Vintage Hollywood

I have recently been finding myself contrasting two recent vintages primarily in terms of their personalities, rather than (or at least, in addition to) their flavors.  Our 2011 vintage produced wines that are tense, wound-up, powerful and brooding, that make you make an effort to get to know them.  The wines from our 2012 vintage are sunny, open, friendly, and easy to like without being simplistic.  Yes, these are notably anthropomorphic descriptions, and I have described each without mentioning anything about sweetness, acidity, flavors or texture.  And yet, don't you have a sense of what the two vintages' wines are likely to taste like?

That got me thinking of which movie stars might correspond to those two vintages, and once I got myself started, I couldn't stop.  So, I present to you the last ten vintages, with a female and male movie star who will help you get to know them, and a little explanation as to why. Images courtesy Wikipedia.

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  • 2004: "We didn't know they had it in them".  The 2004 vintage struck us at the time as likely to produce friendly, appealing wines without perhaps the structure and depth to age into elegance.  We were wrong, and the vintage has had remarkable staying power and has become something we didn't think it would be.
    • Female star: Mila Kunis, because when you saw her in That 70's Show, did you think she would be an A-list talent, as well as one of the most genuinely funny interview subjects in Hollywood?  Me neither.
    • Male star: Matthew McConaughey. Wooderson didn't seem likely to graduate to Dallas Buyers Club.
  • 2005: "Came through a few rough patches".  2005 wines were big and brawny when they were young, obviously with potential, but they shut down hard in middle-age and got downright difficult, to the point that we actually had to delay including the 2005 Esprit de Beaucastel in our Collector's Edition Wine Club because it wasn't ready.  But now?  They're the wines I pick when I want to impress.
    • Female star: Drew Barrymore, who as a teenager didn't seem likely to mature into the funny, self-possessed star she is now.
    • Male star: Robert Downey Jr., whose transformation from talented tabloid regular to master of multiple genres has been remarkable to see.  Did you realize he's the most valuable movie star in Hollywood, and has been for two years running?
  • 2006: "The overachiever".  A little like 2004, except that the wines seemed more solid and less friendly at the start, likely to be respected and admired but unlikely to be loved.  Then they steadily put on substance while rounding off rough edges, until they were stars in their own rights.  It happened so gradually we were actually surprised when our 2006 Esprit de Beaucastel became our first wine to make the Wine Spectator's annual "Top 100" list.
    • Female star: Amy Adams, who seemed destined for typecast roles as the funny sidekick but who has pushed her boundaries until she's one of the most marketable women in Hollywood.
    • Male star: John C. Reilly, the consummate character actor who parlayed strong work in a steady stream of sidekick roles in great indie films into juicy lead roles in blockbusters like Chicago and Gangs of New York.
  • 2007: "The star".  Big, glossy, powerful, clearly A-list material, our most impressive vintage suggests the classic Hollywood star, at the height of his or her powers, who can play any role successfully.  Yet, you never forget you're watching a star conscious of his or her own power.  No one would describe the 2007 vintage as "cozy".
    • Female star: Catherine Zeta-Jones.  A-list lead.  Talented singer.  One of the most beautiful women of her generation.  Would I be terrified to meet her?  Absolutely.
    • Male star: George Clooney.  Ridiculously talented, funny, self-deprecating and successful in a number of different roles, but you never forget you're watching a movie star.  That's what 2007 is like.
