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March 2017

In the winter, west Paso Robles is a rain forest. In the summer, it's a desert.

I was struck recently by a headline posted recently by a Seattle-dwelling friend of mine: Seattle just broke a 122-year-old record for rain. The total rainfall for this famously rainy city between October 2016 and April 2017? 44.67".

Here at Tablas Creek, over the same period, we've received 41.57" of rain.  No, you aren't reading that wrong. The rainfall we've received this past winter would be one of the wettest winters ever recorded in Seattle.  So perhaps it shouldn't be surprising that the below landscape (taken down near our creek a few months ago) could be straight out of the Pacific Northwest:

Lichen draped oaks

And while 2016-17 was quite a wet winter here, winters like it aren't all that rare.  Looking just over the last 20 years, this is the fifth winter that our weather station recorded 37" or more of rainfall here: 

Rainfall by winter as of 2017

Although the winter of 2016-17 was an outlier, our average rainfall here at the vineyard (25") is still pretty wet.  Other areas that average 25" of rain include lots of places in the upper Midwest, Texas, and northern California.  Also Chateauneuf du Pape, Alsace, and Burgundy.  What makes our rainfall here extraordinary is that almost all of our rain comes in a six-month period between November and April.  Take a look at our average rainfall by month at the vineyard:

Rainfall by month at Tablas Creek

During the six wet months, we get 92% of our annual rainfall and average 3.82" of rain per month.  If we were to extrapolate this to an annual basis, that's nearly 46" of rain, which you see in climates like New York City, Boston, Columbia MO, and Wilmington NC.  Seattle, by contrast, receives 38" per year.

If you look on the flip side at our six dry months, we average 0.35" of rain per month May-October.  On an annual basis, that's 4.14", slightly less than the city of Las Vegas (5") and slightly more than Lake Havasu, AZ (3.8").

How unusual is this rainfall distribution for a wine region?  Extremely.  Take a look at three regions in Europe.  First, Dijon, in the heart of Burgundy, which receives nearly the same amount of rainfall on an annual basis as we do, but with an almost-equal distribution each month (note that these graphs are all from the fascinating site climate-data.org, on which you can find similar information for thousands of locations around the globe):

Climate-graph-dijon

Maybe a more Mediterranean region like Tuscany?  The city of Florence sees about the same amount of rain we receive on an annual basis, and a distribution with slightly drier summers than winters, but nothing close to the degree we see here:

Climate-graph-florence

Chateauneuf du Pape is a better match still, though their two rainiest months are September-October:

Climate-graph-chateauneuf

In order to find an Old World rainfall distribution similar to ours, you have to go all the way into the Eastern Mediterranean. The Bekaa Valley in Lebanon would be a great match, if they only received 175% as much rain as they do:

Climate-grap-bekaah

OK, that was a lot of graphs.  But it's important, I think, if you're trying to wrap your head around the climate here in west Paso Robles, to pay just as much attention to the winters (wet) and nights (cold) as one does to the dry, hot summer days.  For visitors who come during the summer, the heat and dry landscape can make the cool green hillsides of winter seem like a mirage.  But they are two facets of this same climate: a climate in which massive oak trees grow draped with lichen, and in which dry-farmed grapevines can reach down 20 feet into limestone clay to pull out enough moisture to survive through five months of negligible precipitation.  As a bonus, it rarely rains during the harvest season, when the grapes are vulnerable.

Desert in the summer, and rain forest in the winter?  We'll take it. Even if it is hard to believe.


Talent in The Tasting Room; Q&A With Leslie Stuart

By Suphada Rom

Leslie Stuart, Tasting Room Lead and environmental advocate, is passionate about all that is Tablas Creek and what that means. What is it that makes her so special to all of us here at the vineyard? Read on.

Where were you born and raised?
I was born and raised in Mexico City. I'm the youngest of 4, and was born about 10 years after everyone else. I grew up in the north part of the city, which is more like a suburb and it has everything you could possibly need. I love Mexico City, it's a really cool place. It's very vibrant and full of culture. It's funny, during spring break I would actually beg my parents to stay in town instead of going somewhere because during that time, everyone who lives in the city goes to the coast. That's when there's less traffic and you can go anywhere in the city in half the time. 

Leslie mexico
 

So when did you first get into wine?
When I first moved to northwestern Mexico. In the county of Ensenada, there is a little wine region known as Valle de Guadalupe. At the time, I was working for an architect and she had a real estate development with a huge focus on wine. She hired me and from the beginning she said, "Here's the room that will be a wine store and you'll be in charge of it." So I was in charge of this wine shop, like starting it from zero. Everything from contacting winemakers, wineries, bringing new wines in, along with doing the marketing and advertising. I was just sort of thrown into the wine world and I fell in love with it!

