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June 2018

The Voice on the Other End of the Phone: Q&A with Monica O'Connor, Direct Sales Manager

By Linnea Frazier

Here at Tablas Creek there are faces you see often, out in the market or when you visit our tasting room. But there are other faces, equally important, who operate behind the scenes. And these people play a huge role in making this vineyard what it has come to be. One of the goals of our interview series with members of our Tablas Creek team is to help you get to know some of the key people who you might not see out in front of the house. And of these, none is more important than ten-year veteran Monica O'Connor, our stunning and creative Direct Sales Manager. You may know her as the primary voice on the other end of the phone when you call our order desk. But in addition to that role, she's a key piece of our great Wine Club team, an accomplished home cook, and still designing and making clothes: a continuation of her earlier career in fashion. 

Where were you born and raised?

I was born in Los Angeles and grew up on the “Miracle Mile”, not far from LACMA. We spent lots of time at the La Brea Tar Pits and the art museum, walking distance from home and school. It was a great time to grow up in LA!

Being originally from Southern California, what drew you up to the Central Coast?

I came from a large family - I have three brothers and two sisters, and our parents would take us on driving vacations during the summer. I remember loving the central coast area as a child when we would come through, and sometimes stay. There was something enchanting about it to me as a child, and that always drew me here.

Monica-Cube_8fe3a1436060ad430a55b7a65e67327d

How did you transition from a degree in Fashion and Merchandising to the wine industry?

I earned my fashion design degree in 1988 and worked for a time in the industry. I was raising my son at the time and found myself without the time I wanted to spend with him, so when I was offered a position in my family’s printing business, I took it and enjoyed several years working with my father and sister there. I continue to enjoy designing and making clothes though - I have a couple of things in the works now!

When and how did you get into wine?

I became interested in wine through my older brother who has a small collection and has traveled a bit. I would come up to this area to visit, and attended the Paso Robles Wine University in 2004 and 2005, a weekend of learning about wine growing and appreciation. It was fun, but I mostly become interested in the art and science of wine. It was then that I discovered Tablas Creek, as Jason was a speaker in a few of the seminars. I ventured out here and took the tour, and subsequently joined the wine club! Not long after, I took a UC Davis course with Carole Meredith, and ultimately decided to leave LA to make the move here.

What is your role at here at the winery?

I am the Direct Sales Manager, and my role is to broaden, and add value to the relationships with members established in the tasting room and nurtured through the Wine Club.

What’s your biggest challenge as Direct Sales Manager?

My biggest challenge is probably in making it all move like a waltz! We have many members and I want to know them, what they like and expect. Fine-tuning this and communicating within are goals I’m always striving for.

Which are your other favorite wines or wineries locally or around the world?

I have not traveled extensively but I will say that some of my favorite wines are Champagnes. I also love and am fascinated by Burgundy wines. One of my favorite varietals is Sangiovese. Local wineries I like to visit are Bella Luna in Templeton, and down in Arroyo Grande, Laetitia, for their sparkling wines.

If you had to pick one red and one white to drink for the next month which would you choose?

If I had to pick just one red and white to drink for the next month? No question, the white would be the 2015 Esprit Blanc. It reminds me a little of the 2007, which I adored. Its depth and high notes are totally balanced and it’s perfectly beautiful. For the red, well the recent heat is really influencing me here - I have to say the Tablas 2016 Counoise. Chilled, friendly with any summer food you can think of - it’s a natural!

Do you have a favorite food and wine pairing?

I love coming up with new food and wine pairings, but I have a special love for Mourvedre. And paired with a simple filet steak rare, with a perfect crust . . . something delicious and unfussy to savor!

Monica (002)

How do you like to spend your days off?

On the weekends I love to run on the beach or hike, design and make clothes and create new recipes. I recently made preserved lemons - so easy, I don’t know why I never made them before! They make everything that calls for lemons better - try it!

What would people be surprised to know about you?

