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March 2014
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May 2014

Wildflowers in the Vineyard: More Than Just Pretty Faces

By Lauren Cross

Thanks to the late rainstorms we had recently, it is now wildflower season here at Tablas Creek!  One of the many benefits of our organic and biodynamic property is the prolific wildlife that lives symbiotically throughout the vineyard. We leave sections of the vineyard to our native vegetation because of the insect and microbial life these plants support, and these section, particularly, burst into flower in April and May. Guests to our upcoming spring festivals are in for a treat!  I took a long hike through the vineyard and was happy to find dozens of unique wildflowers.  Here are a few of my favorite photos.


I found this first pea flower in the cover crop near the lambing barn.  It is so exciting to see all of the tall crops between the vines- a few months back before the rain storms there was just bare soil and now the cover crop and flowers reach almost four feet!


I found this tall buttercup flower blowing in the breeze farther in the vineyard behind the old nursery greenhouses.


Finding this flowering Salvia was the best surprise of the day.  It was nestled in under an oak tree just passed the gate into our new unplanted property. 


 I love the intricacies of this wild Primrose with the delicate white star shaped center. 


The bees are happy it is wildflower season too! The California poppy it's feasting on is our state flower, and always our most visible sign of spring.


This thistle is my favorite shot of the day.  I love the texture and how the flower is just beginning to open up.  It reminds me of the 2014 vintage just beginning in the vineyard: new growth just before flowering and all of that potential just waiting to be realized.

Spring 2014 VINsider shipment food pairing dinner

By Lauren Cross

What better way to celebrate the recent release of our Spring 2014 VINsider shipment than to taste and enjoy each new wine with expertly paired dishes prepared by two of the best caterers on the Central Coast? Yes, there are benefits to working at Tablas Creek.

A little background, first. We asked two chefs (Chef Jacob Lovejoy and Chef Jeffry Wiesinger), with whom we often work for dinners and events here at Tablas, to put together six dishes, one for each new wine, so that our tasting room and wine club staff to get first hand experience with the different affinities of each wine and thereby more easily discuss food pairings with our guests.  I thought that a recap might inspire our fans to create new food and wine pairings in your own homes.

Personally, I was excited to taste the new shipment wines with dishes expressly created to pair with them and use this experience to draw conclusions about other potential pairings.  I didn’t grow up with wine being served at the dinner table and, as parent of two young children, my memorable food pairings are often unexpected: think Esprit Blanc and corndogs (which pair beautifully, by the way).  I’ve also been fortunate enough to stumble upon exquisite Tablas Creek wine pairings by accident.  I once paired our 2010 Counoise with barbeque chicken and almost fell off my chair it was so good. 

The tasting drove home to me that pairings can work because dish and wine share similar traits, and together they show harmony. But perhaps less intuitive was that certain pairings worked because of their differences, where contrasting flavors or textures highlighted each member's distinctiveness.


Pairing 1: Shrimp ‘n’ Grits with 2012 Côtes de Tablas Blanc

The foundation of this dish was mini polenta cakes which provided a rich and savory texture that paired splendidly with the viognier-rich Côtes de Tablas Blanc. The fresh shrimp was topped with a creamy white butter sauce brightened by lemon and blood orange. The bright acid that lifts the 2012 Côtes de Tablas Blanc through a long finish loved the citric notes in the cream sauce.

This pairing was one of similarities: a delicate balance of richness and brightness in the dish mirrored the related complexities of the Côtes de Tablas Blanc.


Pairing 2: Dungeness Crab Avocado Salad with 2012 Grenache Blanc

A beautifully quartered avocado, piled high with dungeness crab salad and topped with a ginger-infused asian pear brulee and a drizzle of yuzu vinaigrette, made for a sublime pairing for the 2012 Grenache Blanc.  The sweet and earthy crab brought out the mineral notes of the wine, and the avocado coated the palate while the acid of the wine cleaned it: a pairing of contrasts, each of which made the other taste more vibrant, capped off by the luscious ginger-infused pear garnish that accentuated the green apple crispness of the Grenache Blanc.


Pairing 3: Duck Confit Bread Pudding with 2012 Roussanne                      

This pairing would make a convert of anyone who doubts that Roussanne is substantial enough to pair with traditional red wine partners. The fluffy and buttery bread pudding, served by Chef Jeffry, reminded me of Thanksgiving stuffing packed with egg, herbs and dried apricots.  The slightly gamy duck flavors deepened the whole and brought out the apricot notes in the 2012 Roussanne, while the rich texture of the wine proved a match for the weighty dish.


Pairing 4: Smoked Pork Mac ‘n’ Cheese with 2012 Patelin de Tablas

We often recommend the 2012 Patelin de Tablas, with its smoky and peppery nose, with barbeque because of its moderate alcohol and its fresh acidity.  So I was not surprised by the elegance it brought to the gooey smoked pork mac ‘n’ cheese.  Another example of contrasts making each partner taste more clearly of itself: the elegance and freshness of this syrah-based blend paired was accentuated by the smoky richness of the pork, refreshing the palate where a more assertive wine could have made a fatiguing partner.

