Community Roundup: Major Awards for Qupe and L'Aventure, Imminent Rain, Snow in the Rhone, and New Direct Shipping Opportunites

Last year, I debuted a weekly feature on the blog called Weekly Roundup, focusing on interesting news from our communities (Rhone and Paso Robles), fun articles that we'd found on the world of wine, and pieces from other social media channels that we thought would interest a wider audience.

Unfortunately, the series never got a lot of traction.  I didn't hear much feedback about it, we didn't get many comments (1, in all the articles) and it didn't get shared or clicked on all that much when we posted it.  And it was a fair amount of work to do each week, some of which frankly didn't have all that much that was exciting going on in our community.  So, I've decided to rechristen this as a roughly monthly endeavor, and make its focus more explicitly on our community.  So, please welcome the Community Roundup: an occasional foray into what else is going on in our world.  These are things that we think are sufficiently noteworthy and of interest to our audience to be worth sharing, but maybe less than a full post each.

And please continue to share your own feedback on this series in the comments section.  Is it something that you've enjoyed and would like to continue to see?  Are there areas that you'd like to see more of?  Thanks in advance!

Two Awards for Two Iconic Figures
This week, we've been pleased to hear that two industry veterans for whom we have enormous respect are receiving major awards. 

Stephan Asseo CroppedThe first is Stephan Asseo, whose desire to combine the strengths of Bordeaux and the Rhone introduced a new kind of fusion into Paso Robles.  Stephan began making wine in 1982, and for the next 15 years developed a formidable reputation in Bordeaux.  Looking to escape the restrictions of France's appellation controlee system, he came to Paso Robles, where he founded  L'Aventure Winery in 1998.  His work in the seventeen years since has played a major role in establishing Paso Robles as the home for some of the most innovative garagiste winemakers in California, and brought to prominence the "Paso Blend", combining grapes from different Old World traditions into something uniquely Paso.  We are excited to learn that Stephan will be presented with the 2015 Wine Industry Person of the Year award from the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance.  Photo (right) is from the L'Aventure Facebook page.

Bob Lindquist CroppedThe second award recipient is Bob Lindquist, whose pioneering work at Qupe Winery was one of our inspirations, showing since 1982 that great Rhone varieties could be made in California's Central Coast.  Bob, throughout his time at Qupe, has been a tireless advocate for the wines of the Rhone, and a generous, patient, and humble figure in the movement.  He doesn't ever call attention to himself, which is one of the joys of his receiving only the third-ever Lifetime Achievement Award from the Rhone Rangers: that he'll get some richly deserved time in the limelight. My dad received this award last year, and the ceremony was great. If you missed it, I wrote a blog after that includes the amazing tribute video presented at his ceremony. If you're interested in joining for the celebration, you can; Bob's award will be presented at the Rhone Rangers San Francisco Winemaker Dinner. Photo (right) is from the Qupe Web site.

Snow in the Rhone
The Famille Perrin Instagram account is chock-full of great images, but one really stuck out this past week.  Snow isn't exactly a rarity in the Rhone Valley; they get a dusting at some point most years, but heavy snow is.  The photo that they shared of Gigondas under a heavy white blanket was stunning:

Snow in Gigondas

Rain in Paso Robles
At the same time, we're eagerly anticipating the arrival of our first real storm of 2015 tonight.  It looks like it will produce at least a few inches of rain for areas out near us, and I've read a report suggesting that the hills out here might see as many as six inches by Monday.  It's much needed; as my blog post from earlier in the week pointed out, we got less than 5% of normal rainfall in January.  A good head start on February (average rainfall: about 5 inches) would be great.

This rain (and the frost which is scheduled to follow) is particularly important because January was so warm that some California regions are reporting exceptionally early bud break. This isn't something we're worried about in the short term (I wrote about why last summer) but we're still at the point where some cold weather can shift the beginning of our growing season a few weeks later, reducing our risk of frost damage significantly.

