The Shepherd and His Flock- Q&A with Nathan Stuart

By Suphada Rom 

Tablas Creek has a thriving animal program that is an essential piece of the organic farming practices here at the vineyard. We are thrilled to welcome Nathan Stuart, who brings years of animal experience to Tablas Creek and who will be managing and expanding the flock alongside additional responsibilities in the vineyard and winery. His first goal: get 100% of the vineyard grazed by our flock of sheep during the off season. Down the road, once we've built up the flock, we'd also like to have Tablas Creek organic lamb to be a more regular presence on the menus of great restaurants in the Central Coast.

Nathan usually can be found amongst the animals, with his trusty sheepdog, Maya, by his side.

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Where were you born and raised?
I was born on Spring Street in Paso Robles. I grew up in a little yellow house there.

So you've seen Paso Robles grow exponentially over the years. Did you always like wine and the wine industry? 
No, I actually went down to Mexico when I was 18, and lived there until about 5 years ago. I didn't really get into wine until I met Leslie (Many of you may know Leslie, as she is one of our stellar Tasting Room leads!) and from there, making wine in Mexico.

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Tablas Creek has an established animal program, but has room for growth. Where is it right now and where do you project it going?
The animal program has all the right ideas, just on too small of a scale to make the impact on the vineyard it could. We've got 120 acres under vine and for us to graze 120 acres, we need a lot more sheep than we have now. I'd like to have 150 ewes eventually, that will be used for breeding, giving us at least 200 lambs per year. Also, the sheep program (in contrast to the vineyard which is certified organic) is treated organically, yet not certified. I'd like to be certified by next year; we'll probably be the first certified organic sheep producers in the county.

We have diversity of species, with llamas, alpaca, and donkeys, which helps a lot. Each animal will eat different grasses based on preference. Keeping that diversity is important because if you only have one species, they would just focus on their favorite style, allowing for some other weed to grow out of hand. Then this good plant would never get a chance to catch up and re-seed. 

Why the focus on sheep?
Sheep, although tricky, are a great tool that can improve soil. Managing them well by moving them frequently throughout the vineyard and keeping them in higher concentration is the most incredible way to improve soil. And by improving soil you're acquiring/retaining carbon in the soil. For example, take the buffalo grazing on the Great Plains. They've created the best soil to this day for farmland. They would move quickly across the plains, never stopping or staying in one place, as they were being chased by predators. I plan to mimic nature by moving the flock every 2-3 days, as if they were being moved by predators.

The cool thing is that the sheep can go over and graze all the grass off and then put down 0.2 cubic feet of manure per day, per animal. Right now, we've got about 88 animals out there and they are contributing several cubic feet of manure on each block every single day. Everything that they eat, mainly cover crop consisting of vetch, peas, clover, and oats, they put back as much as 90% of the nutrients back into the soil. So they only keep up to 10% to stay alive and will also grow up to a pound a day, which is insane. That's pretty awesome, to me. 

What is your philosophy when it comes to animal management?
For animals, it would be very low inputs, and allowing for natural selection. My focus is going to be on breeding animals that are perfect for Tablas Creek's property. So over the next 5 years, through natural selection on the property, you end up with an animal that is very healthy and adapted to this place. Which is cool, because we'll have the best sheep for Tablas Creek. 

Is there one piece of your job that is particularly rewarding?
Well, when a ewe is having trouble birthing and I get to help her give birth and basically, help her save a lambs life. That definitely makes your day. To actually help life become is pretty amazing and I'm definitely on Cloud 9 afterwards.

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Sounds like you could have been a veterinarian in a past life! Would that be something you'd be doing if you weren't managing the animal program here?
Nah, I'd take Neil's job (Neil Collins is both our Vineyard Manager and Executive Winemaker)! Kidding, no, I'd be looking for another job like this. This is pretty much what I want to do. I guess it's a good sign if I can't think of anything.

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What do you like to do on your days off?
Surf! I normally go North of the grade, but somewhere between Los Osos and Las Blancas. I'm also kind of a geek on the computer and into videography. 

What is something that would be surprising for other people to learn about you?
I was the first American to get a diploma in Mexican real estate.

One last question; how do you define success?
Having peace and joy in your life. Both of those things can travel through suffering- you don't always have to be happy with where you're at to be at peace. Peace is one of those things that can translate through life, even in bad situations. 


Checking in on 2015: an "Athletic" vintage

My dad got back to California earlier this month, and since his return we've been making time one day each week to taste through a thematic slice of what's in the cellar. Today, we took a look at the 2015 reds that have been aging quietly in foudre since we blended them late last spring.  

