Our model at Tablas Creek is pretty consistent from year to year. We make our Esprit de Beaucastel (red and white) and Cotes de Tablas (red and white). We make our Rosé. We make somewhere between six and nine single varietal wines depending on what's compelling when we're doing our blending. Some years we make a dessert wine or three.
Okay, maybe that doesn't sound very simple. But practically speaking, it doesn't change much from year to year, or at least hasn't changed much since we introduced a relatively extensive lineup of single varietals in the 2002 vintage. The specifics of which varietals to produce have been more or less dictated by the production levels of the vintage and what we taste when we're putting together our core blends.
One thing that we have not done is subdivide our vineyard and do vineyard block designates. It's not that we don't believe that this might make for interesting wines; we would love to celebrate any block-level differences we learn about. We do expect eventually to make a block-designate wine from the dry-farmed, head-pruned, west-facing eleven-acre block on the south side of Tablas Creek. But we have not yet seen a distinctive character from a specific block that we can track from year to year. Ask us again in a decade.
One experiment that has shown some promise has been our decision to plant small head-pruned blocks of vines in several of the flatter, lower-lying areas such as the Mourvedre block between the winery and Adelaida Road (visible at right). We created several other head-pruned blocks in vineyard that we reclaimed from rootstock when we outsourced our nursery operation to NovaVine in 2004. That effort accelerated when we planted Scruffy Hill (the vineyard block on the other side of Tablas Creek I mention above) in the winters of '05-'06 and '06-'07. At this point, we have about eighteen acres of head-pruned vines, scattered here and there around the vineyard.
Head-pruning is appealing both for its simplicity and because it is traditional. The Chateauneuf du Pape regulations which specify the rules for the appellation controllée dictate that all grape varieties except Syrah be head-pruned (taillé en gobelet; literally translated as "pruned in goblet form"). And in Paso Robles, too, the old vineyards are all head-pruned, largely Zinfandel but also Petite Sirah, Carignan and other California "heritage" varieties. It's much less expensive to plant a vineyard this way, as you plant with less density and no posts, wires, irrigation lines, etc. And the yields are controlled naturally, as dry-farmed, head-pruned vines rarely produce more than 2 or 3 tons per acre. This natural yield control is why head-pruning is legislated in Chateauneuf du Pape.
As we've had a chance to get some of these blocks into production, we're noticing they seem to share an elegance and a complexity which is different from what we see in the rest of the vineyard. Perhaps it's the areas where they are planted (generally lower-lying, deeper-soil areas). Perhaps it's the age of the vines and a comparative lack of brute power. But, whatever the reason, we believe that these lots show our terroir in a unique and powerful way.
We got the idea of putting several of these lots into one wine for our VINsider wine club last summer, as we remarked again and again on the character that they shared. We chose to base the wine on Mourvedre and Grenache (which comprise most of our head-pruned blocks) but also added a splash of head-pruned Tannat which gives the resulting wine a little more smokiness and a little firmer finish. We are calling it En Gobelet, after the French term for head-pruning. We expect it to act like many Mourvedre-based wines, drinking well when young, then tightening up after 3-4 years in bottle before reopening for another 10 years or more as a mature wine. A bottle of the wine will go out in the fall 2009 shipment. The label for the wine is below.