New Direct Shipping Opportunities
FreethegrapesEarlier in January, I wrote a long piece on the state of wine shipping in the United States.  It wasn't really germane to the article -- which dealt more with the levels of expense and regulation within the three-dozen shipping states -- but it seems like there's been a little flurry of opportunity in opening some of the roughly dozen states that still prohibit all wine shipping.  Not only is Massachusetts set to open any day now, but the South Dakota legislature is debating a viable shipping bill, as is Indiana, and I've been hearing rumors that Pennsylvania is likely to move on wine shipping before the end of the year.  As always, the best place to go is Free the Grapes, where you can learn what's being debated and use their built-in templates to write state legislatures.

Drink for Thought: Wine State or Beer State?

Wp-winecountrybeercountry

I'm a sucker for maps.  There were several interesting ones, including the one above, in the Washington Post's article Do you live in beer country or wine country? These maps will tell you. The take-home message for me was that where there are wineries, there are likely breweries too.  Of course, there are hotspots where one or the other dominates, but fewer than you might think.  This is why I've found the reported worry in some corners of the wine community over the rise of craft beer silly.  In general, the people who love good wine love good beer, and increasingly, vice versa.  And more importantly, the people who love interesting wine look for interesting beer.  Nowhere more so than winery cellars.  The old adage that "it takes lots of good beer to make good wine" is absolutely true, in my experience.  Cheers!


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


A Retrospective Tasting of Every Wine from the 2005 Vintage

Last year, we began what I hope will become an annual tradition: looking back as each year begins on the vintage from ten years previous.  Doing so encourages us to open wines that we wouldn't otherwise open with a decade of age, and gives a wide-ranging perspective on the vintage as a whole and how it has developed over time.  It also allows us to choose a representative and compelling subset of the lineup for the public retrospective tasting we're holding on February 28th.

A few years ago, as part of a look back at each of our vintages for the launch of our redesigned Web site, I wrote this about the 2005 vintage:

The 2005 vintage was one of nature's lucky breaks, with excellent quality and higher-than-normal yields. The wet winter of '04-'05 gave the grapevines ample groundwater, and a warm period in March got the vines off to an early May flowering. The summer was uniformly sunny but relatively cool, and harvest began (relatively late for us) in the 3rd week of September, giving the grapes nearly a month longer than normal on the vine. The resulting wines, both red and white were intensely mineral, with good structure and powerful aromatics.  Red wines have big but ripe tannins that reward cellaring.

I was interested in the extent to which we'd still see what we'd noted when the vintage was younger.  Would the red wines have softened, or would they still show the brawniness that characterized them in their youth?  Would the whites have retained their freshness in what was a fairly ripe vintage, overall? And would the sweet wines, which I found disappointing in last year's retrospective, show better?

In 2005, we made 20 different wines: 9 whites, 1 rosé, 7 reds, and 3 sweet wines.  But on Friday, we tasted 21 different wines, because as part of our ongoing experimentation between corks and screwcaps, we bottled our 2005 Cotes de Tablas under both closures, to track how each closure impacted the wine's development over time. The lineup:

2005 retrospective

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. For some reason, we never made Web pages for 2005 Viognier or 2005 Bergeron. I'm sorry about that; if you have a technical question; leave it in the comments and I'll do my best to answer.

