Tablas Creek is a 2016 Wine Blog Awards Finalist

WBA_logoI was excited to learn today that we are a finalist for the 2016 Wine Blog Awards. These awards, created in 2007 by the tireless Tom Wark to honor the growing number and quality of wine bloggers, have been awarded each year since.

This is the tenth year of the awards, and the eighth year where we've been a finalist. Our consistency is the accomplishment I'm proudest of. Blogging can be a slog at times. There is a start-up period where no one much is reading what you're saying. And then, after a few years in a seasonal, cyclical endeavor, it becomes a struggle to feel like you aren't just repeating yourself. In order to keep the blog feeling fresh and relevant, I've tried to bring new voices into the mix, and this past year, we've added two new series, both of which I think add a fresh perspectives: the Eat Drink Tablas series featuring food & wine pairings by Suphada Rom, and the Q & A with Tablas series, where Lauren Phelps interviews some of the key members of our team.

Like last year, our category is "Best Winery/Industry Blog". There is one other returning blog from last year's finalists (last year's winning Berry Bros. & Rudd blog, from the venerable UK retailer). The other finalists are all new to the awards, though I was excited to see a personal local favorite (the Wine Lohr blog, from J. Lohr, which should win for its name alone). The other three entries are new to me, and I look forward to getting to know them over the next few days.  And, of course, ours is just one category; there are seven categories in all.  Getting to know the other finalists' work [click here] is always my favorite part of the whole process.  I hope that you will as well.  If, after doing so, you'd care to vote for us, we'd be honored.  The winner will be determined half by the voting of the judges, and half by the votes of the public.  Voting ends June 13th.

I like to celebrate these nominations by looking back at some memorable posts from the last year.  Here are ten of my favorites of the 62 entries we've posted in the last year, with a little about why each has stuck with me:

  • The Early Years of Tablas Creek. Last summer, I received a treasure trove of photographs from Dick Hoenisch, our original nursery and vineyard manager who has since moved on to a career in academia.  These photographs, from when we bought the property in 1989 through the original construction of our winery building in 1997, were like a time capsule that I think anyone who only knows us as a mature winery will find fascinating.
  • On the Rhone: a Post-Cruise Appreciation. My dad helped lead the Tablas Creek Rhone River cruise last August.  When he came back, he wrote up the experience vividly enough that you'll feel like you were there. The amazing photographs provided by Jeffery Clark, a wine club member on the cruise, are the icing on the cake.
  • Coming (Soon) to Fruition. I always love Chelsea Franchi's blogs because of their combination of intimacy and humor. Read this, and you'll know what it's like to anticipate (and dread) the onset of the harvest season. 
  • What's Next for the New Paso Robles AVAs. I was invited late last year to present at a continuing education law seminar, focused on the AVA approval process and prospects for the 11 Paso Robles sub-AVAs. It gave me a chance to look forward at what the future might look like. What these new AVAs mean (and should mean) in the marketplace is a fascinating question, and I enjoyed delving into it in some depth.
  • Customer Service Lessons from an Overcrowded Restaurant. I think this is one anyone can relate to: a favorite place that's just not on its game one night. But in the age of Yelp, the consequences to that place can be lasting. Hopefully, I helped someone, somewhere, avoid this.
  • A 60 Year Career in a Bottle of Delaporte Sancerre. A second piece by my dad, reflecting on opening a bottle of wine he'd first encountered (many vintages earlier) on his first buying trip to France. Even more fun: that same day, the original proprietor's great-grandson had presented the estate's newest wines to Vineyard Brands, the company he founded.
  • Braised Short Ribs: A Cold-Weather Pairing Fit for Rain or Snow. I could have picked any of Suphada's Eat Drink Tablas entries, but this was maybe my favorite: seasonal and delicious, with her super photographs illustrating every stage of the recipe.
  • Why the Future May Look a Lot Like the Crazy 2015 Vintage. This came out of my being invited to give the keynote address to a viticulture conference held here in Paso Robles. The opportunity to go back and look at what made 2015 so unusual was, I think, both instructive and unsettling.
  • The Swarm, the Hive, and Tablas Creek Honey. Viticulturist Jordan Lonborg's first blog was a knockout, taking you inside the quest to catch a wild swarm of bees. The photographs that accompanied the piece were equally amazing.
  • Grenache Blanc's Moment in the Sun. Some blogs take work to write. This was one that sprang onto the keyboard almost fully formed, thanks to conversations I'd had in recent weeks with both the Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast. Love seeing the attention for this grape that we introduced into California more than two decades ago.

