Consumers don't really understand the difference between Organic and Biodynamic

Neil, Jordan, Gustavo and I spent last weekend representing Tablas Creek at the International Biodynamic Wine Conference, up in the beautiful San Francisco Presidio. San Francisco was putting on a show, with gorgeous cool, sunny spring weather, and the view of the Golden Gate Bridge out the Golden Gate Club's windows was pretty much the best conference backdrop imaginable. The audience there was passionate and eager to share what they were doing. I was grateful that the show was mostly free of the mysticism (think lunar cycles and homeopathy) that makes many people leery of Biodynamic practices.  Instead, it offered deep explorations of soil microbiomes, of the science behind the Biodynamic preparations, and of the costs and benefits of different farming practices like tilling (vs. no-till), composting (what's the right mix and what are the benefits of applying it in tea form vs. spreading solid compost), yeasts (what happens as different "native" yeast strains take lead), and pest control. It offered grand tastings for the trade and for the public.  It was an inspiring mix.

Biodynamic conference crowd

The conference also offered a few different sessions on the marketing of Biodynamic wines.  One such panel discussion featured Gwendolyn Osborn, wine.com's Director of Education and Content. They recently added a Biodynamic landing page (wine.com/biodynamic) for all the wines that they sell made from Demeter-certified vineyards.  It’s great for the category to see such an influential retailer provide this focus.  And people (at least some people) are asking about Biodynamic wines.  In the archives they have from the hundreds of thousands of chats between their sales consultants and their customers, roughly a thousand contained the term "biodynamic". (By contrast, according to Gwendolyn, "organic" appeared about five times as often).

At the same time, the examples she shared suggested that wine.com’s customers, at least, don’t really distinguish biodynamic from organic. Most of the examples she showed that asked about biodynamic did so in a “biodynamic or organic” phrasing (as in, "I'd like to buy a Sauvignon Blanc around $20, and I'd prefer it be biodynamic or organic"). This is interesting to me in part because my elevator pitch introduces biodynamics in a very different way from organics. In fact, in many ways they are opposite approaches to sustainability.

Let me explain. Organics is, essentially, a list of things that you can’t do. Certification for organic status requires verification that you do not use the chemical herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizers that together have come to define modern industrial farming. As such, the practice of organics is preoccupied with the effort to find organic replacements for the prohibited chemicals you can’t use. Think organic fertilizer. Or the pursuit to make an organic Round-Up. In both cases, you're still controlling the application of fertility, and the systemic removal of weeds and pests; you're just doing it in less toxic, less chemical ways. That's a great first step, which we should be applauding.

A quick semi-aside: the sustainability certification movement came in for some pretty heavy criticism at this conference as in many cases offering little more than greenwashing.  While I'm of the opinion that we should celebrate anyone's move toward greater sustainability -- whether that's moving from conventional farming to sustainable, or from sustainable to organic -- I think there's a lot of truth to one presenter's comparison of the average sustainability certification as cutting back from 20 cigarettes a day to 10, in that you're still applying chemicals and poisons:

Biodynamics, by contrast, is the effort to make a farm unit into a self-regulating ecosystem. It prescribes the conscious building of living soils through culturing biodiversity and adding preps that contain micro-nutrients. Together these encourage the growth of healthy microbiomes and (thereby) farm units. Yes, the elimination of chemicals is a prerequisite, but it’s not the goal. Instead, it’s a necessary step in the creation of a self-regulating environment. And that healthy environment, which is resilient in the face of pest or weed pressures, is biodynamics’ reward.

In our work at Tablas Creek, the self-contained farm unit appeals to us because we are dedicated believers in doing everything we can to express our property's terroir: the character of place that shows through in a wine. Each thing that we otherwise have to bring in from the outside that we can instead create internally through a natural process brings us one step closer to that ideal of expressing whatever terroir we have in our land. And that’s why biodynamics has so much appeal for us: on the one hand, we're building a healthy vineyard that will hopefully live longer, send roots down deeper, and be more self-regulating. On the other hand, the fruit -- and, assuming we do our jobs in the cellar, the wine -- will be as distinctive as possible, with its Tablas Creek personality shining out. 

That's a win for us. And for our customers. And for our neighbors and the community we're a part of.


Giving Robert Haas the Send-off He Deserved

This Sunday, we hosted a celebration of my dad's life here at the vineyard. We tried to make it an event my dad would have enjoyed: good food and wine, not too formal, a chance for people to tell stories in different ways, either to speak to the whole audience, to reminisce in smaller groups, or to record a video with Nathan, our Shepherd/Videographer.  About 350 people came, from as far away as France and Vermont, wine folks from all over California, and a great representation of the local wine community.  The mood was one of appreciation, not sadness, which I thought was great.  Yes, we are all sad to lose him, but at almost 91 he had a great and long life, achieved so many goals that he had, and laid the foundation for many others to succeed after him.

RZH IG Collage

I will forever be grateful to everyone who helped put this event together.  There were many, but a few principal ones were Neil Collins, who did a masterful job organizing leading the storytelling; Chef Jeff Scott, who put together a great array of foods for the gathering including my dad's favorite East Coast oysters and Tablas Creek lamb; my brother-in-law Tom Hutten, who assembled a selection of music from my dad's favorite artists and eras, Nathan Stuart, who spent his day filming reminiscences and the breaks taking photos; the many volunteers from the Paso Robles wine community, who manned the food and wine stations so that the team here could participate fully in the event; and finally Kyle Wommack, Wonder Woman and master event coordinator, who pulled together all the pieces of this complicated event -- of a sort we'd never hosted before -- and allowed the family to focus on the guests who came and on what we wanted to say.

LRG_DSC05201

It has also been a pleasure to see the tributes that appeared in the national and international press since he passed away.  If you haven't read these, and you have a half hour to spare, there are some wonderful stories in each of these pieces. My sincere thanks go out to all these writers, who gave him the tributes his long career deserved. In the order in which the stories were published:

A theme that came out again and again both in the articles that were written and in the tributes that people gave on Sunday was that my dad was a builder: someone who didn't just come up with ideas (though he did that, for sure) but oversaw the creation of structures that were set up to succeed long-term.  The impacts of that foundation-building were in full evidence at the party, with people there to remember his work not just at Tablas Creek, but as an importer, as an advocate for the Paso Robles wine community, and as a patron of the arts.  I thought it might be interesting for me to share the speech I wrote for the occasion.  I didn't end up giving it verbatim, but this was, more or less, what I said to the group.

Welcome, everyone. I had an anxiety dream a few days ago where there were only about 40 people here and I had to slink up to the podium and announce that we were going to start, I guessed, since it didn’t look like anyone else was coming.  I am so honored to see all of you here, and to have heard from so many of you – and so many people who couldn’t be here today – about how my dad had touched your lives. It’s been one of the really nice things in what has been a difficult month.

I remember, when Meghan and I were thinking about moving out here almost 20 years ago, that getting the chance to work with my dad while he was still actively involved in Tablas Creek was my main motivation in making the move when we did. If I’d waited a few years, and something had happened to him, I would have regretted that forever. But I wasn’t sure exactly what it was that he did that had made him successful. After having the pleasure of working with him for 15 years, I think it boiled down to three things:

  • First, he generated more ideas per amount of time spent at work than anyone else I’ve ever worked with. This wasn’t always easy – there were times when it drove us all nuts, because he would have a new good idea while we were still trying to implement the last one – but what a great foundation for any business.
  • Second, he was willing to lead by example. Whether this was going out well into his 80s and carrying a wine bag up and down the New York subway stairs showing Tablas Creek, or being the first to stand up and put in money to get the 11 new Paso Robles AVAs off the ground, or in creating the winery partners program to support the Foundation for the Performing Arts Center, on whose board he served into his 90s, if the cause was something he believed in, he was willing to put his own time, effort, and money into making sure that cause succeeded.
  • Third, he believed in people. One of the hallmarks of all the companies he founded was that people stayed and made a career there. He did this by giving the people he hired the authority to make the right decisions in their area of expertise, by allocating them the resources they needed, and by providing them vision without micro-managing the details. There are people here today from Vineyard Brands who remember me coming home from little league games and walking through the sales meeting dinners that he and my mom were hosting, in uniform. A dozen of them made the trip out here, many of whom are still there 30 years later, running the company that he founded.