  • 2005 Vermentino (SC): An immediately appealing nose, both fresh and minerally, with lemon oil, rocks, and just a hint of nuttiness from age. It opened up increasingly with time in the glass, showing richer flavors of graham cracker, fennel, and preserved lemon. Its long finish was clean, with vibrant acids. Didn't nearly taste a decade old, or show any hint of its 14.5% alcohol.
  • 2005 Picpoul Blanc (SC): Golden in color, notably moreso than the Vermentino. The nose was richly tropical, with pineapple and wet stone. The palate was both rich and fresh, with peppered citrus, full body and zingy acids. Fun.
  • 2005 Grenache Blanc (SC): A more muted nose than the first two wines, some passion fruit and mineral, a little confected and a touch of scotch tape character I sometimes find in whites aged under screwcap. The palate was excellent, significantly better, I thought, than the nose: rich and viscous, with flavors of pear and marzipan, and great lingering acids at the finish to clean things up. Remarkably little sign of its 15.3% alcohol.
  • 2005 Viognier (SC): An immediately recognizable Viognier nose of apricots, jasmine and orange oil. On the palate, peach syrup and orange creamsicle, marmalade and a touch of saline. Notably less acid than the three previous wines (not surprising for Viognier) with an appealing touch of tannin on the finish. Still very youthful.
  • 2005 Cotes de Tablas Blanc (SC): The nose shows Roussanne and Marsanne more than the Viognier: honey, mineral and spicy fruit salad. On the palate, beautifully mid-weight, with a briny, minerally note and building to a mead-like, unctuous finish. 42% Viognier, 33% Roussanne, 19% Marsanne, 6% Grenache Blanc. 13.9% alcohol. I preferred this to the 2004 version, which (at 14.5%) I found a little heavy.
  • 2005 Antithesis (C): Rich and blowsy on the nose: toasted marshmallow, coconut and pineapple, with just a hint of wintergreen providing relief. The mouth is rich, but with good acids too. The oak shows a fingerprint in the texture, without overt flavors. Toasted coconut on the long finish. A nice example of aged Chardonnay from a warm year.
  • 2005 Bergeron (C): Made from 100% Roussanne, harvested a little earlier from cooler blocks around the vineyard. A high-toned yeasty, briochy nose, like aged Champagne that's been allowed to decarbonate, with some ripe apple. The palate is tarter than the nose suggests, more green apple than red, with rich texture but a briny, bright finish. A really interesting interplay between rich and bright, but a more intellectual than hedonistic experience.
  • 2005 Roussanne (C): The nose smelled older to me, perhaps unsurprising given acid's role in preserving wines as they age. Otherwise, not as much showing aromatically as the Bergeron. The mouth is notably rich, with an initial perception of sweet honey, then firming up on the finish, which shows a hint of tannin. Perhaps in an in-between phase; I'd hold this rather than drinking it now.
  • 2005 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc (C): The nose is exuberantly and vibrantly fresh, with mint, fennel, apricot and white flower notes. The mouth is spectacular: rich and long, clean, with sweet elements of honeycomb and candied orange peel, but totally dry, finishing with ripe, crisp apple and mineral notes lingering on the long finish. Perhaps the wine of the tasting, for me. 70% Roussanne, 25% Grenache Blanc, 5% Picpoul Blanc.
  • 2005 Rosé (SC): A deep salmon-pink color. The nose shows wild strawberries. The mouth is fruity and rich, some signs of age in the deepening of flavors, but still very much alive. A touch of pithy tannin on the finish. More a food wine than a quaffer now; we were fantasizing about pairing it with squab or charcuterie.
  • 2005 Counoise (SC): A fascinatingly wild, fruity nose, with fresh raspberry and freeze-dried strawberry notes and a meaty, gamy character too, like roasted duck. Pretty on the palate, relatively light-bodied but with excellent complexity. The finish showed raspberry, baking spices and earth, with vibrant acids, some good tannins still, and tons of life left. Confirms my thoughts that on its own, Counoise is more akin to a cru Beaujolais than anything else from the Rhone.
  • 2005 Cotes de Tablas (SC): Under screwcap, a bright, clean nose of peppered plum, youthful and fresh. The flavors were medium-bodied, a touch smoky, with baking spices and good acids. Tasted like a 3-year-old wine. 43% Grenache, 24% Mourvedre, 18% Syrah, 15% Counoise.
  • 2005 Cotes de Tablas (C): Under cork, the same wine tasted totally different. A deeper, less fruity nose, more coffee, mocha and fig. On the palate, deeper, chewier, more tannic and older: tasted fully mature, with less life left but more depth. Like a 10-year-old wine.
  • 2005 Mourvedre (C): Tangy and winey on the nose, with iron and plum, and chalky minerals. Like rare steak that's been marinating. On the palate, rich and still quite tannic, with a cooling bay leaf and minty note for relief. On the finish, a licoricey limestone note added to the complexity.  Still lots of life left, and a beautiful showing for this wine.
  • 2005 Syrah (C): The nose is meaty, leathery, rich and dense, with dark chocolate and black cherry. Still big tannins and quite chewy. We all thought it still too young, with the alcohol (only 14.5%) not quite integrated and showing more power than finesse. That said, with a grilled rib-eye, it would make quite a showy partner.
  • 2005 Tannat (C): A bright-dark contrast on the nose, with minty blackberry and incense notes. The mouth is quite lovely, readier to drink than the Syrah, with mint chocolate and patchouli notes. A beautiful long finish with ripe tannins that suggest the wine will go another decade effortlessly.
  • 2005 Esprit de Beaucastel (C): Shows aspects of both Mourvedre and Syrah, with a deep, meaty, leathery nose, with a hint of bay providing aromatic lift. The mouth is generous, with a clarity that neither of the two varietal wines showed, and brighter acids than either that highlight the fruit in an appealing way. I have to think that this luminous character comes from the Grenache component, and found it fascinating. Still some substantial tannins, and the wine should go out another decade happily. Another of my wines of the tasting. 44% Mourvedre, 26% Grenache, 25% Syrah, 5% Counoise.
  • 2005 Panoplie (C): A chocolate-cherry nose, rich and ripe. The palate was thicker than the Esprit red, with milk chocolate and super-ripe dark red fruit. Very rich texture that someone described as caramelly, and a finish of liqueur and chocolate. Still young.
  • 2005 Vin de Paille (C): An amazing luminous amber color and an explosive nose of orange marmalade and white flowers. The mouth showed still quite young, with a rich texture, egg custard flavors and ripe apricot. For all its weight, it showed great acids on the finish. 34% Roussanne, 29% Grenache Blanc, 24% Viognier, 13% Marsanne.
  • 2005 Vin de Paille Quintessence (C): Even more amber in color than the first Vin de Paille, with a deeper nose of almond brittle and apricots in syrup. The mouth is sweeter: vanilla creme caramel with its signature burnt sugar character. Rich, decadent and absolutely luscious. 100% Roussanne.
  • 2005 Vin de Paille Sacrérouge (C): Compared to the two white vin de paille wines, the nose is savory, a tangy plum and cocoa powder. The mouth is sweet but less so than the whites, raspberry coulis, cocoa and tangy marinade. Long finish. 100% Mourvedre.

