Regular followers of Tablas Creek will know that we selected and imported our eight principal Rhone varieties (Roussanne, Marsanne, Grenache Blanc, Viognier, Mourvedre, Grenache, Syrah, Counoise) at the very beginning of our history, in 1989, before we'd even started laying out the vineyard. It was cuttings from these vines, post-quarantine and post-propagation, that we started planting in 1994, and which we've used to plant the rest of the vineyard. We continued over the next decade to bring in additional clones of several varieties, and added one new grape (Picpoul Blanc) that went in the ground in 2000.
We've been surprised at times about the varieties that have thrived here. Many, most notably Mourvedre, Grenache and Roussanne, we expected to do well, and chose our property accordingly. But others, like Grenache Blanc, Picpoul Blanc and Counoise, seem to develop character in Paso Robles that they only occasionally, if ever, achieve in France.
So, in 2003, we decided to bring in the rest of the Chateauneuf du Pape grapes: Bourboulenc, Cinsault, Clairette, Muscardin, Picardan, Terret Noir and Vaccarese. We've been waiting ever since as the vines were quarantined (they all had viruses) and then cleaned up at U.C. Davis. We received the first two varieties earlier this month, and put them in the ground last week. Please welcome Clairette and Terret Noir:
Of the two, the character of Clairette is better known, and it's much more widely planted with about 7500 acres in the Rhone Valley at the end of the 1990's, according to Jancis Robinson, and additional acreage in South Africa, Australia, Italy and Eastern Europe. It was even more important historically, and formed, along with Picpoul, the Languedoc's extraordinarily popular Picardan wine that was exported throughout Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries. It is used both to make still wines (often blended with the higher-acid Picpoul or Grenache Blanc) and to make the Rhone Valley's best-known sparkling wines in Clairette de Die. It tends to have floral, mineral, almost soapy aromas, to be relatively low in acid, and to oxidize easily.
Terret Noir is less well known; it is reputed to keep its acidity well late in the growing season and to bud late, both useful characteristics in Paso Robles, where we are prone to frost in April and bake in October. Although it was once (before 1850) the most planted variety in the departement of Herault, very little is reported of its flavors. Our 1904-edition French ampelography praises Terret Noir for bringing "qualities of lightness, freshness, and bouquet". As of 2000, there were only 1000 acres of Terret Noir planted in France. About all Jancis Robinson has to say about it is that it "can add useful structure and interest". The Perrins don't have much more to report, so we may well be making the first serious investigation into Terret Noir in more than a century.
Both of these varieties are being planted into half-acre blocks in the newest section of our vineyard, at the extreme western edge of the property, to the west of the seven-acre block we planted in 2008. We'll be leaving space for our other late arrivals. Look for the first production off of these vines in 2013!