Esprit 2015 in foudreA lot has happened in the last six months, including the arrival of a whole new vintage into the cellar and our release of our flagship wines from 2014.  So, with both 2014 and 2016 more prominent in our thoughts than 2015, it was great to make a reintroduction to the wines today.  The timing was serendipitous because this coming Saturday we're hosting our annual futures tasting where we'll present the 2015 Esprit de Tablas Blanc, 2015 Esprit de Tablas, and 2015 Panoplie.  This will be their first public appearances, and I wanted a preview.

[A bit of an aside: if you aren't aware of our futures tasting and en primeur offering, it's one of the benefits of membership in our wine club.  We offer members the chance to taste before bottling and reserve quantities of our top wines before they are otherwise allocated, all at a special futures discount. For details, click here and if you're a member and want to come Saturday, let us know right away since it's almost full.]

Overall, the 2015 vintage was exceptionally scarce compared to recent years, due to a combination of four years of drought and some unfavorable weather at flowering [for details, see my 2015 harvest recap].  Early grapes like Syrah, Grenache, and Viognier were particularly affected, while later grapes like Mourvedre and Roussanne saw yields closer to normal.

The 2015 whites have been notably powerful, thanks (we think) to their very low yields.  But the 2015 reds, while they had excellent power, seemed more noteworthy today to us for their focus, their purity, and their expressiveness.  Overall, it seems like it will shape up to be a superb vintage.  My notes on the four red blends (plus the Esprit Blanc, which I figured we should taste because it will be available at the en primeur event):

  • 2015 Esprit de Tablas Blanc: An exotic and compelling nose of passion fruit, honeysuckle, lanolin, candied orange peel, and sweet spice. The mouth is both richer and more traditional than the nose suggests, with flavors of honey, pear, preserved lemon, and nutmeg. The finish is long, clean, and peachy.
  • 2015 Cotes de Tablas: A spicy, briary nose of raspberry and red plum, sweet spice and cherry pit. The mouth is juicy and generous, with strawberry, clove and milk chocolate flavors, and a long, clean finish with a little hint of mint bringing lift.
  • 2015 En Gobelet: A sweeter, denser nose than the Cotes, with notes of wine-soaked figs, licorice, pepper, new leather, and an exotic note that reminded me of cumin. The mouth was powerful too, with flavors of blackberry, roasted meat, tar, and that recurring curry note. There are nice chalky tannins on the finish, but elegance too.
  • 2015 Esprit de Tablas: The nose was instantly identifiable to me as Esprit: red plums, chocolate, sweet gingery spice, soy, and currant.  The mouth is vibrant, with flavors of chocolate-covered black cherry, more currants, and loads of structure. The long finish reverberated between red and black licorice, with chewy tannins and a lingering note of baker's chocolate. 
  • 2015 Panoplie: A very Mourvedre nose: loamy, foresty currants, with additional notes of cloves, balsamic, and juniper. The mouth is powerful, showing leather and earth and meat on top of its dark red fruit. It reminded me of my wife Meghan's description the first time she tasted Mourvedre out of foudre: that it reminded her of "butter in a butcher shop". The finish is rich, tangy, and long without being heavy.

A few concluding thoughts.

  1. This seems like a vintage with a somewhat different personality than the 2014, whose principal trait seems to be lushness.  2015 wasn't as warm a year as our other recent vintages, with temperatures more like average than the near-record warmth we've seen in 2013, 2014, and 2016.  The freshness that these cooler temperatures produced was noteworthy today, alongside the concentration from (presumably) the record-low yields. My dad called the wines "athletic", which I thought was a nice way of complimenting both their power and their lack of any sense of heaviness.
  2. It struck us all that these are wines that will age beautifully. To age well, wines need intensity and balance. All the wines we tasted showed both of these, in spades.
  3. Those of you coming for the en primeur tasting on Saturday are in for a treat.

A great use for leftovers: Post-Thanksgiving Sandwiches and Counoise

By Suphada Rom

Thanksgiving is the holiday of extremes. Two days or so before T-Day, you've done your grocery shopping and now your refrigerator, freezer, pantry, and every lick of free counter space is overwhelmed with produce and decorations galore. The night before, and the morning of, serve as prep time for pie crust, basting of the turkey, and mashing of every root vegetable that can be peeled, boiled, or roasted, all the anticipation of a feast. You are (well, OK, I am) extremely hungry. Then dinner comes and you somehow manage to get a heaping spoonful of everything on your plate, using the large hunk of turkey skin as a deflector from any judgement that is passed from other ravenous folk. You sit down and in-less-than-60-seconds style, eat every morsel on your plate. You are now extremely full and need a nap. Fast forward to the next day with your post-Thanksgiving lethargic self, there is only one cure- a little hair of the dog, but in this particular instance, it's more about the construction of the unparalleled post-Thanksgiving sandwich. Paired with our juicy and thirst quenching Counoise, it is just what you need to recover post-holiday.