A few concluding thoughts

I was happier, overall, with how the wines showed than I was with the 2004's last year. That's probably indicative of the strength of the vintage, which was overall a great one (2004, by contrast, was probably more good than great). Of all the wines that we tasted, there wasn't a single one that tasted over the hill to me, and only a couple (Grenache Blanc, Roussanne) that I found only so-so.

I was thrilled that my favorite white and red were in both cases the Esprits. This showed clearly to me the value of blending, with the flavors of each varietal highlighted and focused by the additions of the other grapes. It wasn't that these wines were the biggest or the most powerful; instead, they were the most complete and the most complex, with the best clarity and persistence. Exactly what we'd want our signature wines to be.

The cork/screwcap contrast on the Cotes de Tablas was really fascinating, and provoked the most discussion around the table. We split nearly evenly as to which we preferred, with some people opting for the depth and weight of the cork finish and other choosing the clarity and vibrancy of the screwcap finish. In earlier tastings, we'd seen more consensus around the cork finish, which spurred me to go back and re-read my blog post Bottle Variation, Very Old Wines and the Cork/Screwcap Dilemma from 2008. In it, I examine a presentation from Bonny Doon's Randall Grahm in which he posits that most wines, in the long run, probably do benefit from screwcap's protection from oxidation.  The more I learn, the more I think he's right, with one important caveat: that most red wines aren't aged long enough in bottle to get to the point at which the freshness preserved outweighs the depth lost. This tasting provided another data point: perhaps, out 10 years, is where the two meet, at least on this wine.

Finally, we chose what I think will be a pretty fun list of wines for the February 28th Horizontal Tasting: Vermentino, Viognier, Esprit Blanc, Counoise, Cotes de Tablas (screwcap), Cotes de Tablas (cork), Mourvedre, Esprit, Panoplie, and Vin de Paille. I hope many of you will join us!


Happy Holidays, from Our Flock to Yours!

It is with gratitude that we celebrate this holiday season. Gratitude for the communities (Paso Robles and Rhone Rangers) we're a part of. Gratitude for the restaurateur, retail and distributor partners whose work makes it possible for you to find our wines around the country. Gratitude for the terrific team we have at Tablas Creek, many of whom have been with us since the beginning. But mostly, gratitude for our fans near and far, whose loyalty and enthusiasm humbles and inspires us each day.

Happy holidays, from our flock to yours.

