In consecutive coincidences this week, a few days after chose to open at home in Chester, Vermont a 1996 Tablas Hills Cuveé Rouge, we were served by our long time friend and neighbor Tory Spater a 1997 Tablas Creek Vineyard Tablas Rouge and a 1998 Tablas Creek Vineyard Rouge at a dinner at her house. Wow! I had no idea that she was cellaring those first Tablas Creek releases.
We have been making wines from our vineyard in our Las Tablas/Adelaida district of Paso Robles since 1994 -- three years before we built our own winery in 1997. It was Jean-Pierre Perrin and I who made the 1996 in space rented at Adelaida Cellars with the help of Neil Collins, then Assistant Winemaker there. We called the wines made at Adelaida Tablas Hills (and before that Adelaida Hills) because we wanted to save the name Tablas Creek Vineyard for wines that were produced in our own winery. In retrospect, the name changes muddied the waters to the point that there are still people out in the market who think that these first few vintages were from purchased grapes. But no, they were from our vineyard.
In 1997 Neil was spending the year at Beaucastel, so Ryan Hebert and I made the ’97 by the seats of our pants in our brand new Tablas Creek winery, finished just a few weeks before our earliest-ever beginning of harvest on August 16th. We were not even sure that the wines would ferment with only native yeasts in the new space, but they did, and nicely. A problem we had was that the quantities were so small that we had lots of air on top of the juice in all of the stainless fermenters, increasing the chance of oxidation. But the sturdy grapes resisted.
In 1998 Neil was back to take charge of the cellar and greeted by the coldest year in our history, when we didn’t begin our harvest until October 6th. Pierre Perrin was there and had the unusual experience -- unthinkable in Chateauneuf du Pape -- of seeing the last grapes brought in the week before Thanksgiving. Quel climat!
All three wines are blends of Mourvèdre, Grenache, Syrah, and Counoise. In 1996 we didn’t yet put the varieties on the label, but had roughly equal portions Mourvedre, Grenache and Syrah (Counoise was just getting into production and produced only a few barrels). In 1997, the blend was 34% Mourvedre, 30% Grenache, 30% Syrah and 6% Counoise (remarkably similar to our 2008 Esprit de Beaucastel). In 1998 we began our move toward the more Mourvedre-heavy blend we used for our flagship wines for most of the last decade, with 44% Mourvedre, 24% Grenache, 21% Syrah and 11% Counoise. Yet for their differences in composition the Mourvèdre leads the character and style of all three wines, as it does today in our Esprit. All of the wines were still tasting young and healthy, without a hint of old age, and I thought could be cellared happily for another five to ten years.
Clients often ask us how long our wines will live. If this week’s experience is an example then the answer is, “A long time.”