A side note: this truly was the people's wine paired with the people's food.


Pairing 5: Kalbi Style Beef Short Ribs with the 2012 Côtes de Tablas

The Grenache-based 2012 Côtes de Tablas leads with bright chewy fruit accentuated by a good amount of spice and pepper. The combination of sweet and spicy flavors in the Kalbi style beef short ribs made for a spot on pairing, with the fruitiness of the wine standing up to the ribs' slightly sweet glaze and the combination's tingling spice echoing after each bite.  This pairing showed me why the Perrins talk about southern Rhone wines (most of which are based on Grenache) as natural partners for asian-inspired dishes.


Pairing 6: Wet-Aged Prime Rib Roast with 2011 Panoplie

It probably won't surprise any of you that an aged prime rib paired well with our new 2011 Panoplie. As prepared by Chef Jacob, the prime rib was deliciously rich and tender, made even more luscious by a pat of blue cheese butter layered on top and the mouthwatering truffle mashed potatoes below.  The Panoplie is built on a base of our most powerful Mourvedre lots, whose combination of mid-palate richness, chewy tannins, loamy earth notes and silky-smooth texture matched the dish sip for taste, and whose higher tones of rose petals and raspberry fruit lingered perhaps because they were not directly mirrored in the dish.  All in all a fitting, and completely satisfying, way to end a wonderful night.

As always, we are thankful to and impressed by our chefs Jacob and Jeffry for working together so seamlessly and with so much intention and passion, and for creating dishes with such distinct personalities that still partnered beautifully with the wines. I hope that this inspires you in your pairings; if you have particularly memorable ones -- good or bad --  please share them in the comments.

Robert Haas receives the Rhone Rangers 2014 Lifetime Achievement Award

This past weekend, a big Tablas Creek contingent made the trip up to San Francisco to cheer on my dad as he received the Rhone Rangers 2014 Lifetime Achievement Award. I wrote about the significance of the honor when we first received notice of the award, so I won't delve too deeply into the background of his career, but I did want to share the remarkable tribute video that the Rhone Rangers put together and debuted at the awards dinner where he received the honor.  It features interviews with some icons of the California wine industry, including Paul Draper of Ridge Vineyards, Josh Jensen of Calera, Gary Eberle of Eberle Winery, and Bob Lindquist of Qupe, as well as a wonderful message toward the end from Jean-Pierre Perrin. The warmth of the comments from these titans is palpable, probably my single most memorable impression from seeing the video for the first time.  Take a few minutes to watch it, and then we'll pick back up after:

OK, welcome back.  The ceremony itself was wonderful, highlighted by a touching acceptance speech from my dad and an unexpected appearance by last year's award winner, Bonny Doon Vineyard's inimitable Randall Grahm. I got a photo of the two of them together: the first two Rhone Rangers lifetime achievement award winners:

Rhone Rangers 20141

This award dinner kicked off a full Rhone Rangers weekend, which included that night's dinner (wonderfully catered by the Girl and the Fig) and live auction, and two seminars and grand trade and consumer tastings the following day.  While the Winemaker Dinner remained on the grounds of the Fort Mason Center (at the nicely restored General's Residence) policy changes at Fort Mason, forced the seminars and tastings to move to the Craneway Pavilion, a gorgeous, newly renovated space in the East Bay:

Rhone Rangers 2014_15

On the one hand, it's too bad to leave Fort Mason, which has been home to not just Rhone Rangers for the last fifteen years, but had become the go-to venue for most Bay Area wine events.  But on the other hand, the Craneway's setting is even more beautiful than Fort Mason's, the venue is newly renovated and contains wonderful touches like sound panels on the walls so the hubbub of voices doesn't reach deafening levels, and the practicalities of getting there (freeway access, parking, and public transit) are all in its favor.

And, it wasn't like the organization had any choice.  The changes that the Fort Mason Center has made, all designed to discourage alcohol-related events because of worries and complaints from their local community, left the Rhone Rangers no choice.  Some changes were minor but inconvenient (like their new process for requiring food vendors to individually obtain permits to show their wares, which was so long and time-consuming that the first year it was implemented it cut the number of vendors in half). Others were financial, as they reclassified wine events as "for profit" rather than "nonprofit" (even though organizations like Rhone Rangers are all nonprofit) and raised the costs by some 50%.  But the final requirement, which eliminated a wine event from the long-standing option of holding their same weekend for the next year -- instead allowing them only to reserve a six months out, if they had in the interim been unable to sell the weekend to another event -- meant that organizations like Rhone Rangers couldn't plan or set their schedules, and had no assurance of continuity from year to year.  And there isn't really another viable venue in San Francisco for a tasting like this one of around 100 wineries.  Hence the move to the East Bay.

The good news is that I think that the event landed in a great home.  The venue really is gorgeous, inside and out, and the staff there was great to work with.  Rhone Rangers even ran dedicated ferries across the bay from Embarcadero, which on a day like last Sunday (mid-70's and sunny) would have been a highlight in itself.