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Through the years, I have worked towards constructing what I consider to be the most architecturally sound Thanksgiving sandwich. I was having lunch the other day and I was inspired to do a sketch of what that would looks like (see mediocre drawing below):

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Thanksgiving sandwich sketch; In this case, it tasted much better than it looks!

Believe it or not, I have thought about the minute details that may seem over the top but I promise you, it'll all make sense when you have that perfect bite and your sandwich doesn't crumble to shame all over your plate and your lap. For this sandwich, you'll need the following ingredients, mostly leftovers from your Thanksgiving feast:

  • White sourdough bread
  • Cranberry sauce, whole berry if possible
  • Mayonnaise
  • Turkey, sliced (I try for 1-2 centimeters thickness)
  • Stuffing
  • Gravy
  • Iceberg lettuce
  • Crunchy fried onions
  • Salt and pepper

The first step is toasting the bread. I tried buttering the toast but I found that it created too much of a slick coating for the cranberry mayo, so if learned to bypass the butter (which is not often the case!). I like a nice golden toast that gets the bread a little rigid on the edges, but still forgiving in the center. The next step is whipping up the cranberry mayonnaise- it's as simple as it sounds. I like a combination that incorporates more cranberry sauce than mayonnaise, so I use about a 2:1 ratio. If you're looking to make enough for just one sandwich, I go by the tablespoons, so 2 tablespoons of cranberry sauce to every 1 tablespoon of mayo. Whip that up and spread it on one side of each slice of bread. I like a generous amount to where a little sauce sneaks its way out of the sandwich upon first bite.

Now it's time to stack! Heavier ingredients will be on the bottom, so I stack the turkey first. I overlap slices on an angle to give the sandwich more volume and to fit more slices of meat in there. Dust the turkey with salt and pepper before adding generous spoonfuls of stuffing on top. The next step is probably my favorite part- gravy! Adding gravy to the top of the stuffing, slowly, allows the stuffing to soak up all the savory goodness that is pan dripping based gravy. To that, I add a couple slices of iceberg lettuce. I know iceberg lettuce is sort of frowned upon in the tiers of lettuce hierarchy; however, it adds both crunch and watery goodness, essential for this sandwich. Adding loose, crisp onions on top of the lettuce is precarious, so I've found the best way to keep the fried onions in place is to adhere them directly to the second slice of bread before stacking. And that's it- simple enough, right?

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An up close shot- I'm not sure if the sandwich is upside down or if it's just me...

This Thanksgiving sandwich is the perfect way to work through the heaps of leftovers in your fridge, without the feeling of deja vu from trying to recreate a meal you've already had. And the assembly? Piece of cake. Although I have specific ingredients and technique for this sandwich, you can literally build it any way you like. I love the creaminess and tang of cranberry mayo, salty and crunchy onion bits, gobs of earthy stuffing, iceberg layers, and of course succulent turkey, all stacked up on sturdy slices of sourdough. Each bite serves as a reminder that the rewards of all your Thanksgiving work can be lasting.

Pairing wines with Thanksgiving fare is relatively straightforward in my book- I want something that's on the lighter side with bright acidity. And because Thanksgiving is a marathon, not a sprint, reaching for something that is relatively low in alcohol is a good idea. With this dish, and with Thanksgiving in general, I really love our Counoise. It is mostly seen in small proportions in our Esprit de Beaucastel and Côtes de Tablas wines, where (according to Assistant Winemaker Chelsea Franchi), it "acts as a polishing agent that smooths out the rougher edges of both Syrah and Mourvedre, and even Grenache. It sort of brings everything together in little package." Every few years, typically when it has longer than average hang time before harvest, we reserve a bit to bottle on its own.

Our 2014 Counoise is a brilliant shade of garnet, bright and warm. The nose is earthy and spicy, with notes of currant and pomegranate seeping through. The spices are high toned- think those you'd use for mulling warm apple cider, like cinnamon, cloves, and allspice. To me, this is Fall in a glass- all you're missing is the crunch of Autumn leaves and you'd be all set! On the palate, this wine is bright, light, and juicy. Nice tart cranberry and raspberry notes, balanced with those mulling spices. (Can you tell I love this wine? I am a gamay girl, after all). Great acidity, refreshing, juicy... I wouldn't change a thing about this wine.

