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.

White blending gives us our first detailed look into the scarce, concentrated 2015 vintage

This week, my brother Danny flew out to join me, my dad, Neil, Chelsea, and Tyler around the blending table as we took our first comprehensive look at the whites from 2015. As usual, we started our blending week Monday morning by tasting, component by component, through what we had in the cellar. Because of the many varieties that were very short compared to recent years [for why, see my 2015 harvest recap] there were fewer lots than usual, and many lots were smaller. Of our major components, only Roussanne saw similar quantities to 2014:

Grape Gallons (2015) Gallons (2014) % Change
Viognier 972 1750 -44.5%
Marsanne 948 1560 -39.2%
Grenache Blanc 3621 4827 -25.0%
Picpoul Blanc 804 1176 -31.6%
Roussanne 6853 6781 +1.1%
Clairette Blanche 144 92 +56.5%
Total Whites 13342 16186
-17.6%

As you would guess from the chart above, we knew going in that we were likely to be constrained by our quantities in what we could make.  Still, the first stage was to go through the lots, variety by variety, and get a sense of both the character and diversity present in the vintage:

Blending2016_components

We grade on a 1-3 scale, with 1's being our top grade (for a deep dive into how we do our blending, check out this blog by Chelsea from last year). My quick thoughts on each variety:

  • Viognier (3 lots): A really good year for Viognier, with 2 of the 3 lots getting 1's from me. Concentrated, tropical and deep, with surprisingly good acids and a little welcome minty lift. Absolutely worthy of bottling solo, but in this short year it will all go into the Cotes de Tablas Blanc.
  • Picpoul Blanc (3 lots): Very strong for Picpoul, too, with luscious depth and electric acids. The one lot that got a 2 from me could have been a 1 as well.
  • Roussanne (13 lots): A very heterogeneous mix, with a relatively large number of lots with very low acids.  Some of these had the richness and charm to carry their weight; others felt heavy. Those with the best acidity were really powerhouses, with a creamy, honeyed charm that should be very crowd pleasing. My grades: six 1's, five 2's, one 3, and one incomplete (for a lot that was still fermenting actively).
  • Grenache Blanc (5 lots): Very classic and polished for Grenache Blanc at this stage, quite uniformly good (three 1's and two 2's from me), with lots of the variety's signature green apple. We just wish there was more of it.
  • Marsanne (3 lots): Pretty clearly Marsanne's best showing ever for us, to the point that my dad (who in past years has suggested we think about pulling Marsanne out entirely) mused out loud that we should look to plant more acreage. Great minerality, nice acids, elegant and complete. If there had been more, we'd love to have bottled it on its own, but like the Viognier, it will all go into Cotes Blanc.
  • Clairette Blanche (1 lot): Just the 3rd vintage of this new grape for us, the Clairette was pretty: like new-cut grass drying in the sun. Not much complexity here, but fun for us all. We'll bottle this on its own, to continue to share it with others.

Tuesday morning, we started on our blending work by tasting possible Esprit de Tablas Blanc blends.  The last few years, our Esprit Blanc has been 70% or more Roussanne, though in very rich years this has not always been true. Case in point: the 2009 vintage, whose combination of drought and frost produced yields that approximated pretty closely those we saw in 2015.  And like 2015, it was a warm year, with Roussannes with a great deal of weight and relatively low acids.  In our blending trials the following spring, we ended up preferring our blends with more Picpoul and Grenache Blanc, and less Roussanne, though we could only use 12% Picpoul because that was all we had.  The 2009 Esprit Blanc ended up containing 62% Roussanne, 26% Grenache Blanc, and 12% Picpoul Blanc. This year, knowing how strong the Picpoul and Grenache Blanc were, we tried out some blends with high percentages of both, and ended up choosing in our blind trials (blind meaning we tasted not knowing the percentages in each wine) a blend that maxed out on Picpoul again. Happily, we now have more Picpoul in production than we did in 2009, and our preferred blend contained 55% Roussanne, 28% Grenache Blanc, and 17% Picpoul Blanc. This wine will be blended in the next month or so, be moved to foudre to age for another year, and be bottled next spring.

