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September 2011

Checking in on Chester, Vermont

As many of you know, Tablas Creek's history begins in Vermont.  In the small town of Chester, Vineyard Brands grew up in an old barn, finished bit by bit into modern offices yet still even at the end with file cabinets fit in between cow stanchions.  It was from this headquarters that my dad built up Vineyard Brands, and to this remote, pastoral place that salespeople, suppliers and journalists would trek annually to compare notes, plan strategy, and learn the plans for the upcoming year.  I still remember coming back from little league games and walking through sales meeting dinners, cooked by my mom and hosted in our dining room, on my way up to the my bedroom.  The barn, in winter clothing that will be familiar to anyone who came for the annual January sales meetings:


Although Vineyard Brands moved to Birmingham, Alabama in the last 1990's my parents still spend their summers in that same Vermont house and my sister has converted (re-converted?) the old barn into a home for her and her family.  So it was with personal concern that I followed the reports of devastating flooding throughout southeastern Vermont caused by the passage of Hurricane Irene over the weekend.  Fortunately, all the family up on the hill was fine.  They lost power, but there was no significant damage as the winds never came through with the force everyone had feared.  I got the following note from my dad this morning:

There are signs of plenty of flood damage around but all highway bridges in and out of Chester seem to be intact, although the road and railway bridges in lower Bartonsville are out. Downtown Chester also seems ok. Lovers Lane Road beyond us is a mess but passable. Route 11 west is blocked for the moment but 103 both ways seems ok.
Amazingly, here up on the hill there is hardly even a limb down. We still do not have power as of 11 AM but the generator is working and we have scheduled a delivery of more propane tomorrow.

My sister took some great pictures of the local area that she has posted on her blog. Two of the most impressive are below.  First, a bridge on Lovers Lane Road (our road) that shows evidence of how much water was rushing over and across the road:

Irene - bridge damage

Second, a photo of the field in town where Lovers Lane Brook exits the woods and heads toward the Williams River.  Normally, the brook here is quiet and narrow enough to jump across if you're feeling daring.  It's clear that the entire field was a river last night:

Irene - field

Of course, this is nothing compared to the huge damage sustained in nearby towns like Grafton, Quechee, Brattleboro and Rockingham.  There are lots of Vermont flood videos that have been posted on YouTube, but one of the best is a slideshow put together by the Brattleboro Reformer.  It's below.

Our thoughts are with the thousands of people displaced by these floods, and with everyone in Vermont who will be rebuilding over the coming weeks as we prepare for harvest here in California.

Tablas Creek 101: Why We Are Where We Are

By Robert Haas

In the early 1970’s Jean-Pierre Perrin accompanied me when I was visiting my then Napa Valley suppliers of Vineyard Brands: Freemark Abbey, Chappellet, Clos du Val and Phelps.  We took a little tour of the valley and he remarked that it was extraordinary that, in a climate that seemed extremely apt, there were none of the grape varieties traditional to the Rhône.  It was this experience that was the beginning of the idea of doing it ourselves.  However, we were pretty busy developing our own businesses at the time and the idea, never forgotten, got shelved for a while.

In 1985, we decided to give it a try and began seeking a proper location.  We were looking for three things: a Mediterranean climate similar to that of the southern Rhône, enough annual rainfall to grow grapes without having to irrigate regularly, and maybe most importantly – certainly most restrictively – calcareous (chalky) clay soils similar to those of Beaucastel.

As we had noted in the 1970’s, much of coastal California has a classic Mediterranean climate.  But more specifically, we wanted an area with both a long growing season to ripen late-ripening grapes like Mourvèdre and Roussanne and moderating influence (like elevation, nighttime cooling or fog) that could keep the earlier ripening Rhone varieties like Syrah and Viognier from becoming heavy and flabby.  Paso Robles has the largest day-night swing in temperature of any wine growing region in North America, typically 45 degrees and often more.  (This week, we’ve had several days with 55 degree swings: daytime highs over 100 and nighttime lows in the 40’s!)  The proximity of the cold Pacific Ocean, which never gets much above 60 degrees even in mid-summer, and the dry summer climate that allows the day’s heat to radiate off at night provide cooling, while the relatively unbroken 3000-foot high Santa Lucia mountains protect the region during the daytime and allow it to warm up.