  • 2008: "The quiet pro".  This vintage, sandwiched between the showier 2007 and 2009 vintages, was excellent in its own right, but didn't demand a lot of attention.  It's like the star you're always happy to see in a movie, but whose name probably isn't on the marquee.  Yet at the end, you're glad to have spent the time with them.
    • Female star: Julianne Moore: classy, elegant, always appealing, and often in roles that show off her acting rather than her beauty.  Always an asset to a cast.
    • Male star: Jake Gyllenhaal: ditto.  Can lead a major production, but it doesn't seem to happen as often as it could.
  • 2009: "The dark side".  Powerful, tightly wound, the 2009 vintage is like 2007 with some added menace: an a-list star willing to go without makeup in pursuit of a meaty role.  We're expecting the 2009's, which are a bit forbidding and tannic now, to unwind only gradually, but to reward patience handsomely.
    • Female star: Angelina Jolie, the classic female action hero, whose depth is promised and only gradually revealed. A powerful presence, alluring and intimidating in equal measure.
    • Male star: Daniel Craig, whose take on James Bond is darker than previous iterations, played straight rather than with a wink, still plenty suave while adding more muscle and an introspective streak. A Bond who doesn't let you inside.
  • 2010: "Classic elegance". The comparatively stress-free 2010 vintage, a wet year coming after three years of drought, produced wines that have to me always come across as effortlessly appealing, not notable for their power but beautifully delineated and in perfect balance, like a movie star who ages gracefully.
    • Female star: Gwyneth Paltrow, charming in whatever role she takes on, from the big screen to the kitchen, but seemingly most at home playing a version of herself.
    • Male star: Denzel Washington, whose quiet confidence and air of class allows him to imbue humanity into characters who in other hands would be straightforward villains or saccharine heroes. Watch Training Day and Remember the Titans and marvel that he starred in these back-to-back.
  • 2011: "A little intimidating". 2011 turned up the volume on 2010, gaining intensity from a spring frost and retaining bright acids from our second consecutive cold year.  All the wines have a brooding darkness and the promise of great depth. At the same time, they require a certain investment on your part as their consumer to meet them on their terms. They're not interested in pleasing the crowds.
    • Female star: Halle Berry, who could have settled into a comfortable role as model and actress playing beautiful people, but seemed to search out troubled characters that were impossible to pigeonhole.
    • Male star: Hugh Jackman, who inhabits Wolverine's character comfortably: funny and sociable in short, bitter bursts, but ultimately inward-focused and intense.
  • 2012: "Pleased to meet you". In dramatic contrast to 2011, 2012 comes to greet you with a smile. This isn't to say that there's not depth behind this happy facade, but the first impression I have with all the wines from 2012 is that they're charming, with generous fruit, engaging and enticing.
    • Female star: Reese Witherspoon, recent arrest notwithstanding, plays characters with an easy smile who you want to root for and for whom joy seems a regular emotion.
    • Male star: Tom Hanks, whose wide range never seems to include dour or unappealing characters.  Of course, if you were casting for an unappealing character, would you cast Tom Hanks?  Exactly.
  • 2013: "The prodigy". In our as-yet-limited experience of the 2013 vintage, it seems to combine the appeal of 2012 with the depth and intrigue of 2011.  We're not sure where it's going yet, but we know it's going to be fun to follow and get to know.
    • Female star: Jennifer Lawrence, whose range at age 23 is already staggering, and whose career arc is likely to be meteoric.
    • Male star: Leonardo DiCaprio, circa 1997.  There isn't really a current equivalent to the promise that a 22-year-old Leonardo DiCaprio showed, already nominated for an Oscar (at age 19) for his role in What's Eating Gilbert Grape and within a few months of becoming the biggest star in the highest-grossing movie ever.

