Tablas Creek is a 2016 Wine Blog Awards Finalist

WBA_logoI was excited to learn today that we are a finalist for the 2016 Wine Blog Awards. These awards, created in 2007 by the tireless Tom Wark to honor the growing number and quality of wine bloggers, have been awarded each year since.

This is the tenth year of the awards, and the eighth year where we've been a finalist. Our consistency is the accomplishment I'm proudest of. Blogging can be a slog at times. There is a start-up period where no one much is reading what you're saying. And then, after a few years in a seasonal, cyclical endeavor, it becomes a struggle to feel like you aren't just repeating yourself. In order to keep the blog feeling fresh and relevant, I've tried to bring new voices into the mix, and this past year, we've added two new series, both of which I think add fresh perspectives: the Eat Drink Tablas series featuring food & wine pairings by Suphada Rom, and the Q & A with Tablas series, where Lauren Phelps interviews some of the key members of our team.

Like last year, our category is "Best Winery/Industry Blog". There is one other returning blog from last year's finalists (last year's winning Berry Bros. & Rudd blog, from the venerable UK retailer). The other finalists are all new to the awards, though I was excited to see a personal local favorite (the Wine Lohr blog, from J. Lohr, which should win for its name alone). The other three entries are new to me, and I look forward to getting to know them over the next few days.  And, of course, ours is just one category; there are seven categories in all.  Getting to know the other finalists' work [click here] is always my favorite part of the whole process.  I hope that you will as well.  If, after doing so, you'd care to vote for us, we'd be honored.  The winner will be determined half by the voting of the judges, and half by the votes of the public.  Voting ends June 13th.

I like to celebrate these nominations by looking back at some memorable posts from the last year.  Here are ten of my favorites of the 62 entries we've posted in the last year, with a little about why each has stuck with me:

  • The Early Years of Tablas Creek. Last summer, I received a treasure trove of photographs from Dick Hoenisch, our original nursery and vineyard manager who has since moved on to a career in academia.  These photographs, from when we bought the property in 1989 through the original construction of our winery building in 1997, were like a time capsule that I think anyone who only knows us as a mature winery will find fascinating.
  • On the Rhone: a Post-Cruise Appreciation. My dad helped lead the Tablas Creek Rhone River cruise last August.  When he came back, he wrote up the experience vividly enough that you'll feel like you were there. The amazing photographs provided by Jeffery Clark, a wine club member on the cruise, are the icing on the cake.
  • Coming (Soon) to Fruition. I always love Chelsea Franchi's blogs because of their combination of intimacy and humor. Read this, and you'll know what it's like to anticipate (and dread) the onset of the harvest season. 
  • What's Next for the New Paso Robles AVAs. I was invited late last year to present at a continuing education law seminar, focused on the AVA approval process and prospects for the 11 Paso Robles sub-AVAs. It gave me a chance to look forward at what the future might look like. What these new AVAs mean (and should mean) in the marketplace is a fascinating question, and I enjoyed delving into it in some depth.
  • Customer Service Lessons from an Overcrowded Restaurant. I think this is one anyone can relate to: a favorite place that's just not on its game one night. But in the age of Yelp, the consequences to that place can be lasting. Hopefully, I helped someone, somewhere, avoid this.
  • A 60 Year Career in a Bottle of Delaporte Sancerre. A second piece by my dad, reflecting on opening a bottle of wine he'd first encountered (many vintages earlier) on his first buying trip to France. Even more fun: that same day, the original proprietor's great-grandson had presented the estate's newest wines to Vineyard Brands, the company he founded.
  • Braised Short Ribs: A Cold-Weather Pairing Fit for Rain or Snow. I could have picked any of Suphada's Eat Drink Tablas entries, but this was maybe my favorite: seasonal and delicious, with her super photographs illustrating every stage of the recipe.
  • Why the Future May Look a Lot Like the Crazy 2015 Vintage. This came out of my being invited to give the keynote address to a viticulture conference held here in Paso Robles. The opportunity to go back and look at what made 2015 so unusual was, I think, both instructive and unsettling.
  • The Swarm, the Hive, and Tablas Creek Honey. Viticulturist Jordan Lonborg's first blog was a knockout, taking you inside the quest to catch a wild swarm of bees. The photographs that accompanied the piece were equally amazing.
  • Grenache Blanc's Moment in the Sun. Some blogs take work to write. This was one that sprang onto the keyboard almost fully formed, thanks to conversations I'd had in recent weeks with both the Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast. Love seeing the attention for this grape that we introduced into California more than two decades ago.