Thank you for accompanying us on this journey with me and with us: 660 posts in all since we began the blog in November of 2005. As we pass our ten year mark, it's gratifying to know that we're still going strong. And if you're still reading, but haven't checked out the other finalists, go do that now. Wine blogs, at their best, plunge you into the inner workings of a world that is too-often shrouded in mystique. Dive in.


Congratulations to Jason Haas, 2015 Paso Robles Wine Industry Person of the Year

By Robert Haas

In 1989 The Perrin family and the Haas family bought a 120 acre pasture in Adelaida that was to become Tablas Creek Vineyard, named for the eponymous creek that flowed through the property.  I took over the management.

In 2002 my son Jason, fresh from a stint in the east coast’s tech world, arrived in Paso Robles and started working at Tablas Creek, focusing initially on our marketing and increasingly on our management.  Although Jason has taken over the day-to-day operations here, I'm still working because I enjoy our working together.  It's fun.  His leadership here and his accomplishments at the vineyard and in the community delight me.

Last Friday, the Paso Robles wine community came together at the Paso Wine Country Alliance's annual Winter Gala to honor Jason for “outstanding contributions toward the success of the Paso Robles wine industry”.  He was named the 2015 Paso Robles Wine Industry Person of the Year:

BarrelJason, with Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance Executive Director Jennifer Porter 

KatchoJason with State Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian (left) and State Senator Bill Monning (right) and the decree passed by the Californa legislature

Group
A healthy Tablas Creek contingent gathered to help celebrate

It was fun to hear the wine community recognize his accomplishments in the fourteen years he has been working here. They have been significant!

  • He started this blog back in 2005 and has been its principal author for a decade now. It has been a finalist for “Best Winery Blog” seven of the last eight years and won in 2008 and 2011.   The blog helped establish us as leaders in the wine community and himself as a source for media with thoughts worth seeking out.
  • His writing on the blog has led to invitations to contribute pieces on Paso Robles and Rhone varieties to Wine Business Monthly, Wines & Vines, Wine Industry Network, and Zester Daily, and to regular appearances on radio and television.
  • He established the Paso Robles Rhone Rangers chapter in 2007 and led it for the next several years. In that period, it grew from 15 members to 50 members and helped establish Paso Robles as the epicenter of California’s Rhone movement.
  • He has represented Paso Robles, Rhone grape varieties, and Tablas Creek to industry groups including the American Wine Society, the AIWF, the Unified Symposium, and the Society of Wine Educators, and has been a regular guest lecturer to classes and student groups at Cal Poly and Fresno State, spreading the word about our region and our winery to the next generation of wine consumers and wine professionals.
  • He has helped build Tablas Creek's standing in the community, working with and supporting deserving causes such as must! charities, Festival Mozaic, the Foundation for the Performing Arts Center, and the Paderewski Festival, as well as volunteering as a youth basketball and baseball coach in Templeton.
  • He has volunteered diligently as a board member of the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance, of Rhône Rangers, and of Family Winemakers of California. It is easy to critique the actions of an organization, but much more significant to jump in and help it achieve its goals.
  • He has had, I feel, a particularly significant impact on the Rhone Rangers. When he joined the board in 2004, it was an organization whose sole footprint was one tasting a year in San Francisco.  He pushed the group to expand its Bay Area event to include a greater educational component and a winemaker dinner and auction.  He also led the charge to add additional events, including an annual Los Angeles tasting and “road show” visits to Seattle, Chicago, New York, and Washington DC.  The category of California Rhones has made amazing strides in the last decade, in part thanks to the work of Jason and the rest of the Rhone Rangers leadership.
  • Jason’s support of Tablas Creek’s role in the creation of and advocacy for the 11 new Paso Robles AVAs helped distill a complicated story into a comprehensible message of why this is a good thing for the region.

I'm proud of him.   He has made a difference.


A 60 year career in a bottle of Domaine Delaporte Sancerre

By Robert Haas

Last week Barbara and I enjoyed a bottle of 2014 Delaporte Sancerre Chavignol with a shrimp dish and some stir-fried baby bok choy. It reminded me of my first visit to the property in 1954, then directed by Gabriel Delaporte.  As it happens, that same day Gabriel's great-grandson Matthieu Delaporte was presenting the estate's newest vintages to Vineyard Brands at their national sales meetings in Alabama.  One of the slides in his presentation talked about that day:

Delaporte

The Delaporte family has been making wine in Chavignol since the 17th century. Gabriel's son (Vincent, below bottom), grandson (Jean-Yves, below right) and great-grandson (Matthieu, below left) run the estate today:

Delaporte - Family

The vineyards of Chavignol consist of Kimmeridgian marl (à la Chablis), imparting body and power to the wines that bolster sauvignon blanc's signature citrus and minerality. Sancerre's history is interesting, and somewhat distinct from the rest of the Loire Valley.  In fact, until the late 19th century Sancerre was not even planted to sauvignon blanc. In the middle ages, it was part of the Duchy of Burgundy and was planted to gamay and pinot noir (20% still is in pinot). Phylloxera devastated it in the 19th century along with just about all of the French vineyards and sauvignon blanc was introduced as the vineyards were replanted, partly because it grafted better onto American rootstocks. The new wine became a favorite of Paris bistros and was awarded the appellation Sancerre in 1936. In 1954, Domaine Delaporte was the first property I visited in my new job as buyer for my father's wine shop, M. Lehmann, Inc. in New York, just a short detour on the way south from Paris to Burgundy via N7 in the days before the autoroute coasted you down directly to Beaune.