One thing people might be surprised to know about me is that I’m a yoga teacher. I have helped people with yoga therapy, and though I haven’t taught a group class in many years, I love yoga and believe it has far-reaching benefits.

What is one of your favorite memories here?

One of my favorite memories here at Tablas Creek is hearing Bob’s stories. He had many and I heard only a few first-hand, but the way he distilled his experiences, and communicated them was really special. I know I am very fortunate to have had these impromptu interactions with Robert Haas.

How do you define success?

Success to me is living a life that is always creative. Not only working on creative projects, but making every decision and being able to act from my creative center. Those I admire most live this way at every age, and I hope I will too.

 

This is but a scratch at the surface of how incredible this woman is, so we hope you're as in love with her as we are! 


Choosing the Wines for the Fall 2018 VINsider "Collector's Edition" Shipment

Each summer, I have the pleasure of tasting through library vintages of our Esprit de Beaucastel and Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc to choose the wines for the upcoming VINsider Wine Club Collector's Edition shipment. We created the Collector's Edition version of our VINsider Wine Club back in 2009 to give our biggest fans a chance to see what our flagship wines were like aged in perfect conditions. Members also get a slightly larger allocation of the current release of Esprits to track as they evolve. This club gives us a chance show off our wines' ageworthiness, and it's been a great success, generating a waiting list each year since we started it.

This year, our selections will be the 2010 Esprit de Beaucastel and the 2012 Esprit de Tablas Blanc. Each wine bears the signature of its vintage: 2010 was one of our coolest, with exceptionally long hang times and wines that show depth almost effortlessly, while 2012 was the first warm year after two cool vintages, producing Roussanne with charm and friendliness.

In both cases, the wines have evolved in fun ways, becoming something more complete than they were when they were young.  The 2010 Esprit, which was always an intellectually satisfying wine, has fleshed out and added heft and substance without muddying the vintage's essential elegance.  The 2012 Esprit Blanc has added depth and savory, nutty notes that layer beautifully over the wine's essential sunny generosity.

It's worth noting that this isn't the end; both these wines will go out another decade, at least, and the 2010 Esprit, particularly seems like it will benefit from even another six months in bottle. The duo:

CE Wines 2018 2

Tasting notes, from tastings today:

  • 2012 Esprit de Tablas Blanc:  Medium gold, only slightly deepened with time. An immensely appealing nose of almonds, honey, white flowers, mint, and a rich fruity yeastiness that Chelsea identified as apple fritter.  The mouth is like baklava: nuts and honey, with additional flavors of roasted pear, clove, and candied lemon peel. Still vibrant and youthful, but with delicious additional complexity from the five years in bottle. 75% Roussanne, 20% Grenache Blanc, 5% Picpoul Blanc.  Delicious now, but will certainly be good for another 5-10 years, or more.
  • 2010 Esprit de Beaucastel: A deeply meaty, spicy nose of strawberry fruit leather, bittersweet chocolate, and bay leaf. On the palate, beautifully balanced between youthful and more mature expressions, with flavors of plum skin, leather, loam, and meat drippings. Very nice freshness, with savory notes of black pepper and black tea coming out on the finish.  It's still unwinding, and we think that anyone with the patience to wait another 6 months will be rewarded. It will drink well and continue to gain depth and complexity, we think, for another decade or two. 45% Mourvedre, 30% Grenache, 21% Syrah, 4% Counoise. 

The complete Collector's Edition shipment is pretty stunning, if I may say so myself:

  • 2 bottles of 2010 Esprit de Beaucastel
  • 1 bottle of 2012 Esprit de Tablas Blanc
  • 3 bottles of 2016 Esprit de Tablas
  • 1 bottle of 2014 Esprit de Tablas
  • 1 bottle of 2016 En Gobelet
  • 2 bottles of 2016 Esprit de Tablas Blanc
  • 1 bottle of 2017 Cotes de Tablas Blanc
  • 1 bottle of 2017 Grenache Blanc

We will be adding to the Collector's Edition membership, subject to available space, in the next few weeks. If you're on the waiting list, you should look for an email with news, one way or the other, of whether you've made it on for this round. We add members, once a year, in the order in which we received applications to the waiting list. If you are currently a VINsider member and interested in getting on the waiting list, you can upgrade to the Collector's Edition online or by giving us our wine club office a call. And if you are not currently a member, but would like to be, you can sign up for the VINsider Wine Club Collector's Edition, with all the benefits of VINsider Wine Club membership while you're on the waiting list.