Winter Santa 3


A Vertical Tasting of Esprit de Beaucastel & Esprit de Tablas, 2000-2013

Going back through a library of wines is a tremendously useful thing for a winery to do.  It not only gives you a better sense of how the wines from the past have been developing, but also gives you context for judging changes in style and idiosyncrasies of different vintages. It has somehow been four years since our last vertical tasting of our flagship Esprit red wines, in December of 2010.  So, on this rainy afternoon (our third in a row!) and with an eye toward our en primeur tasting this weekend, at which we'll offer futures on our 2013 Esprit and 2013 Panoplie, I suggested we sit down and try to find the 2013 Esprit's place in our history.  Joining me for the tasting were my dad, Winemaker Neil Collins, Assistant Winemaker Chelsea Franchi, Cellarmaster Tyler Elwell, National Sales Manager Darren Delmore, and Tasting Room Manager John Morris.  The lineup:

Esprit vertical dec 2014

My notes:

  • 2000 Esprit de Beaucastel: A rich, meaty nose, with leather, pine sap, smoke, nutmeg and cardamom providing a great back-and-forth between savory and sweeter aromas.  Neil's first comment was "wow".  The mouth was rich, with still some big tannins, and flavors of gingerbread, black licorice, black tea and dark cherry.  This was the best showing for this wine that I've ever seen, and while fully mature I agree with Darren's closing comment that "it still has lots of life left".
  • [Note that we didn't make an Esprit in the frost-impacted 2001 vintage]
  • 2002 Esprit de Beaucastel: Very dark in both aromatics and color.  Neil called it "broody".  My dad called it "bloody".  Chelsea summed it up, calling it "rather sinister".  The aromas of dusty earth and black licorice were followed by flavors of blackberry and wood smoke, with big tannins that came out on the long finish.  I think this is still a young wine, and wanted it with a stew.  The wine is almost entirely Mourvedre and Syrah (84% combined, easily our highest ever) and it felt like it.
  • 2003 Esprit de Beaucastel: Aromatically, it split the difference between the two previous wines: spicy and dark like 2002 with a meaty red fruit component like 2000.  Like a dark chocolate covered cherry. The mouth is rich, with sweet fruit, chocolaty tannins, menthol and anise flavors.  It's beautiful, and charming too: my dad called it "a runway wine".
  • 2004 Esprit de Beaucastel: A cooler, more self-contained wine than 2003, with aromatics lifted by a pretty violet note, above tangy marinade and meat drippings.  The mouth is integrated and silky, still showing that coolness in a mint chocolate tone.  Tyler called it "silky".  Beautifully precise, deep and harmonious.  My favorite of the older wines. 
  • 2005 Esprit de Beaucastel: The nose is wild: meaty and leathery, very robust, with a slightly volatile note at first that blew off.  The mouth was more primary than the nose, with bright red fruit, some front-palate Grenache tannin, and a nice lingering red licorice note.  Still young.   Neil thought that "in 5 years this is going to be fantastic".  Chelsea thought it a "nice wine for the weather".  I thought that if you're drinking this now, it's a good idea to decant it in advance.
  • 2006 Esprit de Beaucastel: John commented that compared to the 2005, this wine "just seems so innocent" which to me caught its spirit perfectly.  It's a composed, pretty wine, more savory than flashy, with aromas of cocoa hulls, marinade and mint, a refined palate with licorice and dark red fruit in perfect balance with its ripe tannins, and a long, cool finish.  My dad thought it "has years ahead of it".
  • 2007 Esprit de Beaucastel: Very like the 2005 on the nose, with explosive wild aromatics, lots of leather, dark plum, and a sweet/savory balance that Chelsea called "waffles and graphite".  In the mouth, it was still quite primary, with terrific texture, big tannins, and lots of fruit behind.  My sense was that it's still coming out of a closed phase, and will be better-integrated in 6 months than it is now, but that patience will be rewarded handsomely.
  • 2008 Esprit de Beaucastel: This wine was a surprise to me, as the last time I'd tasted it, it was shut down, and I've been suggesting people stay away for a while.  Not any longer.  It had a gorgeous nose of gingerbread, purple fruit and mint, with a little sweet oak behind it.  The mouth is pure, clean, and refined, with milk chocolate.  Of all the wines, it was the most marked by Grenache to me, and showed Grenache's signature purple fruits and refreshing acids on the finish.  As it's 30% Grenache (tied for our highest percentage ever in an Esprit) this probably shouldn't be surprising.
  • 2009 Esprit de Beaucastel: The nose was closed at this tasting, with a little savoriness coming out with time: smoke, mint and bay leaf.  The mouth is big, powerful and dark, still quite tannic, plum skin and dark chocolate.  Still quite primary and impenetrable.  Chelsea called it "burly and polished" which led us to a fun round of imagining what that would look like.  An NFL linebacker in a tux?  I'd wait on this wine, probably for another few years at least.
  • 2010 Esprit de Beaucastel: The nose to me felt familiar and appealing, as this has been one of my favorite Esprits since we first made it.  The aromatics of juniper and Christmas spices were tangy and foresty, savory but inviting.  The flavors of orange peel and clove, red plum and loam were mouth-watering.  The wine's flavors were crystal clear and its finish cool and minty.  Delicious, though it's likely to start shutting down sometime soon.  For now, enjoy.
  • 2011 Esprit de Tablas: The nose is coolly spicy; I thought of a pine forest in winter. Juniper and menthol, bay and clove, with some fig providing relief to the savoriness.  The mouth is still quite young, with chewy tannins, lots of grip, dark red fruit, and finish of cherry liqueur.  My dad described it as "still very primary", which it was.  Give it some air if you're drinking it now, or wait and reap the rewards in a decade.
  • 2012 Esprit de Tablas: Chelsea said the nose "smells like autumn" with dried leaf and spicy strawberry.  The mouth is richer than the nose suggests, with vibrant red fruit on the mid-palate, and some pretty sweet spices.  The finish shortens and shows the wine's youth; Tyler commented that it was "like I'm tasting it out of a barrel".  Give it a few more months to fully emerge into its first drinking window.
  • 2013 Esprit de Tablas (out of foudre): The nose was rich and dark, with Syrah and its black licorice and chalky minerals at the fore.  The flavors were vibrating between dark (black raspberry and tree bark) and bright (wild strawberry and red cherry) with an appealing salty/sweetness that reminded me of sea salt caramel.  A knockout that John called "confident without being boastful".  Seemed like it was on a track that should take it on a similar trajectory as the 2004.  Should be a treat for everyone on Saturday!