My dad also had a pretty clear sense of what mattered, and what didn’t. I remember once, getting a semi-critical review in a class I took in high school, that said (with the implication that my judgments were perhaps less nuanced than they should be) that I had “little use for fools”. He read it and said, “well, I’m not sure there is much use for fools. I wouldn’t worry about it.”

But in the end, what I’m going to hold on to most about my dad was his essential optimism. He started this vineyard when he was already in his early 60s. He did it in a way that guaranteed that we wouldn’t see any wine for a decade. And for him, none of that mattered. It was an interesting and worthwhile thing to do.  He was confident that he could figure out the pieces he didn’t yet know.  The fact that we would be making wine from grapes that most Americans didn’t know and couldn’t pronounce, and that we would be blending these grapes into wines that didn’t really have a category in the marketplace, were just details that could be overcome by perseverance and force of will. That perseverance and force of will hadn’t ever let him down.  And they wouldn’t here either.

All kids, I think, grow up thinking that what they grow up with is normal.  Your dad is “Dad”. He does the things he does because that’s the way the world works.  I will forever be grateful that I got the chance to work with my dad as an adult, and see him through the eyes of the people he worked with and inspired.  And I believe that the reason he was successful in business was the same as why he was a great dad and a great friend.  You always knew where you stood.  You always knew that if you needed his support, you’d have it.  And you knew that when he said something, he meant it. 

I have one story I’d like to end with.  I remember, not long after we moved out here, walking out into the middle of the vineyard here with my dad.  Most of the vines here were still young.  He was in his mid-70s.  He stopped for a moment and waved generally toward the vineyard and said, “you know, I didn’t build this for me.  I’m not going to be around when it’s at maturity.  I didn’t even really build it for you.  But it should be amazing for your kids.”

Thank you all for coming today.  I am really looking forward to hearing your stories.  It’s been an honor to spend as much time inside my dad’s life as I have these last two decades.  Thank you all for being a part of it.

JH speaking at RZH memorial

Finally, one observation that really drove home to me what a lasting impact my dad had on not just the communities in which he lived, but on the people who he brought into the businesses he started.  At the event, there were some 65 people who had worked for him either at Vineyard Brands or at Tablas Creek.  By my rough calculations, those 65 people had combined for about 1000 years of tenure in his businesses.  And that, I think, is the legacy of which he would have been proudest.


A Horizontal Retrospective: Tasting Every Wine from 2008 at Age 10

In 2014 we began the tradition of looking back each year at the vintage from ten years before.  Part of this is simple interest in seeing how a wide range of our wines -- many of which we don't taste regularly -- have evolved, but we also have a specific purpose: choosing ten or so of the most compelling and interesting wines from this vintage to show at the public retrospective tasting we're holding on February 11th.  Ten years is enough time that the wines have become something different and started to pick up some secondary and tertiary flavors, but not so long that whites are generally over the hill. In fact, each year that we've done this we've been surprised by at least one wine that we expected to be in decline showing up as a highlight.  The lineup:

2008 Retrospective

A while back, as part of a look back at each of our vintages for our then-new Web site, I wrote this about the 2006 vintage:

The 2008 vintage was our second consecutive drought year, with yields further reduced by spring frosts. Berries and clusters were small, leading to excellent concentration. Ripening over the summer was gradual and harvest about a week later than normal. Crop sizes were similar to 2007 and about 20% lower than usual. The low yields and gradual ripening resulted in white wines with good intensity, lower than normal alcohols and an appealing gentle minerality and red wines that were unusually fresh and approachable despite appealing lushness.

I was interested in the extent to which we'd still see what we'd noted when the vintage was younger.  Would the wines (red and white) show the elegance that we thought we might find? Would this vintage marked by elegance (sandwiched between two of our most powerful vintages) have retained the stuffing to make them compelling a decade later?  And were there any lessons we might take for the wines we're making now?

In 2008, we made 17 different wines: 8 whites, 1 rosé, and 8 reds. My notes on the wines, with notes on their closures, are below (SC=screwcap; C=cork). Each wine is also linked to its technical information on our Web site, if you'd like to see a breakdown of the winemaking or the tasting notes at bottling (well, except for the Pinot Noir, which we only made one barrel of and never made a Web page; if you have questions about that, leave them in the comments and I'll do my best to answer).  I was joined for the tasting by our cellar team (Neil Collins, Chelsea Franchi, Craig Hamm, and Brad Ely) as well as by our National Sales Manager Darren Delmore.