Once we'd decided on the Esprit Blanc blend, the other wines fell into place with remarkable speed.  I figure that our minimum quantity of Cotes de Tablas Blanc, for its various demands to our wine club, in our tasting room, and to the national market, is 1500 cases.  This wine is always led by Viognier, and using all our Viognier only made up 26% of a 1500-case lot. All the Marsanne made up 25% of the lot.  Because these two varieties were so strong, we were confident in that the finished wine would be great, and chose some of the brighter, more mineral-driven Grenache Blanc (25%), and some of the least assertive Roussanne (24%) to finish off the blend.  We tasted it, ready to make adjustments if necessary, and decided we couldn't think of anything that would improve it.  Those who get some 2015 Cotes Blanc are in for a treat.

At this point, we'd used all our Viognier, Marsanne, and Picpoul, and had enough Roussanne left for about 1200 cases of a varietal bottling, and enough Grenache Blanc for about 600 cases. And that, as often happens in short vintages, was that. Wednesday morning, we tasted the five wines we'll make from 2015 (including the Patelin de Tablas Blanc, that received one declassified Roussanne lot to add to its purchased fruit), to make sure that each felt complete and fell into its appropriate slot relative to the lineup.  They did: 

Blending2016_whites

We wrapped things up yesterday afternoon with a prowl through the cellar, tasting a selection of barrels to begin the process of wrapping our heads around the reds from 2015.

Blending2016_cellar

We won't blend those until late April, but it was clear that the vintage will be a strong one there too. As for the details, stay tuned.


Why the future may look a lot like the crazy 2015 vintage

I was honored to be invited to give the keynote address at today's Vintage Report Conference here in Paso Robles.

JH Keynote Speaker Vintage Report 2015

The topic was to provide an overview of the 2015 vintage, with technical discussions to follow on the vintage's impact on vine physiology, grapevine maturation, and berry/wine composition.  I thought that my keynote address might be interesting to followers of the blog, and have shared it below.  I have added a few concluding thoughts at the end. 

I am honored to have been asked to deliver this keynote address.

I’m sure I don’t need to tell any of you that the 2015 vintage was unusual, or that most of what made it unusual presented challenges to viticulture throughout much of California. Nor am I likely to surprise any of you who experienced it with the roller-coaster of emotions that we saw out at Tablas Creek.  This roller-coaster, in order:

  • Hope from a great beginning to the rain in the early winter of 2014-2015
  • Disillusionment as an exceptionally dry late winter left us at about 50% of normal rainfall (again)
  • Relief to have avoided frost despite an early budbreak
  • Worry about cool, windy weather during May’s flowering (which resulted in widespread shatter)
  • Uncertainty after alternating significantly warmer-than-normal and cooler-than-normal months
  • Shock upon receiving multiple inches of rain in July
  • Disbelief in seeing just how light crops were (much lower than we’d projected)
  • And back to hope at the end with our late-season grapes coming in much closer to normal yields, and overall wine quality looking strong.

You’ll get details of all these pieces from the many speakers here today, but I wanted to illustrate in two ways just how unusual the year was. 

  • First, the rainfall by month that we saw last winter out at Tablas Creek. We finished at about half of normal rainfall, but it was anything but consistent.  It’s hard to have a good rainfall winter in California if it doesn’t rain in January and March:

  Winter Rainfall 2014-2015

  • Second, the ricochets between significantly warmer than average and significantly cooler than average months during the growing season. Only June was within 10% of normal heat accumulation, and some months like May, August, and October were way off the charts.

  Degree Days 2015 Growing Season

Degree Days vs Normal 2015 Growing Season

And yet, with all this uncertainty as a background, it’s looking like 2015 produced some remarkably compelling wines. 