If you aren't familiar with our en primeur program, it's one of the benefits of our VINsider Wine Club.  Members have the opportunity to taste the upcoming releases of our Esprit de Tablas and Panoplie wines out of barrel, the winter before they're bottled, and reserve wine at a futures-only 30% discount.  More information on our en primeur program can be found on our VINsider News page.


Weekly Roundup for November 23rd, 2014: Natural Wine, Ancient Rocks, Knobbly Fruit & Thanksgiving

This week's Weekly Roundup is highlighted by a great thought piece on what makes wine "modern" or "traditional", and whether either of these have a relationship with the idea of "natural wine".  We've included a couple of our favorites of the many Thanksgiving wine recommendations omnipresent at this time of year.  And, of course, we check in with some members of our community who are doing cool stuff.  As always, please share in the comments what you like, and what you'd like to see different.

The bounty of (our) harvest

Artisan photo of quinces

  • We kick off this week's column with a gorgeous photo from Artisan Restaurant.  We've partnered with them on several dinners over the years, including one early this year which featured lamb from our property.  Their photo on Instagram (above) of some knobbly bright yellow quinces from one of our trees caught our eye.  We dropped some off there because we had many more than we had any idea how to use, and wanted to get them into capable hands.  This photo isn't an isolated event; there's beautiful stuff worth following on all of Artisan's social media feeds.  If you're wondering why we grow quinces (along with apples, pears, cherries, plums, peaches and apricots) they're a part of the increased biodiversity we've been working to integrate over recent years.

Something in the (ancient) water

  • Halter fossilOur neighbor Halter Ranch posted a great photo (right, or on the Halter Ranch Facebook page for a high-resolution version) of one of the fish fossils that they found in their rocks and integrated into their winery building.  It's a great reminder that the soils that sit under our vineyards (and much of west Paso Robles) were deposited as seabed in the Miocene period (10-20 million years ago). These were lifted above the surface in the creation of the Santa Lucia Mountains quite recently, by geologic standards.  My dad wrote a great blog piece about our soils' history in 2011, if you're interested in learning more.

