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August 2012
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October 2012

Introducing the new Patelin de Tablas Rosé

We love our Rosé. It shows the charms of Mourvedre when made into a pink wine by being rich yet refreshing, complex yet appealing, and worthy of pairing with substantial food.  But it's always been a bit of an outlier in the world of rosés, somewhat darker than most, somewhat fuller-bodied than most, and just a little too expensive for most restaurants to serve in the way that most rosé is drunk in restaurants: by the glass.

So, early this year, we set ourselves to the task of producing a rosé under the Patelin de Tablas label that would complement the rosé that we've been making since 1999.  We decided to base it on the world's most popular rosé grape: Grenache, and we identified Grenache vineyards within Paso Robles that we could harvest specifically for this rosé program.  These vineyards are starting to arrive in the cellar.  The photo below shows one bin, ready for processing Friday.  Note Grenache's typical beautiful garnet color:

Patelin Grenache for Rose

We don't yet know what the final composition of the wine will be, but we know it will be overwhelmingly based on this Grenache, harvested specifically for the Patelin Rosé and direct-pressed into tank.  The rest will come from saignéed lots of Mourvedre and maybe even a little Syrah.  We're guessing that the finished wine will end up around 80% Grenache, but we'll see how harvest goes.  We want the wine to be a light salmon in color, more typical of a French rosé than the more cranberry tones of our estate Rosé, low in alcohol and vibrant, juicy and refreshing.

What is direct-press, you ask?  Happy to show you.  I shot a short (90 second) video in the cellar Friday documenting the process.  The video begins with Grenache coming down our sorting table, into our destemmer.  We then pump the berries and juice into our press, which isn't even pressing... just turning the grapes and letting the free-run juice flow out.  That juice is being pumped into a stainless steel tank, where it will start to ferment.  We did eventually turn on the press to squeeze the berries, but even in that portion, the color was only gently pink.

Look for the new 2012 Patelin de Tablas Rosé to debut in March, retail for around $20 and be available by the glass at your local dining establishment of choice.

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A Family (Winemakers) Trip to the Golden Gate

By Darren Delmore

As we loaded up nine cases of wine into the Subaru on a sunny Sunday morning, I immediately got the drift that two days of representing TCV at Family Winemakers of California’s San Francisco tasting wasn’t going to be a relaxing, casual affair. Pouring 108 bottles in approximately two four-hour tastings equals over a case an hour, and (assuming one ounce pours) over five tastes per minute. There’s no way any winery would go through that much wine at a trade event where 300 other wineries were also pouring, would they?

Family Winemakers SF 2012

We made speedy, all-wheel-drive time into the city, unloading the wines at a bustling Fort Mason Center, parking, and inhaling sandwiches from Greens Restaurant as the whites chilled. It was an absolutely beautiful day to be pouring wine on a pier in San Francisco. We poured a pretty serious lineup, everything that we make that sees any distribution at all for the mostly wine-buying trade and media attendees of this long running event:

The Whites
2011 Patelin de Tablas Blanc
2010 Cotes de Tablas Blanc
2010 Roussanne
2010 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc
2011 Vermentino

The Rosé
2011 Rosé

The Reds
2011 Patelin de Tablas
2010 Cotes de Tablas
2010 Mourvedre
2010 Esprit de Beaucastel

I hadn’t been to a Family Winemakers event since 2008 in Pasadena, so I was wondering how the organization had been faring in recent years. There are so many trade and consumer tastings these days, what niche did Family Winemakers continue to fill? As a wine buyer for a restaurant, I recall the abundance of high end California wines on hand at these tastings, and the opportunity to actually talk to winery owners and winemakers in a more spacious atmosphere. I also dug walking away knowing which wineries in California were family owned and/or independent. This year’s event filled up slowly but surely on the first day, with sommeliers and buyers from a great array of restaurants, bistros and wine shops turning up to taste what’s new. Before we knew it we were pouring full throttle to a mass of both trade and consumers alike. The disadvantage of pouring so many wines is that it takes serious tasters quite a while to get through your lineup. The advantage: you sure look busy.

The action didn’t wind down until three hours in when Jason urged me to go taste around the room. My throat was parched from shouting what Counoise was over the thunder of tasters, so I went straight to Ramey Wine Cellars, who, along with Kistler, is the master of California Chardonnay in my opinion. The trio behind the table looked as exhausted from the day’s pouring as I felt so I didn’t take up much more of their time. I was just happy to know that their 2009 Hyde Vineyard Chardonnay was as good as their 2008.

That night Jason and I cabbed it to Park Tavern in North Beach for what would be a fabulous meal with our distributor's new key accounts specialist for the Bay Area. Until recently a sommelier at a top Napa restaurant, she was happily already a fan of our wines and psyched to meet us and taste what was new. Over a discussion of the glories of Mourvedre-based rose and a bottle of 2011 Chateau Pradeaux, Jason told the tale of how his father and the Perrin family ultimately picked Paso Robles in 1989 to found Tablas Creek. For me, listening to limestone-enlivened wine tales is to me what hearing the latest on a cinematic celebrity’s pregnancy or Justin Bieber’s eating disorder is to the rest of America. We moved on to the bright, honeyed 2010 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc when the main courses hit the table, which collectively paired with their choices of Black Cod and my highly-recommended bone-in pork chop plate with bacon confit that should’ve simply been called "the pacemaker". "You win," the server quietly said to me when he placed my selection before me.