Even better, the further south you go in California, the later the onset of the winter rainy season.  We typically get our first serious winter rainstorm in the middle of November, two weeks later than our colleagues in Napa and a month later than those in Sonoma.  The extra weeks matter in cool years, and we have harvested into November five of the last seven vintages. 

The lower limit for dry-farming grapevines is about 25 inches of rain annually.  We get that much here thanks to our 1500-foot elevation and our location in the Santa Lucia foothills just 11 miles from the Pacific.  Pacific storms are pushed up into cooler air as they cross over the mountains.  This cooler air can carry less moisture, so the clouds drop it as rainfall.  Our average rainfall of about 28 inches is double what the town of Paso Robles receives just ten miles further east and 800 feet lower.  We figure we’re just about the most southerly location in California (and one of the warmest) to receive this much rainfall.

Finally, and we thought most importantly, we felt that chalky soils would give us, as they do in the southern Rhône Valley,  healthier vines with better water retention, better nutrient availability, healthier root system development and more disease resistance (for a full discussion of the qualities of chalky soils, see the 2010 blog post Why Limestone Matters for Grape Growing). We found our spot after four years of searching: 120 acres of rugged hilly terrain in the foothills of the Santa Lucia mountains.  We bought it and that was the birth of Tablas Creek Vineyard.

But why are there chalky soils here?  The story begins sixty-five million years ago, toward the end of the Cretaceous period, when the fearsome Tyrannosaurus Rex ranged the land.  At that time, the continental United States was largely covered by shallow seas, with only the Appalachian and Rocky Mountain ranges on dry land.  What are now the central plains and the southeast, and both the east and west coasts (including what is now Paso Robles) were under the ocean.  A map from the USGS shows it well:


The Pacific plate was then, as now, moving east and colliding with the North American plate, pushing up the land that now forms the western shore of the North American continent.  (A fascinating series of maps on the Paleogeography and Geologic Evolution of North America can be found at

The Cretaceous period, starting about one hundred forty million years ago and ending sixty-five million years ago, was the earth’s most active period of chalk formation.  Chalk is principally calcium carbonate.  The circulation of seawater through mid-ocean sea ridges during the Cretaceous – a time when mid-ocean ridges were unusually active – made Cretaceous oceans particularly rich in calcium.  This richness stimulated the growth of calcareous nanoplankton, the tiny sea creatures whose calcium-rich skeletons settle to the sea floor and eventually accumulate to form chalk and its metamorphic relations limestone and marble. It was during the Cretaceous that the chalk cliffs of Dover and the chalky hillsides of Champagne and the Loire were formed; as were the chalky clay soils around Tablas Creek in west Paso Robles.

The seas began to recede toward the end of the Cretaceous and continued through the Tertiary, driven initially by the slower growth of mid-sea ridges and a cooler climate that would eventually trap large quantities of water in glaciers.  The sedimentary chalk-rich rocks that had been laid down in the Cretaceous were exposed throughout the middle portions of the United States.  In California, seismic activity pushed up calcareous soils in only a few places, principally along the Santa Lucia Mountain range, where these soils were folded and intermixed with older continental and volcanic soils.  Much of these soils are west of the coastal range, in climates too cool to ripen Rhone varieties.  It was our good fortune that one large exposed chalky layer was east of the coastal range, in west Paso Robles and Templeton. 

So, all three components come together here in Paso Robles.  Chalky soils sit at the surface.  We typically get enough rain to farm without having to irrigate.  And it warms up enough to grow the grapes we love, while staying moderated enough to keep them in balance.