In the 1950s the eastern Loire wines from sauvignon blanc (and pinot noir) grapes were practically unknown in the United States but I loved the wines of the 1952 vintage tasted from the demi-muid barrels and took a chance on 100 cases. I -- and later, Vineyard Brands, the import company I founded -- have been Delaporte's U.S. importer ever since. I never imagined back then that 60 years later I would be in the same profession as a vineyard proprietor in California.

That evening, before dinner, we opened one of our own whites, the Viognier/Grenache Blanc/Marsanne/Roussanne blend 2014 Côtes de Tablas Blanc.

Sancerre Horizontal

The Delaporte had the typical Sancerre cutting edge dryness with expressive aromas of gooseberries and a stony minerality. By contrast, the Tablas Creek was minerally, but in a different way, more creamy texture and saline finish, with fuller body, less acidity, and fruit more like peaches than citrus.  Still, the pleasure of having two terrific dry whites, one of which I have a 60-year history with, and the other of which I've dedicated the last quarter-century to making, made the meal a memorable one.


On the Rhone: a Post-Cruise Appreciation

By Robert Haas.  Special thanks to Jeffery Clark, who provided most of the photos.

I’m back in Vermont, basking in the afterglow of our Tablas Creek cruise of the Rhone. It was a ten-day celebration (including the optional three-day visit to Paris and Champagne) of great food and wine, organized by our partners at Food & Wine Trails.  By the end, new friends felt like old friends, and our 120-person group had made the S.S. Catherine ours.  On a personal level, I very much enjoyed sharing with the group the homeland of the Rhône varieties that we have nurtured at Tablas Creek Vineyard. 

About one half of our large group of adherents opted for the Paris-Champagne addition, July 30th-August 1st.  The Bel Ami Hotel was comfortable, nicely air-conditioned (needed in the hot weather France has been seeing this summer) and well placed around the corner from Paris landmarks on the Boulevard St. Germain, such as the Brasserie Lipp, and the cafés Deux Magots and Café de Flore.  

For the trip to Champagne, we arrived in Vrigny at the property of Roger Coulon, propriétaire-récoltant on the Montagne de Reims, with an hour and a half bus trip.  Coulon produces only about 90,000 bottles from his own vines.  His cellars were straightforward, simple but modern.  We tasted his wines.   They had an artisanal terroir character that I loved.  We enjoyed an excellent champagne lunch at his close-by restaurant, Les Clos des Terres Soudées.  He paired his various cuvées of champagne with each course.  We then visited the cellars of Taittinger -- quite a contrast -- with traditional old cellars cut deep into the Champagne chalk under Reims, followed by a tasting of their wines.  The visits were enjoyable and educational.  Some of us preferred the artisanal drier, richer style of Coulon and others the traditional "grande marque" style of Taittinger.

We had some time to spend on our own in Paris and then took the TGV from the Gare de Lyon in Paris to Avignon on the 2nd to join the rest of the cruisers boarding the ship.  On my first visits to pre-autoroute France in the 1950’s, that trip down the N7 took 10 hours.  The TGV made it in 2. 

Pont d'Avignon 2
The famous Pont d'Avignon

The voyage began with a short overnight sail to Tarascon, a little south of Avignon, from where there were interesting shore visits to Tarascon, a city that dates back to the late bronze age.  It has a riverside castle from the 15th century that is known as "The King's Castle" (Château du Roi René).

There was also a visit to Arles, which is close-by.  Arles is a fascinating city.  It was a Phoenician port by about 800 B.C., taken by the Romans in 123 B.C., and still is home to some of the best-preserved Roman remains outside Italy.  In modern times it was an attractive abode for Vincent van Gogh, who arrived there in 1888.  Many of his most famous paintings were completed there, including The Night Café, the Yellow Room, Starry Night Over the Rhône, and L'Arlésienne.