The lessons from 2015 may well prove to be important ones moving forward.  The scientific consensus seems to be settling around the likelihood that droughts and extreme weather in our area are going to be more common in coming years thanks to global warming. The lessons we might learn from 2015, as unusual as it looks in historical context, may well need to be applied with increasing frequency in the future.

I look forward to hearing the conclusions that some of the state’s leading viticulture researchers will present today.  Thank you all for coming.

A few conclusions

It was interesting to me, in the research I did to put together this talk, the degree to which a consensus really seems to be building among the California wine community on the effects of climate change.  Droughts are likely to become more frequent and more severe.  The incidence of very warm stretches will increase, but so too will the threats from springtime frosts, as warmer March weather encourages earlier budbreak.  The climate of the California's Central Coast will increasingly resemble, in rainfall and temperature, that of Southern California.  And the increased frequency and intensity of tropical storms will make unusual summer rain events like the one we received last July more common.

A salient conclusion that Dr. Thibaut Scholasch, the organizer of the conference, made in his introduction was that the viticultural impacts we are likely to face more often given climate change (excessive drought, excessive heat) are more easily addressed by changes in viticulture and winemaking, as opposed to the opposite threats (excessive moisture, excessive cool) that put the success of a vintage largely outside of the control of a grower or winemaker.

Finally, I love that this high profile technical event, which takes place in four places around the world, has chosen Paso Robles as one of its four locations (joining Napa, Bordeaux, and Narbonne).


Harvest 2015 Recap: Mourvedre and Roussanne (somewhat) to the Rescue

The last two days, we picked the last batches of Roussanne off of our estate.  This makes in one case six passes through a single block, harvesting what's ripe, leaving the rest to ripen a bit more, and repeating every week or two.  In a year like 2015, when yields are so low that you treasure every single grape, the extra investment is worth it.  And, it seems like this extra care has been warranted, as our latest-ripening grapes have turned out to be the ones whose yields are down least.

Last Pick Chalkboard

Two weeks ago, before the Counoise, Mourvedre and Roussanne harvests were quite done, it looked like every grape was going to be down between 40%-50%, as we'd seen in the earlier varieties.  But these last three grapes came in much better, down 19%, 9% and 2% respectively, which leaves us overall with an estate harvest that's down 27.6%: serious, but better than the 40%+ that we'd feared.  The details:

Grape2014 Yields (tons)2015 Yields (tons)% Change
Viognier 11.4 6.3 -45.1%
Marsanne 9.9 5.9 -40.3%
Grenache Blanc 31.9 22.0 -31.0%
Picpoul Blanc 7.5 5.0 -33.0%
Vermentino 17.3 8.7 -49.4%
Roussanne 42.8 42.0 -1.8%
Total Whites 120.8 89.9
-25.6%
Grenache 50.7 30.7 -39.5%
Syrah 38.1 21.4 -44.0%
Mourvedre 52.3 47.5 -9.1%
Tannat 15.4 9.8 -36.6%
Counoise 17.0 13.7 -19.4%
Total Reds 173.5 123.1
-29.0%
Total 294.3 213.0 -27.6%

We had speculated at the beginning of harvest that while the drought was playing a part, a big piece of the lower yields on the earlier-sprouting varieties was the cool, wet, windy May that impacted these grapes' abilities to set fruit during flowering.  The weather in June, when Counoise, Mourvedre, and Roussanne flowered, was benign.  Knowing that these grapes were down roughly 10% while the earlier grapes were down an average of 40% suggests that in fact the majority of the blame should go to the May weather rather than to the four dry years.

Overall yields off our estate ended up at 2.01 tons per acre, which is (barely!) our lowest ever, just a hair below the 2.03 tons per acre we saw in 2009's drought- and frost-reduced crop.  If the intensity is comparable to 2009, then we're in for a treat when we get to the blending stage this spring.

