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Talley Vineyards

Eric Johnson, Winemaker
March 23, 2018 | Eric Johnson, Winemaker

The Influence of Wine Movies

Wine movies have become a powerful force in the wine industry over the past several years. It's amazing that an industry so ripe with tradition can be altered simply by the release of a movie. I have thought a lot about this and am taking this opportunity to do a little analysis on some influential wine movies.

Being part of the central coast wine industry and specializing in Pinot Noir, I have to start with Sideways, Alexander Payne’s revolutionary film about a couple of guys cruising through Santa Barbara wine country on a pre-wedding bestie trip. We quickly find out that Miles (Paul Giamatti) prefers Pinot Noir over essentially everything, especially the bastard grape Merlot. Sideways immediately became an Oscar darling and a huge success with movie goers and the movie’s popularity drastically changed consumer wine consumption. Pinot Noir sales increase 16% while Merlot sales decreased 2%, the price and volume of Pinot Noir increased exponentially, and some estimates show Merlot farmers lost as much as $400 million in value. How does a movie change consumer preferences so much?  Clearly, we should get Paul Giamatti to push more products. Talley wines, perhaps? I really did enjoy this movie despite the ridiculous economic effects.

Somm is another movie that had some interesting effects on the domestic wine culture. This documentary follows several advanced sommeliers studying to become master sommeliers, an exam renowned for being the most difficult in the world. Throughout the movie you see the trials and tribulations of these somms in their everyday life of study. I don’t want to spoil the movie by listing who passes and who doesn’t; what really matters is that a lot of people who watched that movie now know what a sommelier is, even if they can't pronounce it. My family members from Los Banos were talking to me about sommeliers I know and how cool it all is. Los Banos isn't exactly known for its sommeliers! Sommeliers are now more influential because they are out of the shadows and in the normal citizen’s vocabulary, causing more people to trust sommeliers’ wine choices. I'm sure it's mostly because they know a lot about wine, but also because customers secretly think somms are super cool. 

I'm going to go into the mud a little bit here with the movie Bottle Shock. This movie really didn’t move the needle when it came to economics or consumer knowledge, but it did lie to all of us with the claim that the famous chardonnay got cloudy because it was racked too cleanly.  Yeah, that doesn’t happen, all Hollywood lies.  In the wine industry, bottle shock is when a wine is moved a lot during bottling; the flavors tend to take a backseat for a little bit because of all of this movement.  Essentially, the wine is in a funk as if it had a long weekend, but it doesn't get cloudy and then clear again as it did in the movie.  The only thing good about this movie is Chris Pine and his dreamy eyes.

One of my favorite wine movies of all time is another documentary, Sour Grapes, which documents the greatest wine fraud of all time, committed by Rudy Kurniawan.  Essentially Rudy bought a lot of a wine at auction, made fake versions, and then sold both the real and the fakes privately and at auction. Wine collectors would see him buy a 1978 Domaine Romanee-Conti, valued at over $20,000 per bottle, at an auction.  He would blend other wines and make fraudulent wine labels, allowing him to resell cases instead of just the one bottle he purchased.  He made millions before the FBI finally caught on to his scheme. The greatest moment in the movie is the reveal to the rich egomaniacs who think they are drinking a rare Cote Rotie from the Rhone region of France when it is actually a domestic knockoff. The look on their faces is priceless! I don’t know how much the movie changed the wine industry, but the story of Rudy's fraud certainly rocked the wine auction industry. Auction houses have been sued, had to hire wine fraud experts, and had to dole out millions to make amends. It's too bad, but for the better in the grand scheme of things as many wine auction houses were riding a little too loose with millions of dollars in wine. 

While there are a ton of other wine movies (I mean I didn’t even mention the Keanu Reeves or Russell Crowe wine movies!) these are my picks for influential wine movies.  If you haven't seen any of these movies, do yourself a favor, get to watching and you will not regret it.  Maybe Bottle Shock, but like I said, at least Chris Pine is in it.      



Time Posted: Mar 23, 2018 at 9:00 AM
Eric Johnson, Winemaker
December 1, 2017 | Eric Johnson, Winemaker

Accolades for Monte Sereno Vineyard Chardonnay

Last week we learned the 2015 Monte Sereno Vineyard Chardonnay received 96 points from a prominent wine magazine (to be released February 2018).  Anytime we receive a score in the 90’s, we obviously feel great pride.  But to receive such high praise for a wine we have been making since only 2011, and with fruit from a fairly young and unknown vineyard, brings a great feeling of satisfaction throughout the production department.