Arles amphitheater
The Roman amphitheater at Arles 

The centerpiece of the cruise was the stay in Avignon, which provided a base for twin cellar visits and delicious open-air lunches in the court of Château de Beaucastel.  It was fun to share the Beaucastel secrets with our group.  We were too large a group to all go at once so half the group went on the 3rd and half on the 4th.  Everybody got to taste from barrels and visit the old spotlessly clean cellars, as well as learn about Beaucastel's wine making.  Each day, those not on the Beaucastel visit got to tour the old city of the Popes with its palace and crenelated walls.

Cellars at Beaucastel
The cellars at Beaucastel

Lunch at Beaucastel
Lunch in the gardens at Beaucastel

Lunch menu
The lunch menu

BSH, RZH & FP
Barbara Haas, Robert Haas, and Francois Perrin at lunch

From Avignon we sailed north to Viviers, and then on to Tain- l'Ermitage. This stretch was during the day, so most of us assembled topside to enjoy the views and the passages through the écluses (locks).  I was fascinated by the ship's design, from the ballast tanks below that fill with water to the to the retractable pilot house, railings and awnings, all to lower the ship's profile in order to pass under low bridges across the Rhône.  

Lock
The lock at Viviers

On deck
Mind your heads!

Tain- l'Ermitage was a second highlight.   We received a very good tour of the Hermitage vineyard and a sit-down tasting of Chapoutier wines. We were also treated to an excellent lunch served with northern Rhône wines.  I was interested to see the upright cane and spur pruning of the Syrah, a pruning we have adopted at Tablas on "Scruffy Hill."

Neighbor Jaboulet
The remarkable hillside vineyards of the Northern Rhone

From there, we continued north to Lyon, passing the vineyards of Côte Rôtie and Condrieu on our port side just as we were served a dinner on board paired with wines of those very appellations from Maison Nicolas-Perrin

On day 5 of the cruise (August 7th, for those keeping track) we got to tour Lyon, a center of classical French gastronomy, and home to the remains of two side-by-side spectacular Roman amphitheaters: one for music and the other for drama.   In the evening we reconvened on the Catherine for a nice Tablas Creek cocktail party in the ship's lounge, followed by dinner in the dining room. 

Lyon marks the northern edge of what France thinks of as the Rhone Valley (though the river originates in Lake Geneva, in Switzerland).  But the cruise continued north to dock in Macon on the Saône, for an excursion to nearby Burgundy.  Many guests took a bus to Beaune, toured some of the vineyards of the Côte de Beaune, and visited the 15th century Hospices de Beaune, scene of the annual wine auction of wines from its vineyards.  We heard this was all wonderful.  However, Barbara and I, along with Neil and Marci Collins, instead took a car and drove through the vineyards of Pouilly-Fuissé and Beaujolais to visit an old friend Claude Geoffray, the 7th generation proprietor of Château Thivin in the Côte de Brouilly. 

Market Radishes
Radishes in the market in Beaune

From Macon we all sailed overnight back to Lyon where we debarked August 9th and went our own ways. 

Although the unusually hot weather was noticeable on shore visits, no one seemed daunted, and they proceeded as planned and seemed to be enjoyed by all.  The ship, of course, was well air-conditioned and the cabins very comfortable.  The food and service aboard was excellent, far exceeding my expectations, and the wines from Famille Perrin, Beaucastel and Tablas Creek set the scene.  We were definitely on a Food and Wine Trail.  Lots of good conversation flowed in the Leopard Bar before and after dinner. 

Cabin
The view from inside the cabin

We are already looking forward to our next cruise in 2017.


Toasting the 49ers "Appellation 49"

By Robert Haas

Just after Christmas, Jason and I had the fun and honor to be invited to pour Tablas Creek for guests at the last 49ers game of the season.  The sparkling new Levi's Stadium has built-in wine bars incorporated into their club boxes, and the team invites eight wineries each week to show their wines to the fans sitting in that section. We poured before the game and during the half, and were able to watch the 49ers win from one of the boxes, whose owners we'd met during the pouring.  Yes, it was a down year for the Niners, but still, what a treat!

49ers2014_game

49ers2014 wall

It is wonderful to see how the 49ers have built their connection to California's wine country, and how they celebrate it at the games.  The program started, in a small way, with an invitation to the owner's box at Candlestick Park on the occasion of their first home game in the fall of 2002.  We were thrilled that, way back then, Tablas Creek was the winery chosen to inaugurate the tradition.  Over the next decade, a different winery was chosen to present its wines at each subsequent game.

49ersOn that first occasion, my wife Barbara and I (right, with team owner Dr. John York) joined Jason and his wife Meghan on the trip.  We watched the game from the York family box and got to join a tour of the field where we watched for a few minutes from the sidelines.  I strongly remember Terrell Owens catching a pass and heading my way with terrifying speed and power.  I stepped way back.  And oh yes, by the way, we met other invitees Senator Diane Feinstein, chef Thomas Keller, Mayor Willie Brown, running back Roger Craig, and baseball Hall of Famer Orlando Cepeda who also dropped by.  Quite a day, and a pleasure to get to spend some time with the 49ers owner, John York.