I'm sure any list like this is going to create controversy, and would love to know your nominations for the characteristics of our different vintages.  Or maybe I'm totally off base and you've only made it this far because you're wondering if I've lost my mind.  In any case, let me know what you think in the comments.


Tasting the wines in the spring 2010 wine club shipment

Each spring and fall, we send out six wines to the members of our VINsider Wine Club.  With each shipment we include a little update from our wine club director, an order form, and, of course, production and tasting notes for the six wines in the club shipment.  As these wines are typically unreleased, most of them do not yet have a Web page, and for me it's often one of my first opportunities to taste these wines after bottling.  It's always exciting, and the rest of the staff typically joins me as we see, in effect, what's next.  I thought it would be fun to share what I found.

Spring_shipment_2010

In the order in which we'll be pouring them at our March 6th club shipment tasting event:

GRENACHE BLANC 2008

  • Production notes: Grenache Blanc continues shine in California’s Central Coast. Most of our production goes into our Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc each year, but in 2008 we reserved a small (565 case) lot for our wine club. It had a very long fermentation (in a mix of stainless steel and foudre) that didn’t finish until nearly a year after harvest. It was bottled in September 2009.
  • Tasting notes: A clean nose of mineral, green apple, grapefruit and pear, with flavors that begin bright with lemon and lime, then broaden in the mid-palate before re-tightening on the finish with a lingering character of green apple skin and wet rocks. Drink in the next two to three years.
  • Press: Tanzer's I.W.C. 89 points (11/09)
  • Quantity Produced: 565 cases
  • List Price: $27 VINsider Price: $21.60
  • More at http://www.tablascreek.com/grenacheblanc08.shtml
ROUSSANNE 2008
  • Production notes: 2008’s relatively cool growing season produced wines of medium body, tremendous elegance, and expressive varietal character. The 2008 Roussanne was fermented 40% in oak (mostly old, neutral barrels), 20% in foudre, and 40% in stainless steel. The wine was blended in July and bottled in September 2009.
  • Tasting notes: An expressive nose of beeswax, lacquered wood, and white flowers, with a powerful spiciness emerging with air. The mouth is juicy yet still restrained, with flavors of peaches and cream. The finish is more mineral, very clean, with almond, pear, honey and chamomile notes. Enjoy now or over the next 4-6 years.
  • Press: Parker 90-92 (8/09); Tanzer's IWC 90 (11/09)
  • Quantity Produced: 720 cases
  • List Price: $27 VINsider Price: $21.60
  • More at http://www.tablascreek.com/roussanne08.shtml
ROSÉ 2009
  • Production notes: The 2009 Rosé reflects the generally tiny crop in 2009, and the particular shortage of Mourvèdre.  We were worried that given the extreme concentration of the Mourvèdre, using as much as we typically do (60% in most vintages) would produce a wine too dark and structured.  So, we reduced the Mourvèdre to 46% and increased Grenache (39%) and Counoise (15%). We left the grapes on their skins for just under two days before drawing off the juice and completing the fermentation in stainless steel. The wine was bottled in January 2010.
  • Tasting notes: Cranberry in color, with an explosive nose of sour cherry, cranberry, Christmas spices and orange zest.  The mouth is incredibly juicy with flavors of maraschino cherry, sour strawberry and apple. Mouth-watering acidity on the long, dry finish cleans up the wine's richness. Drink now through the end of 2011.
  • Quantity Produced: 640 cases
  • List Price: $27.00 VINsider Price: $21.60
  • More at http://www.tablascreek.com/rose09.shtml
GRENACHE 2007
  • Production notes: The 2007 Grenache, like the 2007 vintage, is big yet balanced, with powerful aromas and flavors, and should benefit from short-term cellaring. The wine was blended in June 2008, aged in foudre, and bottled in March 2009. 10% Syrah gives the wine firmness and a touch of mineral on the finish.
  • Tasting notes: A powerful nose of mint, boysenberry, and licorice. Vibrantly fruity on the palate with unusually dark tones for Grenache: black cherry, blueberry and black raspberry, followed by a long finish with some chalky tannins that cut the wine’s richness. We suggest you hold this wine for 1-2 years and drink for the next decade.
  • Press: Parker 92 (8/09), Wine Spectator 92 (12/09)
  • Quantity Produced: 750 cases
  • List Price: $35 VINsider Price: $28
  • More at http://www.tablascreek.com/grenache07.shtml
SYRAH 2007
  • Production notes: The powerful 2007 vintage produced our most intense Syrah ever. Aged in a combination of 1200-gallon foudres and small new Dargaud & Jaegle 60-gallon pieces, we blend our Syrah for a balance of fruit, mineral, and spice, and add 10% Grenache for its signature acidity and openness. The wine was blended in August 2008, aged in a single foudre and bottled in March 2009.
  • Tasting notes: A deep, dark nose of ink, soy and iodine, with a little oak and black fruit sneaking through. The mouth shows mineral, blackberry, iron and spice, with beautiful tannins and length. This is a wine for the long term; hold for 3-5 years, and then drink for another fifteen.
  • Press: Parker 92 (8/09); Tanzer’s IWC 91 (11/09)
  • Quantity Produced: 685 cases
  • List Price: $35 VINsider Price: $28
  • More at http://www.tablascreek.com/syrah07.shtml
PANOPLIE 2007
  • Production notes: The 2007 Panoplie is a wine of incredible lushness and power. As always, Panoplie is selected from lots in the cellar chosen for their balance, richness, and concentration. The components (60% Mourvèdre, 30% Grenache, and 10% Syrah) were blended in July 2008 and aged in foudre before bottling in July of 2009.
  • Tasting notes: Dense purple-red in color. A dark, meaty nose with aromas of sweet earth, plums and nutmeg. Explosive in the mouth, with flavors of currant, plum, cocoa powder and red licorice, finishing drier and powerfully tannic. Hold, if possible, until 2015, and drink for two decades after that.
  • Press: Parker 96-98 (8/09); Tanzer's IWC 95 (11/09)
  • Quantity Produced: 540 cases
  • List Price: $95 VINsider Price: $76
  • More at http://www.tablascreek.com/panoplie07.shtml