I continue to recreate (and attempt to perfect!) this recipe year after year and I'm thrilled to have found a wine to enjoy with it. If you try this dish (or create a TCV wine and food pairing of your own!), be sure to let us know on any of our social media handles - Facebook or Twitter or Instagram - or just leave us a comment here! When you do, tag @tablascreek and use #EatDrinkTablas

A few resources:

  • Given it's low production, Wine Club members can purchase our 2014 Counoise by clicking here or by visiting us in the tasting room.
  • Not a member? You're in luck! We included a bottle in our exclusive "Dinner Party Pack" for the holiday season, available for purchase online and (double bonus!) shipping is included!
  • Interested in learning more about Counoise? Check out this post, "Grapes of The Rhone Valley: Counoise" to learn more about it!

What We're Drinking at Thanksgiving 2016

Image By TheKohser, Wikimedia CommonsThanksgiving is a holiday that -- even more than most -- centers around family and food.  While that seems like an invitation to open that special bottle you've been saving, the diverse nature of the traditional Thanksgiving fare, much of which is somewhat sweet, challenges certain wines while also opening up a range of possible options.  A common response to this has been to declare that anything goes.  If you want to drink it, go ahead.  And I support that, to an extent.  One of my favorite things I've read around the holiday wine pairing blogosphere this year was Blake Gray's simple 5-question "Is this wine good for Thanksgiving" quiz on his blog the Gray Report. No matter what multiple-choice boxes you check, as far as I can tell, the answer is yes.

Still, I do think that some wines tend to be better than others, and lean myself toward flexible, lower-alcohol, lower-oak reds, and rich whites.  Or rosé! In fact, Rhone-style wines fit alll these bills.  Rhone reds tend to be fruity and open-knit, while the whites tend to be rich but unoaked.  All these characteristics are friendly with a Thanksgiving dinner.  The fact that over the years nearly a dozen different newspapers have suggested Tablas Creek wines for Thanksgiving -- and that the suggestions have been for our reds, for our whites, and for our rosé -- suggests a certain affinity.

To get a sense of some of the different options out there, I thought it would be fun to ask different members of the Tablas Creek team to share what they're pairing with their Thanksgiving feasts this year (whether Tablas Creek or otherwise).  Here is what they shared, in their own words, in alphabetical order:

Neil Collins, Executive Winemaker
I will be seeking out an older Esprit Blanc, maybe 2002, as those wines are showing so beautifully with age. I also have a 2004 Chinon in magnum which i am looking forward to, the large format bottles are good fun at the big family table. There is a strong possibility that there will be cider present as well!! Happy holidays to all.

Darren Delmore, National Sales Manager
With the joys of parenting little ones both stricken with Hand, Food and Mouth disease, our out-of-town travel plans have been replaced with Ebola-like home confinement in Templeton. Thus, my only defense is to cook and sip something stellar, which will be local rabbit carnitas matched with 2007 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc and my last bottle of 2015 Domaine Tempier Bandol Rosé.

Brad Ely, Cellar Team Member
For my Thanksgiving table this year, I plan to start with a fun California sparkling. Not only does it put everyone in a festive mood, it also pairs well with a variety of foods. Something like the Roederer Estate Brut with its fresh acidity and underlying fruit will do nicely. As a general crowd pleaser with an affordable price tag, I might have to make it a Magnum.

As far as reds go, a fruit driven Grenache based blend like our Cotes de Tablas Rouge is the perfect fit. With heaps of freshness and elegance, it is sure to hold up to the array of flavors on the Thanksgiving table without overpowering anything. A bottle of Beaujolais will probably be making an appearance as well!

Evelyne Fodor, Tasting Room Team Lead
For my Thanksgiving meal this year, I am choosing Esprit de Tablas Blanc 2014. I knows that it is an unusual choice, and an expensive one considering the good number of my refugee friends with whom I am going to share it. But context is queen here: Thanksgiving is my most cherished holiday. As a first generation immigrant, French native, this is the occasion to participate to the most meaningful and comforting American ritual. Wine has to raise to the occasion.

I love how the freshness, vibrancy and complexity shows through in this Esprit Blanc. And 2014 is an especially powerful vintage. I am going to pair the wine with my classic Watercress Velouté, a silky French soup known for its slight bitterness, peppery flavor and vibrant green color. The honey crisp apple and citrus blossom of the wine will pair beautifully with this creamy dish. Starting with a wine so full of energy works especially well, considering that the meal is likely to go on for hours.

There is also a great probability that my guests will bring mostly reds. My Esprit Blanc will shine even more.

Robert Haas, Founder
2005 Esprit de Beaucastel - it's rich, it's mature, it's graceful.