  • 2008 Vermentino (SC): A combination of bright and more aged notes on the nose: petrol, peppermint, grilled grapefruit, lime leaf, lemongrass, and wet rocks. The mouth shows nice acids, clean and younger than the nose, with citrus pith and a nice briny finish. It's in a nice place: like a dry riesling with a little age on it.
  • 2008 Antithesis Chardonnay (C): A deeper golden color. The nose is like that of a sweet wine: caramel and butter pecan and a little minty lift. The mouth is round, and, by contrast, dry. Tons of texture. Flavors of candied orange peel and nectarine, with a pithy bitterness like peach pit coming out on the finish. A touch low in acid, particularly compared to the wines before and after in the lineup. A perfectly admirable showing for this wine, but drink up if you've got any.
  • 2008 Picpoul Blanc (SC): A lifted nose: monty, watermelon rind, barely ripe honeydew, and wet rocks.  This filled out with time in the glass and turned into lemon meringue.  Pretty fascinating.  The mouth is fun: quite rich, with pineapple flavors and a creamy texture that remind me why I always think Picpoul evokes pina colada. A nice limestoney character comes out on the long, clear finish.  Still vibrantly alive, and one of my favorites of the tasting.
  • 2008 Grenache Blanc (SC, and in fact our first experiment with the Stelvin "Lux" that we now use for all our screwcaps): A quieter nose than the first 3 wines: preserved lemon, white pepper, and a little crushed chalky rock. The mouth is initially all about sweet fruit (lychee and candied grapefruit, for me), then the acids take over, and then a little tannic bite that's absolutely characteristic of Grenache Blanc plays back and forth with ripe pear and a spicy juniper character on the long finish.
  • 2008 Cotes de Tablas Blanc (SC; 42% Viognier, 26% Roussanne, 21% Marsanne, 11% Grenache Blanc): A sweetly spicy nose, more floral than the first four wines, with honey, wild herbs, anise, and jasmine. The mouth is very nicely balanced between sweet attack (I thought peach syrup), good acids, and a little Grenache Blanc pithy bite on the back end. The long finish showed candied orange peel, honeysuckle, and marzipan. It's in a good spot, long after we would have thought.
  • 2008 Bergeron (C): Made from 100% Roussanne, harvested a little earlier from cooler blocks around the vineyard. A cool nose of green pear, honeysuckle, and cantaloupe. The mouth is all about texture: smooth flavors of watermelon and lemon custard, with a soft minerality pervading everything. Still quite Roussanne, in its way, though it's medium-bodied and lively. A little hazelnut and lemon drop comes out on the long finish, but the persistent impression is of its cool, smooth texture. 12.8% alcohol.  We're offering this now as an extra taste in our tasting room, if you're curious.
  • 2008 Roussanne (C): A deeper gold color.  An explosive nose: butterscotch, grilled pear, and a yeasty pastry note: pear tart, anyone? The mouth is gorgeous: luscious, rich, caramel and vanilla, and nuts, but dry. A long powerful finish with apricot and baking spices and a little sweet oak. Really impressive, if you like white wines with power and density. 14.2% alcohol.
  • 2008 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc (C; 65% Roussanne, 30% Grenache Blanc, 5% Picpoul Blanc): An appealing nose, less powerful than the Roussanne but more complex: key lime pie, honey roasted peanuts, baked apple and a cool green bay leaf herbiness. The mouth shows sweet Roussanne fruit on the attack, pear, honey, and brioche. Then Grenache Blanc's anise lift and pithy bite keep order. Then a long, soft finish with flavors of kiwi and sweet spice, and a little salty minerality which I credited to Picpoul.  A few signs of age, but the wine is in a very nice place.
  • 2008 Rosé (SC; 58% Mourvedre, 32% Grenache, 10% Counoise): A pretty deep amber-pink color. A beguiling nose of candied fruit and baking spices that I thought was like fruitcake and Chelsea compared to "walking through a candy shop". The first of several descriptors that were more like a craft cocktail than a wine: singed orange. The mouth is nice: tart cranberry, cherry soda, grenadine, and campari. A nice texture, with a little tannic bite. Still an interesting wine, but we all remembered this as being insanely good on release, and while this was interesting, it would be a shame to have missed that.
  • 2008 Pinot Noir (C): Our second-ever Pinot, from a few rows of vines in our nursery we were using to produce budwood to plant at my dad's property for our Full Circle Pinot. Quite dark for a Pinot. A deep, ripe nose of root beer and figs and black cherry, with a little pine needle savoriness. The mouth is quite rich: chocolate-covered cherry, cola, dates, and sweet baking spices. Not particularly expressive of Pinot -- and to me less interesting than the Full Circle, which comes from a cooler spot -- but a nice rich red wine.
  • 2008 Cotes de Tablas (SC; 42% Grenache, 21% Syrah, 20% Counoise, 7% Mourvedre): After several years of bottling under both cork and screwcap, we only bottled under screwcap in 2008. This was terrific: a nose of roasted meat, plum, raspberry, black pepper, and graham cracker. The mouth was vibrant, with beautiful lifted red fruit: cherry and red plum. There are nice dusty tannins. Still young, lively, and without any real signatures of age, and anyone who has some of this is in for a treat. 
  • 2008 Grenache (C): A nice medium-intensity Grenache nose: cherry cola, cocoa powder, and pepper. Like a flourless chocolate cake with raspberry syrup. A powerful mouth, with supple but significant tannins, great cherry fruit, and nice balance. A long finish with sweet spices and ripe fruit. In an excellent place, and carrying its 15.5% alcohol well. Neil commented "that's a wow for me". One of our favorites of the tasting.
  • 2008 Mourvedre (C): A fun contrast to the Grenache, with a nose more structured and savory: meaty, eucalyptus and garrigue around currant and chocolate. The mouth is medium weight, with more currant fruit and still some pretty big, dusty tannins.  It was a nice example of why Mourvedre and Grenache make such good partners: Mourvedre's austerity is opened up by Grenache's exuberance, while at the same time taming Grenache's tendency toward booziness.
  • 2008 Syrah (C): A different color palette than the Grenache and Mourvedre: all black on the nose, like blackberry, black olive, iodine, black pepper, and baker's chocolate. The mouth shows cool-climate syrah's austerity, with a minty, minerally, meaty darkness, tannins that are still just starting to resolve, and a mouth-filling character that suggests some additional time in bottle will be rewarded. Our best guess: wait another 5 years for peak.
  • 2008 Tannat (C): Also very dark: pine forest, soy, and dark chocolate. The mouth is comparatively friendly, with a sweet attack of milk chocolate, nice grapey purple fruit, a little violet floral lift, and tangy acidity that keeps everything lively. Then lots (lots!) of tannins come out on the finish, with a raspberry preserves note.  Fun to taste, at this stage more appealing, I thought, than the Syrah, but clearly capable of going another decade or more.
  • 2008 Esprit de Beaucastel (C; 38% Mourvedre, 30% Grenache, 26% Syrah, 6% Counoise): Lovely on the nose, tending more toward red than black, but with aspects of each: red currant, new leather, baking spices, balsamic glaze, and a minty garrigue-like savoriness. The mouth is luscious: strawberry preserves, milk chocolate, rare steak, tangy acidity, and really nice, persistent tannins. Elegant and in a good place, with plenty more development to come.
  • 2008 Panoplie (C; 54% Mourvedre, 29% Grenache, 17% Syrah): A nose of density and power: balsamic cherry glaze, meat drippings, and wild herbs, with more of Mourvedre's characteristic restraint than Grenache's exuberance. The palate was more luscious: dark red fruit, chocolate, raspberry preserves, dried cranberry, and big but ripe tannins. Very long. A little dustiness that comes out on the finish and the still-thick texture suggests that there are more layers to emerge with additional time in bottle.  Still, a very nice showing for the Panoplie, and an impressive wine.

A few concluding thoughts

I was very happy, overall, with how the wines showed.  I didn't have as clear an impression of 2008 in my mind as I did for the vintages surrounding it, perhaps because the character of the wines wasn't as dominated by the vintage signature as it was in, say, 2007, but also perhaps because the year was overshadowed by the massively powerful vintages on either side. That said, the wines were nearly all in good shape at age 10, and the year's elegance meant that there were more wines that I would want to drink at this stage than I found in 2007. The whites, in particular, were as a group the most impressive we've found in our five-year history of horizontal retrospectives, and presaged, I think, a shift toward the more elegant style that we prefer today.

Nearly all of the wines improved in the glass, and I thought that most of them would have benefited from a quick decant. A lot of people don't think of decanting older whites, but I think it's often a good idea, and particularly so with wines that have been under screwcap. There's a clipped character that all our older screwcapped whites have that dissipates with a few minutes of air. It happens anyway in the glass, but a decant would have been welcome.

This tasting was yet another data point for me suggesting that Syrah really needs time, and yet its value in a blend.  This 2008 Syrah was still, I thought, too young, but the structure and austerity of the Syrah component gave the Esprit red and Panoplie a feeling of balance and restraint that were really valuable. We choose to harvest our estate Syrah at ripeness levels where it has good structural elements, because that's where it's most valuable when blended with Grenache and Syrah.  That's likely a few weeks earlier than we would if we were focusing on the wine as a varietal bottling, and I'm OK with the tradeoff of having to wait a few extra years for our varietal Syrahs to come around.

Finally, we chose ten pretty exciting wines for what should be a great February 11th Horizontal Tasting: Picpoul Blanc, Roussanne, Esprit Blanc, Cotes de Tablas Grenache, Mourvedre, Syrah, Esprit, Panoplie, and Tannat. There are still some seats available; I hope many of you will join us!


A Vertical Tasting of Every Vintage of Esprit de Beaucastel and Esprit de Tablas, 2000-2015

Some of the best days at the winery are the days when we open up back vintages of a specific wine, for the dual purposes of better understanding how it ages over time and better advising our fans which vintages to open if they're looking for peak drinking1. Somehow, the last time we'd done this with our flagship Esprit de Tablas/Beaucastel wines was December of 2014. So, it was with significant anticipation that we assembled each vintage of Esprit we've made, from our first (2000) to the 2015 that is going into bottle this week:

Esprit Vertical June 2017

An additional goal of this particular tasting was to choose a selection of Esprits to show at a public retrospective tasting. Fifteen wines would have been too many, but we figure we can pick a representative sample that will give guests a great sense of how the wine develops in bottle, as well as how the vintage affects the wine's composition and flavor profile.  If this sounds like fun, we'll be hosting that tasting on August 27th.  Details are here.

I thought it would be fun to share my notes on each wine. I have linked each vintage to that wine's page on our Web site, if you'd like to see production details or what the tasting notes were at bottling. Note that we didn't make an Esprit red in the frost-impacted 2001 vintage.

