Introducing the new Patelin de Tablas Rosé

We love our Rosé. It shows the charms of Mourvedre when made into a pink wine by being rich yet refreshing, complex yet appealing, and worthy of pairing with substantial food.  But it's always been a bit of an outlier in the world of rosés, somewhat darker than most, somewhat fuller-bodied than most, and just a little too expensive for most restaurants to serve in the way that most rosé is drunk in restaurants: by the glass.

So, early this year, we set ourselves to the task of producing a rosé under the Patelin de Tablas label that would complement the rosé that we've been making since 1999.  We decided to base it on the world's most popular rosé grape: Grenache, and we identified Grenache vineyards within Paso Robles that we could harvest specifically for this rosé program.  These vineyards are starting to arrive in the cellar.  The photo below shows one bin, ready for processing Friday.  Note Grenache's typical beautiful garnet color:

Patelin Grenache for Rose

We don't yet know what the final composition of the wine will be, but we know it will be overwhelmingly based on this Grenache, harvested specifically for the Patelin Rosé and direct-pressed into tank.  The rest will come from saignéed lots of Mourvedre and maybe even a little Syrah.  We're guessing that the finished wine will end up around 80% Grenache, but we'll see how harvest goes.  We want the wine to be a light salmon in color, more typical of a French rosé than the more cranberry tones of our estate Rosé, low in alcohol and vibrant, juicy and refreshing.

What is direct-press, you ask?  Happy to show you.  I shot a short (90 second) video in the cellar Friday documenting the process.  The video begins with Grenache coming down our sorting table, into our destemmer.  We then pump the berries and juice into our press, which isn't even pressing... just turning the grapes and letting the free-run juice flow out.  That juice is being pumped into a stainless steel tank, where it will start to ferment.  We did eventually turn on the press to squeeze the berries, but even in that portion, the color was only gently pink.

Look for the new 2012 Patelin de Tablas Rosé to debut in March, retail for around $20 and be available by the glass at your local dining establishment of choice.

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Harvest, weeks one and two: zero to sixty in no time flat

Most vintages, harvest starts slowly, with a few bins the first day, then a little break, then a selective pick off another block, then another break, then finally a larger picking, then another break.  Not this year.  We started on September 4th with our first lot of Viognier for the 2012 Patelin Blanc, and by a week later, we'd already brought in just over 85 tons of fruit, including Viognier, Syrah, Marsanne and Roussane for the Patelin program, and Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Viognier, Syrah, Vermentino and even a first picking of Roussanne off of our estate.  A shot I took today in the cellar will give you a sense of the complexity of the cellar dance, with reds (in this case some of the Patelin Syrah we received on September 6th) being pressed as whites (in this case, bins of Vermentino off the western edge of our property) are arriving:

Vermentino bins through press

Yes, this volume at the front end of harvest is unusual.  By comparison, the first 8 days of harvest brought in 32 tons last year, 20 tons in 2010, 10 tons in 2009, 26 tons in 2008 and 15 tons in 2007.  A scene like the one below, with dozens of bins of Syrah sitting outside the winery waiting to be destemmed (from September 6th) is much more typical of mid-October than early September:

Bins of syrah outside winery sept 6 2012

The weather has been warm, though it's moderated since early August's serious heat.  In September so far, we've had 9 days that have topped out in the 90's, 8 days that have topped out in the 80's, and only one day that topped out in the 70's.  This is a dramatic change from the last two vintages, which saw significantly cooler temperatures at harvest time, but is more or less normal for Paso Robles.  And we really haven't seen any extremes; this month we've only had 13 hours with temperatures over 95 and only 5 nights that dropped into the 40's, so the vines are continuing to photosynthesize rather than shutting down either due to cold or to conserve water in the heat.

