009, Travis joined former Vineyard Manager Kevin Wilkinson as Viticulturalist and was appointed Assistant Vineyard Manager at the end of 2011. Travis worked closely with Kevin this past year to ensure a seamless transition to his new role. He oversaw the planting of more than 20 acres of avocados and now turns his attention to the replanting of the Rincon Vineyard, which will start in 2015. In his spare time, Travis enjoys hunting and golf. I’ve enjoyed working with Travis and look forward to the new ideas and the commitment to quality that he brings to our vineyard operations.
We’ve added another full time cellar worker in the winery. Patrick Sigler was one of three harvest interns who helped us during the 2012 harvest. Pat’s main responsibility was grape sampling, but he proved to be dedicated, conscientious and hardworking in the cellar as well. Pat just graduated from the Wine and Viticulture program at Cal Poly. In addition to his studies, he enjoyed much success on the Cal Poly soccer team, scoring the game winning goal against arch rival UCSB in 2011. Pat was raised in Sonoma County where he was exposed to the wine industry through friends and looks forward to becoming a winemaker someday.