Tasting the Wines in the Fall 2011 VINsider Wine Club Shipment

Every six months, we send out a six-bottle shipment of wines to the members of our VINsider Wine Club.  The fall shipment is the showcase for our signature wines, and is typically centered around both our Esprit de Beaucastel and our Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc.  Beyond that, though, we get to choose more eclectic wines that we're excited about, often including single varietal renditions of grapes our fans know better from our blends, or small-production blends that we think express something interesting about Tablas Creek.  This year, we chose to include the beautiful 2010 Marsanne, our first-ever rendition of Hermitage's signature grape, the 2010 Picpoul Blanc, with its interplay of bright and lush, intensely reminiscent of pina colada, and the 2009 En Gobelet, an unusual (perhaps unique) blend of Mourvedre, Tannat and Grenache exclusively from head-pruned, dry-farmed vineyard blocks.  Note that there are only five wines because club members get two bottles of the 2009 Esprit de Beaucastel.

We opened the shipment's wines today to draft the tasting and production notes that will be included in the shipment (which will leave the winery the week of September 19th).  I thought that readers of the blog might enjoy a preview.  Click on any wine for more detailed technical information.



  • Production Notes: The 2010 Tablas Creek Vineyard Marsanne is our first varietal bottling of Marsanne, the noble white grape of France's Hermitage appellation. We use most of our Marsanne in our Cotes de Tablas Blanc each year. However, in 2010 we felt that the Marsanne was so complete and compelling, and so representative of the Marsanne grape, that we selected out several lots for a single-varietal bottling.  These were fermented in stainless steel to emphasize their freshness.  Just 13.0% alcohol.
  • Tasting notes: a minty, spicy, citrus blossom and honeyed nose, with flavors of saline, nectarine and mineral, a creamy mid-weight texture and a long, clean, limestone-enriched finish. Should be a sublime pairing with baked scallops or mussels marinieres. Drink over the next five years.
  • Production: 525 cases
  • List Price: $30 VINsider Price: $24


  • Production Notes: Tablas Creek's fourth bottling of this traditional Southern Rhone varietal, used in Châteauneuf du Pape as a blending component, and best known from the crisp light green wines of the Pinet Region in the Coteaux de Languedoc. Literally translating to "lip stinger", in France the grape is known for its bright acidity, its minerality, and a clean lemony flavor. We have found that in California, it maintains its bright acidity, but also develops an appealing tropical lushness. Fermented in stainless steel to emphasize freshness, and like the 2010 Marsanne just 13.0% alcohol.
  • Tasting notes: powerful aromas of pineapple, white flowers, grilled citrus and caramel. In the mouth it is brightly acidic with flavors of pina colada broadened by a hint of toast, a lush texture surprising for those who only know Picpoul from France, then reverting to brightness on a lemony, mineral-laced finish. Would be a great pairing with a creamy chicken pasta. Drink in the next two to three years.
  • Production: 500 cases
  • List Price: $27 VINsider Price: $21.60


  • Production Notes: Like all our 2010 whites, a powerfully expressive wine, not at all sweet, at low alcohol, that should age very well.  Roussanne (60%) as usual forms the core of the honey and mineral flavors, but we used our highest-ever percentage of Grenache Blanc (35%) for breadth, anise and citrus notes and just 5% Picpoul Blanc as the wine already had excellent acidity.  The wine was blended in May, aged in foudre and demi-muid, and bottled in August 2011.
  • Tasting notes: Higher-toned than most vintages of Esprit Blanc, showing on the nose more yellow sweet/tart fruit like passion fruit, pineapple and mango.  A hint of lychee comes out as the wine warms, enriching classic Roussanne flavors of white tea, honey and spice.  The mouthfeel is extraordinary: rich but with great structure, very clean and pure.  We think this is the most ageworthy Esprit Blanc we've made.  It should drink well for two decades.
  • Quantity Produced: 2100 cases
  • List Price: $40 VINsider Price: $32


