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February 2009
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April 2009

Twitter Taste Live, Tablas Creek and an online wine tasting in honor of Hospice du Rhone

A couple of months ago, I created a Twitter account (jasonchaas; or follow it here).  I figured that I'd lurk around a little and see what uses it might have for Tablas Creek.  Since then, I've spent a higher percentage of my time than usual on the road, and haven't developed it at all.  I might be more motivated if I were convinced that Twitter-style updates (one or two-sentence sound bites on what's going on) were the appropriate way to communicate about Tablas Creek.  But I'm not, and have been focusing on the more robust capabilities of our Facebook page and the blog world.

Still, Twitter offers some remarkable opportunities to create virtual communities and virtual events.  One wine-related Twitter event is called Twitter Taste Live and has over one thousand active members who get together to hold virtual wine (and beer, and food) tastings on different themes every week or so.

On Friday, April 17th, Twitter Taste Live will focus on Hospice du Rhone.  I'm not clear on how the wines get chosen or whether they vary by region (what does region mean, anyway, on the Internet?) but in California, co-organizers Jill Bernheimer (Domaine 547, Los Angeles) and Paige Granback (Jug Shop, San Francisco) decided to feature the Tablas Creek 2007 Cotes de Tablas Blanc and 2006 Mourvedre among the four wines of the communal tasting.

I have agreed to join in virtually, tasting the wines with the group and answering any questions that any of the tasters have.  It will be a first for me, and will hopefully point the way for some possible virtual tasting opportunities we could do with our Tablas Creek fan base in the future.  I'll post a recap here after the tasting, but if you want to participate, make sure you get the wines in advance (we're offering $10 shipping on all orders from the winery in April if you can't make it to see us or to see one of the retail partners) and then register with Twitter Taste Live.  If you're planning to attend, please comment here.

Is this the future of wine tasting?  I'll let you know!

A Last Dose of Winter

I just got back from spending the weekend in San Francisco, host to the Rhone Rangers Grand Tasting and its two days of seminars, trade and consumer tastings, and fifteen-winery winemaker dinner.  The events were great... well attended despite the economy, with a great vibe to them all.  Those of you who are fans of Rhone varietals in California (and, if you aren't, why are you reading this blog?) should sign up for the free Rhone Rangers Sidekick program, which gets you information about and discounts on Rhone Rangers events.

While I was gone, a cold winter storm accelerated through Paso Robles, bringing about a half-inch of rain to the vineyard and a cold, blustery day today to all of California.  Snow levels in the Santa Lucia Mountains dropped to 2500 feet or so during the storm, and I had a pretty drive back from San Francisco this afternoon with snowcapped peaks to my right and the lush green of spring growth in the pasturelands and foothills below.

Closer to home, we're expecting a hard freeze tonight.  The weather feels distinctly different than it has the last couple of weeks, when we saw warm days in the upper 70s and relatively balmy nights.  In those two weeks, we've traded the kids' sweatshirts for sunscreen and broad-brimmed hats (anyone with a good idea of how to keep a hat on an uncooperative 18-month-old, please share).  I've had my first t-shirt work day of the year.  And the fruit and nut trees in Paso Robles have burst into flower.  On my drive down to Los Angeles last week, I passed an orchard on CA-46 somewhere in the Central Valley where the blossoms were so thick on the ground that it looked like a very localized snowstorm had passed over that plot.

More relevantly, the grapevines in our back yard (in the town of Paso Robles) sprouted last week.  Our backyard Thompson's Seedless are usually about 3 weeks ahead of the vineyard's earliest vines, but it's a clear indication that the clock is ticking.  Another indication is that the pruning cuts on the vines in pots outside our tasting room are dripping sap.  That usually precedes budbreak by about a week.

Looking at the long-term forecast, it looks like this cold front was an isolated event, rather than a resumption of a more winterish weather pattern.  High pressure is supposed to rebuild over the course of this week, with temperatures forecast to push into the 80s by next weekend.  No more rain is in sight.  After tomorrow night, the lows aren't supposed to threaten frost, at least for a couple of weeks.

All this is a long way of saying that what we've seen the past few days feels like the last little gasp of winter, with spring definitively on its way.  And that means that we're likely to see bud break before our next bout of cold weather.

Assessing this winter, it will end up being our third year of drought.  We had a wet February, but not wet enough to make up for a very dry January.  March has been mostly dry.  And we haven't had the big storms that we typically receive in the winter.  We've had lots of days of quarter-inch to half-inch rainfall, but no days with more than two inches.  Our total rainfall for the rainy season is about 14.5 inches, which is just over half of normal.