More details on the shipment are available online for anyone interested: http://www.tablascreek.com/wineclub_news.html.  A few final thoughts are below. 

First, these 2007's are built for the long haul.  I wouldn't touch the Syrah for several years, and the Grenache seems to me to be likely to benefit from a year or two of aging.  Surprisingly, it was the Panoplie, of the three, that was the most giving right now.  That's one of the things that we love about Mourvedre: it has loads of chewy tannin and can be aged beautifully, but doesn't have the hardness when young that most similarly-structured varietals have.

Second, I'm really coming to love the elegance of the 2008's.  The 2008 whites show medium body, sparkling acidities, very pretty fruit flavors and spot-on varietal character.  I think that the wines are already showing beautifully, even with varieties like Roussanne that are typically structure-bound at this age.  I'm not sure I'd recommend laying these whites down (though their exquisite balance suggests they could be) but for drinking right now I'm not sure we've ever made a more appealing vintage.


Thoughts on our Annual Futures Tasting and En Primeur Offering

Futures_tasting_winesEach December, we offer our VINsider Wine Club members the chance to taste the upcoming release of our two top red wines, before bottling, and reserve these wines at a futures-only 30% discount off of expected release price.  We began this program back in 2003 (offering futures on the 2002s that were in barrel at the time) and have continued each year since.

Offering wines en primeur is is a time-honored French tradition most often associated with first-growth Bordeaux estates.  In outstanding vintages, valued customers are offered the opportunity to secure a limited quantity of sought-after wines at a special price in advance of bottling and subsequent general release.  As the demand for Tablas Creek's wines grow, this is a way for our best customers to ensure that they receive the wines that they want.

We have gone through several iterations of how we've set up the futures tasting.  Initially, we did it on a Saturday afternoon in our barrel room, which worked fine in 2003 the (when our tasting room just wasn't that busy).  The next year, we happened to have a big crowd in our tasting room, and the challenge of getting a hundred people through the tasting room and into the barrel room (and back) proved to be too much for us.  We felt that we'd lost control, with non-club members wandering into what was supposed to be our most exclusive event, and VINsiders strolling back and forth between tasting room and barrel room getting who-knows-how-many tastes.

So, in 2005, we moved the event to the evening and held it in both our barrel room and tasting room.  This worked fine the first year (at around 115 guests) but started to break down the following year.  By 2007, 200 guests had reserved, and the event felt more like a nice holiday cocktail party than it did like a focused exploration of young, powerful wines.  Attendees would spend their first ten minutes in our barrel room tasting the futures wines, and the next forty-five in our tasting room tasting their favorites.  it proved to be impossible to keep focus where it needed to be: on the futures wines.   Our average futures sale of attending customers had dropped for two years in a row, and we decided to rethink our format.

Futures_tasting_placesetting We decided that the best way to focus on the wines was to get people off of their feet, and to present the wines in a more leisurely, intimate setting, with restrained food designed to showcase the wines and soften their youthful exuberance.  So, we moved the event to the afternoon and created three different sessions with a maximum seated capacity of 50 people at each.  A placesetting is at right.