  • Production Notes: Our second-ever En Gobelet, a unique blend (we think perhaps the only one in the world) of Mourvedre, Tannat and Grenache selected from head-pruned, dry-farmed sections of the vineyard.  Mourvedre (56%) provides dark red fruit, earth, spice and mid-palate richness while Tannat (23%) adds dark color, smoky, spicy flavors and firm tannins and Grenache (21%) brightens everything with forward fruit, approachability and lushness.  The head-pruned blocks all also share a characteristic elegance that we have often remarked on as noteworthy.
  • Tasting notes: a spicy nose of black olive, dark chocolate, menthol and blue fruits. The mouth is powerfully structured showing flavors of fig, briary fruit, pepper spice and a surprisingly creamy texture with fine, chalky tannins. The finish shows Tannat's characteristic firmness leavened by bright acids and a pretty floral note from Grenache. For now, pair with substantial food like wild boar ragu or pasta puttanesca, or you could lay it down for a decade or more.
  • Production: 600 cases
  • List Price: $45 VINsider Price: $36


  • Production Notes: Like all the 2009 reds, scarce in quantity due to drought and frost, but remarkable in intensity while still maintaining balance through terrific tannins.  It is as usual based on the red fruit, earth and mocha of Mourvèdre (40%), while Syrah (28%) provides black fruit and mineral and Grenache (27%) brings rich mouthfeel, glycerin and a refreshing acidity.  6% Counoise adds vibrancy and brambly fruit. The wine was blended in August 2010, aged in foudre and bottled in July 2011.
  • Tasting notes: a deep, spicy nose of crushed rock, tobacco and dark fruit (particularly currants). The palate shows great balance between savory and sweet notes, with milk chocolate, herbes de provence, an iron-like mineral note and massive structure that, combined with the power of the ripe but substantial tannins suggest that it will benefit from short- to mid-term cellaring, and drink well for two decades or more.
  • Quantity Produced: 3100 cases
  • List Price: $55 VINsider Price: $44

Veraison 2011: a Time to Assess Progress (Late) and Yield (Light)

After spending about an hour out in the vineyard this afternoon and finding scattered but significant veraison in Mourvedre and Syrah, just the first hints of color in a few top-of-hill Grenache clusters, and no coloring at all in Counoise, I think we can safely say that things are late this year.  By contrast, last year I wrote about veraison on August 5th, and the photos demonstrate that things were a bit more advanced than they were today.  For context, last year was already late; I wrote about veraison on July 27, 2007, July 30, 2008 and July 24, 2009

Veraison -- the point at which grapes start to turn color and accumulate sugar -- is a hopeful time for wineries and grape growers; it marks the beginning of the home stretch of a vintage.  Typically the textbooks suggest roughly 6 weeks between veraison and harvest, which puts our beginning this year in late September or early October.

Is it scary being at least a week later than 2010, when we had our latest harvest ever?  Yes, more than a bit.  But there are reasons to think that we'll catch up.  First, August and September of 2010 were the coldest on record in Paso Robles.  Although 2011 hasn't been as hot as Paso Robles mid-summer often is, it's been at least warm, and it's unlikely that we'll see 2010's extremely cool weather over the next six weeks.  Further, yields are much lighter than they were in 2010.  Thanks to a frost-free spring and ample winter rainfall, we averaged 3.6 tons per acre in 2010.  We got good rain again this last winter, but the April frosts will ensure that our tonnage is down significantly, by at least a third compared to last year and probably more.  The lower load on the vines should accelerate the ripening from this point.

What's curious is that the frost seems to have reset the typical sequence, at least in our whites.  Normally we'd expect Syrah, Viognier and Marsanne to go through veraison first, followed by Mourvedre, Grenache, Grenache Blanc and Roussanne and finished by Counoise.  The reds seem to be more or less following that sequence this year.  The first grape to show veraison was Mourvedre, and it's still probably the most regular, with the majority of clusters in the vineyard showing some pink or red berries:


Syrah is showing significant veraison as well, with some clusters nearly through and others still wholly green.  The photo below is a good example:


The Grenache is still almost entirely green; I had to trek to the top of the hill to find a few pink berries:


And Counoise is indeed last, as it remains resolutely green throughout:


What is unexpected is that we are still yet to see any veraison in our whites.  This is further evidence, if we needed it, of how badly impacted they were by the frosts.  We know that our yields in Viognier and Marsanne are very low, and Grenache Blanc significantly reduced.  Roussanne, which ripens latest, is looking good, but it goes through veraison late anyway, almost always last of the whites.