Monte Sereno Vineyard was planted in 2006 mainly to Chardonnay clones 4 and 548. Early on, the wine showed promise but was a little disjointed and simple, characteristics that are very familiar to anyone making wine from a younger vineyard. As the vines aged, we started to notice the very unique characteristics the vineyard possessed. Initially the palate reflected a sweet pineapple flavor with dominating tropical nuances. As someone who has had a part in Talley Vineyards winemaking for the past 11 years, this was a very different flavor profile than I was used to. To be honest, it took some time for everyone to embrace it, as our customers were used to the power and elegance of the Rincon and Rosemary’s Vineyard Chardonnays and this wine was a nonconformist in the Talley Chardonnay world. However, as the vineyard matured the flavors became a kind of hybrid of those early Monte Sereno days and the flavors of Rincon Vineyard Chardonnay. There is a balance of more stone fruit and less tropical fruit, yet it still expresses that unique sweet pineapple characteristic that makes the Monte Sereno Vineyard Chardonnay so special. Clearly the age of the vines and the flavor development that came with time contributed to the recent success and the 96 points.

Personally, I embraced the Monte Sereno Vineyard Chardonnay from the beginning; that’s because I'm a wine nerd and that’s what we wine nerds do when something as unique as this Chardonnay is in our glass. This vineyard will continue to produce exceptional Chardonnay for at least the next 20 years and I can’t wait to see where it goes. If it receives 96 points in 2015 what can we expect in 2025?
-Eric Johnson 

Time Posted: Dec 1, 2017 at 11:55 AM
Eric Johnson, Winemaker
October 21, 2016 | Eric Johnson, Winemaker

Intern Spotlight on Graham Walker

Eric introduces us to one of our harvest interns, Graham Walker -

  • What made you come to Cal Poly to major in Wine & Vit?

I visited Cal Poly for an expo day at the College of Agriculture. I heard from Ag Business and liked it, but when I went to Wine & Vit’s presentation I thought to myself  "All I want in life is to live in SLO, be a head winemaker at a winery in Arroyo Grande with a large farm around it, and drive a mid-to-late 2000's GMC SUV."

  • Why wine?

I grew up with parents and grandparents that have a love for wine, so I've been trying wines with them from a young age.  In high school I was forced to take an art class as a part of California's requirements to graduate.  I wound up with quite a fondness and appreciation for art and being creative. Knowing how difficult and unusual it'd be to pursue  a career in ceramics I sought out a much more mainstream and unoriginal, but creative, profession in the wine industry.

  • How is your internship going and what do you think of the wine industry so far?

My internship has been going phenomenally well thus far. I couldn't be happier with the small bit of experience in the wine industry that  I've been fortunate enough to be a part of here at Talley. I get to wake up every day and go to work in a beautiful place with exceptionally supportive coworkers in a much more favorable climate than I'm used to coming from Los Angeles.

  • Do you think this internship changed you in any way?

Yes, mentally  it has given me a greater appreciation for what my life could potentially look like after I graduate, as well as a good goal to look forward to and work hard for while I am in school. Physically, I now walk with a limp and have a permanent crick in my neck.

  • What is going to be your next step?

I hope to continue to work hard while I'm in school and pursue more opportunities to work harvests in the industry so that I can come out with as much experience and as many valuable relationships as possible.

  • Where do you see yourself in 5-10 years?

Assuming that I can get my classes fast enough, hopefully graduated from Cal Poly 5 years from now. And, should my luck hold, I can see myself still working in the wine industry.

  • If you could sing one song on American Idol, what would it be?

The National Anthem, because it's my favorite song.

  • If you were on a deserted island, what three things would you bring?

200 yards of paracord, a multitool with a corkscrew and fire starter on it, and a pallet of 375 ml bottles of Oliver's Chardonnay. I'd have everything I'd need, including 672 bottles for messages once they're empty. (But only if I'm 21 when I'm stuck on this island, of course.)