The broad distribution of the rainfall has meant that the rain has all been able to be absorbed into the topsoil and very little has run off.  The vineyard cover crop is gorgeous and lush, but Tablas Creek is still dry, and hasn't run at all this winter.  We know that we'll see pressures on our well, as everyone in the area is already starting to think about irrigating. 

There's still a decent likelihood that we'll get another dose or two of rain before the end of April, but I'm not holding my breath.  And if we do, it will likely be accompanied by the serious frost threat that typically follows the passage of a cold front, making it a mixed blessing.

So, we make the transition from wishing it will be cold and wet to wishing it will be warm and dry.  Keep your fingers crossed for us.

On the Road Again

I'm in day five of a five-day swing through Southern California, with stops taking me to Pasadena, Del Mar, Costa Mesa, Long Beach and (later today) back to Pasadena.  This is a long trip for me; I am not usually gone over weekends, and not usually gone for four nights.  But I believe that it is essential that we stay visible in this economy, and so I have scheduled more events open to the public and more days on the road this spring than ever before. 

It does not appear that the economy has dampened the turnout at most of these events.  At the Family Winemakers tasting in Del Mar, I underestimated how much wine I'd need and ran out two hours before the event was over.  I had to ask the winemakers at the table next to me to let people who came by the table know I'd be back shortly as I ran out to get another case of wine from my car.  At my dinner in Pasadena (at the beautiful Athenaeum at CalTech) the Athenaeum managers who were planning to come to the dinner had to give up their seats to a last-minute flurry of reservations, and the room had 86 people in it.

There are several opportunities for people around the country to come and see us in the next couple of months, and I wanted to highlight some of most exciting.  As always, we have a complete list of upcoming events on our Web site:

  • San Francisco: Rhone Rangers Tasting, March 21-22: I'm on the board of the Rhone Rangers organization, and this is our biggest showcase.  Three seminars (moderated by Jon Bonne and Karen MacNeil), a 15-winery winemaker dinner, and trade and consumer grand tastings of over 125 American producers of Rhone varietals make this an amazing opportunity to delve deeply into the world of American Rhones.  More information is at
  • Washington, DC: California Barrel Tasting at Macarthur Beverage, March 21st and Tablas Creek/Beaucastel dinner at Charlie Palmer Steak, March 27th: We're coming to DC next week for two events, one the east coast's premier futures offering of California wines (where we'll be showing the Esprit de Beaucastel from the spectacular 2007 vintage) at Macarthur Beverage and the other a wine dinner in conjunction with Beaucastel at Charlie Palmer Steak in Capitol Hill.
  • Atlanta: High Museum Wine Auction, March 26-28: Atlanta's highest-profile wine event benefits their tremendous art museum, and includes seminars, a gala dinner, and one of the country's leading wine auctions.  I'll be participating in all three, as well as hosting a winemaker dinner at ENO in Midtown on Wednesday, March 25th.  More information on the event is at
  • Austin: Texas Hill Country Food & Wine Festival, April 16-19: I love Austin.  It's a beautiful, hip city, and its signature wine festival is no different.  It includes a great collection of seminars, two big tastings, and several associated winemaker dinners (including one we're hosting at Mirabelle on Tuesday, April 14th).  More information is at  We'll also be nearby in San Antonio for the Paso Robles Grand Tour on Wednesday, April 15th. 
  • Los Angeles: A Culinary Evening with California Winemasters, May 16th: This benefit for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation is always one of the country's top five charity wine auctions, and it's an honor to be invited.  The event includes a wine tasting (many top vintners who don't otherwise show up in person come to this) followed by the auction.  All the events take place at the Warner Bros. lot, and more information is at

In addition to those highlights, we're continuing our seminar series here at the vineyard with our annual blending seminar on April 11th, and also participating in events around the Paso Robles Zinfandel Festival, Hospice du Rhone, and the Paso Robles Wine Festival.

I hope that we'll see you at one or more of these events.  And if you have an event that you're aware of (or you participate in) that you think we should consider, please share...

West Paso Robles Wind Flow, the Templeton Gap and the Adelaida Climate

As I've said before, it's great to have interesting friends.  I got a question from one of them (Kelly Bobbitt of Mike Bobbitt Associates, vineyard mappers here in San Luis Obispo County) asking about a model that he'd created to show the incursions of fog into the Paso Robles AVA.  He was looking at his model and wondering how fog (and an afternoon sea breeze) got out to where we are.  Why he was wondering is explained by the below map (again, thanks, Kelly; click on it for a full-size version):


Elevations are noted by color; lowest-lying areas are pale blue, then white, then green, yellow, orange and brown.  White marks ridgetops over 3000 feet.  You can see that the Santa Lucia Range to our west is nearly at its highest point, and that Tablas Creek is protected on nearly every side.  The area around us, with its north- and west-draining watersheds, historically formed the community of Adelaida.  It was close enough to the coast to receive enough natural rainfall for grain and nut tree farming.  Areas farther east, which were drier, were used for ranching.  