Family at 49ers Game 2013Last year, the 49ers commemorated Candlestick Park's final season with a "greatest hits" recap of the wineries who'd been invited over the previous decade.  We were again honored to receive an invitation from Dr. York, and I made the trip up with Jason and Meghan, and their son Eli (right) to watch the team defeat the Arizona Cardinals.

Since the team's move to Levi's Stadium this year, the program has been expanded and acquired a name: Appellation 49. With eight wineries showing wines in the atrium at the club level, wineries get to meet several hundred fans at each game, and over the course of the season, owners of the boxes get to taste the wares of 80 different wineries.  If they like something, they can order it from their box. A portion of the proceeds go to the 49ers Foundation, which does great work in the Bay Area community year-round.  Different than before but still great fun, and probably more valuable promotion for us as a winery.

It's clear that this connection with the local wine community is something that the York family values and is looking to build. Any time they ask us to help with this particular bit of bridge-building, we're happy to oblige.

JCH and RZH with John York


In Anticipation of Cruising the Rhone River

By Robert Haas

"Cruising" a river seems like an odd term.  One usually cruises on an ocean.  But two old northern Rhône wines with our roast pork loin last night reminded me of the pleasures of the Rhône River.

OldRhoneDinner3

I have visited the Rhône River Valley over a hundred times since 1954 and have viewed the river from both banks but have never seen the banks from the river.  Nor have I stopped at the little ports along the way.  This will change next summer, when Barbara and I will join Neil and Marci Collins to lead the Tablas Creek Rhone River Cruise.  It will be a new experience, and one I am really looking forward to.  I have always loved the old town of Avignon and its crenellated walls, where the cruise will begin.  And, of course, the ruins of the famous old pont d'Avignon, where on y danse tout en rond.  It will be fun to see these things from comfortable quarters on a boat.

Along the southern Rhone, our itinerary will then take us to Arles -- one-time home of Van Gogh and the location of some of the best-preserved Roman buildings outside of Italy – and Tarascon, with its imposing medieval castle.

We will also, of course, be making a pilgrimage to Château de Beaucastel, our partners in Tablas Creek, and friends and colleagues for 45 years.  This visit will include a special tour of the property and a classic  southern Rhône lunch in their gardens prepared by Beaucastel's Michelin-starred chef Laurent Deconick.

Next we’ll head north, to Tain L’Hermitage, a landmark destination for lovers of the northern Rhone’s signature Syrah, Roussanne and Marsanne grapes. I have spent many days over the years visiting the historic cellars of famed northern Rhône appellations such as Hermitage, St. Joseph, Cornas, Condrieu, Château Grillet, and Côte Rotie.  No less a wine lover than Thomas Jefferson said in 1791 “Hermitage is the first wine in the world, without a single exception”.

Further north we'll continue to Lyon, a center of French gastronomy with the architecturally famous Place Bellecour, for a few days.  While there we’ll make an excursion to Chalon-sur-Saone on the Côte Chalonaise, the southernmost Burgundy appellation, and on to Beaune, a center of the Burgundy wine trade.  I have visited the Beaune area regularly since 1954 and see the old streets very little changed.  A major attraction, as well as the surrounding vineyards of Beaune, is the old Hospices de Beaune, originally a charity hospital founded by of the Dukes of Burgundy in the 15th century.  A tour there includes the remarkable architecture and a view of the famous Beaune Alterpiece, a triptychpainted in the 17th century by Rogier van der Weyden.

The culinary pleasures of the Rhône Valley are legendary, with Mediterranean influences from Provence in the south and the classic French cuisine of Lyon in the north: olives, fruits, nougats de Montélimar, quenelles, andouillettes, saucissons de Lyon, and the Lyon original, onion soup.  I can never get enough of those.

And the wines of the Rhone, from Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Cotes du Rhone, and Tavel in the south to Condrieu, Côte Roti, Hermitage, Cornas, and St. Joseph in the north, can be exceptional.  On the cruise ship, we will be dining together as a group most nights, with wines selected from the Rhone, and a few from Tablas Creek, of course.

Back to last night’s roast, which was flavored with rosemary and juniper, hallmarks of Rhône Valley seasonings.  The wines, both red and white, had aged well and complemented the food.  The Hermitage white, a blend of mostly Marsanne and some Roussanne, was nutty and deeply flavored, minerally and honeyed, and attested to the rewards for aging Rhone whites.  The St. Joseph red, all Syrah, was savory and deep, with flavors of coffee, roasted meat and syrah’s signature white pepper.  Both were wonderful.