Looking at average sugars and pH at harvest gives a quick way of measuring a year's ripeness.  Since 2007:

YearAvg. SugarsAvg. pH
2007 24.42 3.67
2008 23.87 3.64
2009 23.42 3.69
2010 22.68 3.51
2011 22.39 3.50
2012 22.83 3.65
2013 22.90 3.63
2014 23.18 3.59
2015 22.60 3.59

I think that in this measurement is where you see the largest impact of the drought.  The sugars look more like the cool years of 2010 and 2011 than they do like the warmer years we've seen before and since.  And, of course, until late August, this year was actually cooler than our 10-year average.  For a more graphical look at how the 2015 vintage progressed, take a look by month at the accumulation of degree days out here at Tablas Creek.  As you can see, we alternated between warmer-than-average stretches and cooler-than-average stretches:

2015 Degree Days vs Average

The difference between normal and 2015 is even more dramatic when you look at it as a percent change.  May saw fully 30% fewer degree days accumulated than our eighteen-year average, October so far has been more than 40% above normal, and only June was within 10% of normal:

Temp Pct Chg vs Average

The above graph gives a hint as to why we think we saw relatively modest sugars for our latest-ripening grapes. While warm weather is good for ripening, hot weather actually causes the vines to shut down photosynthesis, and you don't get the same sugar accumulation you do when it's more moderate. We had three separate heat spikes at the end of the ripening cycle.  Hence our last two lots of Roussanne, which despite an exceptionally long hang time averaged only about 19° Brix. Yet the flavors were good, the grapes and clusters looked good, and we expect to find a happy home for all the lots we brought in.  A few Roussanne clusters, from last week, illustrate the russet tinge that gives the grape its name:

Roussanne Clusters

I mentioned at the beginning of this piece that we had gone multiple times through even more of our blocks than normal, to maximize our quality while getting as much yield out of this reduced crop as possible.  We will keep these lots separate until we start to consider our blending options in the spring.  And boy will we have a lot of options.  You can see on our harvest chalkboard that around the end of September, Madeline (who maintains this chalkboard) realized that because we were picking so many blocks multiple times we were ending up with enough lots to warrant doubling up lots per line.  Even so, she ran out of space in mid-October:

Final Chalk Board

In character, it's early to tell what things will be like, but the combination of very low yields and moderate sugars/acids suggests we are working with a vintage unlike any we've seen in our recent memories.  Clusters and berries have been very small all year, which means that skin-to-juice ratios were high on our red grapes.  Flavors should be intense.  Some of the last-harvested lots of Mourvedre illustrate:

2015-10-13 15.04.57

At 63 days between its August 26th beginning and its October 28th conclusion, this harvest clocks in at a week longer than average (our 10-year average is 56 days) and about average in terms of start and finish dates.  This is a far cry from many growers to our south, who started and finished nearly a month ahead of us.  I'll have some additional thoughts on what made Paso's experience of the 2015 harvest unique in an upcoming blog.

I had speculated mid-summer that our dry-farmed, wide-spaced blocks looked like they suffered less in the drought than our traditional trellised, close-spaced blocks.  And it looks like this turned out to be the case, as we got 13.90 tons off of our Scruffy Hill picks, down less than 1% compared to last year's 13.94 tons.  Our other head-trained, dry-farmed blocks showed a bit of a decline, down 9.8% to 17.32 tons, but still held up better than the closer-spaced blocks.

Now that the fruit is in, it's welcome to start raining any time.  We've been preparing the vineyard for this rain, seeding our cover crop, spreading compost, and putting out straw in areas that might be prone to erosion.  A storm that looked like it might hit this week dissipated before it got here, but there's another in the forecast for early next week.  Bring on el nino.