Thank you for coming on this journey with me and with us: 660 posts in all since we began the blog in November of 2005. As we pass our ten year mark, it's gratifying to know that we're still going strong. And if you're still reading, but haven't checked out the other finalists, go do that now. Wine blogs, at their best, plunge you into the inner workings of a world that is still too often shrouded in mystique. Dive in.


Coming (soon) to Fruition

By Chelsea Franchi

Anticipation of harvest is a primal feeling.  It's a dichotomous sensation made up of a humming excitement, a nervousness that simmers just below the surface, and a light touch of hysteria.  We're anxious for the first fruit of harvest to come in, while at the same time, we're hoping we can push it off for a little bit longer.  By all accounts, it looks as though harvest from our property will commence early September - but, as this is agriculture and Mother Nature is at the helm, that's nothing more than our best guess.

In preparation for this epic time of year, all the members of the vineyard and cellar crew are drinking up time with their loved ones as though every second is a fleeting, delicious drop.  It's fortunate we have a team that gets along, as we'll be seeing their faces far more than those of our chosen partners in the months to come.  Weekend plans are a luxury afforded to the time before and after harvest, but not during.  Currently, we're relishing the feeling of getting into our cars dry and comfortable, after a work shift that lasts eight hours.  All of that will be changing in the coming weeks, when our horizon will look more like this:

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Our days are about to be filled with the whine of the must pump, the whir and tumble of the de-stemmer, and the rattle of the sorting table, all overlaid by the constant thumping music that was chosen by whoever arrived first and/or was thick-skinned enough to endure the inevitable complaints about their music selection from everyone around them (unless it's Thursday, because on Thursdays, we listen to R. Kelly and there can be no complaints.  Well, there can be complaints, but no one will listen.  They're about to be filled with wet heat and the sharp sting of carbon dioxide, both byproducts of fruit fermenting in tank and the deepest inhalations our lungs can handle every time we walk past the rosé tanks (I'm so looking forward to that smell!)  They're about to be filled with the most vibrant and ever-evolving selection of colors: from the bubble gum pink of counoise to the ox-blood red of syrah, from the electric green stems at the beginning of harvest to the golden, crackly leaves toward the end.  Harvest season is a true sensory overload - made even more overwhelming because all participants are exhausted in every sense of the word.

This job is unlike any other that I know of.  Yes, we work ourselves into the ground, but we do it with a common goal of making wines we're all undeniably proud of.  The team we've built shares the delight that's earned from crafting a product with one's own hands.  And there are times, too, when our job is just the way Hollywood portrays it.  There are long lunches on the crush pad, made from ingredients that were sourced from the property and slow cooked under the percipient eye of our Executive Winemaker/Vineyard Manager/Fearless Leader, Neil Collins, who just so happened to be a chef before turning his attention to the wine world.  These lunches are masterfully paired with beautiful wines, giving us a chance to remember, in the middle of the chaos, why it is that we do what we do.

For now, I plan on savoring my post-work gym routine (that's a laughable goal during harvest), my quiet meals at home with my husband, raucous weekends with friends and family, and the primal thrill I feel deep in my bones in anticipation of what's to come:

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Bring it on.


Notes from the Cellar: Blending the 2014 Vintage

By Chelsea Franchi

Here at Tablas Creek, when we sit down to decide on blends for the year, it's a big event.  At this point, a lot of work has been put into these wines and it's critical we bring our best to the blending table to ensure the wines show their best once in bottle.  Each and every wine we produce at Tablas Creek is created through a process we call "palate blending" - in which we taste every individual lot of wine in the cellar and blend it with other lots we believe to be complementary.  This is why the blends change on all of our wines from year to year.  Sometimes dramatically, sometimes not.

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To most, being forced to sit down and taste wines sounds like a dream (it is), but it's more than that.  During harvest, after everything is hand-picked by our detail-oriented and outrageously skilled vineyard crew, we ferment and age each pick separately.  This process is a lot more work (and takes up a lot more space in the cellar) but it allows us more creativity when it comes time to blend by giving us more options to choose from.  This year, we had 52 separate lots of reds to taste and 25 lots of white wines.  While I'm aware that tasting through these wines is a much more enjoyable task than, say, a four hour board meeting, there's a decent amount of pressure involved.  It's important to be fully present and aware for every single one of the 77 wines - personally, I have to keep detailed notes to compel (trick?) myself to stay focused.  My notes may include observations or feelings about the aroma, the palate, the structure (front, mid, finish), and anything I find striking or unusual.  The added benefit to this strategy is that I have reference notes when we're discussing the wines later (read: after tasting 77 wines; "it's lunch time, yes?")  Neil, on the other hand, will only write down a word or two about a handful of wines during the entire tasting, but when we deliberate over the wines days later, he can still recall, without fail, notes and nuances of each wine we tasted.  I'm not envious, I'm just... no, scratch that.  I'm envious.