How did you learn about Tablas Creek?
So, my husband Nathan (Tablas Creek's Shepherd) is from Paso, born and raised. Three years after we got married, we wanted to try out living up here. We would visit and I just loved how quaint it all was, especially the west side. We actually got engaged on one of the back roads out here in the Adelaida! When we were here and I was applying for my green card, I spent some time researching the local wineries to see where I could continue my career in the wine industry. Nathan suggested I look at Tablas Creek. I checked it out online and I fell in love with it. From everything I searched I thought to myself, "when I get my green card, I definitely going to apply to that place!" Then I came and interviewed, tasted the wines and I was like, "Oh my gosh!". I was hooked. I've been here since 2013 and I feel the same as I did when I first came- like, this is a place I can thrive. 

Maya and leslie

What is your role at here at the winery?
My role is a Tasting Room Lead. I help train and coordinate the great people we have working here sharing our wines and our story with our guests. Recently, I started a series of "Saturday Morning Talks" that take place about once a month for our tasting room staff. When we were smaller, these happened informally, but as we've gotten busier I thought it was important to make sure that we keep the conversation going between the people who make our wine and those of us who sell it. We started these monthly chats on Saturdays, basically so we can have someone from behind the scenes, like from our vineyard or cellar, to come to the tasting room and talk to our staff. Our tasting room staff is so enthusiastic and I was really excited to connect the front lines of our tasting room to the other workings within the winery and all the way out to the vineyard. People like our viticulturist Jordan, our winemaker Neil, and our shepherd Nathan have come and shared their passion for what they do here at Tablas Creek. They share a little bit about what's going on right now, a little bit about what they do, where we are currently as a winery, and a projection to where we're going to be. I think it's so important to link the two departments together- a little bit goes a long way!

What is your tasting room philosophy?
I think just being natural and not pretentious. Those are the two words that come to mind, and that's what I feel most comfortable being when I'm with people. Just being myself, and for the staff to be themselves, as well. When you have someone in front of you, I mean, they're tasting the wines that we are crafting here. When I'm talking, I try to plant a seed of excitement about us and about what we're doing here- and I think the only way we can accomplish that is by being easygoing and authentic. 

Leslie nathan maya

What is one of your favorite memories here?
Oh, there are so many! I think one of my favorite memories was a few years ago, when I was working in the office. There was a guy from the Brazil press that came to interview our founder, Bob. They were talking and tasting, and Bob requested that I come and pour wine for them during interview. I so enjoyed just being there, and watching how natural Bob is. He's so approachable and honest about the wine and the vineyard. Just seeing this amazing businessman sitting there being so humble and approachable was incredible.

When you're not working, what are you doing?
Ha! When, I'm not working, I like to work out and do yoga. I have two dogs, Maya and Jo, who also work with my husband, Nathan, on the Tablas Creek property. I love my family and we like to spend our evenings together. I love to cook, and for me, at the end of the day, even if it was long and stressful, I'll come home and cook something because I love it so much and actually, it gives me energy!

Yoga

Speaking of food and wine, do you have a favorite pairing?
My latest one was garden artichokes and our 2016 Vermentino. We steamed them and I made a creamy citrus-cashew dip to go with it. It was perfect with our Vermentino, and one of my favorite pairings. It was so nice, and we just sat and ate our dinner on the porch and enjoyed the sunset.

Besides Tablas Creek, do you have any other favorite wines/wineries?
Well this last Christmas, I went back to Ensenada to visit my friends and family- with friends, as well! Neil (TCV Winemaker) and his family joined Nathan and me, and we went wine tasting at our favorite places. There's a handful of wineries in Mexico that I love. One that comes to mind is Tres Mujeres- she makes awesome white wines, like Carignan Blanc- it's so good! There is this honesty about her wines that I really love.

How do you define success?
I think life is too short, and, to me, success is doing or pursuing the things that you are passionate about in life. And it might sound cliché but your destiny is not in the future, but your destiny is today. Deciding what you are going to do today to move within the freedom you have been given will lead to success.