We wind toward the close of a high quality but painfully low-yielding 2015 harvest

I snuck out yesterday morning to get some photos of the ever-diminishing portions of the vineyard that still have grapes on them. One block that I particularly wanted to see was Syrah, given that it was scheduled to be picked in the afternoon.  It was looking suitably autumnal:

Last Syrah pick

We're pretty much done with everything except Roussanne and Mourvedre, and even Mourvedre is more than two-thirds picked.  This week we'll be cleaning up the parcels we've harvested already, going through to get the bottoms of the hills, the cool pockets, and the slightly less ripe clusters we left behind on our main picks.  After that, we'll just be waiting on Roussanne, which is doing its normal late-season swoon, with leaves turning yellow and ripening slowing to a crawl.  It will get there, but it will take its time.  Overall, we're probably about 85% done.

It is clear to us now that our hopes for near-normal yields on our late grapes like Roussanne and Mourvedre will not come to pass.  They may be down a little less than the 50% reduction we saw in early grapes like Syrah, Vermentino, and Viognier, but they'll still be down something near 40%.  This will make the 2015 harvest our smallest ever in yield per acre, and our smallest estate harvest in tonnage since frost-diminished 2001, when we had 45 fewer acres in production.

I'll have more details in an upcoming harvest recap, but we're already conducting triage, doing our best to figure out what we're going to do to adjust to the tiny yields.  Grapes we're used to having comfortably enough of to include in a wine club shipment and still have a few hundred cases to sell after (think Vermentino) won't even make enough to get a bottle to each club member.  We'll be making a lot less Dianthus rosé (and by a lot less, I mean like 85% less) because (firstly) the red grapes don't need any further concentrating at 1.5 tons per acre, and (secondly) we felt that dedicating the 3800 gallons we'd need to make the same 1600 cases of Dianthus we did in the 2014 vintage would leave us unable to make many of our red wines.  As I said, triage.

Still, there are three saving graces at the moment.  First, we feel lucky to have gotten reasonable quantities of wine (down only slightly compared to normal) in both 2013 and 2014, and it's becoming increasingly clear to us that those two vintages are the best back-to-back vintages in terms of quality in our history.  Second, we have the Patelin de Tablas program, and we've been able to find some terrific additional sources for all three colors and keep our production more or less where we wanted it. Third, the quality of the 2015 vintage looks comparable to the last two years.  If there's not much of it, at least it will be stunning.

One last photo, of Mourvedre sheltering under its canopy.  Not long now, and photos like this one will be history, for another year.

Mourvedre on the vine


Harvesting under the stars

By: Lauren Phelps

I arrived at the vineyard today at 4:00 AM in the crisp morning air to photograph the "night harvest" of one of our last blocks of Mourvedre.  Our crew used only head-lamps and the lights from the tractors to harvest which was challenging to photograph and made for some very interesting and rewarding shots.  

Group Tractor Row

Row Pick

Toss_cube

I found our 17-person harvest crew deep in the vineyard at a newly planted block of head-trained, dry-farmed Mourvedre on the parcel we call Cross-hairs. This block was part of an experiment that we're excited about, using some very old-fashioned, deep-rooting rootstocks in high stress parts of the vineyard.

Head Trained Sunrise

This block of about 3 acres (there are also 3 acres of Grenache) was planted in 2013 and is now on its third harvest (in vineyard jargon, "third-leaf"), which is the first year you expect to pick any fruit, though only a small amount even in the best of situations, which 2015 has not been.  Given the drought and our low yields overall this harvest, we were pleased that the crew was able to pick about 3/4 of a ton. The quality looks excellent!

Leaf_cube

Just as the crew was finishing up the sun began to rise over the mountains.  What a treat!

Fruit In

This is our third year harvesting in the very early morning.  Night harvesting is great for the fruit; picking them at lower temperature protects them from oxidation and allows the fermentation to start more gradually and predictably.  It's also better for our harvest crew than picking in the heat of mid-day.

I absolutely love getting out into the vineyard for these photo excursions; I felt like a National Geographic photojournalist on-site documenting an ancient, rarely seen event.  And it's true, it is not very often that we get an in-depth look into the process of harvesting, especially in the dark.  I feel honored to witness and become a part the crew that is responsible for hand-harvesting the fruit that will soon become the next vintage of Tablas Creek wine.