We begin in the cellar.  For each individual lot, we pull an accurate composite of the wine.  So for instance, if we have a Grenache lot housed in a 132 gallon puncheon and a 60 gallon barrel, we need to make sure the sample we pull is 69% from the puncheon and 31% from the barrel.  This process can feel pretty tedious when you've got a single lot that's being aged in 19 barrels ("we couldn't have just put that together in a tank, huh?") but we prefer this method as it gives us a truer glimpse of the lot as a whole.  Later, when we're physically blending, we can barrel-select what we want in each specific wine, but for preliminary evaluation, we're looking at general character.

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"Okay, now pull 3 milliliters from each of these barrels"

Once the composites have been pulled, we set up in the conference room.  We'll typically pour a flight of four wines, taste them all, and then give them a numerical rating from 1-3.  A score of one means the wine is exceptional - it carries power and finesse in equal measure and has a ripeness that is tempered by balance.  These lots are the first to be set aside for Panoplie and Esprit when we start the blending process.  A score of two communicates that the wine is nice, but it's not going to be haunting your dreams.  Perhaps it would if it had a little more fullness on the mid-palate.  Maybe there's not quite enough acid on the finish.  Whatever the case, it's just not a one.  A score of three means the wine needs some work.  Usually, a wine is given this score because it's still fermenting and is cloudy, sprizty or sweet (or perhaps all three).  Reduction (the opposite of oxidation - cases where the wine needs oxygen) is another common culprit of wines given this score.  Sometimes we can work on these wines a little bit before starting the blending trials, and other times, it's necessary to simply imagine what the wine will be like after it's "fixed".  That's what makes us professionals, I've been told.

When everyone at the table has had a chance to smell, taste, spit, annotate and score each of the four wines, we go around the table and everyone shares their notes and their scores.  And so forth, through each flight, though typically something like 30 wines is about our limit for one day.  If we have more than that number, this first step stretches over multiple days.  I compile the scores into a very high-tech grid (shown below) that I'll use later when putting together possible blends.

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The next morning, we'll sit down with the score sheet and an inventory list to determine how much of each lot we have to move around to specific wines.  We'll begin with three different blends that showcase each of the components in turn.  Below, I've given an example of preliminary blending trials for Esprit de Tablas Blanc:

 

Blend 1

Blend 2

Blend 3

Roussanne

60%

75%

65%

Grenache Blanc

35%

15%

20%

Picpoul Blanc

5%

10%

15%

Keep in mind that within each of those individual varieties (Roussanne, for example), we're making blends.  We blended seven lots of Roussanne to get the base for the Esprit Blanc this year.  Even the varietal wines we produce are a blend of separate and unique lots within the same grape variety.  By making wines this way, it helps us to achieve not only varietal "correctness", but also to help showcase the vintage and make sure the wine is fleshed out from start to finish.

Once again, we'll taste through the wines, but this time rather than absolute scores, we give them rankings in order of preference (1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc).  Looking at these rankings, we'll begin another round of blending, building around the elements we liked the most.  We'll continue this process until we have a wine everyone ranks in first place and says "YES!  That's it" and performs an an enthusiastic fist pump.  I've never seen it happen, but I'm almost positive it's just because everyone does it in their head.  Sometimes, the process of deciding takes a day or two.  Sometimes, it takes longer - one year, it took us a week and a half to get a consensus for Esprit Blanc.  That's a lot of days tasting slightly different variations of the same wine.  On the plus side, we got really good at pulling composite samples that year.  Each vintage, while presenting exciting elements, also comes with a whole new set of - shall we say - delightful challenges.

Once we've decided on the wine we're working on, we set aside those lots and focus on the next wine down the sequence. And so forth, until we've made all our blends and decided which varietal wines we'll make for the vintage.