Neil (our winemaker, for the uninitiated) and I began by talking through the specifics that created the powerful, low-yield 2007 vintage, and we then moved to tasting the 2007 Esprit de Beaucastel and 2007 Panoplie.  Finally, we served Chef Jeff Scott's creation to feature the wines: a braised lamb over polenta with root vegetables dish (click here for the recipe) that was the perfect foil.  A panoramic photo, below, gives you a sense of the setting in our cellar:

Futures_tasting_panoramic  
The results were terrific.  The wines showed magnificently, confirming our impressions that the 2007 reds are likely the best we've ever seen.  The sales reflected this; nearly every attendee ordered futures, and the average sale per person was nearly triple what it had been last year.  The feedback we received from the members who came was that it was a wonderfully relaxed, focused exploration of the wines, and Neil and I both appreciated the chance to share impressions and answer questions with these intimate groups.  At $25 for the seminar, the tasting of these wines, and the lunch, it was a steal.  Plus the ticket price was refunded on any futures purchase, so the event ended up being free to nearly everyone.

We had worried that we would find it difficult filling a 75-minute seminar with discussion about only two wines, but instead found that each session ran nearly 100 minutes and could have lasted longer if we hadn't had to reset for the next group.

Now, we just need to find out why more people didn't come.  From 200 reservations in 2007, we dropped down to just under 100 this year, and only the first (11:00am) session sold out.  We'll just have to work on communicating just how nice the event was to everyone before 2009's edition!

Any VINsiders who are reading this should note that Wednesday, December 10th is our deadline for futures orders for the 2007 reds.  An PDF (faxable) order form is available; click here to view details and prices.


The challenges of running out of wine

We're not running out of wine.  Yet.  But, for the first time ever, I can see it looming. 

It's not a familiar position for me.  When we started, we made some mistakes in our marketing, the largest of which was neglecting to create a marketing plan.  We assumed that because we were associated with Chateau de Beaucastel, and we had confidence in our capabilities of making wine, our wines would sell out without us having to work at it.

Based on this assumption, we planted most of our vineyard fairly fast.  60 acres went into the ground between 1994 and 1997.  Another 20 acres went into the ground in 2000.  That meant that we grew from producing nothing in 1996 to about 4000 cases in the 1999 vintage to about 12,000 cases in the 2003 vintage.  Our marketing plan, such as it was, was to sell all this wine through wholesale without having to spend money to support the wines in the market through the traditional methods of market visits, wine festivals, distributor incentives, etc. 

We bottomed out in 2002, selling just 4000 cases wholesale while we watched inventory levels rise and knew that our production was growing rapidly.  Over the course of that year, we reinvented how we marketed Tablas Creek.  We opened our tasting room.  We launched our VINsider wine club.  And we started supporting the wines in the marketplace, visiting and working with dozens of distributors each year and participating in many more wine festivals around the country. 

And, little by little, we pulled ourselves out of the hole we'd dug.  Our total sales (wholesale and direct) rose to 5500 cases in 2003, 8000 in 2004, 11,000 in 2005, 15,000 in 2006 and 18,000 last year.  The growth was divided among the different outlets we had: tasting room, wine club, domestic wholesale and export.  Since we'd had the dubious luxury of having extra inventory of our wines from library vintages, we had lots of options for special features in our tasting room and could make selections for our wine club without having to worry that we were shorting our wholesalers of what they wanted.

Our production from 2004-2006 was a fairly consistent 16,000 cases per year, with 2004 a little below that and 2005 and 2006 a little above due to ample winter rainfall and favorable growing seasons.

Enter 2007.  The 2007 harvest was very light, and fooled us.  It followed a cold, dry winter and two years of higher-than-normal yields, and the result was a perfect formula for low production.   Our yields were less than 2.5 tons/acre, and we produced less than 13,500 cases of wine.  The wine is really good, very intense and focused (a little like 2002 was for us) but there's just not much of it.  And, the fact that we've worked through most of our back inventory in the past few years means that we're at the point that we're not going to have the wine to satisfy everyone who wants it.  With the natural growth of our wine club (we're netting about 500 new club members each year), the fact that our tasting room is up compared to last year, and the growth in demand for exports with the weak dollar, I don't see how we sell much less than 20,000 cases this year even with our moderate expectations for the domestic wholesale market in a challenging economy.  That's a lot more cases than we produced last year.