One last gasp of winter amid spring's progress

Over the last week, we've seen what feels like the last gasp of winter.  Two storms have come through, the first dropping about an inch and a half of rain (a lot for April; our long-term average for the entire month is just 1.86") and a couple more are expected this and next week. We've had several other days with significant cloud cover, and two nights where we got down around freezing, though we think we escaped any damage to the new growth.  At the same time, the days are lengthening and the sun is warm, the vines have all come out of dormancy, and we're getting the cover crop turned under where the animals weren't able to do it for us. It's a point in time where the view in any given vineyard block changes daily.  A few photos will give you a sense.  First, one taken on Friday 4/7, during our rainy day, with the cover crop and vines a mix of winter green/brown and summer gold/green:

Misty April 2017

In the areas where the animals last grazed in February (or earlier) the grasses are knee-high and starting to turn gold. This view, with high grass and new growth, is going to be short-lived, as we need to bring the cover crop under control for a variety of reasons.  The winter's heavy rain and its associated risk of erosion are largely in the rear-view mirror. With our always-dry summer on its way, we want to eliminate the vines' competition for the soil's available water. Returning the cover crop to the soil renews the earth's fertility and provides nutrients for the vines to draw on the rest of the year. Finally, it's important to knock down the cover crop to allow the cooler air at the surface to drain downhill rather than having it pool around the vines and cause frost damage. From the head-trained, dry-farmed "Scruffy Hill" block yesterday:

Scruffy Hill April 2017 2

Within a few weeks, all this growth will be turned under and decomposing in the topsoil, while the vines begin their trek toward harvest.  Last April 27th, I spent a morning taking photos on Scruffy Hill.  The difference from the photo above is dramatic, but not likely much different from what you'll see in two weeks:

Scruffy long view

The April rainfall pushed us over 40" and made this winter our second-rainiest ever.  We still have a chance to catch 2004-5, which at 42.85" is our wettest since we installed our weather station in 1996:

Rainfall by winter as of 2017

And yes, if you were wondering, the 2017 vintage is underway. The Grenache vines on Scruffy Hill already have tiny flower clusters forming:

Flower clusters April 2017

I'm sure we'll be sharing many photos in coming weeks and months of the new growth and the 2017 growing season. This is where it all begins.


Picture Tells a Thousand Words: Animal Edition

We are just finishing the time of year in which we can safely have our animal herd out in the vineyard. With the continued progression of budbreak, even our latest-sprouting grapes are starting to push buds. Leaves are not far behind. So, we've moved the animals to two vine-free sections of the property: the new parcel on the other side of Tablas Creek, and a smaller area in the middle of the vineyard where we pulled out some struggling Syrah and Roussanne vines, and which we are letting lie fallow this summer.

Still, it's not hard to see the impact of the animals on the blocks in which they spent time, particularly at the fence lines which mark the dividers between grazed and ungrazed areas. I snapped a photo of one of these borders yesterday, halfway up the hill of Mourvedre that's behind the winery:

FullSizeRender-7

Five days ago, the entire hillside looked like the prairie. Now, the bottom dozen rows (beginning at the middle of the frame above) look like they've been neatly mowed. It took the animals just two days to graze their enclosure down to a few inches. They spread manure throughout the block. And we didn't have to use an ounce of fuel or a single tractor pass to accomplish either goal.

This is the second time this winter that this block has been grazed by our flock; we moved them down the hillside in January. So, even the tall grass on the uphill side of the fence line is regrowth after an initial grazing, fueled in part by the fertilizer left behind on the animals' first pass.

It is this efficiency -- that we can use natural processes instead of artificial ones -- that makes Biodynamics so appealing. We're creating a more complete, more resilient ecosystem by building biodiversity, and saving ourself the costs (and side-effects) of having to buy (and spread) fertilizer, and of having to drive through the vineyard (and compact the soil with a tractor) mowing. The other benefits -- better water retention, no erosion, more topsoil, and the occasional lamb chop -- just tilt the cost/benefit calculation further in the right direction.

I drive by a few vineyards each day on my way into work whose soils look dead. Between the herbicides they use to keep weed growth down and the soil compaction created by the tractor work, even this winter's ample rainfall couldn't make grasses grow. The difference between soils like that and what you see above couldn't be plainer. Do you think this difference will impact the grapes that grow there, and the wines that result? You bet it will.


Flatbread (and Roussanne) Two Ways: Potatoes/Fennel/Rosemary/Onion and Leeks/Mushrooms/Corn

By Suphada Rom

How many times have you decided to have a casual get together with a couple of friends and then, all of a sudden, you're throwing some sort of backyard shindig for the neighborhood? We've all been there and trust me, I know the feeling of panic. The sensation rushes through your body as you try to figure out what you're going to make to keep the party going and keep the hungry well-fed. My go-to has always been pizzas (or in modern California parlance, flatbreads). Diverse in their nature, they serve as a blank canvas, ready for you to throw on a multitude of toppings. With that in mind, you can craft different flatbreads to appease all palates, not only making everyone happy but making you look like the most well planned host ever! We decided to have a little flatbread party of our own here at the winery, and went non-traditional. The result: two recipes for flatbreads that pair beautifully with Roussanne. Both are vegetarian, though if you're the type who that makes nervous, both would do beautifully with a sprinkling of crisped pancetta cubes too.