This year, we had the good fortune of being given some outstanding lots to work with.  The 2014 harvest has shown itself as a bit of a tomboy vintage; it has a round, rich, powerful front that gives way to a beautiful lean acidity, lending the wines a feminine edge on the finish.  Blending in years like 2014 is only difficult because you can only use each wine once.  After finalizing the blends, we sit down one last time to taste through the whole vintage lineup.  This is my favorite part of the blending process - tasting through everything as you would in the tasting room and making sure each wine can not only stand on its own, but also set itself apart from each of the other wines.  Each year, one of the members of the Perrin family comes over for some part of the blending.  This year, it wasn't until the final tasting, when François Perrin came to town for a few days and we were able to show him the 2014 vintage as we'd envisioned it.  Tasting your wines through someone else's eyes can be a stressful experience (especially if you're trying to see them from a set of Perrin eyes), but this year, it felt like joy.  Each wine fit attractively and confidently into its specific program - the Patelin wines are charming, the Cotes wines are somehow both jubilant and sophisticated, the Esprit wines are... well, the Esprit wines are absolutely stunning, and the best way I can describe Panoplie is "richly elegant".  Though I think the wine I'm most thrilled with this year is the En Gobelet.  It has an enchanting energy and captivating voluptuousness that I'm dying to share at my table. We've just begun the process of getting these components put together in tank and I'm already excited to hear what you have to say about each of them.

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Mavis, the vineyard dog, helps with the physical blending


Finding Closure(s) in Portugal

By Chelsea Franchi

Here at Tablas Creek, we do things by hand and with care.  In the vineyard and the cellar, it's paramount that everyone feels pride for their work and I'd like to think that attention and consideration translates to the product in the bottle.  I certainly appreciate that I work in an industry that is focused on craftsmanship and old-fashioned elbow grease (that's food grade, of course) especially when so many things around us are produced via automation.  I should be clear that I don't have a problem with mechanized production for most items, and these days I tend to assume that large scale production facilities are manned by machines.  So it's nice to discover I'm wrong (every now and then).

Last week, I had the extremely good fortune to be invited on a trip to Portugal with a group of eight other wine industry professionals, hosted by our cork supplier, M.A. Silva.  The purpose of the trip was to tour around Portugal, watch the cork harvest, and see what a cork manufacturing facility does.  And in our spare time, educate ourselves a bit on the subject of Portuguese wines (*ahem*).  And before you ask, the answer is "yes".  I do know how lucky I am.  Truly, I do.

Just so you don't think I was sitting on the bank of the Douro drinking Touriga Nacional and eating bacalhau the whole time I was there, here are some bite sized facts you're welcome to pull out at your next cocktail party:

  • The cork tree is an oak
  • The first harvest of cork oak bark happens after the tree reaches about 25-30 years of age
  • A cork tree can only be harvested once every nine years
  • A single cork tree will live anywhere from 150-200 years (allowing approximately 14-15 harvests during its lifetime)
  • Harvesters of cork bark are the highest paid agricultural workers in Portugal, due to the highly skilled nature of the job

To see the cork harvest in action, we drove to the Alentejo region, which is held in high esteem for the quality of cork produced.  These forests are regulated and protected with rigorous standards, and it was clear, after spending just a  short time watching the harvest, that there is great respect for the land, the trees, the product, and the culture surrounding all of it.  I've never seen anything quite like a cork harvest.  I had a general idea of the process, but seeing it in action was one of the most fascinating and mesmerizing things I've ever witnessed.

By the time we pulled into the cork forest, the harvest crew was already well into their day.  There were workers everywhere - typically about two per tree.  One worker would scramble into the high branches and begin his work from the top while the other worker started in on the base and trunk.  Each worker carries a long-handled hatchet and begins carefully hacking a line into the cork bark.  If the cut is too deep, they risk killing the tree - hence the need for trained and experienced laborers.  From there, the bark is stripped off in long sheets where a tractor comes by to pick it up.

 

 

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A freshly stripped cork tree (left) and the harvested cork bark (right)

20140616_013123Loading the cork bark onto tractors for transport out of the forest

20140616_020422Cork bark stacked and awaiting transport to the M.A. Silva processing facility

20140616_121231The grading and sorting area 

After the cork has dried, it's taken to a facility where it's sorted (by hand), graded (by hand) and sterilized.  All of this manual labor was an impressive sight to behold (we'd seen hundreds of workers by this point), but it was the next step that really surprised me.  I'd seen a piece of cut cork bark with wine corks punched out of it - in fact, we have one such model in our tasting room that I recommend asking about next time you're here (if you're into that sort of thing).  But to see how it gets to that point was a bit of a shock.  One worker cuts the cork plank into uniform strips while workers down the line punch the wine corks from the strip of bark.  Different workers choose different methods: some prefer to use an automatic punch tool that they manually feed, while others choose a foot pedal for increased control (as seen in the video below).  The reason I was so taken aback by this process was the knowledge that we purchase approximately 180,000 corks each year.  And every single one of those was punched by hand.

  

From there, each individual cork goes through a very thorough set of tests conducted by computers: checking density and visual aspects (including but not limited to: holes, pores, cracks, chips, hardwood, etc.) before going onto a conveyor belt where the presorted and computer inspected corks were inspected once more by two sets of human eyes.