One final  note. This will be the 10th year of our Collector's Edition club.  I remember back in 2008 when we were brainstorming ideas as to how to get the library wines that we'd been cellaring since the 2003 vintage into the hands of our fans, and struggling with how to do this without cheapening the experience of VINsider Club members. It's interesting for me to go back and read a blog I wrote then, sharing our thoughts and soliciting ideas from readers.  I still think of the Collector's Edition as a "new" addition to our offering, but with a decade under our belts, it's clearly not any more.  Those of you who are members, I'd love to hear your thoughts.  And thank you, as always, for your patronage. We are grateful, and don't take it for granted.


A mid-summer vineyard assessment suggests 2018 is looking like a throwback to the 2000s

I feel like I'm inviting disaster just by typing this sentence, but it's been, well, benign so far this summer.  I got back from two weeks in Europe, some vacation and some work, to find a vineyard significantly advanced over where it was in the first half of June.  Vines that were just finishing flowering are now fully set, with early varieties nearly full-sized.  The Grenache, below, looks fully formed, though the grapes will continue to grow a little and there's no hint of color change yet:

Vineyard Summer 2018 Grenache

Fruit set looks good, with only minimal shatter, and the late rain that we received in March appears to have given the vines enough vigor to set a healthy crop.  We will surely be dropping some fruit this summer.

The vineyard looks vibrantly healthy, with even stress-prone varieties like Roussanne and Mourvedre still fully green.  This isn't a surprise; we've only had one day (June 22nd) top 100, and only 14 days reach the 90s.  That may sound like a lot, but the average nighttime low since May 1st has been 46 degrees, and a couple of days in mid-June didn't even make it out of the 60s. More measurably, in terms of heat accumulation (as measured in Degree Days at the weather station in our vineyard) we're still below our 20-year average, with May 18% cooler than normal and June just 5% warmer than normal.  I'm not sure if the health of the vineyard comes through in photographs, but it's (no pun intended) worth a shot:

Vineyard Summer 2018

Or, for another perspective, here's a shot from below the Counoise trellises, showing the clusters sheltering beneath their leafy canopy:

Vineyard Summer 2018 Under Counoise

How does this compare to other recent years, and what does it mean for harvest?  Well, our late-March budbreak, which kicks off the growing season, was about two weeks later than in most recent years, though more or less average looking at a 20-year perspective.  The weather since then has been quite a bit cooler than the years since 2012, but again, more or less average looking at the 20-year scale.  That's probably easier to make sense of in a graph.  First, the heat accumulation (in degree days) this year versus two averages: one of all years since 1997, and the other looking at just the recent warm stretch that began in 2012:

Summer 2018 Degree Days Through June

You can see that our recent years (in green) have been quite a bit warmer than the longer-term average (in blue), whereas 2018 (in red) is cooler.  That's perhaps even more dramatically illustrated by looking at 2018 in terms of percent difference from average.  All three months we've measured this growing season have been between 8.5% and 15.5% cooler than the 2012-2017 stretch:

Summer 2018 Degree Days Through June vs Normal

All this weather data just reinforces my thought that we're going to be seeing a harvest that's more like what we got used to in the 2000s (when we averaged 1069 degree days through June, nearly identical to this year's 1045) than what we've seen in the 2010s. The best comps to date are 2002, 2006, and 2009, all of which didn't see harvest begin until the first half of September. I'm not expecting veraison until we get close to the end of July.  Of course, there's still a long way to go, and there is a hot stretch forecast starting next week.  But we are at what's typically the hottest time of year, and it's still been moderate.  So far, so good.