Time Posted: Oct 21, 2016 at 11:30 AM
Eric Johnson, Winemaker
February 12, 2016 | Eric Johnson, Winemaker

WOPN 2016

Another year has flown by and it is almost time for the 16th Annual World of Pinot Noir, held March 4th and 5th at the Bacara Resort & Spa in Santa Barbara, CA.  WOPN includes in-depth tasting seminars and excursions, grand tastings, and gourmet, locally-influenced lunches and dinners. The extraordinary food and wine extravaganzas will be hosted by participating wineries and feature an outstanding panel of sommeliers from across the U.S.

Talley Vineyards has participated in WOPN every year beginning when Brian Talley helped form the event in 2000. This year is no exception and Talley Vineyards will celebrate our 30th year in winemaking by pouring at the Friday Focus Tasting.  Those in attendance should expect to try some of our 2013 Single Vineyard Pinot Noirs as well as a few of my favorite library wines. I'm thinking some 2010 Rosemary's Vineyard Pinot might do since I tasted it recently and it is firing on all cylinders.  Attendees should also ask what we have under the table since we have been known to throw in some chardonnay as a palate cleanser.

Next Brian Talley and I will attend Friday’s Country French dinner. I like the format of this wine dinner because Talley Vineyards is just one of the wineries participating. We are joined by Cirq, the new project from the famed Kosta Browne guys, Copain from Sonoma, Domaine Gille from Burgundy, and El Lugar from my good friend Coby Parker Garcia. Thanks to Chef Vincent Lesage, each course will be prepared to match the wines seamlessly. I don’t want to spoil the surprise but rumor has it courses may include beef bourguignon and bone marrow. Yes, I said bone marrrow, the richest and most delicious food that only foie gras can compete with.

One of the ways WOPN is different from other events is the educational aspect.  With a multitude of seminars to expand wine knowledge participants will feel a little better about consuming so much Pinot Noir. There is a New Zealand Pinot Noir seminar and for those that only think of Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand this is a great chance to explore New Zealand Pinot Noir. Another can’t miss seminar is the Sparkling Wine seminar, featuring sparkling wines that include Pinot Noir as a component. I don’t know about you, but I love starting my day with bubbles especially when they’re coming from great producers such as Argyle, Flying Goat, Donson Champagne, Inman Family, Jansz, and Riverbench.

If it is great food attendees are after, WOPN has got them covered. Dining options include everything from a Pacific Northwest dinner featuring Oregonian wines and cuisine to a Southwest dinner prepared by legendary Frank Ostini from the famed Hitching Post Restaurant.  Speaking of legendary, Saturday is the Rock Star Dinner, an annual opportunity to honor a Pinot Noir luminary or, as we put it, a Rock Star. This year WOPN has the pleasure to honor the great Josh Jensen from Calera. 

If you have a free weekend and you love great people, delicious food, and amazing Pinot Noir then this may be the event for you. Tickets are getting tight but now you’ve been given the heads up. Hope to see you there.

Time Posted: Feb 12, 2016 at 9:00 AM
Eric Johnson, Winemaker
March 27, 2015 | Eric Johnson, Winemaker

New Toys

If you have ever hung out at a winery you might have noticed all sorts of equipment needed to turn grapes to wine. Some of the obvious are destemmers, presses, tanks and barrels, but there are other less obvious pieces needed to ensure the wine is clean and without microbial problems. If you think about food production, any surface the food touches must be clean to ensure the safety of the consumer and to maintain high quality. Winemaking is very similar and constant daily cleaning must be done to ensure a high quality final product. We take sanitation very serious at Talley because the last thing we want to do is slack off with cleaning and ruin a wine before you even get to drink it.

With this is mind, we continue to invest in equipment that supports our sanitation endeavors. Right now, I am super stoked about our brand new steam generator. This might sound strange but trust me, steam is everywhere in the wine industry. The steam generator may be the most popular piece of equipment right now. Steam allows us to do many things in the winery that we were not able to accomplish before. Water turns to steam at 212 Fahrenheit and, because of this heat, steam can be used as a sanitation source. I like to think that it melts all the bad stuff off of whatever it touches. Another benefit to using steam is the water conservation. We are constantly trying to shrink our resource foot print at Talley and the steam generator adds to the effort. So what do we use the steam for? First of all, we can use it on our bottling line as a very fast way to sanitize without using a massive amount of water. Another use for steam is barrel cleaning. Once or twice a year we will steam the inside of our barrels to clean out anything stuck within the wood that a surface cleaner cannot access. Wood is porous but water alone cannot penetrate it. Steam, on the other hand, can penetrate the wood staves.  The steam has the ability to extract any possible microbial growth, such as acetobacter that contribute to higher levels of volatile acidity, without doing harm to the barrel itself. 