 2015 flatbread 2
Rosemary, Fennel, and Potato Flatbread with Comte Cheese to the left, and Leek, Mushroom and Corn Flatbread with Gruyere Cheese on the right. And Roussanne.

44E00793-7402-4822-8F91-9F71D1F20C1E
Garlic and herb dough, ready to rise!

8384041F-85FE-452B-94DF-A4E6EDCD5F32
After just an hour in the sun, the dough was so big and pillowy! 

2013 flatbread
The flatbreads were delicious and versatile with multiple vintages of Roussanne, including the 2013!

2017-03-16-14-49-28
More Roussanne than I can (almost) handle!

For the flatbreads, I didn't follow a recipe, per se, but to say I created the recipe is certainly an overstatement. I picked elements I knew would play up the features of our Roussanne. Tender cooked leeks, sweet fennel, and rich potatoes were just a few of the ingredients I knew would marry well. All of those ingredients atop a light garlic and herb crust? Delicious. Also, whenever I cook with Roussanne in mind, I love caramelizing any and everything. Doing this step in cooking not only softens the ingredient for texture, but it tends to bring out this sweetness, and not the cloying kind, but the kind that is rich with mellow sweetness. Caramelized onion tart? How about oven roasted fennel? Yes to both- and yes to a fantastic pairing with our Roussanne.

Why Roussanne? Well, with the release of a new vintage along with some exciting news and press, I knew I wanted to pair these flatbreads with the pure varietal bottling. In any vintage, Roussanne reels in richness on the nose and persistence on the palate. Incredibly versatile, but not in the same way that, say, rosé is. You may have read my last post about tacos and rosé and how I love rosé's versatility. This is considering that most rosés should be consumed relatively youthfully. Roussanne is versatile in the sense that you could enjoy it now, in fact, we gladly did! However, if you stumble across a bottle that has a few years of age on it (maybe it's even a decade old), you'll be in for a real treat. Roussanne ages gracefully and through years in bottle, increases its depth and complexity ten fold. Youthful Roussanne evokes fresh honey and fresh floral notes while an older bottling may lean towards being a bit more towards notes of caramel- you may even detect a little saltiness. Drink now... or not. The choice is yours!

If you recreate this dish (or create a TCV wine and food pairing of your own!), be sure to let us know on any of our social media handles - Facebook or Twitter or Instagram - or just leave us a comment here! When you do, tag @tablascreek and use #EatDrinkTablas. As for us, well I'm advocating for more days with flatbreads... Flatbread Fridays, anyone??

A few resources:

  • Our Roussanne is making headlines! Recently given 93 points and described as "fragrant, ebullient, ripe and refreshing" in Wine Spectator  
  • Everything Roussanne:
     - 2013 Roussanne is almost sold out! Call the wine club office at (805)-237-1231 to reserve your bottle(s)
     - 2014 Roussanne is available in the tasting room or through our online shop
     - 2015 Roussanne is part of our spring wine club shipment. Members of our VINsider club get access to this exclusive        bottling and a 20% discount. Not a member yet? Find out more information here.
  • Curious about how Roussanne ages? Check out our Vintage Chart- we update every season to give you a better idea of how the wine is drinking!

Ingredients and recipe for flatbreads are as follows:

Flatbread No. 1:

- mini gold potatoes (skin on, and thinly sliced)
- fennel (thinly sliced and lightly sauteéd)
- yellow onion (thinly sliced)
- rosemary
- comte cheese

Flatbread No. 2:
- leeks (cut in half lengthwise, thinly sliced and sautéed until soft)
- mushrooms (any kind will do, I used crimini- sliced)
- corn (oven roasted)
- gruyere cheese

Instructions:
1. Make dough according to recipe. You can use any you like, I chose one from the Minimalist Baker for a Garlic Herb Flatbread. Instead of frying it in a pan, I chose to bake them in the oven (with the toppings) at 375 degrees.
2. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
3. While the dough is rising, you can prepare the toppings. The leeks should be sautéed in a splash of olive oil over medium-low heat, until translucent and tender. After the leeks are done, remove them from the pan, spoon into a bowl, and use the same pan to quick sauté the fennel. I stirred them around the hot pan for just a minute or two, just until they'd softened slightly. 
4. On a cookie sheet, spread out the corn kernels and coat with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Roast in the oven for 20 minutes, or until tender and golden in color. 
5. Following the flatbread recipe, divide the dough up and roll each dough out. Coat the top surface of the dough with olive oil before adding toppings. Finish with salt and pepper.
6. Bake for 10-15 minutes, or until edges of crust start to golden slightly.