Talbott Vineyards Winemaker Harvest Experience

Tailgate bubbly before the Tabott Harvest Experience. Photo Jill Weinlein

Recently Talbott Vineyards hosted a three-day Harvest Experience at their Sleepy Hallow Vineyard in the rolling hills of Carmel Valley. The days were filled with wine, laughter and epicurean delights.

It was a rare chance for the public to meet the female winemaker Kamee Knutson, and become a 'Winemaker For A Day'. Founded by apparel entrepreneurs Robert and Audrey Talbott, they purchased the vineyards in 1982. With the help of their son Robb Talbott, they built a boutique winery and started making some of the best Chardonnay and Pinot Noir wines in the region. A few years ago the winery was purchased by the family-owned E.&J. Gallo.

Winemaker Kamee Knutson. Photo Jill Weinlein


Winemaker Kamee Knutson excitedly greeted guests and led them inside the Talbott Tasting Room. This charismatic winemaker originally set out to become an architect. 'As a little girl, I dreamed of designing homes. I actually wanted to design homes in vineyards and at wineries,' said Kamee.

After two years at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo's College of Architecture and Environmental Design, she took an elective class 'Intro into Winemaking' and soon changed her major. 'I realized I wanted to become an architect in winemaking!'

Ben Hernandez and Kamen Knutson

Kamee now has over 20 years of winemaking experience and crafts some of the best estate-grown Chardonnay and Pinot Noir inspired by the traditions of Burgundy.

At Talbott Vineyards she oversees two estate vineyards - Sleepy Hallow Vineyard and Diamond T. She also manages the crushing, pressing, fermentation, clarification, aging and bottling with the help of Enologist, Ben Hernandez. Together they are quite a dynamic winemaking team. 

Sipping Tabott 100% Pinot Noir Rose'. Photo Jill Weinlein


The first day at a welcome reception inside the Sleepy Hallow Tasting Room, participants were given a glass of the floral Talbott Rose'. This bright pink wine with a lovely bouquet of stone fruit and strawberry, has a pleasing citrus and berry finish.

This 2022 Rose' is made with 100% Pinot Noir grapes picked at the optimal time from the Sleepy Hollow vineyard Blocks 42, 25 and 48. That year's harvest began two weeks sooner than average due to a mild growing season. 'It yielded slightly less quantities than years before, yet the fruit produced shined in optimal color and flavor concentration,' said Kamee. There were 177 cases made of this quintessential summer wine.

Talbott Vineyards Production Facility - Jill Weinlein


After introductions, Kamee adheres to 'safety first' and had participants wear brightly colored safety vests and protective glasses before taking a tour of the winemaking facility.

Walking by rows of new and aged cylindrical wood barrels, and small and large stainless steel tanks, she explained the process from harvest to barrel. With a flip of a switch, the bottling production line started capping bottles ready for labeling.

Walking upstairs to Kamee and Ben's office - the wine lab, is where they do routine analyses on the wines to ensure a quality product in each bottle. 

Winemaker Kamee Knutson leads Wine Blending 101. Photo Jill Weinlein

Entering a conference room, attendees sat down for a 101 Wine Blending Class led by Kamee and Ben. Four bottles of Chardonnay and four bottles of Pinot Noir were ready for tasting. While discovering different flavor profiles in each bottle, participants poured, measured out and blended the most appealing flavors to their senses. At the end of class they created two terrific wines to take home.

The Pocket in Carmel-by-the-Sea. Photo Jill Weinlein


Afterwards guests gathered outside and walked down to the hospitality house and gardens for a Wine Harvest lunch prepared by The Pocket in Carmel-by-the-Sea.

This newer restaurant in Carmel is known for its creative culinary pairings with local wines. They open for Happy Hour at 3:30 p.m., and dinner nightly at 5 p.m.

Later in the evening when the group gathered at The Talbott Tasting Room in Carmel, appetizers were paired with wines, before sitting down to a Wine Harvest Dinner across from the courtyard at The Pocket.

The multi-course dinner with Kamee and Ben included pours of Talbott's 2021 Block 4 North Chardonnay, 2021 Fidelity 'Best-of-the-Best' Chardonnay, 2021 Block 22 West Pinot Noir and 2021 Fidelity 'Best-of-the-Best Pinot Noir.

The Pocket Residence. Photo by Jill Weinlein


The Pocket also offers a new luxury apartment-style hotel behind the restaurant and Talbott Tasting Room courtyard. Finely appointed residences can be rented individually or guests can utilize all three floors for corporate, family or friend celebrations for up to ten adults.