John Morris, Tasting Room Manager
I had a frightening dream last night. We had sold out of Counoise at the winery just before Thanksgiving! After singing the praises of this wine to our guests as perfect for Thursday night’s feast, it looked like I was coming home empty handed. While there are plenty of good choices, I had my heart set on our 2014 Counoise, with its light red fruit, low tannin, exuberant nose and spicy finish. Quickly I hatched a plan to quietly fill a barrel sample from the 2015 vintage and take it home as a prize. Surely no would notice a mere 750 ml missing! As in all dreams, the winery looked quite a bit different that does in reality. The barrels were protected by foreboding barbed wire, and there were sentries posted everywhere, not one of whom I recognized. I gathered my strength, and relayed to one of these guards that Neil had authorized a barrel sample for a special customer. His withering glare and raised eyebrows said it all, and more, and I hastily retreated, tripping and getting tangled up in a roll of barbed wire. As I struggled to free myself, I woke up tugging on my sheets, and realized I’d been dreaming. I got up in search of a glass of cold water when I saw it in the moonlight: A six-bottle box of 2014 Counoise I’d brought home that day, patiently waiting for Thanksgiving evening. And while the wine isn’t sold out, it’s getting low and won’t last long. We’ll be at the winery until 5:00 on Wednesday if you want to treat your friends and family.

Lauren Phelps, Marketing Coordinator
Thanksgiving at my parent’s house is like a large family reunion once a year. My mom rents tables and chairs and goes all out decorating and buying food for the more than twenty of us that gather. There are only a handful of special occasions when I venture down to their basement, where I keep my cellared wine to age, to resurrect a couple of special bottles to share with my more discerning wine loving family members. This year, I’m starting out the meal with a 2006 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc with its elegance and earthy notes to pair with roasted vegetables and turkey, then a few 2010 Esprit de Beaucastel: a complex and food friendly red to pair with the entirety of delectable goodies overflowing the plate.

Suphada Rom, Sales & Marketing
I want something that's on the lighter side with bright acidity. And because Thanksgiving is a marathon, not a sprint, reaching for something that is relatively low in alcohol is a good idea. I really love our Counoise. Warm with high tones of currant, pomegranate, and baking spice, this wine is literally Fall in a glass.

Another choice would be Gamay. I am a huge fan of the different Crus of Beaujolais, Morgon being a favorite of mine. Foillard produces one called “Corcelette” which I think is pretty stunning. Well balanced with “gobs of strawbs”, along with tons of gorgeous floral aromas. And I love the acidity because it sort of sneaks up on, like that post-Thanksgiving nap you’re sure to succumb to.

Amanda Weaver, Tasting Room Team Lead
I’m not in-charge of dinner this thanksgiving, but if I were, I would be roasting a leg of lamb with rosemary and garlic and enjoying a full glass of our 2011 Esprit de Tablas. That’s what I did last year and it was magical! So much earthy goodness between the juicy meat of the lamb and the wet forest/gamey notes of our smoky 2011 Esprit! Perfection!!!

Now I shall be disappointed by any other meal set before me this year…. C’est le vie!!

Me
As for me, I'll be eating with my parents, so it looks like it's the 2005 Esprit de Beaucastel for me.  And I'm sure I'll be very happy with that.  But when we host Thanksgiving at our house, my rule is that we open the largest bottle we have, whatever it is.  Nothing says celebration like a 3L bottle, after all.  And maybe, fundamentally, that's my admission that Blake Gray is right.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.


On being a kid-friendly winery

I was pleased to see us mentioned in Mother Magazine's Paso Robles Guide, published online today. I was even more pleased to see Paso Robles recognized:

Mother Magazine Paso Robles

We moved out to Paso Robles in part because we were ready to start a family, and we haven't been disappointed.  From the great downtown park to a terrific library system, the different children's museums to an active youth sports community, it's been a great place to raise our two boys.  But I think that the kid-friendliness of the food and wine community has been noteworthy as well.  It's been fun to see the enthusiasm of the servers in the restaurants we visit, taking the kids seriously as they learn how to navigate their way around a real menu. And the bartenders we ask to make up fun kids' cocktails. We've never felt like we attract dirty looks by bringing the kids into the many great restaurants here, and for that we're grateful.

So it's really nothing more than paying it forward to do what we can to help make parents who visit Tablas Creek with kids feel welcome.  And, having been a parent in the shoes, so to speak, of our visitors, it's easy to remember how grateful even simple accommodations made us feel.  What do we do?  It's not rocket science.