If I had to assess yields at this point, I'd think that we're looking at something nearly as low as 2009's 1.9 tons per acre, though much less regular.  Where the 2009 spring frosts came on top of drought and hit most varities in frost's typically spotty and irregular manner, this spring's frost damage was more severe in the sprouted varieties (particularly Viognier, Marsanne, Grenache and Grenache Blanc), had a slight impact in Syrah, which was just starting to bud out, and seems to have largely spared Mourvedre, Roussanne and Counoise.  This will inevitably lead to some unique challenges in blending this year.  If you're a fan of the Cotes de Tablas Blanc, stock up on the 2010.

I am expecting us to begin harvesting sometime right at the end of September or the beginning of October, and for the separation between our earliest- and latest-ripening varieties to be less than normal.  It wouldn't surprise me if harvest was a month shorter than usual, lasting 6 weeks instead of the average of 10. 

Neil (our winemaker) typically takes an August vacation to help rest up for harvest and to keep in check his impatience for things to begin.  He's going to have a hard time when he gets back at the end of the month, with likely another month to worry before things in the cellar heat up.

Tablas Creek 101: Why (and How) We Use So Many Grapes

By Robert Haas

Last night a long-time friend and wine lover asked why we planted and utilized so many different varieties of Rhône grapes in our Tablas Creek wines and what their individual contributions are to our six different blends, or assemblages as they are known in France.

Well, there are multiple reasons that there are multiple grapes. 

First, and probably foremost, since we were confident of California’s ability to produce fine Rhône style wines, and we were partnering with the Perrins, we selected the varieties they favored: the traditional grapes of Châteuneuf-du-Pape and the Rhône Valley.  The appellation of Châteauneuf–du-Pape permits thirteen different varieties: Grenache, Mourvèdre, Syrah, Cinsault, Counoise, Roussanne, Picpoul Blanc, Clairette, Bourboulenc, Picardin, Vaccarèse, Terret Noir, and Muscardin. The Beaucastel poster below shows all thirteen, all of which they use though the last four only in trace quantities.  If you count Grenache noir and blanc – both very much planted – the number actually comes to fourteen.

13 Cepages Poster

We decided to import the bud wood from France of nine varieties we thought would best perform in our chalky clay soils and our hot-in-the-day, cold-in-the-night climate: Mourvèdre, Grenache (Noir), Syrah, Counoise, Roussanne, Grenache Blanc, Picpoul Blanc, and two traditional Côtes du Rhone white varieties that are not allowed in the Châteauneuf-du-Pape appellation: Viognier and Marsanne.

There is tradition but there is also practicality.  A second reason for the different varieties is the viticultural usefulness of varieties that bud and mature in different calendar periods.  This spring, for example, we suffered extreme frosts on two consecutive early April mornings.  The early budders Viognier, Grenache Noir and Blanc, Marsanne sustained near 100% damage while the later-budding Roussanne, Mourvèdre, Counoise, Picpoul and Syrah were not yet out and were relatively undamaged. 

Another viticultural plus is that with different ripening cycles we enjoy a longer harvest.  Our harvest is typically spread across 10 weeks, from early September to early November, which allows us to make more efficient use of our cellar and our winemaking team.  Of course, we won’t enjoy this benefit this year: the frosted vines that re-sprouted will be delayed in ripening and everything will be coming in late and together.  We will be heap plenty scrambling this October.

