Wrapping Our Heads Around Petit Manseng

On Friday, my dad, Neil, Tyler, Jordan and I sat down to taste through each vintage of Petit Manseng we've made (2010-2015) with the hopes of coming to a consensus on what we want out of this obscure, compelling grape.

Petit Mangeng vertical

Petit Manseng is a grape from southwest France, most notably the small appellation of Jurancon, where it produces naturally sweet wines with remarkable levels of acidity.  [For a detailed description of the history of the grape, check out this blog post from 2011.]  Unlike most grapes, whose acids fall off sharply as the grapes reach maturity, Petit Manseng maintains very high acids even as it concentrates to high sugar levels.  A chart of our sugar/acid levels at harvest since 2010 gives a sense of how consistently unusual this grape is:

Year Harvest Date °Brix at Harvest pH at Harvest
2010 October 15th 26.2° 3.10
2011 October 27th 25.0° 3.26
2012 October 1st 31.0° 3.28
2013 September 16th 27.0° 2.97
2014 October 1st 26.2° 3.06
2015 September 25th 28.2° 3.28

Because of the grape's high acids, it's not really feasible (or at least advisable) to make a dry wine out of it.  If you were to pick it at a sugar level that you might ferment dry to at 14% alcohol (23° Brix), the pH would likely be in the mid- to high-2's.  That would make for a searingly acidic wine. 

When we made the decision to bring the variety into the country (back in the early 2000's) we hadn't yet tried out the vin de paille process that we now use to make balanced sweet wines from our Rhone grapes.  So, to make a sweet wine was our original intent in acquiring Petit Manseng.  But by the time we got it into production, we'd established the three different Vin de Paille wines we make, and decided to look instead to an off-dry profile for Petit Manseng.  In this style, you don't let the grapes get to dessert wine concentrations (say, 33°-35° Brix and a pH of 3.4-3.6) but instead aim to pick between the acids and sugars you'd choose for a dry wine and those higher dessert wine levels, and plan to stop the fermentation when the balance of residual sugar and high acids are pleasing.  Typically, these wines carry alcohols somewhere around 14% (so, they're not fortified) and residual sugars in the 50 grams/liter range.  They can make remarkable dining companions with foods that are too sweet (think a coconut-based curry) or too unctuous (think foie gras) for a dry wine, but without enough sweetness to stand up to a dessert wine.

My notes on the wines are below, with links to each wine's page for detailed production notes.  I have a few conclusions at the end.

  • 2010 Petit Manseng (66 g/l residual; 13.6% alcohol): A tropical nose of lychee and pineapple, maybe preserved citrus.  Nice freshness in the mouth, with spun sugar and tropical fruit balanced by lemony acidity.  Tyler said it "put Jimmy Buffett in my head".  Very fresh still, and didn't seem to have changed much from when it was released.
  • 2011 Petit Manseng (26 g/l residual; 14.6% alcohol): Less sweet and more savory on the nose, almost riesling-like with petrol and citrus leaf, maybe a hint of lime. There's also a little noticeable oak that adds an interesting spice element. Unlike the 2010, this is definitely not sweet enough to be a dessert wine, and we thought that following what you might pair an auslese riesling would be a good start: spicy curry, or a banh mi with the sweet Vietnamese pickled vegetables.  Or a charcuterie plate.
  • 2012 Petit Manseng (42 g/l residual; 13.7% alcohol): The nose was easily the oldest of the flight, more like a traditional sweet wine and perhaps a touch of oxidation: crushed rock and butterscotch. On the palate, alluring in its way but without the characteristic freshness of the other vintages: candied orange peel and cream sherry, with a touch of burnt sugar. We thought it would be great with a salty cheese like manchego.
  • 2013 Petit Manseng (63 g/l residual; 13.8% alcohol): The nose was beautiful: caramel, candied lemon, rocks and key lime. Quite sweet on the palate, but with almost electric acids (it was harvested at 2.97 pH, after all) and a savory, chalky, citrus leaf tannin mouthfeel. This was a somewhat polarizing wine, without perhaps some of the nuance of the less sweet/tart vintages but with amazing zesty appeal.
  • 2014 Petit Manseng (33 g/l residual; 14.7% alcohol): A nose like the 2010, tropical with lychee and maple syrup, and an appealing briny mineral note. On the palate, more like 2011, though without the hint of new oak: less sweet and less acidic than the 2013, a gentler wine, also appeared a little more mature.  On the mouth, preserved lemon and crushed rock, lightly sweet.  Try pairings like the 2011.
  • 2015 Petit Manseng (barrel sample; 79 g/l residual; 13.7% alcohol): Still cloudy and a little unformed on the nose, with orange peel and fennel coming out.  On the palate, quite sweet and appley, like honeycrisp apple juice concentrate, though with good acids cleaning things up at the end.  We'll try to keep this fermenting a bit longer.