The following morning I chose to take in the sights of the city. Jason (who had a board meeting) had warned me that the Tenderloin, a few steps the wrong way from our excellent hotel, used to be a really terrifying place. But there was a Blue Bottle Coffee location ten minutes away according to my iPhone, so I took a brisk morning stroll down Taylor into an area that I’d later find out was graced by a bustling methadone clinic. I about to abort the mission when I saw the most-welcome sign for Jessie street and power walked down a mere half a block to find a line full of black-rimmed spectacle-adorned hipsters awaiting their morning brew. What a difference a hundred yards makes!

I met up with Jason at 1:30 for the final trade tasting, and before long we were swarming with fans and tasters. The Vermentino was a hit. The Patelin de Tablas Blanc was showing extremely well and if you’re in the Bay Area, you’re surely going to see this killer blend on by the glass lists. A lot of people had never tried Mourvedre on its own, and our 2010 was much-requested. By 5 pm, an hour before the cutoff, my voice felt like Janis Joplin’s after a two-hour whiskey-fueled set. Come closing time, all but one of those nine cases of Tablas Creek were gone, and once outside en route to the getaway ride, the winds whipping off the San Francisco bay were full of mercy.

Golden Gate

Harvest, weeks one and two: zero to sixty in no time flat

Most vintages, harvest starts slowly, with a few bins the first day, then a little break, then a selective pick off another block, then another break, then finally a larger picking, then another break.  Not this year.  We started on September 4th with our first lot of Viognier for the 2012 Patelin Blanc, and by a week later, we'd already brought in just over 85 tons of fruit, including Viognier, Syrah, Marsanne and Roussane for the Patelin program, and Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Viognier, Syrah, Vermentino and even a first picking of Roussanne off of our estate.  A shot I took today in the cellar will give you a sense of the complexity of the cellar dance, with reds (in this case some of the Patelin Syrah we received on September 6th) being pressed as whites (in this case, bins of Vermentino off the western edge of our property) are arriving:

Vermentino bins through press

Yes, this volume at the front end of harvest is unusual.  By comparison, the first 8 days of harvest brought in 32 tons last year, 20 tons in 2010, 10 tons in 2009, 26 tons in 2008 and 15 tons in 2007.  A scene like the one below, with dozens of bins of Syrah sitting outside the winery waiting to be destemmed (from September 6th) is much more typical of mid-October than early September:

Bins of syrah outside winery sept 6 2012

The weather has been warm, though it's moderated since early August's serious heat.  In September so far, we've had 9 days that have topped out in the 90's, 8 days that have topped out in the 80's, and only one day that topped out in the 70's.  This is a dramatic change from the last two vintages, which saw significantly cooler temperatures at harvest time, but is more or less normal for Paso Robles.  And we really haven't seen any extremes; this month we've only had 13 hours with temperatures over 95 and only 5 nights that dropped into the 40's, so the vines are continuing to photosynthesize rather than shutting down either due to cold or to conserve water in the heat.

Yields, so far, look somewhat higher than we were expecting, maybe 10%-15% larger than average, though still below the highs of a vintage like 2005, 2006 or 2010.  We've already harvested twice as much Viognier off our vineyard (with a few blocks still to go) as we did all of last year's frost-decimated crop.  Of course, much will depend on the Mourvedre and the Roussanne, both of which seem to be a bit lower this year. 

It's a winery truism that when you think yields are down, they're down more than you thought, and when you think yields are good, they're up more than you thought.

For the Patelin, we're expeting more Syrah, as well as our first Grenache and Grenache Blanc in the next week or so, while at home, it looks like reds other than Syrah may still be a while yet.  Walking through the Grenache blocks still shows a lot of pink berries -- and even the occasional green one -- rather than the deep red we'd expect at harvest.  Counoise is the same.  Mourvedre looks closer to ready, but is still low in sugar and developing flavors.  Meanwhile, we're pressing off the Syrah that came in the first week and making space.  We thank the cellar assistants like Wade Johnson (below) for making the necessary room.

Wade shoveling

Common-sense sustainability

I'm in New York this week, helping kick off the release of the 2010 Esprit de Beaucastel and 2010 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc.  My hotel, like most hotels these days, has one of the signs that tells you that in order to help protect the environment, my sheets and towels -- clean when I arrived -- will be changed only every fourth day, saving untold gallons of water and pounds of detergent.  Does the hotel really care about this, or just about the dollars they're saving in water, labor and soap?  It's a Kimpton, so probably they do care.  But many less environmentally-conscious hotels do the same thing, and I think that it's one of the best examples of a common-sense approach to sustainability that can, applied on a broad level, have enormous benefits to the use of resources without any noticeable detriment in customer experience.