Barbara and I are very much looking forward to joining Neil and Marcy and sharing our experience with our fellow cruise guests next August.  We hope that many of our friends will gather with us for the fun.


Congratulations to Jean-Pierre and Francois Perrin, Decanter's 2014 Men of the Year

By Robert Haas

Congratulations to Jean-Pierre and François Perrin, "Men of the Year" in the current issue of the venerable English wine magazine Decanter.  I cannot think of any French wine family with better credentials.  We love them.

Perrins men of the year

My first encounter with the Perrin family was with Jacques in 1967.  It was during my short (1967-1970) period at Barton Distilling trying to create a wine division.  I was there to buy bulk Châteauneuf-du-Pape wine to be shipped to a négociant bottler in Bordeaux.  Barton had the idea of creating a line of French AOC wines under the André Simon brand for which they had the rights.  The whole thing eventually fell apart. The execution failed because, among other things, Barton's barons in the field didn’t dig anything under 80 proof.  Recognizing the futility of trying to create a wine division at Barton, I resigned in 1970 and went on to form Vineyard Brands shortly thereafter, taking all my suppliers with me.

Jacques and I had hit it off together.  He took me under his wing and showed me around other wineries and cooperatives in the Vaucluse to emphasize how far there was still to go in producing quality wines in the Côtes du Rhône.  I admired Jacques’ openness and the frank discussions with his family that took place around the dinner table.  I returned to Beaucastel in 1968, 1969, and 1970 to ask for U.S. representation of the domain because I thought it unique in Châteauneuf-du-Pape in its use of high percentages of Mourvèdre and Roussanne in its blends and because it was inaugurating organic farming in its vineyard.  I finally achieved success in 1970 and became importer for Château de Beaucastel.  That was the beginning of the deep family relationships that followed. 

In 1971 Jacques introduced me to his son Jean-Pierre, who had graduated from oenology school in Dijon and had started a small négoce in Jonquières with the brand La Vieille Ferme Côtes-du-Rhône.  We imported the first ever export (100 cases 1970 vintage) and sold it to Sherry-Lehmann in New York.  Today it is an international brand selling cases in the seven figures.

Jean-Pierre and I became friendly.  We had kids of similar ages and we visited back and forth as families.  Vineyard Brands started representing the early “boutique” Napa wineries, Chappellet, Freemark Abbey, Clos du Val, and Phelps in the early 1970’s.  Jean-Pierre accompanied me to Napa on one of my supplier visiting trips and was impressed by the amount of activity (“even the streets are made out of stainless”) and surprised that there were no Rhône varieties being grown even though the climate was more Mediterranean than Bordeaux or Burgundy (think chardonnay).  It was at that point that the germ of the idea of “doing something together” in California came to us.  It was not until 1985, however, that we started to act on it.

Vineyard Brands continued as importer for Château de Beaucastel and François came on the scene just before Jacques’ tragic early death from cancer in 1977.  Thereafter, all three families became good friends, frequent visitors, and business partners.

In 1985 Jean-Pierre, François and I decided to “do something” in California.  We started looking for property to start a vineyard and winery partnership.  We looked for high pH soils and a southern Rhône climate.  After scouring the state for five years looking and tasting, we came upon the then practically unknown Paso Robles area on west side of highway 101, the Las Tablas district, in which we found a 120 acre piece laced with calcareous clay soils and we bought it jointly.

In our travels around looking for property we discovered that there were no reliable cultivars for Grenache, Mourvèdre, Syrah, Roussanne, Counoise, and Grenache Blanc, the principal varieties that we planned to plant, so François arranged for supply of cuttings with his nurseryman in France.  The California USDA station for reception, quarantine, testing for viruses, and clearance was closed in 1990.  The USDA station in Geneva, NY accommodated us instead.  The vines cleared in 1993 and were shipped to California and multiplied and grafted in our own nursery.  Planting began in 1995.  We have continued importing cuttings from Beaucastel recently, bringing in the balance of the 13 Châteauneuf-du Pape varieties through USDA Davis and will make all available to US growers as we have in the past.  Ironically, the Foundation Plant Service in Davis will be the only facility in the world able to supply virus free all 13 (14 if you count Grenache Blanc and Grenache Noir separately) accepted varieties of the Châteauneuf-du-Pape appellation.

The availability of authentic vine material from our collection and the attention drawn to the Rhône idea by our partnership led to a wave of plantings by new wineries focused on Rhône blends, which in turn led to a new focus for the new Paso Robles community of adventurous growers, which in turn led to over 600 American wineries that planted, promoted, and marketed Rhône variety blends.