Photo of the Day: Autumn Mourvedre

This is the stretch where I'm on the road the most, when we're getting ready to release our flagship Esprit wines, and when the market is choosing the wines for its many holiday programs.  I try not to be gone for full weeks given how much is going on here too, but it's often the case that I'm here for a few days and gone for the rest of the work week.  When I arrived back into the office today, the changes from early last week were noteworthy.  Most noticeably, the fall colors had come out in the Mourvedre:

Mourvedre with autumn colors Sept 2015

I probably shouldn't be surprised that things are moving fast now.  We've had a warm September, with three distinct heat spikes: September 8th-12th, September 19th-21st, and September 24th-26th.  And we've had fewer cold nights than normal; over the last 10 nights, only one has dropped into the 40's.

And suddenly, it seems like everything is ripe.

We spent most of today testing each remaining vineyard block, and putting together a plan of action. Happily, it looks like it's not supposed to be up in the 90's much going forward, and we'll get cool nights more often than not.  But it doesn't look like harvest will go much longer than last year's, which ended on October 7th.

Meanwhile, we'll be enjoying the new colors of the vineyard.  If you're coming out in the next month or so, you're in for a treat.


2015 International Grenache Day - The Cellar Crew Harvests Grenache

By Lauren Phelps

Today is International Grenache Day and enthusiasts are connecting all over the world and coming together to celebrate this unique grape. (For a fun overview, check out the #GrenacheDay hashtag on Twitter.) We celebrated by harvesting a half-acre block of our vineyard that was originally planted by our VINsider Wine Club members back in 2003.  The hands-on seminar focused on planting and vineyard care and gave members an opportunity to make an impact on the vineyard and wine we’re working with today.

Early this morning, Viticulturist Levi Glenn and his trusty vineyard dog Mavis collected samples from the block we call Grenache Noir Wine Club Head Pruned -- GNWCHP for short -- to test whether the lot was ready to pick.

Mavis Samples

Mavis is convinced; let's see what Neil Collins, Vineyard Manager and Executive Winemaker has to say.

Neil Sample

Neil used a refractometer to asses the sugar levels on the Grenache sample and decided we could harvest this block of estate Grenache.

Group Pick

Our cellar crew enjoyed a welcomed break from processing fruit and got to feel the sun on their faces as they picked Grenache in the vineyard this morning.

Grenache

The fruit looked spectacular and although yields looked light on this block, quality is fantastic!

Grapes with Hammer

We picked .75 tons from the head-pruned, dry-farmed lot.

Chelsea forklift

What a way to celebrate #Harvest2015 and International #GrenacheDay!  Cheers!


Mid-September Harvest Update: Why harvest started earlier than we predicted... and why our frighteningly low early yields may soon improve

Harvest, pushed by the last week of hot weather, has started to move fast.  We've brought in nearly 80% of the grapes for our Patelin de Tablas wines, and nearly finished our early white grapes (Viognier, Vermentino, Marsanne) here off the estate.  Tuesday, we picked our first estate reds, with two lots of Syrah. The harvest board is growing:

Harvest board 9.11.15

You'll notice that most of the entries on the board are in purple chalk, indicating that they're from purchased fruit. This reflects that most of the vineyards that we buy from for the Patelin wines are ahead of our own estate.  It's also a reflection that the grapes on which we base our Patelin wines (Grenache/Viognier for the white, and Syrah/Grenache for the red) ripen at the earlier end of the spectrum, while our two most important grapes for our estate wines (Roussanne and Mourvedre) ripen late.

Why harvest began earlier than we'd predicted
In my veraison post and harvest preview,  I predicted an early September start to harvest based on our date of first veraison and the range of times in recent years between veraison and harvest.  (The exact range I'd predicted was between August 28th and September 7th.)  Instead, we began picking Viognier off our estate on August 26th. Why? First, August was the warmest on record in San Luis Obispo County. Second, our VIognier harvest was exceptionally light.  Off of 5.8 producing acres, we harvested just 5.5 tons, less than half of last year's pig-reduced crop.  The tiny yields weren't unexpected, but they are unprecedented, and it's unsurprising that the combination of low yields and hot weather resulted in our shortest-ever time between veraison and harvest.