  • Offer an activity for kids while parents taste. In our case, we have a kid-sized coloring table in the corner of our tasting room, with pictures of grapes and vines that they can color.  Heck, you don't even need to be a kid to use it, though if you're more than about 5'2" your knees may complain.  But giving parents the chance to focus on your wine instead of corralling a bored kid who otherwise is underfoot is good for your customers, your bottom line, and your sanity.
  • Offer events for families to do together.  Clearly, many or most of the events you're going to offer as a winery are going to be focused on wine drinking (or pairing, or making) and won't be appropriate to kids.  But much of what a winery does is agriculture, and it's important and typically fun to get kids involved in how things are grown and made.  We use animals as a part of our biodynamic program, and have created events to bring families out to meet the animals and learn their role in a healthy vineyard.
  • Be inclusive where you can.  We take as many people as are interested out on tours to see the vineyard, our grapevine nursery, and the winery.  All of this is interesting to kids, in my experience.  Have them taste different grapes and see if they can describe what makes them different.  Explain why you plant, or graft, or farm the way you do.  It costs nothing, builds goodwill, and gets kids involved in important conversations.
  • Be involved in your community.  The work that we do here is only one way that we interact with our customers.  Many of them live in our community, and most of them visit.  We have made it a point to get involved in the community activities that enrich the life experiences of kids who grow up here, from creating a partnership with the Performing Arts Center, to donating wine to raise funds for art in schools at the Paso Arts Fest, to creating a program with must! charities to support the Boys' & Girls' Club here in Paso and a local expansion of the Big Brothers Big Sisters program.  There are so many ways to make a difference... and many of the most compelling focus on kids.

It's really not the case where in making your winery family-friendly you have to choose to somehow make it less adult-friendly.  In general, thinking of the needs of kids who may be (unwillingly) accompanying their parents when they come out to visit you is going to make for a better experience for not only their parents, but also the kid-free customers who might otherwise be caught in the crossfire.

And if you can create an experience that involves an alpaca, some donkeys and a whole passel of sheep, so much the better.

Levi at meet the animals
Former Viticulturist Levi Glenn at our "Meet the Animals" family event a few summers ago


Anxiously Awaiting Winter, When We Want it to Freeze

Vineyards in Paso Robles worry about frost every year. Springtime frosts can be devastating, killing the new growth and forcing the vine to dip into its reserves to re-sprout from secondary buds. We've lost around 40% of our crop from April frosts in years like 2001, 2009, and 2011.  I've written (more times than I care to remember) about the nightly worry we face between bud break (typically in late March) and mid-May, when our nights have warmed enough that we're out of the danger zone.

We're worrying about frost now. But not because we might lose production if it freezes.  Instead, we're worried that it hasn't frozen yet.  

Three weeks ago, most of the vineyard looked dormant.  Leaves were off varieties like Roussanne, Counoise, Grenache and Mourvedre, all of which worked late into the season to finish ripening their grapes, exhausting themselves in the process. The earlier grapes that had to expend less energy were brilliantly colored in typical autumn splendor.  All that's normal enough for late October.  But with the nice rain we received in mid- and late-October, many of these blocks have sprouted new growth. A Mourvedre vine behind the winery is a good example:

New Fall Growth in Mourvedre

Ironically, a lack of frost in the fall can have the same negative impact as a late frost in the spring, as a grapevine spends its stored energy on growth that won't be usable to ripen the fruit.  It will freeze, sooner or later, and this growth will die.  We'll come through and prune during dormancy, and when the vine sprouts for the 2017 season in April, it will do so with less vigor than it otherwise would have because of these depleted reserves.

Typically, this fall growth isn't a problem in Paso Robles, because we usually get our first frost more or less in conjunction with our first rain. But this year, the rain we've received so far has been tropical in origin, instead of moving south from Alaska with Arctic air behind it. 

That's not to say the rain we've received has been unwelcome; getting rain this time of year has meant that the cover crop is already well established and we're unlikely to see much erosion should we really get dumped on.  And drought, right now, is a bigger worry for us than a little pointless end-of-season growth.  It's going to freeze sooner or later; in a typical winter, we see 30 or 40 nights drop below freezing, and in December and January frost is a sure thing. 

But the scene below, as pretty as it is with bright green grass and autumn colors on the vines, isn't ideal. Each week we continue to see warm nights will sap a little of next year's vigor.  Winter can come any time it likes, please.

Nov 2016 Foliage + Cover Crop growth


Introducing the Dinner Party Holiday Pack: Four Wines, each with its own Paired Recipe!

By Suphada Rom

Over the years, many of you have given one of our holiday packs as gifts to your friends or family. Thank you! This year, we have a new addition to our collection of five special holiday gift packages: what we're calling our "Dinner Party Pack", which comes with four different wines and four original recipes, each designed to pair with one of the wines. Whether you indulge in an over-the-top four course meal and have them all at once, or showcase the wines and dishes one at a time, we're confident that the pairings will be outstanding.  We had a blast designing and testing these recipes- I hope you enjoy them as much as we did! Here's a teaser:

\Cotes Pairing

2015 Cotes de Tablas Blanc with Crab & Avocado Salad & Meyer Lemon Vinaigrette

Our 2015 Cotes de Tablas Blanc (26% Viognier, 25% Grenache Blanc, 25% Marsanne, and 24% Roussanne) has outstanding intensity from the incredibly low yields we saw in 2015. Lots of citrus: key lime along with some tart nectarine. Notes of white flowers. On the palate, this wine is both concentrated and peppy, with vibrant notes of fresh peaches, spice, and nice minerality on the finish. 