It was a delight to see that we're not the only ones so concerned with putting in the effort to responsibly grow, harvest and produce our product.  To learn that others, especially those that have direct contact with our wines, respect and practice the same values was an incredibly pleasant surprise.  I'm not saying we're about to abolish screwcaps here at Tablas Creek.  I am, however, saying the next time I have the opportunity to pull a cork from a bottle of handcrafted wine, I'll certainly take a moment to appreciate the craftsmanship of the closure before turning my attention to what's in the glass.

20140619_152500Let's be real.  While I didn't spend the whole time drinking wine on the Douro, I did spend some time drinking wine on the Douro.


Reining In Harvest 2013

By Chelsea Franchi

I was standing in the entrance of the cellar on Monday with my hand wrapped around a steaming mug of coffee, watching as a storm rolled over the hills of Paso Robles and finally touch down on our vineyard.

And I had a smile on my face.  

I have a certain fondness for inclement weather, but typically at this time of year, weather like that can be panic inducing.  This year's a bit different, though, as all of our fruit is off the vine and resting comfortably, tucked away safely in tank and barrel.  You can almost feel, and sometimes hear, the soft, gentle crackle as the wines finish up their fermentation.

This cozy, mellow scene feels a world away from where we were just a few weeks ago.  We all knew harvest was going to be early, and it seemed as though we were all parroting the words "harvest is starting soon!" without thinking about what that actually meant.  And then harvest really did start early, and when it started, it was in earnest.  One moment we were leisurely prepping the harvest equipment and suddenly we were hit with a deluge of fruit, with the bulk of it flooding in at once and filling each of our available tanks in the blink of an eye.  We were forced to put our heads down and focus on the tasks directly in front of us and only on October 10th (the last day of harvest) did we dare to glance up and marvel at all we had accomplished in a rather short amount of time.

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Cleaning up after a long day of pressing the pomace (or solids) of red wines

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Hand sorting fruit before it gets pumped into a tank to ferment

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Draining off juice to add to Dianthus rosé

Not only is everything picked, it's also pressed, and so last Friday, the cellar crew grabbed a thief and a handful of glasses to taste through the wines of 2013.  Initially, we were giddy to be tasting through the cellar so early.  However, after the first few wines, the full weight of the situation settled in. Harvest 2013 is in the books.  And you know what?  It's good. The whites seem to have an exuberant quality. They dance across the palate with both brightness and gravity.  The reds are a bit more tricky to read at this stage. Across the board, during punch downs and pump overs, the lots of red were smokey, meaty and rich.  Now, in barrel, many of them are starting to show promise of an unfurling of fruit, spice and depth.  

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I'm going to miss harvest a little bit (but trust me when I say that I can definitely wait until fall of 2014 for the next one).  The easy comraderie that comes with working with people so closely (and for so many hours) is a pretty unique perk of the job.  And this harvest, we had a cast of invaluable characters working alongside us.  I'd like to offer them a public thank you for all their hard work.  We couldn't have done it without them.

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Winemaker Neil Collins pulls samples from a barrel of Grenache Noir

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Viticulturist Levi Glenn takes a break from the vineyard to feed the pigs

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Vineyard Manager David Maduena enjoys a much deserved glass of Mourvedre - in a block of Mourvedre

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Cellar Master Tyler Elwell pumps over a fermenting Syrah lot

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Lab Technician Madeline Vanlierop-Anderson collects a day's worth of coffee mugs

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Cellar Assistant Craig Hamm demonstrates what forklifts are really for (lifting forks)

Harv13_ErichHarvest Intern Erich Fleck fills barrels with espresso in hand

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Harvest Intern Jordan Collins pumps over a fermenting tank of red under the watchful (but sleepy) eye of the cellar mascot, Millie

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Above, Harvest Intern and Tasting Room Employee Gustavo Prieto takes a Tannat shower.  Below, Jordan and Madeline celebrate in a stop animation film of the last bin of Harvest 2013.

 

For the moment, I'm looking forward to the halcyon cellar days to come.  We'll finish cleaning up the mess that harvest left behind and then move forward with looking closely at what we have in the winery and monitoring the fermentation progress of our wines.  The storms have cleared - both the proverbial storm that came crashing through our cellar in the form of fruit, as well as the actual storm that came Monday.  I'm anxious now to see what those two storms yield. 


Tablas Creek is a finalist for 2013 Best Winery Blog!

WBA_Finalist_2013We are proud to have been named a finalist for "Best Winery Blog" at the 2013 Wine Blog Awards.  This is the sixth consecutive year we've been honored as a finalist, and we've taken home the trophy twice, in 2008 and 2011.  We'd love to make the 2013 awards a three-peat.