We're going to do what we can to stretch the 2006 vintage as long as we can, and release the 2008's (please, let yields be good!) a little earlier.  But, the simple fact is that we're having to make some difficult choices, particularly in whites (which were down more than reds, and which are released sooner).  Our fall 2008 wine club shipment will have 4 reds and only 2 whites for the first time ever.  We're going to hope that we can complete the fermentation of the 2008 Rosé in time to include it in our Spring '09 shipment with 2 whites and 3 reds.

I guess I should be happy about this.  Doesn't every business want to sell out of their product?  The simple solution of raising prices calls (and we will be doing that, slightly, with the next releases of our Cotes de Tablas and Cotes de Tablas Blanc).  But I have always felt that we make wines for people to drink and enjoy, not to be intimidated by because of their price or their scarcity.  And, I'm convinced that part of the reason for our success is that overall, the wines that we make provide excellent value for the people who buy them.  I'm not going to disrupt that.

But, I originally moved out here to be Director of Marketing.  How do you market when you don't have wine to sell?  What do I tell our National Sales Manager to do when any sales that he creates cause new headaches?  Or say to key restaurants or retailers who call and ask for a wine that we've sold out of except for what we've allocated to our wine club?  It will be a challenging year as we navigate this new situation of having to limit our sales to our current production and balance the demands from our different markets.

I don't yet know how this will play out.  We're going to be pulling back some of our wholesale market work, cutting down on wine festivals and letting some of our underperforming distributors slide in ways we wouldn't have tolerated in past years.  We'll protect our wine club for sure.  We aren't going to disappear from the wine scene; even wineries who are perpetually out of stock continue to show their faces and their wines periodically to maintain their fan base. 

But, I'm guessing I'll have many more opportunities to get better at telling people "sorry, we're out".  I guess that's what happens when a business grows up.


Winemaker Neil Collins Discusses Harvest 2007 with winerychannel.tv

Neil_collins_winerychannel_tv If you haven't checked out winerychannel.tv yet, you should.  It's online television, dedicated to the world of wine.  Like many members of the new media, they're fans of what's going on in the Central Coast, and we welcomed them up here a month or so back for a discussion of the 2007 harvest.  Winemaker Neil Collins spent an afternoon with their crew walking them through what was going on in the cellar and talking about what 2007 was like for us.  Check it out (click on "The Source" Episode 26: Harvest Report when you get there).


End of 2007 Harvest!

With the completion of the "Mount Mourvedre" block behind the winery, we're officially done with the 2007 harvest.  Like each year, it's had its own challenges, this time at 65 days the longest extent between the beginning of harvest (August 27th) and the end of harvest (October 31st) that we've ever seen.  (By contrast, in 2006, harvest lasted 50 days.)

Our yields were down; the 252 tons of fruit that we brought in is down 20% from the 315 tons we saw in 2006 (or the 319 tons we saw in 2005).  At our normal conversion rates, we're looking at between 14,000 and 15,000 cases of wine in 2007.  Our field crew, led by Vineyard Manager David Maduena (center, with dark jacket and tan baseball cap) poses behind the last bin of Mourvedre:

End_of_2007_harvest

The quality of the fruit looks tremendous.  Berry sizes are small, but skins are thick and we're seeing tremendous color extraction early in fermentation.  I hope that the California wine press recognizes that this year may be excellent for Paso Robles even though the early rain has been problematic in Napa and Sonoma.

Finally, I leave you with a good example of why you should be cautious leaving the winery camera in the hands of the winemakers.  Here's a shot they took of the last Mourvedre cluster of harvest, poised on the edge of the destemmer machine looking terrified.  Winery sense of humor...