The second new toy we have recently purchased is an ozone generator. We have always had one, but we recently upgraded to a more current model. To me, ozone is a miracle. It is such an amazing sanitation agent and is used in all sorts of industries all over the world. To those of you not familiar, ozone is O3 and is formed from dioxygen by the action of ultraviolet light and atmospheric electrical discharges. Ozone is a powerful oxidant and has many industrial and consumer applications related to oxidation. Ozone is often used to make sure drinking water is clean. Sounds crazy, right? Well, it's not! Ozone is a strong oxidant but has a relatively quick half-life, meaning it degrades rapidly after its production and turns back to normal drinking water. In the winery, ozone is very useful for rapidly sanitizing equipment. We will occasionally use it on our bottling line to ensure there isn't anything growing in some cracks or crevices. The ozone generator may be my favorite piece of equipment and I am so grateful that we have a new model to play with. 

I realize these might not seem like traditional toys, but I promise you that winemakers around the world are giddy when they can bring in some new equipment. The problem is that, just like with actual toys, there is always one more that we want. 

Time Posted: Mar 27, 2015 at 10:31 AM
Eric Johnson, Winemaker
November 7, 2014 | Eric Johnson, Winemaker

A Unique Harvest

A couple of interesting things come to mind when I think of the 2014 vintage. First of all, the harvest was very early, August 1st , the earliest harvest Talley Vineyards has ever had. An ongoing drought and warmer springtime weather pushed the grapes to ripen earlier than normal. More importantly, when tasting grapes,  we noticed favorable flavors arriving at lower sugar levels than is typically the case. I was ecstatic to taste these flavors and it allowed us to pick early. A benefit to picking early is lower alcohol content, which is something we always want to keep in check in order to have well balanced wines. 

Another interesting thing about this vintage is how good the wines are tasting right now. I typically refrain from tasting until December, but because of the uniqueness of this harvest I’ve already tasted in order to get an early feel of the vintage. The Chardonnays had such great fermentations in barrel and in tank and they are super clean and very aromatic.  The Pinots had a great reaction to their transition from fermenter to barrel. Haven't had a stinky barrel yet!  At this point, my notes for the vintage would be that the wines are very pretty, elegant and have the classic Talley body and texture that we all love.  The wines will also be softer than previous years because of lower natural acidity present in the grapes. We believe this is also due to the stress the drought has put on the grapes.

Something else that comes to mind regarding this harvest was everyone's positive attitude. All of us in the winery got along great. This may seem like not that a big deal, but when you work long hours every day with the same people you tend to get a little frustrated with each other. This year was the most relaxed bunch of people that I've seen. As a whole this was a great group of hard working employees and interns and I'm sure the positive energy will impact the quality of the wines. The combination of quality fruit and good people really made this harvest fun and I would say I enjoyed it more than any others. Hope 2015 is just as good!

Time Posted: Nov 7, 2014 at 1:28 PM
Eric Johnson, Winemaker
August 1, 2014 | Eric Johnson, Winemaker

First Day of Harvest, 2014

Eric Johnson, Winemaker at Talley Vineyards, narrates the first morning of harvest.


Time Posted: Aug 1, 2014 at 2:34 PM
Eric Johnson, Winemaker
April 18, 2014 | Eric Johnson, Winemaker

Winery Tour

This week Winemaker Eric Johnson gives you a video tour of the Talley Vineyard winery.

Time Posted: Apr 18, 2014 at 9:58 AM
Eric Johnson, Winemaker
March 7, 2014 | Eric Johnson, Winemaker

The World of Pinot Noir

This past week we celebrated the 14th year of the World of Pinot Noir at the Bacara Resort in Goleta, just north of Santa Barbara. Bacara is a new venue for WOPN and luckily for us it was entirely indoors during the multiple storms that were pummeling the Central Coast. For those of you who haven't attended, WOPN is a Central Coast event centered around Pinot Noir from around the world with daily seminars and tastings. Year in and year out, many of the top winemakers and Sommeliers participate at WOPN because of the caliber of consumers who attend.

