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Talbott Vineyards tasting room exterior.

Talbott Vineyards in Carmel-by-the-Sea

By Published On: October 26th, 2023

Interview with Talbott Vineyards Senior Winemaker Kamee Knutson.

Come and experience the delightful Talbott Vineyards tasting room, nestled in the enchanting village of Carmel-by-the-Sea. You’re invited to savor their exquisite collection of small-lot Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays, sourced from the scenic vineyards of Monterey County.

Their carefully curated flights showcase the renowned Sleepy Hollow Vineyard’s magnificent wines, with the added indulgence of a delectable cheese and charcuterie plate.

We interview Senior Winemaker Kamee Knutson to learn more.

Share the history of Talbott Vineyards.

Talbott Vineyards Senior Winemaker Kamee Knutson: Talbott Vineyards is an estate winery located on Sleepy Hollow Vineyard in the Santa Lucia Highlands AVA in Monterey County.

Sleepy Hollow, hailed as one of California’s Grand Cru vineyards, was planted in 1972 and Talbott winery was established in 1982. We have spent the last 40 years perfecting our growing and winemaking to express the best that our vineyard terroir has to offer.

What type of wine do you specialize in? 

Kamee Knutson: We grow and craft two varietals, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. When you only make two varietals, I find it extremely important to express every aspect of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir to tell the entire story of our estate vineyard.

Talbott Vineyards Sleepy Hollow Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
Sleepy Hollow Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Photo Courtesy: Talbott Vineyards.

Kamee Knutson: Cheese is my love language, so one of my favorite tastings to enjoy at our Carmel-by-the-Sea tasting room is the Legacy Flight. This flight takes you through our entire portfolio and pairs it with seasonal cheeses from our local cheese shop. It is such a nice experience and if you love it, you can get the cheese list to purchase so you can taste again at home with your wines.

Talbott Vineyards Legacy Room Tasting.
Legacy Room Tasting. Photo Courtesy: Talbott Vineyards.

What makes your wine unique?

Kamee Knutson: Talbott Vineyards is a true story of place, and Sleepy Hollow Vineyard is what makes our wines unique. We are located at the northern end of the Santa Lucia Highlands—an excellent, cool climate AVA that stretches 18 miles south from Monterey.

Our terroir is truly exceptional, with limestone parent material covered with sandy loam soils and a forceful afternoon wind that shuts down the photosynthesis pathway of the vine for the  rest of the day. This daily occurrence prolongs our growing season by slowing the ripening process. This means we have incredibly layered wines with finesse of flavor and vibrant acidity.

Talbott Vineyard and Mountain View.
Sleepy Hollow Vineyard Rows Along the Santa Lucia Highlands Mountain Range. Photo Courtesy: Talbott Vineyards.

What’s one thing you wish more people knew about your winery?

Kamee Knutson: We are a very small and dedicated team that has total control from vine to bottle. This is my 23rd harvest and I really pride myself on making a Chardonnay for everybody.

It is always such a thrilling game to me when I meet someone who shares a less than enthusiastic relationship with Chardonnay. Nine times out of ten, after they have tasted through my Chardonnay portfolio, they have found a new love for a different style of Chardonnay!

Talbott Vineyards Chardonnay Portfolio.
Chardonnay Portfolio. Photo Courtesy: Talbott Vineyards.

How did you get started in the wine industry?

Kamee Knutson: If you had asked me this while I was in the first two years of college, I would have told you I planned to be a successful architect in San Diego! I can remember being ten years old and sketching homes and layouts for my parents. I attended Cal Poly San Luis Obispo for architecture with the dream of, someday, designing my home in the middle of a vineyard.

While looking for an elective class, I stumbled upon an introduction to winemaking class and thought, what better way to learn how to design a vineyard home than to learn how vineyards and winemaking work? Through that class, I discovered that winemaking was architecture but with different inputs.

Talbott Vineyards Senior Winemaker Kamee Knutson. .
Senior Winemaker Kamee Knutson. Photo Courtesy: Talbott Vineyards.

I was no longer dreaming up different textiles, finishes, lighting, and vantage points and was instead dreaming of how I could craft wines with different vineyards, growing conditions, and winemaking inputs.

The science and artistry that I loved in architecture were abundant in winemaking. I changed my major after that class and never looked back!

What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned in the winemaking process?

Kamee Knutson: Flexibility and experience are key! Mother Nature is mostly in charge of what we do and each year she grants us a different growing season. Therefore, no two vintages are the same. Each comes with its own trials, tribulations and wins!

The only plan I know I will stick to each year is a dynamic and nimble one. As Mother Nature changes her mind, we adjust our plan. With each vintage that passes, I add a few more learnings to my notebook. It is a really holistic and humbling way to operate!

Talbott Vineyard grapevines.
Sunny afternoon at Sleepy Hollow Vineyard. Photo Courtesy: Talbott Vineyards.

Do you remember the first time you fell in love with wine?

Kamee Knutson: When I graduated from Cal Poly, my parents came to town and we went out to a nice Italian dinner to celebrate. My Dad said I could order any wine I wanted off of the list (He regretted that when the bill came. ) and I ordered a Borolo. This wine was so soft and balanced with juicy bramble fruit and lively acid. It took my breath away.

As dinner went on and the wine continued to open in my glass, each sip was a new journey. I knew that this wine created a moment for me that I wanted to recreate for anyone who opened a bottle of wine that I crafted. This was the beginning of my journey to invite people to the table to create memories and share stories.

Describe your winemaking approach.

Kamee Knutson: I love stories! My winemaking philosophy is to tell the story of the place I source fruit from and honor the essence of the growing season. For Sleepy Hollow, I work very closely with our vineyard team to ensure we are nurturing the vineyard, not just for this season, but for generations to come.

We always want to pick the very best fruit. The better the fruit, the more I can back off in the winery and just let Sleepy Hollow shine through. This is a truly remarkable vineyard, and I want that to be the star of the show, so everyone falls in love with it as much as I have!

Talbott Vineyard Senior Winemaker Kamee Knutson evaluates the vine's canopy.
Senior Winemaker Kamee Knutson evaluates the vine’s canopy. Photo Courtesy: Talbott Vineyards.

What do you love about winemaking?

Kamee Knutson: Winemaking, for me, is about the experience of the final product. If you have ever met me in person, then you have heard me talk about “Table Time.” That means gathering around a table, big or small, with close friends or soon-to-be friends.

We put our phones away, then enjoy the meal in front of us and the bottles opened to be shared. The stories and laughs shared are some of the best memories I have. I want to bring a wine into the world that fosters this time and nurtures the growth of good friends.

Talbott Vineyards Senior Winemaker Kamee Knutson tasting wine.
Senior Winemaker Kamee Knutson tasting wine. Photo Courtesy: Talbott Vineyards.

How does your team help you as a winemaker?

Kamee Knutson: I have been so fortunate to build my team from the beginning by hiring people new to the industry. I love mentoring and sparking that wine-joy in people. Therefore, my team KNOWS me. We are a family. If I ever drop a ball, they are there to catch it and I do the same for them.

We have become very good at anticipating each other’s needs and it is such a blessing to be on a team like this! I love each of their unique perspectives and palates as we taste through wines.

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