Probably most important in our choices, however, is the different roles that the different varieties play in the makeup of our Rhône style blends.  Just as different ingredients in a dish can complement or highlight specific flavors, so can the diverse flavors of different varieties create a blended wine that is more than the sum of its parts.  The Rhone blending tradition developed over thousands of years because blending these varieties consistently produces more complex, more elegant and more intriguing wines than any of the varieties vinified alone.

Red Grapes

Red wines are the most associated with Rhône varieties so let’s start with our red assemblages.  First, a review of the characteristics that each of the four principal red Rhone grapes brings to a blend:

  • Mourvedre Mourvèdre is our most planted grape, dark purple-black in color, providing structure, backbone, and aging potential. It tastes of ripe plum and strawberry fruit, with animal flavors of red meat and mushrooms when young, and leather and truffles as it ages.

  • Grenache Grenache provides lush fruit and bright acidity. It tastes of currant, cherry, and raisin, with aromatic spice of black pepper, menthol, and licorice, and is a brilliant ruby red color.

  • Syrah Syrah gives a deep blue-black color and provides aromatics, firm structure and ageability to blends, with characteristic aromas of smoke, bacon fat, and mineral, flavors of blackberry and black raspberry fruit, firm back-palate tannins.

  • Counoise Counoise is a medium purple-red color, with brambly flavors of blueberry and raspberry fruit, spice notes of cinnamon and nutmeg, and bright acidity that enlivens a blend.

These four grapes combine in each of our three red Rhone blends to make very different wines. 

The Esprit de Beaucastel is our flagship blend of the best lots in our cellar, and based on the structure, firm, ripe tannins, red fruit, full body and the ageability of Mourvèdre.  Syrah firms up the back palate and brings savory spice, dark color and minerality, while Grenache contributes ripe dark chocolate and cherry flavors and lush fruit. A touch of Counoise unifies and brightens the blend with its brambly spice.

Our Côtes de Tablas celebrates the lush fruitiness, dark chocolate, chalky tannins and licorice of Grenache.  Syrah balances Grenache’s lushness with minerality and pepper spice, while Mourvèdre’s structure and plum flavor should come out with age.  Counoise, at its highest percentage in any of our wines, gives raspberry brightness and opens the wine for near- to mid-term consumption.

Our Patelin de Tablas is a blend focused on Syrah’s dark color, peppery spice and minerality. We add a significant percentage of Grenache for its generous red fruit and roundness of flavor, some Mourvèdre for backbone and ageability, and just a touch of Counoise for brightness and spiciness.


White Grapes

Although the Rhone Valley, like Paso Robles, is better known for reds than whites, there are nearly a dozen white grapes traditional there, and we’ve imported five of them.  These have thrived in Paso Robles – so much so that from our original plan to plant 20% whites we’ve increased our white plantings to roughly 35% of our production.  Let’s again review the characteristics of each of the five:

  • Roussanne Roussanne is our most planted white grape variety.  It has rose petal, white tea and honeysuckle aromatics, a deep golden color, and flavors of honey and ripe pear. It provides excellent aging potential with a rich glycerin mouth feel and moderate acidity.

  • GrenacheBlanc Grenache Blanc has firm acidity, green apple and citrus flavors, and white flower aromatics.  It is the 4th most widely planted white grape in France, and its crisp acids complement many of the lower-acid white Rhône varietals.

  • Marsanne Marsanne tastes of melon and minerals, and has a golden straw color.  It is a flexible and adaptable grape found throughout the Rhone valley.  Its quiet elegance provides a valuable counterpoint to more exuberant varieties like Viognier and Roussanne.

  • Viognier Viognier is highly aromatic, with aromas of peach, apricot, and violets. It typically is quite lush with flavors of stone fruits and low to moderate acidity and is usually best consumed young.

  • Picpoul Picpoul produces wines noteworthy for their bright acidity, minerality, and clean lemony flavor.  In California it adds a tropical lushness reminiscent of Piña Colada that is delicious on its own but also makes for an excellent blending component.

As with the reds, these grapes combine to make three very different white wines.