This year's finalists include several past nominees and two former winners, and is I think the strongest field to date. If you aren't reading them, you should: they're all compelling glimpses inside the world of a winery, from vineyard to cellar to market:

It seems an appropriate time to look back at some of my last year's most memorable blog posts. If you missed them, or you're a new visitor to the blog thanks to the recent nomination, it's an admittedly idiosyncratic selection of the posts that resonated most with me, with a brief explanations of why for color.  If you're a regular reader, hopefully you'll find some old friends here.  I am particularly proud that this is our most collaborative effort to date, with great posts by several members of our team supplementing my own work. In chronological order:

  • Seeing red -- and green -- in Santa Fe In which National Sales Manager Darren Delmore stakes his claim as the Hunter S. Thompson of the Tablas Creek blog. If you don't feel like you're in Santa Fe with him, check your pulse.
  • When wine tasting, step away from the carafe The post that got the most echoes this year, with excerpts or links posted on scores of other social media sites and the complete article reprinted in several wine associations' newsletters. Why the buzz? We made some simple experiments that showed that when you rinse your glass with water, the next wine is diluted 7%, with some effects you'd predict and some you might not.
  • Harvest 2012: The End of the Beginning I could have chosen any of Assistant Winemaker Chelsea Franchi's posts; they're all beautifully written and illustrated with her terrific photographs, and give an amazing glimpse into the psyche of the cellar. But this one stood out for how raw it was, reflecting the exhaustion and elation of the end of harvest.  Maybe my favorite post of the year.
  • In which we dig ourselves a hole, on purpose Viticulturist Levi Glenn digs into the results of a soil survey on our new parcel conducted by a Cal Poly class.  If you're a soil junky, or just want to understand some of the complexity of what's there when you get below the topsoil, Levi makes this detailed, complex picture compelling and comprehensible.
  • Is the bloom off the user review site rose? I take a look at the number of reviews we and some other comparable wineries around us have been receiving from Yelp! and TripAdvisor, and come to the conclusion that we're in the middle of an industry-wide slump in review authorship. It was fun to see other wineries chime in on what they were seeing, confirming our suspicions.
  • Surviving consolidation in the wholesale market A preview of a talk I gave to the Unified Grape and Wine Symposium in Sacramento, in which I represented smaller wineries and shared some of the essentials of keeping yourself viable in a crowded, noisy market with an ever-shrinking number of wholesalers and an ever-growing number of wineries.
  • The costs of state alcohol franchise laws  I only put up one post this year focusing on the labrynth of legislation a winery has to navigate to get its wares to market, but it was an important one and will preview, I think, the next frontier of court challenges to state-sponsored restraint of the wine trade.
  • Can I get an ice bucket for my red?  A post I'd been thinking about for a while that also seemed to resonate with audiences, deconstructing the myth that red wines show best at room temperature and whites should be served cold.
  • When Terroir Was a Dirty Word A recent post by my dad that dives into the surprising history of the meaning of terroir.  You may not have realized that as recently as the 1960's, it was a bad thing for a wine to taste of terroir.  I certainly didn't.

As always, the winner will be determined 50% by the votes of the expert panel of judges who culled the nominations to the five finalists, and 50% by the votes of the public.  I encourage you to browse the finalists, and if, at the end, you believe us worthy, we'd be honored to receive your vote (Vote here).  Voting ends this Friday, May 24th.


The Beauty of Frost Protection

By Chelsea Franchi

The beginning of last week brought some low temperatures to the vineyard and Executive Winemaker/Vineyard Manager Neil Collins and Viticulturist Levi Glenn were forced to work through the night to ensure that the 2013 harvest didn't get fried by frost.  When freezing temperatures are forecast, that's a scary thing for everyone working at a winery, but especially those who man the frost protection devices.  On these nights, the person in charge of frost patrol (usually Neil, who lives on the property) calls our weather post every hour on the hour to track temperature patterns.  And if that temperature drops, it means suiting up in the middle of the night - when it is quite literally freezing outside - to fire up our frost fans, hang curtains (which help direct air flow from the fans) and turn on sprinklers.

By the time I get to work (at 7:00 am), the sun is coming up and the danger of frost damage is past.  However, frost protection is still in full force at that time.  Pulling into the winery, it sounds like we have helicopters trying to land in the vineyard (some of those frost fans are incredibly powerful and move a LOT of air) and the sprinklers are still on.