End_of_2007_harvest_last_cluster


Grenache Harvest Photos

As we'd hoped, the rain from the end of last week was followed by cool, sunny and breezy weather, and the half-inch of rain that we got didn't have any negative impact on the hanging fruit.  This week, we're bringing in the rest of the Grenache and getting a start on the Mourvedre.  The crystal clear, sunny morning yesterday allowed for some nice photos.  First, Grenache in a picking bin, waiting for destemming.  Note the very slight deflation of some of the berries, an important physiological sign that the fruit is ripe:

Grenache_in_bin

Next, a great shot of Neil Collins and Ryan Hebert (our Winemaker and Assistant Winemaker) pushing Grenache clusters through the destemming machine.  I love how this photo expresses the constant motion of harvest:

Destemming_grenache

Finally, a nice semi-panoramic shot of Mourvedre hanging on the vines behind the winery (at the bottom of the hill we call "Mount Mourvedre") with the incredibly deep blue Paso Robles sky behind them.  Like all the photos on the site, click on the photo for a full-size rendition:

Mount_mourvedre


Harvest rain in Paso Robles

After several big harvest days this week (mostly Grenache, as well as the rest of the Syrah and the beginnings of the Mourvedre) we're taking a break for the first significant rain of the year to pass through.  As of Friday afternoon, we'd already received about 0.4" at the vineyard and it shows no signs of stopping.  A look out south from the winery this afternoon, with the wind whipping the olive trees and the clouds obscuring the ridgetops just a few hundred feet overhead:

Harvest_rain

The forecast for the weekend is good (sunny and warmer) and, as always the key is what it's like after the rain.  If the weather is dry and breezy, a moderate amount of rain is not a problem even during harvest.  It's when it stays still and humid that you worry.

And, of course, when the choice is to bring in fruit that you know isn't ripe, or to wait in the hope that the weather turns back around and you get it ripe later, you realize that you really don't have much choice.  So, fingers crossed.  At least we aren't getting the downpours that the North Coast (and even Monterey County) are forecast for over the next few days.

For those keeping track: we are approximately 60% through with harvest, and it looks like overall quality has been very high, with yields down an average of about 20%.


Harvest, Week of September 24th

The weather in Paso Robles warmed up last week, and we started harvesting in earnest.  We've brought in most of our Syrah, the first big chunk of Grenache, and are finishing up Grenache Blanc.  Viognier and Marsanne are in.  I'd estimate that last week, we brought in between 10% and 15% of our annual harvest, mostly Grenache and Syrah.  Happily, it looks like the production of our reds is not off nearly as much as our whites.  We're now estimating white yields down about 30%, but red yields down just 5% to 10%.  A photo from our front entrance, looking at the newly-harvested Syrah "C" vines:

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This week, we're looking at more of the same weather, sunny and days in the 80s, with nights in the low 40s.  We're expecting most of our Grenache and our first significant blocks of Roussanne.

In the cellar, we're starting the assembly of our Rose by bleeding off some of our Grenache.  We've decided to make the Grenache component just a little bit lighter this year.  Each year, our Rose has gotten a little darker, and we feel it's time to back off just a little.  Below are two photos from the saignee of Grenache: on the left draining the juice from a tank harvested yesterday, and on the right spraying the juice into a new tank to ferment as rose.

Rose_saignee_2Rose_saignee


Harvest, Weeks of September 10th and 17th

2007's harvest got off to an early start, driven by a dry winter and resulting low yields, and spurred by the warmest stretch of the summer in mid-August.  Since we've hit mid-September, though, it's cooled off here, with daytime highs in the 70s, marine layer in the mornings, and nights in the 40s. This has meant that after our first rush of Viognier and Chardonnay we've had a leisurely time of it.  Over the past two weeks, we did make our first pickings of Grenache Blanc and Syrah, and a few stray parcels of Roussanne and Vermentino, but the bulk (75%) of the harvest is still out on the vines, like this head-pruned Tannat vine below:

Img_5340

We did get a little early-season rain last Friday, but less than five-hundredths of an inch, not enough to do anything more than wash a little dust off the vines.  The strange squall was the culmination of an odd cut-off low pressure system that stalled off the coast of Santa Barbara, but wasn't warm enough to pull in much moisture from the Pacific.  We weren't particularly worried (Ryan Hebert, our Assistant Winemaker and Vineyard Manager was actually hoping for a quarter-inch or so of rain to keep the dust down) but we're looking forward to the scheduled warm, dry weather of this week.  It looks like we'll get our first lot of Grenache in tomorrow.  One more photo, before I sign off: a couple of bins of Roussanne from last week, on the back of the tractor on what we call the "new hill".

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