Crazy is the new norm for California grape harvests. I was at Talley Vineyards in San Luis Obispo last weekend and their tales of the 2017 harvest are eye opening. The daily harvest bustle and obstacles would drive me to drink—drink more, that is. Talley’s first vintage was in 1986, with 450 cases of estate chardonnay and pinot noir. Since, they’ve grown to a busy 30,000 cases and accolades aplenty. You can imagine they’ve seen a wild harvest or two, but 2017 is shaping up to be a standout.
First, the 2017 harvest started on the day of the solar eclipse. It was also three weeks later than during the hot, drought years. The vineyard team missed viewing the solar eclipse altogether due to the Central Coast fog. Then there’s the Labor Day weekend with temps well over 100 degrees, which can wreak havoc and even cook the well-tended hanging grapes. The heat was followed by monsoonal conditions and a bit of rain, creating bouts of botrytis throughout. Botrytis, or fungus, is sought after for dessert wines, not so much for the dry wines of Talley. This means added grape-sorting time, to pluck out funky, fungal bunches. One section of the important Rosemary’s vineyard lost 14 percent of its yield. Lastly, a key piece of equipment during harvest, the bladder, was accidentally punctured with some harvest shears. And these tales were just a few weeks into the harvest!
Seem like too much to bear? Not really. This experience of seasonal wackiness is a constant in the business of growing grapes. Not much flusters this passionate team. I saw the Talley crew all smiles while sorting out botrytis from whole-cluster pinot noir just harvested in the dark of morning. The team had the music cranked near the sorter, and it was accompanied by the buzz of hundreds of bees. Nicole Morris, Talley’s assistant winemaker, nonchalantly shared that the team gets stung daily as bees busily swarm around the juice of the perfectly ripe grapes.
When I first arrived at Talley, I was obsessed with the prevailing scent of what seemed like green onions. Talley originally planted vegetable farms in 1948 with grapes added to the mix in the 1970’s. Many of these vegetable and herb farms are still booming. The onion smell? Cilantro. They were harvesting rows and rows of it a stone’s throw from the tasting area.
The indoor Talley tasting room is polished and beautiful, but the outdoor patio is perfection. Your kids can frolic (within reason) in the grass, your dog can lie in the shade, and you can taste at a leisurely pace, with a charcuterie spread. There is an outdoor tasting station, so meander over from your shady tree when you are ready for your next glass. Talley just released its 2015 pinot noirs in early September and I loved tasting through the varied soils and sites of its six different vineyards. Through the years, Talley has consistently garnered over 90 points from Wine Advocate, Parker, and other critics for its chardonnay and pinot. The freshly released 2015’s impressed critic Jeb Dunnuck (formerly with Wine Advocate) who gave the Rosemary’s Vineyard chardonnay and point noir impressive 94-point ratings.
I too loved the Rosemary’s Vineyards chard and pinot, as well as the spicy 2015 Stone Corral pinot noir. I especially enjoyed the 2015 Talley Vineyards Estate Chardonnay, which was fresh, clean, and had a light, toasty finish like an Old World chard.
I didn’t want to leave Talley. I wanted to go help pick the cilantro, wash out the presses, and hear more stories of harvest havoc. But, I know I’ll look for the wines on our local shelves now as their lightly oaked (20 percent new French barrels) chardonnay and pinot noir are perfectly balanced and delicious. Wine Exchange, www.winex.com, in Santa Ana has a bevy of Talley wines and vintages from 2011 to 2014, meaning they are clearly fans. I presume we’ll see the newly released 2015 there soon as well. Hi-Time Wine Cellars, www.hittimewine.net, carries the 2014 Talley vintage. You can buy online directly from Talley as well: www.talleyvineyards.com. I can’t wait to try the 2017 wines, which for me, will be oozing with the character of a harried, but successful, harvest.