Conclusions
In terms of direction, we decided that we wanted to aim going forward at something toward the middle of our range, where, curiously, we didn't have an example: something like 50 g/l residual at around 14% alcohol, with bright acids, though maybe not quite as intense as the 2013. Split the difference between 2010 and 2011, or between 2013 and 2014, we thought.

All the wines, with the exception of the 2012, were still showing very youthfully.  As both sugar and acid act as preservatives in wine, that's hardly surprising.  But it was nice to see nonetheless.

We all decided that we preferred the clear bottle (and the 500ml package) to the 750ml green bottle.  So, look for it to make its return with the 2015 vintage, to be bottled this summer!

 


Budbreak 2016: Our Earliest Ever

Yesterday, I got out in the vineyard to hunt for signs of budbreak. It has been an exceptionally warm, sunny February, with weather we'd more associate with April.  And as I suspected, the vineyard had noticed.  Please join me in welcoming the 2016 vintage:

Budbreak 2016 - 1

Budbreak, as you probably guessed from the name, is the period when the grapevine buds swell and burst into leaf.  It is the first marker in the growing cycle, a point when we can compare the current season to past years.  Upcoming markers will include flowering, veraison, first harvest, and last harvest.  If you're thinking that this seems early to be talking about budbreak, you're right.  We have never before seen budbreak in February.  Last year, I wrote about our then-earliest-ever budbreak on March 16th (though it was maybe a week more advanced than what I saw yesterday).  To give you a sense of where 2016 fits within the context of recent years, I went back to look at when we first noted budbreak each of the last eight years:

2015: Second week of March
2014: Mid-March
2013: First week of April
2012: Mid-April
2011: First week of April
2010: Last week of March
2009: Second week of April
2008: Last week of March
2007: First week of April

Although budbreak is still limited to Viognier (our earliest budding variety) and to the warmer tops of the hills, we know it won't be long before the other grapes join in.  I expect to see Grenache, Grenache Blanc, Vermentino and Syrah in the next week or so, followed by Tannat, Marsanne, and Picpoul a week or two later.  We likely won't see the late-budding Counoise, Roussanne, and Mourvedre until the second half of the month, and sections toward the bottoms of our hills (where cold air settles at night) maybe not for a little while after.

While budbreak is a hopeful sign, it's also the beginning of a period of increased risk.  During winter dormancy, the vines are not susceptible to damage from below-freezing temperatures. Once they've pushed new growth, they are.  Because we can receive frosts here in Paso Robles all the way into early May, this means we have at least two months of white-knuckle nights to get through.  We've been fortunate in recent years, with our last damaging frost in 2011.  It seems very unlikely, given the earliness of this year's start to the growing season, that we'll continue our run of good luck.  That said, a late budbreak is no guarantee of safety, and in fact may be an indicator of increased risk, since it was likely cold weather that delayed the budbreak in the first place.  Both 2011 and 2009 (our two recent frost years) saw April budbreaks, which were followed in short order by frosts that cost us something like 40% of our crop.

Looking forward, we have something of an unusual weather pattern developing.  Later this week, our string of warm, dry weather will be ending, and conditions more typical of El Nino will be setting back in.  This morning's agricultural forecast suggests that the jet stream will direct a series of strong, wet, not too cold storms toward California starting this coming weekend.  Early predictions are that we could receive several inches of rain in the first two waves Saturday and Monday.  What's more, they're using one of my favorite California weather terms to describe the long-term forecast: that the "storm door will stay wide open" through the middle of March.