Our Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc is the flagship of our white wine fleet, modeled consciously after Beaucastel’s renowned white.  Roussanne provides the core richness, minerality, and flavors of honey and spice, while Grenache Blanc adds green apple and anise flavors, lush mouth feel and bright acids.  Picpoul Blanc completes the blend, bringing out a saline minerality present in Roussanne but latent without Picpoul’s characteristic acidity.

The Côtes de Tablas Blanc showcases the lushness of Viognier, but with Viognier’s tendency toward softness and heaviness mitigated by its blending partners.  Grenache Blanc provides crisp acids while Roussanne adds structure and Marsanne minerality.  As the wine ages, a transformation occurs as what was once an overtly floral, fruity wine – clearly marked by Viognier – becomes more mineral as Marsanne takes the lead.

Our Patelin de Tablas Blanc focuses on the crisp acids and minerality of Grenache Blanc.  We add Viognier for lush, tropical fruit, and Roussanne and Marsanne for structure and complexity, but the balance is intentionally different from the Côtes Blanc.  We’ve chosen brighter Grenache Blanc lots for the Patelin Blanc, so that it is the lemon and mineral side of the grape that shows at the fore, with its richness and Viognier’s lush fruit playing secondary roles.


So, the utilization of these multiple Rhône varieties in different proportions and from different cellar lots allows us to create a broad palette of six wines that fit different occasions and different foods, ranging in the whites from the crisp bright acidity of the Patelin Blanc through the power of the Côtes Blanc to the full-bodied elegance and ageability of the Esprit Blanc.  The reds go from the firm, spicy character of the Patelin through the powerful and luscious Côtes to the structured, full-bodied richness and elegance (and ageability) of the Esprit.

The Serenity of Foudres (Sometimes)

By Chelsea Magnusson

The addition of the new tasting room and foudre rooms has been a bit of a challenge for those of us in the cellar.  Where before, we could do most of our work on the foudres in private, it now feels as though we are on display in a big glass cage (someone mentioned that we should put up a sign that said "Please Do Not Feed the Winemakers" - which I thought was a terrible idea... you're more than welcome to feed us if you feel so inclined).  On the other hand, with the foudres finally having a room built just for them, where they are organized and settled in their permanent home with beautiful warm lighting, the space can be incredibly peaceful and inviting. 


I love being in there before the tasting room has opened, when everything is still and quiet.  But it can't be still and quiet forever.  We have been through a marathon bottling schedule for the past few months, and now the foudres that once held the wines from the 2009 vintage are all empty.  We try to keep the foudres full throughout the year in order to keep the wood staves supple and healthy (when they dry, they can shrink and crack and when left open, are more prone to bacteria making itself at home in the wood).  So, for the last two weeks, Ryan and I have been working through the cellar finding lots that we can build that equal 1,200 gallons (the capacity of a foudre).  It's quite a challenge: not only does the math need to work out, but we need to find lots that are similar enough to combine while at the same time, the lots need to possess the ability to better a potential counterpart with the union.  For instance, we can combine an 873 gallon tank of Grenache VF OV V (which is translated to the fifth pick off of the French vinifera old vine block) for its brightness, vibrancy and candied strawberry quality with six barrels of Grenache VF OV III (the third pick off of the same block) to bring a little weight, density and tannin to the blend. 

Before the foudres are filled, they need to be cleaned, and we have a new toy to help us do that:  a specialty ultraviolet light that is used to sterilize the surface of the wood.  The ultraviolet bulb is carefully slid through the top of the foudre and the metal box affixed to the bulb rests on the outside.



We have read that more serious versions are installed in ambulances to sterilize the interior of the vehicles and apparently, similar models are also being used for water treatment. While it may be new, we're excited to give it a try and see how it goes. 

You can bet that I'll be enjoying the serenity that the foudre room has to offer for a few more days before it becomes a blending madhouse in there.  And sincerely, if you see us working in there and you have a snack you'd like to share, please - don't hesitate to tap on the glass.