The 2014 Harvest

Is there a holiday coming up?

  • Thanksgiving is the American holiday most dedicated to eating and drinking.  Yet, many traditional Thanksgiving foods aren't naturally friendly to many of the most popular American wines, given their questionable affinity to oak and high alcohol.  Happily, Rhones, both red and white, make classic pairings, and it's always a pleasure waiting for the pre-Thanksgiving wine columns suggesting Rhones as an accompaniment.  I thought Laurie Daniel's Rhones for Thanksgiving column for the San Jose Mercury News was particularly good this year, and was pleased to see that our 2012 Cotes de Tablas ("bright fruit with savory notes of wild herbs") was one of her suggestions.
  • We weren't mentioned, but I still really liked Eric Asimov's Thanksgiving recommendation that the wine you choose should "Refresh the Palate". He highlights versatility and energy as two characteristics to look for in your Thanksgiving wine, and recommends an eclectic mix. I'm not sure I could find many of the wines he and his panel recommend (there are rewards for living in New York City, after all) but I do know that I agree completely with his basic advice. Read more »

An event to look forward to

  • This week, the Paso Robles Rhone Rangers announced the details of their 2015 Paso Robles Rhone Rangers Experience. In the last seven years, this event has become a showpiece for the Rhone movement here, and it's a remarkable value: just $85 for the full slate of events, including a nine-wine seminar (this year led by the Wine Enthusiast's Matt Kettmann), a vintners lunch catered by Chef Maegen Loring, a grand tasting featuring some 50 Paso Robles Rhone wineries, and a silent auction that benefits the Rhone Rangers Scholarship Fund.  There's a $35 ticket for just the Grand Tasting, too. Details & tickets »

Food for Thought (Beverage for Thought?)

  • Finally for this week I wanted to point you to a blog that is writing some of the most consistently interesting and erudite pieces in the world of wine today.  Elaine Brown of Hawk Wakawaka Wine Reviews this week tackles the questions raised by the ambiguity inherent in the definition of "natural wine".  We fall in her category 3 ("Wine growers and/or makers that use organic and/or biodynamic viticultural practices and/or less interventionist cellar techniques with few additives but do not define themselves with the movement of Natural wine") and are often dismayed by the reductive arguments on either extreme of the debate. Her conclusion -- that what matters is "if we’re trying to listen, and have a conversation" seems right on to me. Read more »

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.

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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.


Spring 2014 VINsider shipment food pairing dinner

By Lauren Cross

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Pairing 2: Dungeness Crab Avocado Salad with 2012 Grenache Blanc

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

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Pairing 3: Duck Confit Bread Pudding with 2012 Roussanne                      

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Robert Haas receives the Rhone Rangers 2014 Lifetime Achievement Award

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Photo of the day: No ice bucket required

I got back yesterday evening from a wonderful weekend in Lake Tahoe: a benefit for the 49ers Foundation, which distributes millions of dollars each year to help keep kids in the Bay Area on track.  The event (called the 49ers Foundation Winter Fest) included wine tasting, silent and live auctions, a program of events with 49ers players, coaches and alumni for kids and adults and free run of the facilities at the beautiful Resort at Squaw Creek.

We poured wine at our reception and donated to the dinner and auction, which were great.  But more than that, we'll remember the interactions with the players and coaches, all of whom were notably kind to and patient with the kids.  And the snow.  After a clear day Friday and a rainy morning Saturday, snow levels dropped to us around 4pm on Saturday, and over the next twelve hours we got over a foot of snow.  I grew up in Vermont, where a foot of snow wasn't particularly memorable, but for our kids, who are growing up in California, it was something else entirely.  I'm still not sure their clothes have dried, they were so packed with snow.

Since snow here is so rare, and we'd brought a bottle of our new 2013 Dianthus (it is spring, after all) I played a bit with the juxtaposition of winter and spring, warm and cold, blue-white snow and bright pink wine.  I got several photos I liked, but this was my favorite.  No ice bucket required:

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Happy spring, wherever you are, and whatever the weather looks like in your neck of the woods.