It was with great pleasure that we received the news that our winemaker Neil Collins was voted by his peers the 2013 Winemaker of the Year for San Luis Obispo County. You can read the full press release here.
With one exception -- the 1997 vintage, for which Neil was working at Beaucastel -- Neil has had a hand in every vintage of Tablas Creek since our first harvest in 1994, when he was Assistant Winemaker at Adelaida Cellars and we were renting space there. We used this rented space to make our first few vintages of wine before we'd built our winery and gotten our French clones into production. (Props to anyone who can remember some or all of the names those early wines carried on their labels; leave a comment if you do.)
So that means that this 2013 vintage will make twenty years since we first began to work with Neil, and be the sixteenth vintage he will have overseen here in our estate winery. What a luxury that continuity is. Grapevines aren't like most agricultural products; they take years (decades, even) to show their full quality, and a winemaker who joins a project mid-stream might well second-guess the vineyard choices that a previous administration had made and yet not have much flexibility to change it. To have worked with Neil for so long means that he was involved in turning our vision into reality from the very beginning, and his input in our early choices is reflected across our operations, from vineyard to cellar to the events we host.
Equally important is the fact that Neil oversees both the vineyard and the winery here at Tablas Creek. These are not, in our view, different worlds, to meet only at harvest. Our goal has always been to make wines that are at their core expressions of this vineyard, and the choices that we make in the vineyard are a direct result of what we want the grapes to bring to the winemaking process. Neil has been central in shaping our viticulture efforts, including dry farming, organic and biodynamic viticulture, our animal program and our efforts to bring biodiversity into the vineyard. This has meant that his work in the cellar begins with grapes that have been grown specifically to emphasize the character of place that our winemaking seeks to highlight.
Perhaps most importantly, it's not every winemaker who is excited to let the expression of place take center stage. California is full of wines that bear the indelible stamp of winemakers' stylistic decisions, from signatures of new oak barrels to specific yeast strains, extreme levels of ripeness or extraction. It takes a winemaker with a particular personality and a high level of self-confidence to let his or her own work be to modulate and reinforce the signatures of place, grape and vintage. We are exceptionally fortunate to have found in Neil such a winemaker, who despite plenty of creative vision -- on full display in the wines he makes for the Lone Madrone label he owns with his wife Marci and his sister Jackie -- is willing and able to step into the background in order to give pride of place to ... well ... place.
Congratulations, Neil, and cheers to many more great vintages.