As long as we're receiving these sorts of storms fueled by the relatively warm waters of the south Pacific, we're likely to be at little risk of frost.  If it's enough to make a good dent in our groundwater deficit, that would be a double bonus of massive proportions, and make the sharing of photos like the ones below more joyful and less terrifying.  I'm all for that.

Budbreak 2016 - 2

Budbreak 2016 - 3


Establishing Deep Roots - Q&A with Vineyard Manager David Maduena

By Lauren Phelps

It was with great pleasure that I sat down with Vineyard Manager David Maduena to find out more about his 24-year career at Tablas Creek.  David is the longest-tenured member of our team, beginning as a part of our first crews working to establish the nursery and vineyard programs.  He's normally a man of few words, and it was a treat to find out more about him and to learn from him how Tablas Creek has changed in the almost quarter-century he has been here.

David3_800
I found a filing cabinet full of old photos, still on slides.  This one is David circa 1994.

Where were you born and raised?

I was born in Durango City, Mexico and lived there until I was 15 years old. I came to Paso Robles when I was 15 and lived with my parents and siblings.

Can you tell me a little about how you started working at Tablas Creek?

I started working in the local vineyards all around the area- a week or two here and there. I helped plant and add irrigation lines to Mount Mourvedre in 1992. I began working permanently here in 1993 when we started building the quonset huts and expanded the nursery project. [Editor's note: we published an archive of photos from those early years, one of which shows David manning a backhoe for an early irrigation trench, late last year.]

What is your general vineyard management philosophy?

I always look to do the best for the vineyard. I deal with a lot of different things in the vineyard from gopher control to managing a crew of between 7 and 30 people and I just try to keep everything in control.

What do you think about organic farming?

I think organic is good, it helps to not put a lot of chemicals in the soil- everything is natural so you’re not killing the soil, you’re helping it. And it’s better for the crew, they don’t have to wear special protective gear to keep them safe.

What’s your biggest challenge as a Vineyard Manager?

The biggest challenge is to take care of everything out there. I have to deal with a lot of different people and it’s not easy to find a good way to talk to the crew. Some supervisors are mean to the workers but that’s not good for them and not good for us.

How do you spend your days off?

I like to play soccer or basketball with my kids. I have 7 kids and they are always playing something. I spend most of my time off with my family.

If you weren’t growing wine grapes for a living, what would you be doing?

I went to school to learn to become an electrician or I’d like to do welding. I think that would be fun and I have some skill for those things.

What do you like about working at Tablas Creek?

I like working with nice people that’s the main thing. I feel comfortable here.

How do you define success?

Success to me is to make progress in life. You start from the bottom, like I did. I was just a normal worker, now I’ve been here so many years that they trust me and made me a Vineyard Manager and now I have more responsibility and take care of the whole place. I think that is success.

DavidFamily


We celebrate a respite in what's been a warm, dry February... with rainbows

Yesterday evening, a decent storm passed through the Paso Robles area.  It hadn't been forecast to drop too much rain (we were expecting a half-inch or so) but it turned out to be better than that.  Between 6pm and midnight, we received just over 1.5" of rain, and with the wind whipping up gusts to 37mph it felt like winter for the first time in a few weeks.

Until yesterday, February has been dry and (after a cool first few days) warm.  Beginning February 7th, we saw 10 consecutive days that reached at least the 70's, three times climbing into the 80's.  Only three times in that stretch did the nighttime lows drop below 40°, and our last freezing night was February 5th.  It's still early, but it really felt like spring, and as we watched the local almond trees burst into bloom, we were dreading the arrival of an exceptionally early budbreak.  The wildflowers were starting to bloom in the vineyard.

What's more, despite the promise of our ongoing El Nino conditions, we had dropped behind even a normal year, with the Paso Robles Airport at 90% of average winter-to-date precipitation. February is typically very wet here in Paso Robles: our second-rainiest month, just after January.  At Tablas Creek, an average February provides about 5 inches of rain for us, or about 20% of our annual total.  So, to have the first half of the month provide zero precipitation is a significant missed opportunity, and was particularly disappointing after January (6.65", or 124% of normal) got us off to a good start.

