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October 2006
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December 2006

The significance of "Estate Bottled"

My dad recently met with a marketing guru and spent some time talking about what makes Tablas Creek special.  We sat down after his conversation, and went through the usual suspects: Rhone specialist, organic vineyard, grapevines from Beaucastel, etc.  One thing that we both agreed was of great importance, but which we felt was not that well understood by most people outside the industry (as well as many inside it) was that at Tablas Creek, we are 100% Estate grown, made, and bottled.  Of course, the rules that govern estate bottling contribute to the confusion.

The significance of estate-bottling a wine is relatively straightforward.  It means that the winery grows the grapes themselves, and controls the product from beginning to end.  This does not guarantee a great wine (obviously, not all vineyards are capable of greatness, and just because you farm it yourself doesn't mean that you've maximized its potential) but it does mean that there are no excuses.  You grew the grapes, you made the wine, and you did it all on-site.  And, you at least have a chance of elaborating the elusive sense of place that the French call terroir.

No matter how great the relationship with a grower with whom you work, the grapes are still their product, not yours.  Plus, if you work with multiple growers, you can make a wine that's a reflection of a grape, or of a region, but not of a specific place.  At Tablas Creek, this reflection of place is what we've been reaching for since we started the project in 1989.

And, of course, we've used exclusively the grapes we grew ourselves on our 120-acre vineyard for all wines that have borne a Tablas Creek Vineyard label.  We are, in the classic definition, Estate Grown and Bottled. 

But, how the labeling laws are written, you can claim estate bottled status for vineyards over which you exercise "significant control".  This definition is left up to the winery, and I've never heard of it being audited by the Tax and Trade Bureau, who oversees the wine labeling process.  That looseness of definition weakens the designation dangerously, and if you asked most consumers which was more important, "Single Vineyard" or "Estate Bottled" most, I venture, would say "Single Vineyard".  And this is probably logical; there are stringent requirements set by the TTB about vineyard-designate wines.  All must be at a minimum 95% composed of grapes grown in that vineyard.  But, there's no guarantee (except for the ownership implied by identifiying the source of the grapes) of how, or by whom, that vineyard was farmed.  Many (maybe even most) vineyard-designate wines are from purchased grapes, and the best vineyards (think of Bien Nacido, in Santa Barbara County) sell grapes to dozens of winemakers.

So, back to Tablas Creek.  We are both Estate Bottled and vineyard designate.  It's implied by our name: we've chosen to call the winery "Tablas Creek Vineyard".  We grow all our own grapes, and our winemaker Neil Collins is also our vineyard manager.  In our opinion, it's not a separate job... the vineyard is the first step of the winemaking process.  We'll continue to try to communicate why we feel this is so important.

Paso Robles Weather Musings

Today, as I was driving in to work (I live in town) I started thinking about how poorly understood the Paso Robles climate (and the diversity within the climate) is.  This lack of understanding, shared by writers, growers, and the general public alike, results in a generalization of Paso Robles as hot, or as dry, or as a simple continuum of east-is-hotter and west-is-cooler.  None of these are really true, at least as reflected in the microclimates that I drive through on my way from town to Tablas Creek, through the Templeton Gap and Adelaida Hills regions.

For example, as I drove out today, it was foggy in town, so thick that my wife came in from getting the newspaper and reported that it was raining.  This is Salinas Valley fog, cold and low, coming down the valley from the Monterey Bay.

As I drove West on Adelaida Road, the fog thinned out and it became sunny just west of town (where Wild Coyote is).  Further west, at the highest point on Adelaida Road (which is also the lowest point in the range of hills that ridges up between Paso Robles and Adelaida districts) there was fog moving across the road.  This is Pacific fog, moving east through gaps in the mountain passes, collectively known as the Templeton Gap but which influence (to varying degrees) the south-west quadrant of the Paso Robles appellation.

Further west, it became sunny again, and by the time I got to Tablas Creek it was warm and bright.  You could see banks of fog to the east (I'd driven through those) and wisps to the west (mostly on the west side of the Santa Lucia range) but nothing overhead.  A photo, looking east from the top of Tablas Creek, shows the fog retreating east into the Salinas Valley.  We must be one of the only parts of California where the fog clears east!


I found this regularly throughout the summer.  In the mornings, when town is foggy, we're clear at Tablas Creek.  This makes our nights colder, and makes us more susceptible to frost, but also gives us longer ripening days than most of Paso Robles, and less mildew pressure. 

The sun, sitting over Tablas Creek, made for a very pretty shot of the fall colors.  We've only got a few more days before the leaves are gone, so we're enjoying the nice weather while we can.


End of Harvest 2006

Img_4196Well, 315 tons and 50 days after our first grapes came in, we've finally finished Harvest 2006.  Three weeks ago, if you'd told us that we'd look back on the 2006 harvest with excitement, we'd have thought you were crazy. The first half of October was cool and cloudy, and rained a couple of times, and with only about 30% of the harvest in, we were worried that this would be the first disappointing harvest since 2001.  However, the last three weeks turned the vintage from a potential disappointment to one of the best we've seen.  Perfect fall weather, with daytime highs in the 70s and 80s, nights in the 30s, and consistent light breezes gave us the opportunity to leave grapes on the vine until the last moment.  At right, Robert Haas holds the last bunch of Harvest 2006: a Mourvedre bunch from the section of head-pruned vines next to the winery.

Pressing Off Mourvedre

As we bring the grapes from the last few sections of the vineyard into the cellar, we make space in our tanks by pressing off some lots that were more precocious.  With the beautiful weather we've been having, this sometimes makes for some nice scenes.  The shot below is of the juics from a press load of Mourvedre, lit by sun streaming through the open winery door.