This is the view I am greeted with on those chilly mornings:

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While this is far from a welcome sight from a vineyard or winemaking standpoint, it is truly breathtaking.  Those are low-flow overhead sprinklers at work, pulsing water onto the vines.  This process leaves icicles hanging from the trellis wires and encapsulates the freshly sprouted foliage in glassy sheaths of ice. 

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While this may look like the opposite of frost protection, this is exactly what it should look like.  When water freezes, a chemical reaction occurs in which liquid water (which has a lower density) is changed to a phase with a higher density (ice).  As this happens, molecules slow and condense and in doing so, they release energy - and heat, called "latent heat".  While this process does not produce enough heat to warm the plant, it does provide enough heat to prevent the plant temperature from falling below the freezing point.  As long as water continues to be applied (this is imperative), the process of water changing to ice (and releasing latent heat) will continue to protect the plant until the outside temperature becomes warm enough to melt the ice.  Only then can the sprinklers be turned off.

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We're going to keep our fingers crossed that our current (gorgeous) weather conditions are a trend, but if you cross your fingers, too, that probably wouldn't hurt.  We appreciate support in all forms.


Harvest 2012: The End of the Beginning

By Chelsea Franchi

And so it appears, just like that, harvest is over and it is time for a season-end wrap up.  While I wish I could tell you there was a wonderful celebration as the last cluster was ceremoniously placed in the last tank, I can't.  Because that would be a lie.  Instead, harvest finished the same way it always does, taking a quiet bow and exiting the cellar while we were all too busy to notice.  To be perfectly honest, I'm shocked anyone here would trust me to put anything in print, insofar as my brain, along with everything it controls, is very, very tired.

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We have processed countless clusters of fruit, pumped-over, punched-down and pulse-aired every fermenting tank of red twice a day, every day until it was ready to be shoveled out, pressed off and barreled down.  We have spent far more time at work with each other than we have spent with our significant others.  We have overplayed and worn out all of our favorite albums, playlists, and Pandora stations.  I can speak only for myself when I say that my house is a mess and I have a horrible feeling that getting back in to the gym is going to be ugly when it comes to cardio (however, I have been doing a bit of strength training in the form of shoveling fruit out of tanks).  I have gulped tepid coffee, fought off colds and ignored the fact that I REALLY need to find my way into a salon to get my roots touched up and my ends trimmed (we're being honest here, yes?)

But here's the thing: it was all worth it.  We have thousands of gallons of wine both fermenting and resting in cellar now.  Whites are beginning to get topped up, we only have two lots of reds that still need pressing off and almost every single barrel in the cellar is full.  While the color we have been seeing this year is a touch lighter than it has been the last few years, the flavors and aromatics we're dealing with are on a whole new plane.  The reds in particular (perhaps just because we are more familiar with them at this point) have been showing themselves as dynamic, full and more floral than in vintages past.  And there is a lot of it.  Blending this year should be wonderfully challenging as we have so many strong and diverse lots at our fingertips.  I'm already excited for the next step when we haven't even finished this one, and that's a pretty good feeling.

Some of the scenes that stuck in my head from this harvest:

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Draining a tank of Counoise to prepare for pressing

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Grenache going off to bed, so to speak

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Pink towels (our favorite) covering fermenting tanks of wine

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A bird's eye view of the cellar, mid harvest

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Lastly, what the vineyard looks like now, shut down for the coming winter

While the pre-harvest blog was quite a bit more buoyant than this one, it is a true reflection on how we operate here in the cellar.  We eagerly anticipate the next step in the process, always thrilled with what is to come.  And then, after we have worked our tails off, we're exhausted.  The singular driving force that keeps us going is always that "next thing".  And, really, what you might think of as the "end" of harvest is just the end of the beginning.  It's still early in those grapes' path to the wine you'll taste in bottle in, oh, two or three years.  So here's to the next stage in the process.  If it goes as well as the last two months, we'll all be happy.

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A custom pair of lees-spattered jeans


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).

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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.

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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.

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The barrel brander

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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.


It's a Wonderful Day in the Patelin (and we have photos to prove it)

By Chelsea Magnusson

A few months ago, my husband, Trevor, and I sat down to dinner in our backyard with a bottle of our new go-to wine: the Patelin de Tablas.  I was so struck by the warmth and the casual feel exuding from the moment, I grabbed my camera and took a picture (and yes, I am that person... you know, the one who's always taking pictures of their food?)  Looking back at the photo a few days later, I realized that I took the picture because to me, the moment perfectly captured what I see Patelin to be: easy, comfortable, casual, and genuinely, solidly GOOD. 