  • Esprit de Beaucastel 2000: A meaty, leathery, minty and smoky nose, very appealing, with dark red currant fruit lurking behind. On the palate, consistent with the nose: deep and meaty, with tobacco leaf and dark chocolate savoriness, and lots of texture. Chewy, with enough tannins still to suggest it's nowhere near at the end of its life. This is the best showing I can remember for this wine, and notably improved from that tasting in 2014.
  • Esprit de Beaucastel 2002: Smells younger and also more powerful than the 2000; menthol and crushed rock and brambles and meat drippings. The mouth is still quite tannic but also shows sweeter fruit than 2000: milk chocolate, plum skin, juniper, and black cherry, with a finish that turns spicy, tangy and floral among grippy tannins. Still on its way up, we thought. We're looking forward to trying it again in a few more years.
  • Esprit de Beaucastel 2003: An incredibly inviting nose, my favorite of the tasting: toffee and leather and milk chocolate and malt and black cherry. The mouth shows a mix of sweet dark fruit (plum jam, chocolate-covered cherry, figs), nice acids keeping things fresh, and a little minty lift on the finish. The wine is a little less dense than either 2000 or 2002, with tannins that are fully resolved, and I can't imagine this getting any better. Drink up.
  • Esprit de Beaucastel 2004: On the nose, showing density reminiscent of the 2002: menthol, roasted meat, sage, anise, and red currant. The mouth shows a mix of sweet fruit and big tannins: milk chocolate, dates, and candied orange peel, and a chalky, powdered sugar texture to the tannins that becomes more pronounced on the licorice-laced finish. I get a little alcohol sweetness on that finish, a pastis-like character, that seems heightened by some still substantial tannins. A big wine, with life left.
  • Esprit de Beaucastel 2005: A very meaty nose, gamy, with tobacco leaf and mint, and pine forest undergrowth. Savory, not fruity. On the palate, all that savoriness is leavened by dark red fruit, tangy acids, and bold but integrated tannins. The finish shows plum skin, black cherry, and an iron-like minerality alongside bold but integrated tannins. Neil's comment was that it was great now but would be even better in 10 years. I thought it on a similar path as the 2000.
  • Esprit de Beaucastel 2006: Smells less dense and more integrated/evolved (and more refined) than the earlier wines: cassis and mint and cherry candy and malt and meat drippings, with a pretty rose petal note coming out with air. On the palate, beautiful sweet red fruit, but great acids too: rose hips and ripe plums. A minty eucalyptus note comes out on the finish. Beautiful texture: just the right amount of tannin for the fruit, young and supple, and in a great place.
  • Esprit de Beaucastel 2007: A meaty, minty, dense nose: like a leg of lamb roasting with garlic and juniper, with notes of baker's chocolate and crushed rock. On the palate, more dark chocolate, creme de cassis, rich and mouth-coating, with chalky tannins that will help this go out another decade at least. It tastes like a special occasion. What a pleasure to have this wine out of its closed phase and firing on all cylinders, though it's still a little youthfully thick and blocky. It has plenty of complexity and richness to gain elegance without losing its fruit.
  • Esprit de Beaucastel 2008: This vintage is in the unenviable position of being squeezed between two blockbusters, but it showed nicely, if quieter than its brethren: a nose of mint and marinating meat and rosemary and soy. The mouth is gently delicious: raspberry and mint chocolate and clean, piney brambles. Seemed very Grenache dominated, with strawberry preserves and baking spices coming out on the finish. Not a dramatic wine, but a very pretty one.
  • Esprit de Beaucastel 2009: Bold on the nose, spicy and minty with garrigue and raspberry liqueur. The palate is still quite tannic, with plum skin, crushed rock minerality, and both red and black licorice flavors. The wine is showing very youthfully both in its relatively high toned fruit and its tannic structure. I'm looking forward to seeing what it's like when it turns the corner into maturity; my guess is that it will deepen in tone.
  • Esprit de Beaucastel 2010: A very different nose than the last several, clearly reflective of the cool 2010 vintage: soy and sage, but not much fruit. The palate is almost Nordic in its tone: elderberry and crushed rock and charcuterie and wild herbs. The texture shows nice chalky minerality, and the tannins are modest. I feel like this is still quieted by being in a closed phase, and will get more expressive in the next year or so, but there were several around the table who gave it votes as their favorites. Note that this doesn't mean either of us is wrong.
  • Esprit de Tablas 2011: Love this nose of spicy juniper and blackberry, with deeper notes of chanterelles that I'm guessing will turn meaty with a few more years. On the palate, nice poise and cool dark fruit, but lighter in body than the nose suggested to me. The finish is nicely balanced but shorter than I remember it, with chalky tannins and some lingering dark fruit. I suspect this is entering its closed phase, and will likely become less expressive over the next 6-12 months before reopening sometime next year.
  • Esprit de Tablas 2012: An appealingly brambly nose with both red and black components: soy and spice and plum and menthol and new leather. On the palate, mostly red: tart cherry, red licorice, sweet baking spices. Medium weight, some youthful tannins, good acids.  A baby, still.
  • Esprit de Tablas 2013: Dark on the nose, more like 2010/2011 than 2008/2009/2012, with soy and eucalyptus predominating. Not hugely giving. The mouth is tangy with blackberry fruit and baker's chocolate, black licorice, and good acids. Structural elements come out on the finish, with a spiciness to the tannins that Chelsea pegged as "Mexican hot chocolate". Still very, very young.
  • Esprit de Tablas 2014: So youthful on the nose: like cherry pie (both the fruit and the buttery crust), red licorice, and sweet spice. Beautiful on the palate, with red currant, rhubarb compote, and big, chewy tannins that show the wine's youth. Pure and primary right now, but with an exciting future ahead of it.
  • Esprit de Tablas 2015: At the time that we tasted it, this was about 2 weeks from bottling. A really appealing nose of blackberries in a pine forest. Deep. On the palate, beautiful dark fruit, tobacco leaf, black plum, and soy marinade.  Great structure and weight on the palate, with a finish showing black raspberry, black licorice, and lingering tannins. I am very excited to start showing this to people this fall.

I asked people around the table to offer a few of their favorites, and the wines that got votes included the 2000, 2003, 2006, 2010, and 2015, with the 2003 pretty universally among everyone's top picks.  There were other wines (notably 2005, 2007, and 2014) that got lots of positive comments for their structure and their potential, and which I think will end up in the next round's top picks.

We ended up choosing the following vintages for August's public tasting: 2000, 2003, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2014, 2015.

A few concluding thoughts:

  • These wines really do reward patience. If we have consistently underestimated the wines' ability (and need) to age, I'm sure that most of our customers have. Look at a wine like the 2000: three years ago, I commented that it was the best showing for that wine I'd ever seen. This year's was better yet. Nearly every one of the older wines was better now than it was at the last tasting in 2014. This long aging curve wouldn't be a surprise for Mourvedre-heavy Chateauneuf, and I think we need to be recasting our expectations along those lines.
  • The degree to which the wines showed primarily red fruit vs. primarily black fruit was -- somewhat to my surprise -- not exclusively tied to the relative proportions of Grenache and Syrah.  Sure, some of the wines that show more red fruit than black (like 2006, 2008, and 2014) did have high percentages of Grenache. But others (like 2003 and 2012) didn't. And the cool 2010 and 2011 vintages both show mostly black fruit, despite their high percentage of Grenache. Variety matters, but vintage matters at least as much.
  • The tasting reaffirmed my belief that the 2014 and 2015 vintages are the best back-to-back showing we've had in some time, probably since 06 and 07. Both 2014 and 2015 Esprit de Tablas wines were beautiful examples of how this blend can have power without excess weight, fruit without sappiness, and structure without hardness. Both offer lots of pleasure now, but will age into something remarkable. And each shows its vintage's signature in an expressive way: the warm 2014's generous juiciness, and 2015's alternating cool and hot months in its tension and complexity.
  • Those of you coming out for the tasting in August are in for a treat.

Footnote

  1. We update a vintage chart at least quarterly with the results of these tastings.

The woman behind the clipboard: Q&A with Wine Club and Hospitality Director Nicole Getty

By Suphada Rom

Many of you know Nicole as the welcoming face at Tablas Creek's events, or as the signature at the bottom of your wine club member emails. She has been at Tablas Creek since 2004: long enough to see the company evolve in so many ways. Her responsibilities include organizing and conducting our events, managing our wine clubs, and overseeing the hospitality for guests visiting the winery. I caught up with her recently to ask about her journey.

Ocean

Where were you born and raised?
I was born and raised in Northern California in Los Gatos. Los Gatos looked a lot different then. It was a sleepy little town, not too different from what Paso Robles used to be say 30 years ago. It's gotten to be a little busier and Bay area-esque, but still beautiful. 

What's your educational background?
I went to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo right after high school. When I went into school, I wasn't really sure what I wanted to do. I knew I loved plants, so I decided to try out horticulture. It was just the one thing that I I felt drawn to and had an interest in. I could see myself growing and caring for plants, and also landscaping. 