I leave you with a few other photos of the wonderful weekend.  First, a photo of my dad, getting the award from Ridge's David Gates, current President of the Rhone Rangers Board of Directors:

Rhone Rangers 2014_08

Next, a photo of the lot we donated to raise money for the Rhone Rangers Scholarship Fund: a six-vintage magnum vertical of our signature Esprit wines, and a private tour, tasting and lunch or dinner with my dad and wines out of his cellar:


A photo of the seminar space at the Craneway Pavilion, flooded with light:

Rhone Rangers 2014_11

And a photo of the Craneway's interior during the Grand Tasting:

Rhone Rangers 20144

And finally, a photo of me and my dad, taken the night of his award.  It was really an honor to be a part of the festivities, and see my dad get his moment in the limelight.

Rhone Rangers 20142

A rainy (and not-frosty) March gives hope for the 2014 growing season

As the last raindrops fall from today's minor weather system and we turn toward a warmer forecast for next week, it seems like a good time to assess this spring's conditions so far, and start to look forward to its impact on the 2014 vintage. Today's sprinkles were the last of four rainy days this week that together dropped about an inch and a half of rain at Tablas Creek. Our rainfall total for the winter has grown to nearly 10 inches, still a far cry from our norm of 25+ but so much better than the 2.5 inches we'd accumulated by late February.  When the sun comes out, it really does feel like spring.

The vineyard is electric green, making up for lost time thanks to the newfound moisture in the soil.  These two photos, both taken from the top of our oldest Grenache block, will give you a sense of how the landscape has changed in the last month.  First, from Wednesday:


Next, from exactly a month earlier (March 2nd) just after our first big rain of the winter:


It's not just the cover crop that's growing; as you can see from the top photo the vines are well along too.  As was clear in mid-March -- when we noted that budbreak was beginning at least two weeks early -- the vineyard has decided that spring is here and it's time to get moving.  Grapes like Grenache (mentioned earlier) and Viognier (below) are furthest along but even the late-budding Roussanne and Mourvedre are past the point where they could withstand a serious freeze.


As for frosts, so far we've dodged successfully.  The last few nights were chilly (down into the mid-30's) but despite the cold air mass aloft, the nights stayed just cloudy enough to keep temperatures above freezing.  We're expecting one more cold -- but probably not frosty -- night tonight, and then a warming trend is supposed to push temperatures into the mid-80's by the middle of next week.  Each night that we avoid a frost is meaningful; if we have, for example, a 5% chance of a nightly freeze on March 15th, decreasing steadily to near zero on May 15th, every two weeks that we avoid a frost roughly doubles our chances of making it out unscathed. The math involved carries some oversimplistic assumptions (chiefly that each night is an independent variable, unconnected with the nights around them, which is clearly untrue) but it's still illustrative, and shows the chance of avoiding a frost every night for 60 nights at just 20%.  If we have to avoid just 45 nights, our chance of escaping rises to 39%, while if we have to avoid just 30 nights it rises to 64%, and at 15 nights it's all the way up to 88%.  This shows the enormous benefits of avoiding frost in the first 15 nights of budbreak, which should be intuitive: each day later in the year brings more daylight hours, shorter nights, a more northerly jet stream, greater heat accumulation and a correspondingly lower chance of a nightly freeze.

The net result, if I've lost you in the technical paragraph above, is that we're exceptionally grateful to have avoided a frost for the last three weeks.  We're a long way from out of the woods, and I'd still estimate our chances of escaping entirely at less than 50/50, but it's looking less desperate than it did three weeks ago.

In the vineyard, the late rain means that we're behind on getting the cover crop under control.  Until recent days, there wasn't a cover crop to speak of, and we're happy to see it finally growing, but it does mean that we'll be weeding later into the year than we're used to, and that the late moisture makes it more likely that we'll need to make multiple passes through some blocks.  For example, the block containing the head-trained Mourvedre vine pictured below, which was spaded before this week's rain, will certainly need to be re-weeded:

Head-trained mourvedre April 2014

Unfortunately, our sheep, alpacas, llama and donkeys will be less use than normal in our weeding efforts this year.  The late rain meant that there wasn't much for them to browse until recently, and since our animal herd will happily eat the new shoots off the vines, the early budbreak will soon force us to move them to unplanted sections of the property. Their impact there will still be beneficial, but even in a normal year there exists a six-month stretch where they're exiled from the producing vineyard, so extending that term by additional months is unfortunate.

Still, we're very happy to see the vineyard looking as good as it is, given the conditions it faced this winter.  And it is looking very good.  The vines look healthy and even, the vigor seems surprisingly good given that last year was dry and this winter even moreso, and it's clear that our care in reducing crop levels preemptively last year has had positive benefits in the vines' health this year.  The last month has been just what the doctor ordered: wet and not frosty.  If we see the same thing in April, we'll have cause to feel fortunate indeed.