Yields, so far, look somewhat higher than we were expecting, maybe 10%-15% larger than average, though still below the highs of a vintage like 2005, 2006 or 2010.  We've already harvested twice as much Viognier off our vineyard (with a few blocks still to go) as we did all of last year's frost-decimated crop.  Of course, much will depend on the Mourvedre and the Roussanne, both of which seem to be a bit lower this year. 

It's a winery truism that when you think yields are down, they're down more than you thought, and when you think yields are good, they're up more than you thought.

For the Patelin, we're expeting more Syrah, as well as our first Grenache and Grenache Blanc in the next week or so, while at home, it looks like reds other than Syrah may still be a while yet.  Walking through the Grenache blocks still shows a lot of pink berries -- and even the occasional green one -- rather than the deep red we'd expect at harvest.  Counoise is the same.  Mourvedre looks closer to ready, but is still low in sugar and developing flavors.  Meanwhile, we're pressing off the Syrah that came in the first week and making space.  We thank the cellar assistants like Wade Johnson (below) for making the necessary room.

Wade shoveling

Harvest 2012 Begins!

And, as of 1:30pm today, we're live, with the arrival of the first fruit of the 2012 harvest.  As usual in the world of Rhones, we started with Viognier, this for our Patelin de Tablas Blanc from Paso Ridge, at the warm north end of the El Pomar District.  The guests of honor:

First Viogner bins for Patelin Blanc

A September 4th start is just about average for us; since 2000, our average start date is September 7th.  

The very warm start to August does not appear to have accelerated things dramatically, perhaps because the vines were carrying a relatively healthy crop, perhaps because vines tend to shut down photosynthesis when it gets up around 100.  Sugars do appear to be a bit higher this year than in the past few years, and I expect our five-year trend of decreasing average sugars at harvest to end this year.  Still, we're pleased with the balance we're seeing, with acids holding strong even as the grapes start to look and taste ripe.

Looking ahead, we'll move forward this week with more Viognier and our first Syrah from some of the warmer vineyards from which we source Patelin.  We're expecting the Chardonnay that we use for our Antithesis to be the first estate fruit we pick, either tomorrow or Thursday, and before the end of the week we'll likely bring in both the Haas Vineyard Pinot Noir and the tiny nursery block of Pinot on our own estate.  By early next week, we're looking at our first Rhone varieties off the estate, likely Viognier and Vermentino, as well as more Patelin lots.  By two weeks from now, we'll be inundated.

Looking back, the years with the most similar start dates are 2000 (September 8th) and 2002 (September 6th).  But the year that this reminds me most of in how it's developed is 2005, which was also a productive year (somewhat more so than this one) with a warm summer but a fairly late start to harvest.  If that holds, we're in for a treat.  The 2005's were and still are deep, powerful and rich, but with good freshness and balance.  We'll know, soon enough.

Pre-Harvest Jubilation

By Chelsea Franchi

We had our scale certified last week, which was just one more reminder of the ever-present fact that harvest is barreling down on us (no pun intended).

Steaming barrels in the afternoon sun

Harvest is what we live for (well, work for) here in the cellar.  It is the hub of the winemaking cycle.  Without harvest, what would we do the rest of the year?  Harvest is, without a doubt, the most exciting time of year for me.  It's exhausting, exhilarating, and stimulating.  You really get to know the people you work with during harvest (to everyone I work with: my most sincere apologies).  With everyone being pushed to their limits mentally and physically, you're bound to let your true colors show.  That's part of what makes harvest so exciting - getting the opportunity to push yourself and becoming familiar with your own breaking points.  While most people would look at that as a negative (and I can understand why), it's one of the many reasons I love my job as much as I do: it's challenging, in every sense of the word.  And I like that.

The start of this year is even more testing.  The lab equipment was dusted off and fired up last week to start running numbers on fruit samples (mostly for Patelin fruit) and Neil and Ryan are off in France.  Which means, those of us who are left here have the opportunity to own the cellar (for a few weeks, at least).  And by all accounts, it looks like we're more than up to the challenge.