This morning, when we arrived at the vineyard, we were greeted by a remarkable double rainbow.  Two views:

PanoTwitter

and

Square

Looking forward, we have a week of dry weather forecast before we're supposed to return to a wet weather pattern for the end of the month.  What we really need is a few of the big soakings that used to be the norm in winters here, where we might see 3-5 inches of rain in a storm.  It's not that we've received -- at least not before the last few weeks -- consistently fair weather. That was the problem the last two winters: a persistent ridge of high pressure that deflected storm activity well to the north.  December 2015 saw 12 days with measurable rainfall (albeit for a total of just 1.39"), while January 2016 added a whopping 20 days with some rain.  But many of these storms seemed to just miss us, with areas to the north (and even a few times, areas to the south) getting drenched, while we saw more modest totals.

Last night's storm was one of the first all winter to exceed its predicted totals.  May it not be the last.


Tasting the Wines in the Spring 2016 VINsider Club Shipments

Each spring and fall, we send out a selection of six wines to the members of our VINsider Wine Club.  In many cases, these are wines that only go out to our club.  In others, the club gets a first look at a wine that may see a later national release.  About 6 weeks before the club shipments will be sent out, we open them all to write the tasting and production notes that will be included in the club shipments.  In many cases, this tasting is our first post-bottling introduction to wines that we'll come to know intimately in coming weeks and months.  In some cases (like this time) where the shipments contain wines that aren't yet even bottled (they will be week after next) it's a chance to get to know wines that are newly finished.  Over recent years, I've given followers of the blog a first look at these notes.

These shipments include wines from the 2013, 2014, and 2015 vintages.  It was interesting to taste these three vintages, all of which we think were very strong, together, and to get a sense of how they compare.  My quick thoughts, after the tasting, are that 2013 is a classically-styled, old-world vintage, on the brooding side, with substantial tannins, more about balance than exuberance.  It should be exceptionally ageworthy, and I think that most of the reds will benefit from a little time in bottle.  2014 is a blockbuster vintage, with wines that are luscious and forward, yet not lacking in tannin and structure.  Both our 2014 Cotes de Tablas and 2014 Cotes de Tablas Blanc are a part of this shipment, and I think they're the best examples of these wines we've ever made.  I can't wait to get the 2014 Esprits into bottle.  Finally, 2015 (we only tasted two wines) seems to be explosively vibrant, with intense fruit and a sweet-tart character that should be immediately appealing. 

I'll start with the classic mixed shipment, and then move on to the red-only and white-only shipments, noting which wines will be included in each.  I was joined for the tasting by Assistant Winemaker Chelsea Franchi.  The wines:

Spring 2016 Shipment Wines

2014 COTES DE TABLAS BLANC

  • Production Notes: The Cotes de Tablas Blanc is our showcase for the floral, lush fruit of Viognier (39%), grounded by the texture, acidity, and citrus of Grenache Blanc (29%), with Marsanne (20%) providing gentle minerality and Roussanne (12%) providing structure. The components were blended in April 2015, aged briefly in stainless steel, and bottled in June.
  • Tasting Notes: Stunning in its intensity for this bottling: honey and nectarine and spicy passion fruit on the nose, with something cooler, like wet stones.  In the mouth, it's rich and tangy, with ripe pineapple fruit lifted by orange blossom and deepened with a briny sea-spray element.  The finish is rich, long, and clean, with a creamy expansiveness that reminded me of lemon meringue.  Drink now and over the next few years.
  • Production: 1250 cases

2011 ESPRIT DE TABLAS BLANC

  • Production Notes: Although 2011’s spring frosts largely spared the notoriously late-sprouting Roussanne, yields were still low and these low yields combined with the unusually cool growing season to produce structured Roussanne with good acidity, suitable for aging. Knowing this, we held back a good chunk of this wine, and are releasing it to club members now. 64% Roussanne, 26% Grenache Blanc, and 10% Picpoul Blanc, aged for a year in foudre and then for 3 more years in bottle.
  • Tasting Notes: The three years in bottle have brought depth and additional substance to the classic Roussanne flavors and aromatics, and like many Roussanne-based wines it has become more aromatic with age. It's showing candied orange peel, ginger, creme brulee and lychee fruit on the nose. The mouth is savory, with green plum, grilled bread, honeydew rind, lots of mineral, and a hint of nutty oak on the long, stony  finish.  When it was released, I called it "a fascinating combination of rich and very dry". That's more true than ever now.  Drink now or continue aging for another decade.
  • Production: 2480 cases