You're one of Tablas Creek's longest tenured employees. How have things changed since you were hired?
So I started here in 2004 and at the time, I was really the only wine club employee. Now, I can't imagine doing it alone, I'm really fortunate that I have my team. We're also a lot bigger now that we were, which is a good thing. We went from having around a dozen employees in 2004 to more than 30 now. Half of these are focused in the tasting room! I've never been to another winery where they have so many people working, but it means that on busy Saturdays and festival weekends we can still take care of people how we want, and still do so much more for both our wine club members and fellow industry professionals. 

IMG_6656

Our great wine club, hospitality and events team: from left, Monica O'Connor, Nicole Getty, Suphada Rom, Janelle Bartholomew, and Dani Archambeault

As Wine Club and Hospitality Director, what are your responsibilities?
The main thing is to make sure we're keeping our members happy with the customer service, the wine, etc. We have around 9,000 members! My team and I try to be creative and keep coming up with ideas on how to keep people excited about Tablas Creek and share all the amazing things we do here everyday. We also do a lot of events here; there's probably about one event per month that happens at the winery. And of course we want to keep the wine club growing, so we're both working on how we can gain new members and how we make sure that our current members want to stick around.

What is your favorite event of the year?
I was leaning towards the horizontal tasting because everyone is super excited to taste all the older vintage wines we have. And it's one of the only times where we get to do something like that. We don't taste the older vintages often, so it's pretty special when we do. I also love our annual pig roast. It's the most casual event that we do here and the food is really good. We'll open a lot of nice wines to pair, as well. I think the thing I enjoy most about all the events is seeing all the familiar faces. I know so many people from the beginning, and it's so nice to be able to reconnect with all of them.

What is one of your fondest memories at Tablas Creek?
I have this great memory from about 9 years ago. After a long day of work, we all decided to go take in the view at the top of the hill in the vineyard. That was back when Neil [Winemaker Neil Collins] had the Winnebago. He brought it up to the top of the hill and cooked dinner for all of us. We sat back, drank some rose, and watched the sun set over the entire vineyard. I remember just sitting up there and really enjoying all of what we had. I felt so fortunate to work at a place where you want to spend time with people you work with outside of work.

Trailer

What makes Tablas Creek special to you?
Tablas Creek's history and story are really incredible. There is so much integrity and progressive thinking here. Being passionate about plants and nature, I think it's important to be as sustainable as possible, which is something we do here, too. And then of course there's Bob [Founder Robert Haas] - I have so much respect for him and his vision for the winery, the environment, and just taking care of the people that work for him. The people that work here are special too, it's just this place- it attracts really great people. 

For food and wine, do you have a favorite pairing?
Ah, I have so many! I like seafood with either Vermentino or Picpoul Blanc. The Patelin de Tablas Blanc has been so good, too. If I'm eating something meat based, I love our Mourvedre.

Besides Tablas Creek, what are some of your favorite wineries?
Locally, I like Lone Madrore and TH. Outside of Paso, I like Chamisal, Ridge, and Kosta Browne. When I'm not drinking Tablas Creek Rhone wines, I love Pinot Noir. The Pinot Noir from Kosta Browne was probably the first I ever had and it was definitely a gateway wine for me. 

What is your hospitality philosophy?
I learned this pretty early on, but it's kind the whole philosophy here at Tablas Creek. We want to make sure that everybody that walks in, calls, or e-mails has a good and positive experience. It's my goal every day to make sure that happens.  I mean, we are a luxury industry. People don't need what we're selling. And there are so many wineries to choose from. So it's really important to keep people happy. 

Besides being here at work, how do you like to spend your free time?
My husband Nathan, our son Noah, and I go to the coast quite a bit. We go to Cambria pretty much every other weekend, and we'll go camping in San Simeon. We've also been trying to go on more hikes as a family. Most recently, Noah, he's four now, is riding his bike, so that's fun to watch! I was so afraid to take the training wheels off and I couldn't believe that when I did, he didn't fall once! I think our next thing is we'll get a cruiser for Nathan. I've got a basket on mine and who knows, maybe we'll even put our dog, Penny, in there. With a little bow or something!

Xmas

Finally, how do you define success?
I think success is not all about money, but it's a little about living comfortably and in a way where you can do the things you want to do. Also, it's so much about where you work. If you're coming to work and spending at least 8 hours a day with people, you want to be surrounded by people that you genuinely care about. That further translates to caring about what you do, as well. If I were selling something like, say, fertilizer with pesticides, I don't think I could stand behind it. Feeling good about what you're doing and with people you care about- that's success. 

 


A Horizontal Retrospective: 2007 at Age Ten

In 2014 we began the tradition of looking back each year at the vintage from ten years before.  Part of this is simple interest in seeing how a wide range of our wines -- many of which we don't taste regularly -- have evolved, but we also have a specific purpose: choosing ten or so of the most compelling and interesting wines from this vintage to show at the public retrospective tasting we hold each year (this year's is February 11th).  Ten years is enough time that the wines have become something different and started to pick up some secondary and tertiary flavors, but not so long that most wines are at the end of their drink windows.  And, in fact, most of the 2007 reds are just entering their mature peak. 

Five years ago, as part of a look back at each of our vintages for our then-new Web site, I wrote this about the 2007 vintage:

2007 was a blockbuster vintage in Paso Robles. Yields were very low (down between 15% and 30% from 2006, depending on variety) due to a cold and very dry winter, which produced small berries and small clusters. A moderate summer without any significant heat spikes followed, allowing gradual ripening, and producing white wines with deep color and powerful flavors, and red wines with tremendous intensity, excellent freshness and a lushness to the fruit which cloaks tannins that should allow the wines to age as long as any we've made.

I was interested in the extent to which we'd still see what we'd noted when the vintage was younger.  Would the wines (red and white) show the balance of power and lift that made it one of the most exciting young vintages we'd experienced? How would the (at times massive) concentration have affected the balance over time?  And were there any lessons we might take for the wines we're making now?  Joining me for the tasting was our cellar team (Neil, Chelsea, Craig and Brad) as well as Darren, our National Sales Manager.

In 2007, we made 17 different wines: 6 whites, 1 rosé, 9 reds, and 1 sweet wine.  But we actually tasted 18 wines, because as part of our ongoing experimentation between corks and screwcaps, we bottled our 2007 Cotes de Tablas under both closures, to track how each closure impacted the wine's development over time. Still, 18 wines was actually fewer than we'd tasted from the previous couple of vintages.  The short crop meant that some wines we'd made in previous years (like Viognier, Picpoul, Bergeron and Counoise) weren't practical, although we did add two new wines: our first-ever Pinot Noir and En Gobelet bottlings.  The lineup:

2007 Horizontal

My notes on the wines are below. Wines with SC noted were bottled under screwcap, while those with a C were finished under cork. Most wines are also linked to their technical information on our Web site, if you'd like to see a breakdown of the winemaking or our tasting notes at bottling.  For some reason we never made Web pages for the Vermentino, Grenache Blanc, or Pinot Noir (perhaps because there was none left to sell after sending them out to our wine club?) but if you have questions about those, please leave a comment and I'll do my best to answer:

  • 2007 Vermentino (SC): Still bright and clear in the glass. On the nose, very reminiscent of an Australian riesling with some age on it: citrus pith and petrol. Clean on the palate, with a nice grapefruit/lemon curd citrus note and noteworthy richness for Vermentino. This wasn't a wine I particularly loved when it was young (I didn't feel that the 2007 vintage's density particularly played to the bright freshness I admire in Vermentino) but this was a very good showing.
  • 2007 Grenache Blanc (SC): A clean but fairly neutral nose, with a little green apple skin and a touch of sake-like alcohol showing through. The mouth showed round and very nice: apple and anise and baked pear and a mouth-coating texture.  Clean, fresh, and chalky on the finish.  Pretty impressive, I thought, for a variety that is not supposed to age well.
  • 2007 Cotes de Tablas Blanc (SC; 38% Viognier, 25% Marsanne, 20% Roussanne, 17% Grenache Blanc): A little darker than the first two wines in the glass, perhaps from the unusually high percentage of Roussanne in this vintage. A rich nose of creamy mineral, caramel, watermelon rind and some fresh herbs (tarragon?) on the nose. The mouth was soft and round, with a creme brulee richness, nice acids, and flavors of honey and roasted hazelnuts on the finish.  A great expression of an aged white Rhone.
  • 2007 Antithesis Chardonnay (C): The nose predicts a sweet wine: butter and roasted nuts and caramel corn and honey.  Like Cracker Jacks turned liquid. The mouth is dry by contrast, with flavors of honeycomb and pine resin. The finish is rich, with some nice aged Chardonnay character.  This isn't going to go much longer; drink up.
  • 2007 Roussanne (C): I usually love our Roussanne at age 10, but I wasn't quite sure what to make of this. The nose is a touch medicinal (acetate?) with a hint of dried white flowers and a minty, honey note coming out with air. The mouth is more classic, but without the age-driven richness I was expecting: some fresh pear, baking spices and a graham cracker note.  I tend to think this wine is in a stage it will come out of, but I'm not sure.
  • 2007 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc (C; 68% Roussanne, 22% Grenache Blanc, 10% Picpoul Blanc): From a vintage where we maxed out our Picpoul percentage in the Esprit, to give balance to the weight coming from the Roussanne and Grenache Blanc. The nose is deep and spicy: honey graham crackers given lift by a minty tarragon note and a refreshing minerality that Chelsea called "ocean air and citrus blossoms". The mouth is rich, with nice acids framing that richness, and flavors of baked lemon, nutmeg and Bartlett pear.  The long, vibrant finish showed mineral notes and sea salt caramel flavors. The wine is showing its age in a really nice way, and I think will drink well for another decade.
  • 2007 Rosé (SC; 57% Mourvedre, 31% Grenache, 12% Counoise): A deep copper amber color. The nose is like an aged light red, almost bloody, like drippings from a roast, with some strawberry compote behind. The mouth shows candied orange peel, rose petal, and dried strawberry, and finishes dry.  I remember this as the apex of richness in our rosé; starting in 2008 we pulled back on the skin contact and focused on making rosés with more freshness and bright fruit. While this was interesting to taste, I like the direction we've been heading.
  • 2007 Pinot Noir (C): Fun to taste our first-ever Pinot, made from a handful of rows in our nursery block. A wildly expressive (if not particularly Pinot) nose: menthol and dried herbs and cherry cola. The mouth is darker: black cherry and sweet oak and black tea and eucalyptus. Substantial tannins still. In many ways, more like an elegant Shiraz than a Burgundian Pinot Noir.
  • 2007 Cotes de Tablas (SC; 50% Grenache, 25% Syrah, 25% Counoise): Under screwcap, the initial impression is of a bright red-fruit driven nose, with deeper anise, chocolate, black cherry and spice notes coming out with air. On the palate, bright, luscious plum fruit, with black pepper and still some substantial tannins. Garrigue complicates the spicy fruit on the finish.  Beautiful.
  • 2007 Cotes de Tablas (C; 50% Grenache, 25% Syrah, 25% Counoise): Under cork, quite a different nose: much more animal: meaty and spicy like a roast with a rosemary rub. The mouth was more similar to the screwcap version, with minty red raspberry and red plum fruit and youthful tannins. This really benefited from air; we definitely recommend a decant if you're drinking this soon.
  • 2007 Grenache (C): An inviting nose of cola, milk chocolate, campfire, red fruit, and spice.   The mouth is loaded with sweet fruit: like a milk chocolate covered cherry. There's a luxurious texture, brought under control by some still-substantial tannins.  The alcohol (the wine is 15.3%) shows a bit on the finish.  The wine showed quite young, and we thought that (in contrast to the fully mature 2006) this wine might still be on its way up.
  • 2007 Mourvedre (C): A nose of leather, roasted meat drippings, and chocolate.  The mouth is pretty spectacular: milk chocolate, plums, and currants, made savory with tobacco leaf spice. The texture is plush and appealing, with tannins with a powdered sugar character that we often find in great vintages.  There's a little spicy, herby lift on the finish. Neil said "bring on a leg of lamb" and we all agreed.  Delicious.
  • 2007 Syrah (C): Quite a different nose than the previous red wines: an iron-like minerality, with aromas of duck fat, pine nut, dark chocolate and Worcestershire giving a savory depth. On the palate, more dark chocolate, blackberry, with a creamy texture and lots of beautiful structure. There's a little nicely integrated oak on the long finish. Easily my favorite of our older Syrahs I've tasted, and (unlike the 2004, 2005 or 2006) ready to drink at age 10.
  • 2007 Tannat (C): A very dark black-red color. The nose is spice and juniper and coffee grounds and black cherry. The mouth is nicely lifted, brighter than the nose suggested, with sweet wild strawberry and blackberry fruit, before big, dark tannins reassert control. There's a cool florality on the finish, like candied violets.  A really fun interplay between brighter and deeper elements, and still a long life ahead.
  • 2007 En Gobelet (C; 48% Mourvedre, 47% Grenache, 5% Tannat): Our first-ever En Gobelet, which we made because when we were doing our component tastings that year, we noted that the head-trained, dry-farmed blocks seemed to share a mineral-driven elegance that the trellised, irrigated blocks didn't. At this tasting, we found a gentle, inviting nose compared to the Tannat: garrigue, lamb juices, raspberry and spice. The mouth shows sweet milk chocolate, playing off tangy cherry and ripe plum. There's a nice salty note on the finish that showed why we came up with this wine in the first place..
  • 2007 Esprit de Beaucastel (C; 44% Mourvedre, 29% Grenache, 21% Syrah, 6% Counoise): A really beautiful mix of sweet and savory on the nose: roasted meat, currant, black pepper and eucalyptus. The mouth is luscious, with a great balance between sweet red fruit and savory meaty soy marinade character. The wine has been in a closed phase for the last three years, but only on the finish do I still see hints of this, with a little heightening of the tannins.  This is well on its way out of that closed phase, and will be even better in 6 months.  For now, decant it if you're opening one, but prepare to be richly rewarded.
  • 2007 Panoplie (C; 60% Mourvedre, 30% Grenache, 10% Syrah): Deeper and even more savory on the nose than the Esprit, with an umami rich density and lots of spicy wild herbs. The palate is spectacular: deep and rich, plum skin and dark chocolate and candied orange peel, with elegant tannins on the exceptionally long finish.  Fitting that this is the highest-scoring wine we've ever made; it's impressive, from beginning to end.
  • 2007 Vin de Paille Sacrérouge (C; 100% Mourvedre): A more port-like nose than is often the case with our Sacrérouge, perhaps because of the unusually high 15.4% alcohol: dried cranberries, dark chocolate, fruitcake and a little juniper lift. The mouth is sweet, rich, and showing younger than the nose: chocolate-covered raisins, with a nice bit of tangy acidity giving relief to the sweetness.

A few concluding thoughts

There was definitely a signature to the 2007 vintage: powerful fruit balanced by substantial structure and lifted by savory meaty and spice notes.  This thread carried through all the wines, but was particularly noticeable in the reds.  As we thought at the time, it's a better red vintage than white vintage, with only two whites making the 10-wine cut for the public tasting on February 11th. But those reds have really rewarded the decade in the cellar, and they'll all go out several more years without a problem.

Neil commented at one point in the tasting that "most of these wines could use half an hour in a decanter" and I very much agreed.  Both reds and whites -- and in the case of the Cotes de Tablas, both cork-finished and screwcap-finished versions -- became more expressive with time in the glass.  That's partly a function of the power of the 2007's, but generally a good idea for helping any wine that's been trapped in a bottle for a decade open up and express itself.

I was quite excited to see that the 2007 Esprit de Beaucastel seems finally to be emerging from its closed phase.  As is often the case, the biggest wines take the longest time to get through the closed phase, but they reward those with the patience to wait by drinking well for longer once they've emerged too.  It seems like we'll finally be able to offer the wine to members of our VINsider Wine Club Collector's Edition this fall.  I can't wait.

Finally, we chose ten pretty exciting wines for what should be a great February 11th Horizontal Tasting: Cotes Blanc, Esprit Blanc, Cotes de Tablas (screwcap), Grenache, Mourvedre, Syrah, En Gobelet, Esprit, Panoplie, and Vin de Paille "Sacrérouge". If you haven't signed up yet but are interested, please let us know soon; we have about a dozen spots left.