A wine this rich requires a dish with a certain amount of weight, but also some refreshment so that the experience doesn't feel fat or weighty. I chose to put together a really simple crab and avocado salad and finish it with a citrus vinaigrette. The meyer lemon vinaigrette provided a sort of sweeter acidity on the finish, versus the sharper acid of that you'd get from a regular lemon. Have this dish as an appetizer or add butter lettuce to make it into a more substantial salad. 

Counoise Pairing

2014 Counoise with Pomegranate Glazed Pork Belly

The 2014 Counoise is a brilliant shade of garnet, bright and warm. The nose is earthy and spicy, with notes of currant and pomegranate seeping through. The spices are high toned- think those you'd use for mulling warm apple cider, like cinnamon, cloves, and allspice. To me, this is Fall in a glass- all you're missing is the crunch of Autumn leaves and you'd be all set! On the palate, this wine is bright, light, and juicy. Nice tart cranberry and raspberry notes, balanced with those mulling spices. (Can you tell I love this wine? I am a gamay girl, after all). Great acidity, refreshing, juicy... I wouldn't change a thing about this wine.

With lighter red wines, I love pork. I'm a huge fan of pork belly and I decided to throw in a pomegranate glaze to play up the high fruit tones of Counoise. We were pleasantly surprised with the depth of flavor and earthiness that shone through, specifically in the wine. Not that Counoise doesn't have depth or earthiness, it just doesn't flaunt it on its own. It was as if the perfect bite of pork and mushroom brought out deeper umami-type flavors that can be hidden by the wine's charm.

Esprit Pairing

2011 Esprit de Tablas with Garlic & Herb Crusted Rack of Lamb

Deep, concentrated, and brooding, the 2011 Esprit de Tablas (40% Mourvedre, 30% Grenache, 20% Syrah, 10% Counoise) is, in my opinion, one of our more serious vintages of Esprit. The nose (think meat drippings, currants and black tea) is lush and inviting, pulling you into its savory depths. On the palate, it's sleek and serious, with a gorgeous creamy texture and notes of dark fruit, leather, and earth.

Lamb and Mourvedre blends are pretty much a shoo-in. When it comes to lamb, the preparations for it are endless- you can sear it, braise it, tartare (is that even a verb?!) it. I was blown away by the complexity of the Esprit, so I wanted to keep the lamb preparation relatively simple, with a four ingredient herb mixture for the exterior. This makes it even more versatile when it comes to pairing sides. I love a rustic ratatouille, but feel free to pair this with any of your favorite fall sides.

Sacrerouge

2014 Sacrerouge with Chocolate Truffles

Our 2014 Sacrerouge (100% Mourvedre) is a dessert wine that converts the "non-dessert wine" people. It's remarkable in its youth, and incredibly vibrant, with an assertive nose of rich milk chocolate, macerated cherries and a touch of mint. On the palate, this wine is absolutely stunning with a texture that reminded me of how chocolate shavings melt in your mouth: soft, yet chalky. Waves of golden raisins and sea salt caramel come barreling through. It's sweet, but complex too, particularly with chocolate.

To pair with the Sacrerouge, I had a similar mindset to my Esprit pairing: don't overcomplicate it; just showcase the wine. Chocolate truffles are about as simple, yet luxurious, as it gets. They bring out the deep chocolate notes of the wine, without overwhelming it in terms of both texture and flavor profile. The truffles are not overly sweet and are creamy, standing up to the Sacrerouge without being overwhelmed. 

We hope that your holiday gatherings bring smiles to the faces of your loved ones and create warm, wonderful and lasting memories for all. 

As usual, with our food and wine pairings, we love to hear any feedback on the success of your pairings! If you try out the pairings, be sure to let us know on any of our social media handles - Facebook or Twitter or Instagram - or just leave us a comment here! When you do, tag @tablascreek and use #EatDrinkTablas

 A few more resources:

  • The Dinner Party Pack is one of five special holiday gift packages (on which we include no-charge shipping to any of the 39 states to which we ship). Check out the different offerings here
  • These special holiday packs will only be available for pickup or shipment until the end of December. For gift orders, we are happy to enclose a holiday message. Order here
  • Interested in a larger number of gift packs, customized with your personal or company information? Contact us.