There is a two-bedroom and two-bathroom oceanview penthouse, plus Fairway View and Club Room. All are steps from The Pocket restaurant, Talbott Tasting Room and Pacific Ocean.

The Inn at Spanish Bay. Photo Jill Weinlein


Guests on this trip stayed at the luxury Pebble Beach Resort, Inn at Spanish Bay Resort. Situated on a beautiful California coastline, the property is surrounded by a Scottish-style links golf course. It's an idyllic destination for wine tasting and relaxation. The spacious and comfortable guest rooms offer fireplaces, and large marble bath. Many rooms have a balcony looking out to coastline views, landscaped grounds, pine forests, and rolling fairways.

Besides golf, other activities include tennis, swimming in the heated pool, biking and beach walks. 

Bagpiper at Sunset. Photo by Jill Weinlein


Every evening rain or shine around sunset, the Spanish Bay bagpiper appears at the first tee at The Links at Spanish Bay. He walks and plays for about 45 minutes before finishing near the signature Roy's Hawaiian-Fusion restaurant.

James Beard Award winning chef Roy Yamaguchi, along with Chef de Cuisine Pablo Mellin prepares an eclectic menu of signature dishes such as Misoyaki Butterfish and 'Dynamite' Crab Crusted Scallops. The fresh pineapple infused Mai Tai is a guest favorite.

This restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch, happy hour and dinner.

Talbott bubbly before harvest. Photo Jill Weinlein


The next day the group met early in the morning at the base of the Santa Lucia Highlands at Sleepy Hallow Vineyards. The task was to help pick a small amount of grapes to determine when they should be harvested. “Every harvest comes anticipation around what Mother Nature will bring,' shared Kamee. “This year, she brought a cool spring that has led us to later-than-average ripening.”

Senior Manager of E.&J. Gallo. Photo Jill Weinlein

Herb Rowland, the Senior Manager of E.&J. Gallo joined the group for the enlightening activity, starting with a tailgate party at the back of Rowland's pick-up truck. Bottles of Talbott sparkling wine were poured and pastries and coffee were passed around. Kamee and Herb led the participants into the vineyard to check on the grapes. Everyone was encouraged to pick a few and chew, checking to see if the seeds were still green or turning brown. Since they were still green, Kamee announced these grapes were one to two weeks away still from harvest.

Pinot Noir grapes at Talbott Vineyards - Photo by Jill Weinlein

Herb handed each person a white bucket, a glove, and pruning shears to walk down a row of vines and collect 10 clusters along the way. These were to be analyzed for sugar content. Back at the wine making facility, these grapes were crushed with a hand crank machine to obtain juice. With a pipette to draw some liquid, a few drops went into a refractometer to check on the sugar level. This is another way Kamee, Herb and Ben can determine their harvest day.

“Harvest is an exciting and busy time full of aspirations of what the coming vintage wines will look like,” Kamee said. 'One of the key attributes that a winemaker must have is the ability to be nimble. Mother Nature is the ultimate farmer and we are on her timeline and must adjust with Her whims.”

Since the juice tested measured between 18 to 21 in sugar content, it's a tad less than what Kamee and Ben hoped. 'This may be our best wines ever made' both Kamee and Ben said. 'Mother Nature and time will tell.'

Talbott Tasting Room in Carmel. Photo by Jill Weinlein


Those seeking a Talbott Wine Tasting Experience throughout the year can visit the Talbott Tasting Room in Carmel-by-the-Sea. A Signature Flight offers a taste a Rose of Pinot Noir, two Chardonnay wines and two Pinot Noirs. For non-club members, the tasting prices is $40. A Signature Tasting is complimentary for Estate & Grand Cru members and Winemaker's Circle members. Purchase a total of $100 in wines and one tasting fee is waived.

There is also the 'Best-of-the-Best' Legacy Flight for $50 for nonmembers. It's $25 for Estate & Grand Cru members and complimentary for Winemaker's Circle members. 

Jill Weinlein

Los Angeles based Jill Weinlein covers travel, food and lifestyle destinations for multiple newspapers, magazines and websites. Her areas of expertise include, luxury travel, culinary reviews, cruising and family travel destinations. Born in Los Angeles, Jill studied Communications and Theatre Arts at UCLA. She has a a Dine and Travel blog - and she writes a weekly restaur...(Read More)

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