As much as we prize (and praise) efforts that businesses make toward environmental responsibility, I'm a realist, and believe that the only ones that really stick are those that have a net positive impact on the business's bottom line.  I don't mean that individual businesses always act in a purely profit-maximizing fashion.  But I do think that eco-conscious ideas won't be widely enough adopted to make a measurable impact if they don't also offer the business some business-friendly incentive, whether that be lower costs, increased production, or improvements in product quality. I don't think that favorable publicity or public image is enough. Look, for example, at the paltry share of US energy production that comes from solar (less than 1%) despite the appeal of renewable energy and the widespread use of incentives.

Along these lines, we've been trying to think of things that we can do that will help us use resources better while saving (or at least not costing) us money.  I can think of two good examples that we've implemented in the past few years, both of which we've been getting lots of inquiries about from other local wineries.  I'm very interested in hearing about other similar initiatives.  If you have come across other good ideas, please share them in the comments.

For years, we had ordered pallets of bottled water each month, so that guests who we took out into the vineyard in the heat of summer wouldn't wilt, and no one would get dehydrated in the midst of their day of wine tasting.  Still, I always hated seeing the pallets arrive, and thinking about the impact of the production of these water bottles and the thousands of bottles each year that ended up having to be recycled or in landfills.  So, we installed a water filtration system outside our new tasting room and ordered several hundred stainless steel canteens. Each morning, we fill up the canteens and put them on ice outside the front door:


We have another bucket nearby where we ask people to return the empty canteens, and then we wash them at the end of the day and refill them.  Sure, we lose a few that wander off into people's cars, and there's a little extra expense from the washing, but each canteen is only about four times as expensive as one water bottle, and there's no way we lose 25% of the canteens we use.  It's saving us money, preserving resources and making a point about sustainability at the expense of a little extra work for us.  I'll take that deal any time.

I would put our decision in 2010 to move to lighter-weight bottles in a similar category.  Long-time followers of the blog may remember the public debate we had about whether the winery's image was enhanced by our larger, heavier bottles and our ultimate conclusion that these larger bottles provided negative utility for our customers, making them harder to store, more difficult to lift and move, and more expensive to ship.  Two years later, I find it hard to believe that we ever thought that the larger bottles were a good idea.  Not only did the change save roughly 90,000 pounds of glass weight, and the associated higher costs of producing these larger bottles, trucking the empty glass to the winery and the filled cases from the winery, and shipping the bottles to our customers who ordered the wine, but we've stopped getting complaints about how the bottles we put our wine in don't fit in people's wine racks.  I find myself now suspicious of wines in these big bottles, thinking that they must be trying to impress with their package because of something missing on the inside.  Has this move resulted in lower sales off the shelf, or other indications that the image has suffered?  We haven't heard a single comment that would suggest it.

Sure, we do plenty of environmentally friendly things that don't save us money, most notably our commitment to organic and biodynamic farming.  But we're convinced that the benefit is in the grapes that we harvest and in the quality of the wine that we can make.  For us, the expense is worth it.  Are we happy that we're leaving our piece of land in better shape than when we found it, all while not exposing ourselves and our customers to chemicals?  Of course.  But do I expect other wineries and vineyards to necessarily make the same farming choices?  I'm not sure; it depends on the calculus that they do as to the value of the higher quality product that would result.  But I think that there are some common-sense steps toward sustainability that most any winery could implement right away, and am curious to hear any others that you've found appealing.  Even if it means asking your customers to participate in some small way... from returning an empty canteen to hanging up their once-used towel.

Harvest 2012 Begins!

And, as of 1:30pm today, we're live, with the arrival of the first fruit of the 2012 harvest.  As usual in the world of Rhones, we started with Viognier, this for our Patelin de Tablas Blanc from Paso Ridge, at the warm north end of the El Pomar District.  The guests of honor:

First Viogner bins for Patelin Blanc

A September 4th start is just about average for us; since 2000, our average start date is September 7th.  

The very warm start to August does not appear to have accelerated things dramatically, perhaps because the vines were carrying a relatively healthy crop, perhaps because vines tend to shut down photosynthesis when it gets up around 100.  Sugars do appear to be a bit higher this year than in the past few years, and I expect our five-year trend of decreasing average sugars at harvest to end this year.  Still, we're pleased with the balance we're seeing, with acids holding strong even as the grapes start to look and taste ripe.

Looking ahead, we'll move forward this week with more Viognier and our first Syrah from some of the warmer vineyards from which we source Patelin.  We're expecting the Chardonnay that we use for our Antithesis to be the first estate fruit we pick, either tomorrow or Thursday, and before the end of the week we'll likely bring in both the Haas Vineyard Pinot Noir and the tiny nursery block of Pinot on our own estate.  By early next week, we're looking at our first Rhone varieties off the estate, likely Viognier and Vermentino, as well as more Patelin lots.  By two weeks from now, we'll be inundated.

Looking back, the years with the most similar start dates are 2000 (September 8th) and 2002 (September 6th).  But the year that this reminds me most of in how it's developed is 2005, which was also a productive year (somewhat more so than this one) with a warm summer but a fairly late start to harvest.  If that holds, we're in for a treat.  The 2005's were and still are deep, powerful and rich, but with good freshness and balance.  We'll know, soon enough.