Checking in on 2015: an "Athletic" vintage

My dad got back to California earlier this month, and since his return we've been making time one day each week to taste through a thematic slice of what's in the cellar. Today, we took a look at the 2015 reds that have been aging quietly in foudre since we blended them late last spring.  

Esprit 2015 in foudreA lot has happened in the last six months, including the arrival of a whole new vintage into the cellar and our release of our flagship wines from 2014.  So, with both 2014 and 2016 more prominent in our thoughts than 2015, it was great to make a reintroduction to the wines today.  The timing was serendipitous because this coming Saturday we're hosting our annual futures tasting where we'll present the 2015 Esprit de Tablas Blanc, 2015 Esprit de Tablas, and 2015 Panoplie.  This will be their first public appearances, and I wanted a preview.

[A bit of an aside: if you aren't aware of our futures tasting and en primeur offering, it's one of the benefits of membership in our wine club.  We offer members the chance to taste before bottling and reserve quantities of our top wines before they are otherwise allocated, all at a special futures discount. For details, click here and if you're a member and want to come Saturday, let us know right away since it's almost full.]

Overall, the 2015 vintage was exceptionally scarce compared to recent years, due to a combination of four years of drought and some unfavorable weather at flowering [for details, see my 2015 harvest recap].  Early grapes like Syrah, Grenache, and Viognier were particularly affected, while later grapes like Mourvedre and Roussanne saw yields closer to normal.

The 2015 whites have been notably powerful, thanks (we think) to their very low yields.  But the 2015 reds, while they had excellent power, seemed more noteworthy today to us for their focus, their purity, and their expressiveness.  Overall, it seems like it will shape up to be a superb vintage.  My notes on the four red blends (plus the Esprit Blanc, which I figured we should taste because it will be available at the en primeur event):

  • 2015 Esprit de Tablas Blanc: An exotic and compelling nose of passion fruit, honeysuckle, lanolin, candied orange peel, and sweet spice. The mouth is both richer and more traditional than the nose suggests, with flavors of honey, pear, preserved lemon, and nutmeg. The finish is long, clean, and peachy.
  • 2015 Cotes de Tablas: A spicy, briary nose of raspberry and red plum, sweet spice and cherry pit. The mouth is juicy and generous, with strawberry, clove and milk chocolate flavors, and a long, clean finish with a little hint of mint bringing lift.
  • 2015 En Gobelet: A sweeter, denser nose than the Cotes, with notes of wine-soaked figs, licorice, pepper, new leather, and an exotic note that reminded me of cumin. The mouth was powerful too, with flavors of blackberry, roasted meat, tar, and that recurring curry note. There are nice chalky tannins on the finish, but elegance too.
  • 2015 Esprit de Tablas: The nose was instantly identifiable to me as Esprit: red plums, chocolate, sweet gingery spice, soy, and currant.  The mouth is vibrant, with flavors of chocolate-covered black cherry, more currants, and loads of structure. The long finish reverberated between red and black licorice, with chewy tannins and a lingering note of baker's chocolate. 
  • 2015 Panoplie: A very Mourvedre nose: loamy, foresty currants, with additional notes of cloves, balsamic, and juniper. The mouth is powerful, showing leather and earth and meat on top of its dark red fruit. It reminded me of my wife Meghan's description the first time she tasted Mourvedre out of foudre: that it reminded her of "butter in a butcher shop". The finish is rich, tangy, and long without being heavy.

A few concluding thoughts.

  1. This seems like a vintage with a somewhat different personality than the 2014, whose principal trait seems to be lushness.  2015 wasn't as warm a year as our other recent vintages, with temperatures more like average than the near-record warmth we've seen in 2013, 2014, and 2016.  The freshness that these cooler temperatures produced was noteworthy today, alongside the concentration from (presumably) the record-low yields. My dad called the wines "athletic", which I thought was a nice way of complimenting both their power and their lack of any sense of heaviness.
  2. It struck us all that these are wines that will age beautifully. To age well, wines need intensity and balance. All the wines we tasted showed both of these, in spades.
  3. Those of you coming for the en primeur tasting on Saturday are in for a treat.

On being a kid-friendly winery

I was pleased to see us mentioned in Mother Magazine's Paso Robles Guide, published online today. I was even more pleased to see Paso Robles recognized:

Mother Magazine Paso Robles

We moved out to Paso Robles in part because we were ready to start a family, and we haven't been disappointed.  From the great downtown park to a terrific library system, the different children's museums to an active youth sports community, it's been a great place to raise our two boys.  But I think that the kid-friendliness of the food and wine community has been noteworthy as well.  It's been fun to see the enthusiasm of the servers in the restaurants we visit, taking the kids seriously as they learn how to navigate their way around a real menu. And the bartenders we ask to make up fun kids' cocktails. We've never felt like we attract dirty looks by bringing the kids into the many great restaurants here, and for that we're grateful.

So it's really nothing more than paying it forward to do what we can to help make parents who visit Tablas Creek with kids feel welcome.  And, having been a parent in the shoes, so to speak, of our visitors, it's easy to remember how grateful even simple accommodations made us feel.  What do we do?  It's not rocket science.

  • Offer an activity for kids while parents taste. In our case, we have a kid-sized coloring table in the corner of our tasting room, with pictures of grapes and vines that they can color.  Heck, you don't even need to be a kid to use it, though if you're more than about 5'2" your knees may complain.  But giving parents the chance to focus on your wine instead of corralling a bored kid who otherwise is underfoot is good for your customers, your bottom line, and your sanity.
  • Offer events for families to do together.  Clearly, many or most of the events you're going to offer as a winery are going to be focused on wine drinking (or pairing, or making) and won't be appropriate to kids.  But much of what a winery does is agriculture, and it's important and typically fun to get kids involved in how things are grown and made.  We use animals as a part of our biodynamic program, and have created events to bring families out to meet the animals and learn their role in a healthy vineyard.
  • Be inclusive where you can.  We take as many people as are interested out on tours to see the vineyard, our grapevine nursery, and the winery.  All of this is interesting to kids, in my experience.  Have them taste different grapes and see if they can describe what makes them different.  Explain why you plant, or graft, or farm the way you do.  It costs nothing, builds goodwill, and gets kids involved in important conversations.
  • Be involved in your community.  The work that we do here is only one way that we interact with our customers.  Many of them live in our community, and most of them visit.  We have made it a point to get involved in the community activities that enrich the life experiences of kids who grow up here, from creating a partnership with the Performing Arts Center, to donating wine to raise funds for art in schools at the Paso Arts Fest, to creating a program with must! charities to support the Boys' & Girls' Club here in Paso and a local expansion of the Big Brothers Big Sisters program.  There are so many ways to make a difference... and many of the most compelling focus on kids.

It's really not the case where in making your winery family-friendly you have to choose to somehow make it less adult-friendly.  In general, thinking of the needs of kids who may be (unwillingly) accompanying their parents when they come out to visit you is going to make for a better experience for not only their parents, but also the kid-free customers who might otherwise be caught in the crossfire.

And if you can create an experience that involves an alpaca, some donkeys and a whole passel of sheep, so much the better.

Levi at meet the animals
Former Viticulturist Levi Glenn at our "Meet the Animals" family event a few summers ago


On the value -- and peril -- of waiting two years for Mourvedre

Last month, we hosted a vertical tasting of nearly every Mourvedre we’ve ever made.

Mourvedre Vertical

Mourvedre is our most important grape, the lead grape in the Esprit de Tablas every year, and the grape of which we have the most planted acres, at 27.  To put that number in perspective, it accounts for 26% of our 105 planted acres and about 5% of the total Mourvedre acreage in California.

The tasting was wonderful. Mourvedre is a grape that ages gracefully, which can be somewhat surprising to the uninitiated because the wines are not particularly tannic when they are young. Or, at least, not tannic in the sense that most people think of, with the drying force of a young Syrah or Cabernet. Mourvedre tannins are generally chewy rather than hard, but their capacity to resist oxidation is one of the reasons that the grape is planted in Chateauneuf du Pape despite the challenges of getting it ripe there. Even if you only include 5% in your blend (which there would be typically mostly Grenache) you’ve done a lot to improve the longevity of your finished wine.