From the beginning our farming and style of wine making, were inspired by the Beaucastel model: organic farming going to biodynamic and wines with power, but with elegance and a respect for our terroir.  Contrary to most current California practices, all reds and some whites are vinified and aged for the most part in large (45 to 65 hecto) French oak.  We ferment with native yeasts to maintain our feeling of place.

Our wine maker, Neil Collins, spent the year of 1997 at Beaucastel.  Early on Jean-Pierre was the most frequent Perrin to be involved in the decision making, with François being involved in the blending and the vineyard most recently.  Jean-Pierre’s son, Pierre spent the year here in 2001, working in the cellar and son Marc is also involved, and François’ son César has been working in the cellar this last year. The style of wine making, as at Beaucastel, is classic, not trendy modern.

We are proud to be an important part of the Perrins' world adventures.  Without them Tablas Creek Vineyard never would have happened.


Celebrating "The New California Wine" with an old California wine

By Robert Haas

The New California Wine, by San Francisco Chronicle Wine Editor Jon Bonné and subtitled A guide to the Producers and Wines Behind a Revolution in Taste, is an ode to wineries that are producing wines of place, whether single varieties or blends, often working with organic or biodynamic vineyards; wines that are of moderate alcohol levels and speak to their origin.  It is a reminder that there is a growing wave of journalists, sommeliers and wine lovers pushing back against what Jon terms “big flavor wine.” Big flavor wines are, in Jon’s parlance, generally highly extracted, high alcohol, low acid, often oaky and slightly sweet on the palate.  Many of them have a cult following. 

NewCaliforniaWine

I welcome Jon’s suggestions and enjoyed reading his book.  I will search out several of the producers he introduced me to.  But in reading the book I kept thinking that what Jon terms a revolution is really a move back to a classic norm.

The advent of boutique wineries such as Joseph Heitz, Freemark Abbey, Chappellet, Joseph Phelps, Clos du Val, Stags Leap, Spring Mountain, and even Robert Mondavi, among others, in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s brought California, and particularly the Napa Valley, to the international wine community's attention.  Their wines were from specific vineyards, mostly their own, farmed for moderate yields, made in classic style and dimensions.  They took their lead from Beaulieu and Inglenook, estate producers before World War II, and looked toward France for inspiration.  Their wines were mostly in the 12.5% alcohol range. 

From back in the days when my company, Vineyard Brands, represented them, I still have Cabernets from Spring Mountain, Clos du Val and Chappellet from the 1970s, and some Pine Ridge from the 1980s.  They have aged beautifully.   Their tannins have softened and they are elegantly balanced with plenty of red and black fruit.  I recently opened a bottle of Chappellet 1974 Cabernet (12.7% alcohol) and was struck by its mature dark color with no oxidation.  It was powerful and densely structured, even still a little reticent with its blueberry fruit.  I had the feeling that it had reached a plateau of maturity (at 40 years old!) and would be enjoyable for some time to come.

Chappelet74_3

The “big flavor” wines are really a phenomenon of the last 20 years. As such, they are actually the new kids on the block.  Will they continue to dominate the paradigm or are they just a blip on the long-term chart of wine consumption?  I welcome the debate, and look forward to seeing whether a majority of vintners will continue to take advantage of the brilliant California climate to harvest ripe, high brix, low pH grapes and focus on lushness and power, or whether more will farm their vineyards to produce phenologically ripe grapes at lower Brix and make wines that focus more on terroir and elegance. Of course, there will be more than one "answer" to this question.

If I’m in harmony with the old standards, I know that the riper styles have their own passionate advocates as well.  But Jon’s book is a reflection of a conversation that it is important that the California winemaking community have. This discussion includes advocates of elegance -- both the newer producers he highlights and some established ones such as Calera and Ridge -- and those more exuberant producers, many of whose wines I see also preserving tremendous concentration while moving gradually away from excessive ripeness and new oak.  Perhaps this is California’s true strength: that winemakers with well-placed vineyards can, according to their beliefs, make compelling wines across the spectrum of ripeness.  In either case, greater diversity in the styles of California wine and the innovation fostered by the conversation itself will make the community stronger.  What do you think?


Celebrating summer's end, locally (and a delicious pasta with lobster and fresh corn recipe)

By Robert Haas

Our California kids, Jason and Meghan, and our grandchildren Eli and Sebastian, and our Vermont kids, Rebecca and Tom, and our grandson Emmett, who live here, convened together here in Chester for the two weeks in advance of Labor Day.  We were graced by some of the best weather of the summer, and Vermont is rarely so accommodating, or beautiful, as it is in late August:

RZH - House from Becca's

RZH - duty listWith a minimum of nine and often with friends we were regularly numerous at the table. Cooking for a bunch for lunch and dinner (breakfasts are on one’s own) can become a chore, so it has been our family’s practice to schedule culinary tasks to all the family in rotation, as you can see from the chart that Jason did (right).  It includes headings and teams assigned to set, cook, clear/wash, and play with Emmett.  And Riley, as in "life of", which grants whoever has this assignment leave to relax before, during and after the meal without feeling guilty.