For those of you who are not yet familiar with this wine, you can read notes on the 2010 Patelin de Tablas Blanc and the 2010 Patelin de Tablas.  A little historical background from the cellar perspective:

In 2009, we had a pretty rough year in terms of harvest tonnage we brought in from our vineyard.  In many ways, it's great to be an estate winery - we have complete year-round control of what happens in our vineyard, we know the subtle nuances of each individual block, we can experiment with different farming techniques, etc.  Basically, it boils down to this: the fruit was grown on our property, in our soil, under our watch.  However, being all estate comes with challenges.  One of them being that we are at the complete mercy of mother nature.  If we have one good frost, not enough heat, not enough rain, too much rain at the wrong time, or any number of other issues, our production can be decreased.  

For the 2010 vintage, it was decided that Tablas Creek would start a new project.  Fruit would be purchased from neighboring vineyards, hence the name of the new wine: "Patelin de Tablas" (the word "patelin" means "neighborhood" in French).  All of our other wines remain estate grown, and we do contribute some of our estate fruit into both the Patelin de Tablas Rouge and Patelin de Tablas Blanc.

For those of us in the cellar, the Patelin project has proved to be challenging in a wonderful way.  And it is fun.  Really fun.  The personalities that have come into the cellar (and I mean both the growers and the fruit) are fascinating.  The people we have met are all so outstanding, and the fruit they bring us carries with it a character that we physically cannot produce on our estate.

So I think it goes without saying that I am unbelievably excited about this new wine.  When I was looking back on the photo I took in our backyard, I thought it would be fun to see what kind of moments others at Tablas Creek would capture if given the prompt "how do you like your Patelin?"  I wanted to see the way others enjoy this wine and I was so pleased with what I received, I thought I should share:

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The Haas family - Bob, his wife Barbara, Jason and his sister Rebecca - celebrating at Bob and Barbara's home in Vermont.  Rebecca sent me the photo and I am told they are Glidden Point and Belon oysters from Barbara Scully (who was recently featured in a blog post by Bob).

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General Manager Jason Haas had this wonderfully charming photo snapped at Shakespeare in the Park in San Luis Obispo.  Patelin apparently pairs beautifully with theatre on the lawn at dusk!

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National Sales Manager Tommy Oldre sent this photo with the question, "how else would I enjoy Patelin?" Here, he is pictured doing what he does best: making new friends and pouring Tablas Creek wine at Venokado in Santa Monica.

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Tasting Room Manager John Morris took this photo from the beautiful new patio at Tablas Creek.  As usual, his plate is full of gorgeous bounty from his home garden.

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Accountant (and self-proclaimed Spreadsheet Queen) Eileen Harms and her husband, Paul enjoying what looks like a bottle of Patelin Rouge and a bottle of Patelin Blanc in their backyard under a full moon... a wonderful lesson: if you can't choose, indulge in both!

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Wine Club and Hospitality Assistant Manager Monica O'Connor just couldn't resist and was forced to submit two photos: the first is a photo of her son and daughter-in-law who live in New York (what better way to enjoy Patelin than with loved ones?) and the second, a photo of Humphrey Bogart with a quote that was originally intended for Lauren Bacall, now directed toward Patelin: "You'll fall in love with her like everyone else."

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Wine Club and Hospitality Assistant Dani Archambeault submitted this unbelievable photo of a shared bottle of Patelin looking out over Paso Robles wine country.  Such a stunning photo... perhaps the Paso Robles Chamber of Commerce should think about using this shot for travel and tourism advertisements?

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Assistant Tasting Room Manager Jennifer Bravo submitted a few photos, but this was my favorite: a bottle of Patelin, the newspaper, and a tin of smoked oysters.  Perfect.

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Viticulturist Levi Glenn sent in a Patelin still life that made me wish it was dinner time.

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Rat de Cave (a self-professed term meaning "cellar rat") Shawn Dugan enjoyed Patelin out of a mason jar at the Templeton Concert in the Park summer series.

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Winemaker Ryan Hebert and his wife, Laura, definitely went above and beyond with their "assignment".  I received a memory card with a whopping 86 photos.  Seriously.  Now, I thought I was excited about this wine!  This was my favorite, but I also had to share one more that Laura submitted, because I thought it was funny (and wonderful) how two people in the same household enjoyed Patelin differently:

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And finally, this is my photo that spurred the whole photo essay; dinner with some of my favorite boys at home in our backyard:

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After looking through all of the photos, it looks as though everyone enjoys their Patelin in more or less the same fashion - with wonderful company and great food in fun settings.  We hope you do the same, and would love to see your photos.  Please send any that you take to us at info@tablascreek.com.  We'll publish the best in a later blog post!