I often get questions from people who assume that because we're west of town, we must have direct ocean influence, or it must be cooler.  Looking at the topography shows why this isn't necessarily true.  The unbroken ridgeline to our west shunts air flow southward, through the Templeton Gap, which isn't really a single gap at all, but instead a series of passes through which air flows cumulatively before ending in the Jack Creek, Paso Robles Creek and Santa Rita Creek valleys.  We do get some eddies of cooler air flowing up our way, but as you can see from the map, they are very far from their source and flowing uphill without an outlet.  Our waterway, Las Tablas Creek, opens to the west, and we see negligible air flow up the creek's valley.  All this is a long way of saying that we don't get a sea breeze very often. 

You can see the action of the air outflow in a post I wrote last summer showing time-lapse satellite images of fog in Paso Robles.  The fog, which pushes down from Monterey Bay and in from the Pacific, surrounds the Adelaida area but doesn't cover us.   The topography illustrated so well in the map in today's post explains why.  This sheltering effect of the ring of mountains discourages fog formation  in the mornings, which allows us to allows us to warm up more quickly.  The days stay warm longer than they do in the Templeton Gap, although the proximity to the ocean means that the nights are just as cold -- and often, due to the lack of fog cover, even colder.  The cumulative effect is enough to allow us to reliably ripen Southern Rhone varietals.  Wineries in the Templeton Gap, just a few miles south, struggle to ripen Mourvedre and Grenache and tend to be more focused on Syrah or even Pinot Noir.

The climate of the Adelaida area is remarkable.  It is relatively wet; we get on average 50% more rainfall than the weather station at Summerwood (in the Templeton Gap, at the eastern edge of the map in the same cluster of vineyards as Treana and JanKris) and double what the town of Paso Robles receives.  It is relatively high elevation, which makes it lower in humidity and increases the intensity of the sun.  It is relatively warm during the day, which facilitates ripening, but cold at night, which keeps acid levels strong late into the growing season.  And it happens to have one of California's nicest bands of calcareous soils underneath it.

We didn't know all of this when we bought the property, although we did know about the soils, and felt that the climate would overall be good.  It has been wonderful to find that our site has turned out to be even better than we had expected.

Signs of Spring

We've been getting lots of small rainstorms over the last month.  It's a lot better than what we saw in January, so I'm not really complaining, but we're still missing that one big five-inch dousing that will really replenish the reservoirs and get the creeks flowing again.  Tablas Creek, even after the roughly six inches of rain in February, is still dry.  We have gotten over an inch of rain today, but at about 14 inches for the year, we're still only halfway to our normal totals and time is running out.

Still, the pattern of the rainfall (lots of days of light to moderate rain, and relatively warm interludes) has resulted in one of our lushest, greenest surface crops in years, and what promises to be a glorious wildflower season.  I took advantage of a break in the precipitation late last week to walk around the vineyard and see how things looked.  The photos below are a selection of the best ones; as usual, I've posted the complete Signs of Spring photo album on Tablas Creek's Facebook page.

First, a look at the cover crop, which we seed most winters between the rows.  It is a mix of sweet peas, oats, vetch and clover.  Some years it barely grows six inches; this year it's eighteen inches in spots.


A shot through our Roussanne block, looking west, shows just how green the cover crop is, and how tall it has gotten:


The first California poppy of the season:


I liked this next shot because it showed the seeded cover crop intermingled with the native flowers, including a pretty purple one which we saw more prominently this year than I can ever remember.  More photos of this flower will follow.


As promised, the blanket of purple flowers in a valley of head-pruned vines, with rows of Syrah (and seeded cover crop) behind:


And, because I couldn't resist one more shot of the purple flowers, this one looking west toward our newly-planted section:


As I was walking through the vineyard, I saw this mustard flower with a ladybug on it, straight out of organic vineyard central casting:


This last shot shows two rows of Syrah: one seeded with the cover crop (on the left) and the other left to naturally self-seed.  We could have probably gotten away with leaving more of the vineyard to self-seed this year, as it was such a good growing year for surface plants, but you never know... and we were disappointed with the self-seeding take in the winter of '07-'08.


As always, you can click on any of the above images for full-size shots.