The fact that Mourvedre is so late ripening was one of the key factors in our choice of Paso Robles as our location for our collaboration with the Perrins (which we would name Tablas Creek after the creek that runs through the property) back in 1989.  Paso Robles’ climate includes a very long growing season which can provide good ripening weather into mid-November. And while it hasn’t been necessary in the recent string of warm years, we’ve harvested into November nearly as often as we’ve finished in October.

All this is a lengthy preamble to a simple point: Mourvedre has meant a lot to us over the years, and we’ve bottled a varietal Mourvedre each year since 2003 except for the drought- and frost-reduced 2009. So, when we gathered with about 100 of our fans and VINsider Wine Club members in July to taste them all, it was an occasion that we were all looking forward to.

Although each wine was lovely in its own way – and the different personalities of each vintage were clearly reflected – there were four wines that people particularly gravitated towards. These included the 2003, for its mature flavors of leather, game, and meat drippings, and its soft tannins. Another favorite was the 2007, for its power and richness, with secondary flavors layered on top of still-intense fruit. A third was the newly-bottled 2014, which showed all of Mourvedre’s youthful charm, with bright currant and red plum fruit, and a loamy mocha depth that provided a wonderful counterpoint. The fourth was the 2008, which for many of us was the wine of the tasting: a lovely silky texture, expressive flavors of dark cherry and spice, and an ethereal quality that several people commented reminded them of what they loved about Pinot Noir: its ability to be intensely flavorful without being heavy or one-dimensional.

The last time we had tasted our full sequence of Mourvedre bottlings was in 2014. I wrote up that tasting on the blog shortly thereafter. It was fascinating to me to look back at the description of the 2008:

“It’s hard for any vintage to follow the 2007, but my sense from the shy nose and the clipped finish is that this is in a closed period that it will come out of. The aromatics of raspberry and black pepper are classic, and the good acids and modest tannin are in balance with the medium-intensity red fruit. Wait another year or so, then drink in the next 2-3”

One of the real standouts in 2014 was our 2010:

“Showing crystal purity in the Mourvedre aromatics of roasted meat, wild strawberry, orange peel, pepper, and mint. The mouth is beautiful: mid0weight with pure plum and currant, nice clean tannins, and good length. Like a kir made with a great Chablis, if such a thing weren’t sacrilege. If I were going to pick one wine to show off the appeal of the Mourvedre grape in its youth, this would be the one.”

In our recent tasting, the 2010 wasn’t many people’s favorite: a quiet wine, showing nice balance and modest intensity, but little of the sparkle that made it such a favorite just a few years ago.

So, what gives? I think the 2008 has emerged from – and the 2010 entered – the closed period that I’ve written about in the past. In that blog, I compared this phase to a teenager: with neither the charming exuberance of youth nor the elegance and balance achieved with age. And to have these two wines show this change would hardly be surprising; typically, Mourvedre is one of the grapes most prone to this midlife crisis, and it usually happens about 3 years after the wine is bottled, and lasts a couple of years.  The 2008 was bottled in 2010; it was 4 years in bottle in 2014, but is now 6 years in bottle.  And the 2010, which was bottled in 2012, was just 2 years old at our last tasting – still typically in its youthful openness – but is now 4 years old.

Many of you know that we maintain a vintage chart on our Web site, and update it every few months based on the tastings we do in-house and the feedback we get from fans and crowd-sourced sites like the remarkable cellartracker.com. We have different markings for appealing phases: youthful maturity, full maturity, and late maturity.  We also have markings for phases we suggest people avoid: some wines’ extreme youth (which gets red) or old age (pink), and wines in this in-between phase, which we mark on our vintage chart in purple. One of the main reasons that we created our VINsider Wine Club Collector’s Edition was so that we could give more recently converted fans a taste of what the wines were like after they’d emerged into their mature peaks.

Would someone who didn’t know the wine and opened it in it this middle phase be able to identify it as less than optimal? I doubt it. But I also think it’s unlikely to wow them, and they might well wonder – if it’s a wine that got great reviews or which a friend recommended highly – what all the fuss was about.

And based on our recent experience of the 2008, there’s definitely a fuss waiting on the other side, if you can have the patience to get there. 


A Fabulous Dinner in the Woods of Vermont

By Barbara Haas

[Editor's Note: I am very excited to share my mom's first contribution to the Tablas Creek blog. She has been an active partner in this project from the beginning, and the source of many of our best ideas (such as in making our first rosé back in 1999). While this is her first blog, she had a hand in much of the written material we produced in the early days of Tablas Creek. I look forward to many more entries. Thank you to the Windham Hill Inn, which took and shared the photos that appear with this piece.]

Being in the wine business means being in the business of giving pleasure.  We want our wines to taste good and to improve the moments in which they are served.  In order for us to do this, we frequently depend on the shared experience of good food.  The way that wine and food speak to each other is critically important to the appreciation of both.  Think of musical instruments either in tune or not. 

As someone who has been privileged to share a large number of “winemaker” dinners (dinners designed to highlight wine and food), I am reflecting on a recent experience which was one of the best I have had, and I have thought a lot about why this was true.

WinesThe lineup of wines for the dinner

The beautiful, historic Windham Hill Inn and Restaurant in Townshend, VT, has been a steadfast supporter of Tablas Creek wines and owns several vintages in their cellar.  To get there, you really have to know where it is!  A 30-minute drive from our house in Chester, the inn is tucked into a beautiful property at the end of a dirt road, and is totally peaceful and quiet.  The flagstone pathway is bordered by an array of lilies and hydrangeas, and the double entrance doorway (to keep out gusts of snow in the winter) leads you into a warm reception area, which could easily be in a French auberge.  Lots of polished wood, warm fabrics and comfortable furniture surround a small bar area and awaken your sense of anticipation for the aperitif and dinner to follow.

EntranceThe Windham Hill Inn's beautiful setting and entrance

Windham Hill Inn has created dinners to highlight our wines at least eight years in a row, and in my opinion, each year better than the last.  This year’s was a triumph:  focused, generous, and original.

RZH speakingRobert Haas, speaking at the dinner. Barbara Haas sits behind him.

The food was not heavy.  I was still as eager for the fourth course as I was for the first.  With each course, I was delighted by discovery: on my plate and in my glass.  The wines and their paired dishes sang in harmonious duets. 

MenuThe dinner menu

The harmony gave each element more than either had alone.  It was a remarkable experience.  For example:  a perfectly cooked piece of swordfish was accompanied by charred green onion, grilled pineapple, sesame and ginger.  Each element found a responding taste in the Tablas Esprit Blanc 2012.  I marvel at the talent which first recognizes the elements of taste in a wine, and then goes and finds a food which highlights that taste.

Another example was herb-rubbed Vermont lamb loin, with baby bok choy, and fermented black bean and garlic sauce.  The sauces throughout the meal had clean, clear flavors but no heaviness.  In the case of the lamb, the sauce was a simple, clear “jus”.  The rare lamb and its deep-flavored sauce gave the Mourvèdre 2011 ample room and encouragement to express itself.

The chef showed both intelligence and generosity by keeping his dishes focused and simple; in other words, not so tarted up with heavy sauces and irrelevant flavors that they dominated the wine.  This is not an easy job.  Home cooks and professionals alike tend to make food too complicated and “loud” when they are trying to impress, what I like to call “high-decibel food.”  The same tendency happens in wine making. 

LobsterThe second plated course: Maine lobster with a watermelon and heirloom tomato salad

Achieving balance and harmony is challenging but eminently more satisfying, and makes a diner want to come back for more.  A professional taster may recognize each achievement of the chef and winemaker.  A non-professional will simply have a wonderful, satisfying dining experience, without needing to analyze why. 

Thank you and congratulations to Chef David Crone and Wine Director Dan Pisarczyk of Windham Hill Inn for discovering the hidden secrets in our Tablas Creek wines and bringing them to light and value.

SunsetSunset over the rolling Vermont hills