Diversity of cuisine and beverages is always a consideration.  Fortunately, good suppliers are nearby and an abundance of produce from the garden is available.  This time we did rack of Colorado lamb from the Village Butcher in Woodstock, roast local chicken, New York strip steaks from the Londonderry Butcher Block, and great Maine lobsters from Bill Austin's Lobster Pound, which we served with fresh local corn over pasta (recipe below).  The stay was also studded with cookouts and wiener roasts, complete with campfires and s’mores.

Besides Arnold Palmers and Lemonades (and good Vermont well water), there were, of course many bottles of fermented beverages consumed, both as aperitifs and with meals.   Samples of some of those are pictured:

RZH - bottles on porch

What fun tasting and sampling such diversity of type, style and origin: artisanal Vermont ale from Otter Creek in Middlebury, cider from Harpoon in Windsor, Backacre in Weston and Whetstone Ciderworks in Marlboro.  And, of course, we loved the beautifully mature Petrus 1970 and Blagny Rouge 1989 with our lamb and steaks.  Tablas Creek’s Esprits, Côtes, and Patelins, red and white, brought a little California into the mix.

The bounty we were able to enjoy, most of it local and much of it sourced from people we know, is available thanks to the burgeoning local food movement.  It would never have been possible even a few decades ago.  It felt right enjoying the end-of-summer cornucopia with the large, extended family that isn't together all that often.  May your summers end so deliciously, and with such good companionship. Should you want to feed them something special that isn't too much work, a recipe is below.

PASTA WITH LOBSTER AND FRESH CORN
Serves 4.

INGREDIENTS

12 oz. pasta
1 ½ cups lobster meat in bite size pieces
1 cup tender fresh corn kernels
2 tbsp. chopped fresh basil or tarragon
6 oz. soft unsalted butter
3 tbsp. finely chopped shallots
3 tbsp. dry white wine
3 tbsp. white wine vinegar

DIRECTIONS

  • Boil water for pasta, preferably short pasta like penne
  • Gently warm corn and lobster pieces in 1 tbsp. unsalted butter.  Once the ingredients are warm, cover them and turn off the heat. Then make the beurre blanc:
  • Cook the shallots, wine and vinegar very slowly in a small pan until the liquid is almost used up and shallots are soft. 
  • Remove from the heat for a few minutes, then whisk in the butter, 1 oz. at a time, just until incorporated, but never totally melted.  The final sauce should have the texture of thick heavy cream.
  • Cook pasta according to pkg. directions and drain into a deep bowl.  Toss the beurre blanc, warm lobster and corn with the pasta and sprinkle on the chopped herbs. 
  • Serve immediately in warmed bowls. 

The Pleasure of Discovered Bottles

By Robert Haas

Over the last 59 years I have been buying, selling, and putting wines in my cellar, first in Vermont, and then in California as well.  And, of course, there is the house cellar and the storage cellar in each place.  So I have an excuse for occasionally (actually all too often) losing track of what is in the cellar and discovering bottles that I had forgotten that I owned. 

Sometimes those bottles are well over the hill and gone, but not too often, thankfully.  Good well-made wines are remarkably sturdy and generously long-lived when well stored.  Just the other night I discovered some Château La Tour Haut Vignoble 1970, a St. Estèphe crû bourgeois (now Château Tour Haut Vignoble) in our house cellar in Vermont that could have passed for the well-known grand premier crû Château Latour itself.

Sometimes even forgotten bottles of white wines turn out to be a revelation.  Such was the case at a gathering with friends Mel and Ynez Kaplan at their house in Charlotte, VT last Saturday.  Mel brought out a couple of bottles of Tablas Creek Clos Blanc 2000.  He asked whether I thought that it would still be good.  Mel has an underground cellar there so I said,  “Let’s give it a try.”  Clos Blanc was the name we attached to our reserve white blend of Roussanne, Grenache Blanc, Marsanne, and Viognier before we introduced the Esprit de Beaucastel name in the 2001 vintage.

Clos Blanc

The wine was still remarkably youthful in character after 11 years in bottle: pale green-gold in color, with aromas of white flowers, honeysuckle and almonds.  The palate was lively, rich and mouth-filling with citrusy, honey, nutty and saline flavors: a wine to match the best and a testament to the ageworthiness of Roussanne -- even from young vines -- and our terroir here at Tablas Creek.  What a happy discovery!