A difficult economy brings problems, but it also brings opportunities. Over the last few years, we have been fortunate to see our sales continue to grow, thanks to the wonderful loyalty of our customers, an unprecedented run of great press, and lots of hard work by the wholesalers, restaurants, and retailers who represent our wines. At the same time, we saw three consecutive years of drought from 2007-2009 reduce the yields from our vineyard from nearly 19,000 cases in 2006 to just 12,000 cases in 2009. The continued growth of our direct sales, both wine club and tasting room, has exacerbated the impact of the fluctuations of supply on our wholesalers. Practically speaking, you can't not have wine to pour to people who come to your tasting room, and the demand for your wine club is fixed: your members have signed up for a specific configuration of bottles and shipments. Between the two centers, we sold nearly 10,000 cases of wine direct last year.
Some math will show the impact on our wholesale and export customers. Subtract 10,000 cases from our production, and you can easily have 9,000 cases of wine to sell one year, and 2,000 the next. It's terrible to have to tell a wholesaler who has done a great job for you that you're going to have to cut their allocation dramatically. And there are lasting consequences on your business: the next time that wholesaler has the chance to place a wine in a choice location, do you think that they'll choose you, or another winery whose supply is more regular? Making it worse, if you have a productive vintage the next year, you might need to ask your wholesalers to take five times the quantity they received the previous year. Even if they wanted to help you, you're asking the impossible.
At the same time that we're struggling with how we handle our supply crisis, other vineyards in Paso Robles are struggling with the results of the weak economy. Many larger wineries have cut back their production or severed contracts with their growers, choosing to focus on their estate vineyards. This has meant that we've seen some of the best growers in the area -- growers who three years ago would have had a long waiting list to get their grapes -- searching for buyers.
Eventually, a light bulb went on. We decided to see if we could find a handful of growers whose work we respected with whom we could create a new wine. This wine, in a year when our estate production was high, could be predominantly from Tablas Creek fruit. In a year when production was low, it could be mostly purchased. This would allow the wine to provide an escape valve for our own swings in production, and give us the opportunity to celebrate some of the top growers in our area.
We decided to name these two new wines Patelin de Tablas and Patelin de Tablas Blanc. Patelin is French slang roughly translated as "country neighborhood". We chose the growers for the care they take in their vineyards, and for the track records of the wines that these vineyards have produced. All are in our neighborhood. Many have planted Tablas Creek cuttings. All farm sustainably, and many are organic or biodynamic. We're celebrating the growers explicitly on the labels; each wine will list the vineyards that contributed fruit, with the percentage of the wine that each accounted for. We'll be profiling the growers here on the blog over the coming weeks, but a few of the principal ones bear mentioning:
- Chequera Vineyard: 30-year-old, biodynamically farmed Syrah and Viognier vines, which in recent years provided Bonny Doon with many of their high-end Rhone wines.
- Glenrose Vineyard: One of the first customers for the Tablas Creek nursery, a rugged vineyard over 2000 feet in eleveation carved into a limestone mountainside. The source for our 2002 Las Tablas Estates wine.
- Edward Sellers Vineyard: The source for the excellent Edward Sellers wines, planted largely with Tablas Creek cuttings in the cool Templeton Gap.
- La Vista Vineyard: Just a few miles east of Tablas Creek, planted with Tablas cuttings and on a gorgeous south-facing slope.
The Patelin de Tablas will be based on the dark spice and meatiness of Syrah, brightened with Grenache and Counoise, and given some earthy structure by Mourvedre. The Patelin de Tablas Blanc will be based on the citrus, green apple and mineral of Grenache Blanc, given lushness and lift by Viognier and mineral and spice by Roussanne and Marsanne.
Adding the Patelin de Tablas wines will also allow us to be more rigorous in the selection program for our Cotes de Tablas wines. Right now, the Cotes wines are our home for the lots that are bright and open, ready to drink younger, and celebrate Grenache (for the red) and Viognier (for the white). But the reality is that there are lots that go into the Cotes wines because they are perfect for our Cotes de Tablas model, and lots that go in because they don't have another obvious home. We think that adding the Patelin line will allow us to make the Cotes and Cotes Blanc that much better. We're hopeful that we can establish them as the best Grenache-based red blend and the best Viognier-based white blend in California.
We'll sell the Patelin and Patelin Blanc for $20. The white will be released in March, and the red in September. They'll be Tablas Creek wines (we're not creating a new label, or a new brand) but we'll distinguish the line from our existing ones by color scheme. As the Esprit de Beaucastels have gold leaf on their labels, and the Cotes de Tablas wines silver, the Patelin de Tablas wines will have bronze leaf. The impact is, I think, pretty cool.
And did I mention that we'll sell both wines for $20? They are tasting great in the cellar, though we haven't finished their final assembly quite yet, and given the pedigree of the vineyards they come from we're convinced they're going to blow people away at that price.
Below are mockups of the labels. That brownish color will be metallic bronze. And don't pay too much attention to the percentages on the labels; we needed placeholders for submission to the TTB but the blends aren't quite finalized. But they should give you a sense.
If you haven't guessed, we're excited about this project. We'll be sharing more over the coming weeks and months.
Ed note: the blends of the wines have been finalized and the wines bottled and released (Patelin Blanc in April 2011 and Patelin red in September 2011). We have technical information online for both the 2010 Patelin de Tablas and the 2010 Patelin de Tablas Blanc.