Not to minimize other great events, but WOPN is my favorite of the year. For a Pinot Noir winemaker like myself, this event is especially beneficial. My week started by joining 60 other winemakers for a two day in depth tasting of 2013 Pinot Noirs called the Technical Symposium. The Technical Symposium is a winemaker only event. Since no consumers are present, I feel like this allows winemakers to be straight forward and to the point about what's going on at their winery. And honestly, I don’t think consumers would want to taste these 2013 wines since they are still babies in the grand scheme of things. During this time of year Pinot Noir can be in an awkward stage, but with so many winemakers tasting and sharing notes it still possible to figure out the quality of the wine and identify possible faults.  What's great about the Tech Symposium is that everybody who participates is trying to help each other out. Though we all are competitors in some sense, we don’t act that way. There are winemakers lined up to offer suggestions for improvement when another winemaker has a problem in their vineyard or with a certain wine.

During WOPN, education doesn’t happen at  just the Tech Symposium. Every year WOPN has  educational seminars featuring some of the most well known people in Pinot Noir. I was able to listen in on some of the seminars this year and the panelists and discussions were fantastic. One of my favorite topics discussed was the soil types in the different appellations in Oregon.   Who knew the extreme difference in soil types that the state has to offer?  I also really enjoyed the Maison Louis Jadot tasting seminar with winemaker Frederic Barnier.  It's not every day you get to try Jadot from 1985!

The grand tastings on Friday and Saturday were full of amazing wines, as always. I poured for Talley Vineyards during the Friday tasting, but was able to sneak out and taste a couple of gems. I have to say that Friday’s consumers were some of the most educated tasters I've poured for and I enjoyed talking to them. Saturday’s tasting had some of the heavy hitters in the Pinot Noir world. Kosta Browne, Williams Selyem and Patz & Hall were all pouring their wines, just to name a few. There were rock star winemakers and winery owners everywhere and it was definitely a great event for people watching. 

After a week of Pinot tasting I definitely needed Sunday to take a break from my favorite grape. But as a new week begins I am already dreaming about next year's World of Pinot Noir. I recommend everyone make the trip to Bacara Resort next year for the 15th Annual World of Pinot Noir. You won't regret it.  

Time Posted: Mar 7, 2014 at 9:00 AM
Eric Johnson, Winemaker
January 17, 2014 | Eric Johnson, Winemaker

Blind Tastings of 2013

Every January Vintner Brian Talley, Assistant Winemaker Nicole Pope , Vineyard Manager Travis Monk, and myself get together to taste the latest vintage. It's nice to do this early in the maturation process so we can get a peek into the vintage as a whole. Most of the time I'm excited to taste the wines but it is the first time we taste them blind so you never know what your thoughts are going to be.

This is a weird time to taste barrel samples. For one, the wines are only a couple of months old, babies in their development process. The wines are also in an awkward state. We have a very slow and cool native malolactic fermentation that usually doesn’t finish up until early spring. There are some wines that have finished malolactic fermentation and have had sulfur dioxide added. Others are still fermenting and this can create quite a bit of difference from wine to wine.  

As a winemaker, I want to see how the wines are tasting and how this relates to our current winemaking approach. Several questions come to mind. Are we picking the grapes at the right time? Is the wine too ripe? Is it too green? Why do/ don't we like the wine? Is the wine too extracted? Should we increase/ decrease our punchdowns during fermentation? Is a flaw present? How do we fix said flaw? All of these questions go through my head for each wine. We taste 140 wines over two days so obviously I take a lot of notes.  I feel like I need a couple of days after the tasting, to debrief my thoughts and determine what actions, if any, need to be taken.

With all of the uncertainty involved with this tasting, it is still one of my favorite times of the year.  When tasting wines blind, you may not have the same opinion as you would when tasting wines unblind. Throughout the years, there have been certain lots of wine that I have had a biased opinion about and after the wines were revealed,  I was blown away. We all tend to have some bias in aspects of life. For me, I always think the Niners will win even when they were dogs not too long ago. The same goes with wine. Our vineyard manager Travis Monk may not really like a certain block because of how it performs from a growing standard. It could be a block that is difficult to farm or needs a lot of attention but once he tastes it beside other lots he could be blown away by the quality. I have had grapes come in with flavors that I'm not thrilled about and the wine turns out great.

Though the tasting is quite rigorous and tends to leave us craving lunch, it provides us with some great insight. We will use this knowledge during our next harvest in 2014. The more knowledge we have, the better the wines will become. The next harvest is just around the corner. 

Time Posted: Jan 17, 2014 at 1:27 PM
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