Lab equipment at the ready

We've been checking numbers (sugar, pH and total acidity) and tracking the progression of said numbers.  The presses are clean and ready and the sorting table and must pump are both lying in wait.  Picking bins have been brought out from storage and for the early part of this week, we're focusing on sanitizing barrels and tanks so they will be ready for the new juice of 2012.

The barrel brander

RackingArms IMG_6313
Racking arms waiting to be scrubbed clean and tanks getting power-washed

It's nice to have these rituals before the full force of harvest smashes down around us - the misty fall mornings spent chugging coffee as the first bins of fruit pull onto the crush pad, driving a forklift through the silence of night with only two tiny headlights and the stars to light the way, the incessant squishing of my water-logged boots, the hammering sound of fruit raining down onto the sorting table.  The wet heat of a fermenting tank and the thick, rich smells of grape juice evolving into wine.  Lead-heavy exhaustion replaced by buoyancy the second the stereo is cranked up (Journey, please!).  Climbing into the press after its first use of the season - and for that matter, climbing into the press after its last use of the season.  And what harvest mosaic would be complete without those six beautiful words spoken at the end of an impossibly long day:  "Hey, who could use a beer?"

It would be interesting to see how my co-workers would arrange their harvest montage, but this is my view.  These are the snapshot experiences I look forward to every year.  I'm ready.

Veraison 2012

So far, this year's weather has been pretty much perfect.  Lots of days in the 80's and low 90's, lots of nights in the 50's.  Very few days where the highs were in the 70's, and only a few where we got above 95.  Having daily highs range between 80 and 95 is important because most grapevines won't photosynthesize at temperatures above 95.  Instead, they close the pores in their leaves and try to conserve moisture in self-defense.  It doesn't always work; too many days above 95 (or even a few days too much above 95) and you start to see berries turned prematurely into raisins, as grapevines sacrifice some of their potential crop to preserve their overall health.

Given the relatively ideal conditions, it shouldn't be surprising that we're starting to see veraison earlier than in the last two notably cold years.  Veraison is a French word that marks the point in the year where fruit stops accumulating mass and begins to accumulate sugar.  This change manifests itself in several ways, but most visibly in the beginning of color change in red grapes from green to red and in white grapes from vivid green to a softer, more yellowish hue. Viticulturist Levi Glenn caught some early veraison at the top of our Syrah block early this week. Syrah, almost always our first red grape to be harvested, is first off the blocks as usual:

Veraison 2012 Syrah

As a rough rule, we figure six weeks between veraison and harvest for most varieties.  This suggests that we'll start to harvest Syrah (as well as Viognier, which is also starting to go through veraison but whose changes don't make for very exciting visuals) at the very beginning of September.  Starting in early September is normal for most of the world, but for us it's just a touch early.  Our average start date since our first vintage (1997) has been September 9th.  But that doesn't catch the full range of possibilities; in the last decade, we've begun harvest the last week of August twice, the first week of September three times, the second week of September once, and the third week of September four times, including both of the last two years.

Syrah wasn't the only grape in which Levi found signs of veraison.  Mourvedre, although it is typically our last grape harvested, tends to show veraison relatively early, and we've learned to expect ten weeks between its veraison and its first harvest.  A Mourvedre cluster, just starting to turn color, also from the top of its hill:

Veraison 2012 Mourvedre

The weather over the coming weeks will have something to say about our harvest date.  But veraison does provide a pretty reliable gauge of where you are.  And the combination of yields (about average) and weather (warm but rarely hot, and consistent) suggests we're looking at a year very much like 2000, 2002 and 2007.  That has to be a good thing.

[For those interested in more detail on the veraison, check some past veraison posts. For more on the chemistry, out the post from 2007.  For photos of the different red grapes mid-veraison, see the post from 2008. For more on comparative dates on veraison over recent vintages, see the post from 2011.]