 


A Taste of Fall: Butternut Squash Pappardelle and Marsanne

By Suphada Rom

I am not unique in saying that fall is my favorite season. In Vermont, I spent the days outside, listening to the crackle of fallen leaves under my boots while inhaling the crisp and cool air. Even though fall is a transition towards the eventual hibernation of plants and animals, there is something outstandingly vibrant and alive about the burnt orange colors that drape over the fading leaves and the steady winds that rustle about the loose bits of earth. Although I don't have the New England fall foliage anymore, I do have gorgeous autumn influenced vineyards along with local barns and stands, offering everything fall from freshly picked apples to mountains on mountains of pumpkins. 

Avila Barn

Avila Valley Barn in San Luis Obispo, California

Fall in the kitchen means roasting, braising, and doing anything to take the chill off. It felt completely natural (and let's be honest, it felt right!) to tie butternut squash into my latest pairing endeavor. I found a fantastic recipe via Food 52 for Crispy Kale, Roasted Butternut Squash, & Tomato Pappardelle. I was talking to a friend the other day about her criteria when she is searching for a new recipe and she mentioned she doesn't like to tackle anything that requires her to buy anything too out of the ordinary, like an obscure spice or something she'll never use again. This recipe reels in a nice combination of things you already have as staples around your home, like onions, garlic, pasta, and, in my house, a splash of wine. Technically, this recipe is a breeze. Boiling the pasta, sauteing garlic and onion, roasting the vegetables in the oven -- none of these require any special culinary skills or much prep time. Also, I'm always on the market for a good vegetarian recipe because every once in a while, my mother's voice pops up in the back of my head saying, "Suphada, don't forget to eat your vegetables!". Okay Mom- this one's for you!

Roasting tomatoes and butternut squash

Tomatoes and butternut squash liberally coated in olive oil and ready for roasting

Crispy kale

Crispy kale adds the crunch factor -- don't skip it with this dish!

Bread, cheese, and pasta

Pasta, Bread, Cheese, also known as my life's staples!

Final product

The final product with our 2014 Marsanne

To enjoy the meal, I escaped the confinements of the kitchen and dining room table, opting for the inviting couch and warm fire. Curled up and fork in hand, I dove in, twirling a strand of pasta around while jabbing at bits of kale, cubes of butternut squash, and piercing through the deflated, yet juicy tomatoes. The crispy kale doesn't lose its crunch or texture and adds earthiness, while the roasted butternut squash is sweet and creamy. Roasted tomatoes are a personal favorite of mine, whether they are slow roasted and concentrated in flavors, or simply blistered in the oven, like the ones I used here. They add a subtler touch of acidity and the flavor is a bit more on the reserved side. And parmesan cheese on top of pasta is a requirement by law- fact. 

I sat down with a list of our white wines and our 2014 Marsanne practically jumped off the page. A varietal bottling which we only produce occasionally, Marsanne is noteworthy for its quiet elegance, its low alcohol, and its gentle flavors of nuts and melon. I couldn't think of a better wine on our list to pair with this dish. In the glass our 2014 Marsanne is a soft golden color with edges on the brink of a lighter straw hue. The nose is mellow, especially compared to the likes of other Rhone varieties, like Viognier or Roussanne. Notes of spice and baked golden apples shine through, however, there is this delicate wheat aroma that reminds me both of sake and a lighter lager. On the palate it proves to be incredibly refreshing, as flavors of honeydew melon and lemongrass shine through. Low in acidity, it is the appearance of citrus nuances such as preserved lemon that keep your mouth watering, not the actual acidity of the wine. Coming in at a moderate 12.7% alcohol, this is an easy wine to get lost in. 

Perfectly rich and outstandingly balanced, I loved this pairing. This dish is rich in textures, but not in fats such as butter and meat. The sweet and nutty notes of the roasted squash brought out the delicate spice and wheat qualities of the wine. Roasted tomatoes provides just a hint of acidity to balance the dish, but not so much to overexpose Marsanne's lovely low acidity.

I would certainly recreate this recipe and who knows, maybe a little bacon will manage to sneak its way in next time! If you try this dish (or create a TCV wine and food pairing of your own!), be sure to let us know on any of our social media handles - Facebook or Twitter or Instagram - or just leave us a comment here! When you do, tag @tablascreek and use #EatDrinkTablas

A few resources:

  • Recipe for Crispy Kale, Roasted Butternut Squash & Tomato Pappardelle can be found here, via Food 52.
  • The 2014 Marsanne is available for purchase by clicking here or by visiting us in the tasting room.
  • Interested in learning more about Marsanne? Check out this post, "Grapes of The Rhone Valley: Marsanne" to learn more about it!