Our only other estate grape to come in in August was Vermentino, which had its own yield issues.  We've only picked one block (our cross-hairs, or CH block) but that block, which produced nearly 10 tons last year, yielded just 3.71 tons this year.  If not for these two low-yield-accelerated blocks, my prediction for an early-September start to harvest would look better.

Ongoing concerns on yields
We've known since our first Patelin lots of Viognier arrived that the grape was going to be scant, due to the third year of drought and cool, wet weather when it was flowering. Vermentino, though, was a bit of a surprise, and when it came in so light, it started a mild panic in the cellar.  We do have two other (smaller) blocks of Vermentino still to be picked, but it's now an open question as to whether or not we'll have enough even to supply a wine club shipment for 2015.

And yet, some things look fine
There are a few elements that are allowing us a glimmer of hope despite the painfully low yields on the grapes we've mostly picked.  

First is that the cold, unsettled May that we believe impacted the yields of the early-flowering grapes does not appear to have had the same impact on the later grapes like Roussanne, Mourvedre, and Counoise.  These June-flowering grapes look, from our vineyard surveys and our cluster counts, to be more or less in line with last year's yields.

Second is that the head-trained, dry-farmed blocks look fine.  I was out on Scruffy Hill yesterday, which is all head-trained and dry-farmed, and the yields looked quite healthy, both in Grenache (below, left) and Mourvedre (below, right):

Scruffy Grenache

Scruffy Mourvedre

 

Third, quality looks super. It's easier to tell at this stage on the reds, where you can look at thickness of skins and depth of color, and the first estate reds we've gotten have been dark, chewy, and flavorful. The initial bins of Syrah off the estate, below, show it well:

Syrah in bin

Fourth, there are some Patelin vineyards whose yields have been fine, with excellent quality.  Take, for example, the Estrella Syrah that came in on 8/21 and 8/22.  We'd been hoping for 25 tons, to form the chunky, meaty core of the Patelin red. The vineyard was productive enough that they were able to get us 31 tons.  This has helped us mitigate the fact that many other vineyards are seeing lower (and often dramatically lower) yields.  This Syrah, in the press, looks and smells great:

Syrah in press

Looking forward
The next few weeks will give us a much clearer sense of what 2015 will look like on our own vineyard. We're picking Grenache today, and it looks like we'll have a steady stream of estate lots (Syrah, Grenache, Grenache Blanc, our first Roussanne, and maybe even a little Mourvedre) coming in shortly. Stay tuned.


Harvest 2015 update: just over 15% completed & yields are looking low

By: Lauren Phelps

In the cellar, things are in full-gear!

Sorting Tablas_Cube

According to veteran Assistant Winemaker Chelsea Franchi harvest is already over 15% completed.  As of August 29th, we have worked with 65.82 tons of fruit.

Upright with Syrah_cube

The 1700 gallon French oak upright fermenters are all full fermenting Syrah for the 2015 Patelin de Tablas!

Harvest Sign First Estate_cube

Our first estate grapes were harvested on August 26th when we brought in about 3 tons of Viognier.  According to Viticulturist Levi Glenn, the estate Viognier yields appear down at least 50% due to the drought however, both acids and PH look great.

Mavis_cube

Levi's dog Mavis, vineyard dog extraordinaire, conducts a rigorous "lab test" of a bin of Viognier.

Although estate Viognier yields look low, Levi explains that "it's really more of a mixed bag.  Mourvedre and Roussanne both look a bit higher than normal".  In general, we're thrilled with the quality of fruit and a bit concerned since yields remind us of frost reduced years in 2001, 2009 and 2011.  We're waiting until we've harvested more from the estate to draw any firm conclusions.