2015 PATELIN DE TABLAS ROSÉ

  • Production Notes: Our fourth vintage of the Provencal-style dry rosé that we base on Grenache and source primarily from other vineyards with our grapevines in the ground. Always heavy on Grenache (68% this year), the wine also includes additions of zesty, vibrant Counoise (13%), rich, floral Mourvedre (11%) and for the first time, a little spicy Syrah (8%). Most of the Grenache and all the Syrah were picked for the rosé program and direct pressed upon arrival at the winery, with the balance bled off after a few hours on the skins.  It is just a shade darker than our 2014, but still pale, fresh, and clean.
  • Tasting Notes: A pretty light peach color.  On the nose, explosive aromatics of nectarine, wild strawberries, grapefruit pith, and jasmine.  The mouth is rich but vibrant, with flavors of rubired grapefruit, plum, mineral, spice and rose petals.  The acids are bracing on the finish, and the wine is really long.  I can't wait to get this in front of people.  Drink now and over the next year.
  • Production: 2150 cases

2014 COTES DE TABLAS

  • Production Notes: The Cotes de Tablas is our chance to let Grenache shine, as it does in most Chateauneuf du Pape blends. The luscious 2014 vintage led to us using a closer percentage of Grenache (44%) and Syrah (36%) than normal, to keep Grenache's generosity and fruitiness from tilting over into sappiness.  Additions of Counoise (12%) and Mourvedre (8%) added a savory earthiness to the wine, which was blended in June 2015 and aged in foudre until its bottling in February 2016.
  • Tasting Notes: Shows a deep, spicy nose for a Grenache-based wine (of course, there's a lot of Syrah in here): new leather and blackcurrant and licorice and a sweet spiciness like a clove-studded orange, all held in check by a minerality that Chelsea called "rock quarry".  The mouth is generous with chocolate-covered cherry and a minty, juniper note.  It reminded me of the best grape jelly you could ever imagine.  Beautiful chalky tannins clean things up at the end, and the finish is long, with licorice, mint, and chalky mineral notes.  Drink now and over the next decade or more.
  • Production: 1600 cases

2013 TANNAT

  • Production Notes: Our twelfth bottling of this traditional varietal from South-West France, known principally in the Pyrenees foothills appellation of Madiran, but originally native to the Basque region. Tannat typically has intense fruit, spice, and tannins that produce wines capable of long aging.  While we often blend ours with Cabernet Sauvignon, in this vintage we bottled the Cabernet separately and the wine is 100% Tannat.  We aged it in neutral demi-muids for nearly 2 years before bottling it in July 2015. 
  • Tasting Notes: On the nose, dark, savory and winey, with baker's chocolate and an iron-like bloodiness that reminded me of marinating meat with rosemary and soy.  The mouth is lusher than the nose suggests, with dark chocolate flavors, brambly black fruit, and a creamy texture.  The iron-like minerality came back out on the long finish, which also showed Tannat's signature tannins and smoky character.  A wine to watch evolve over decades.
  • Production: 720 cases

2013 PANOPLIE

  • Production Notes: As always, Panoplie is selected from lots chosen in the cellar for their richness, concentration and balance, always giving pride of place to Mourvedre's rich meatiness and firm structure. Each lot was fermented individually before being selected, blended and moved to foudre to age in July 2014.  The wine was bottled in August 2015 and has been aged in bottle in our cellars since then.  The blend is 75% Mourvèdre, 15% Grenache and 10% Syrah.
  • Tasting Notes: A nose that manages to be both brooding and inviting, with notes of pine forest and aged balsamic and cassis and meat drippings.  The mouth is luscious, with red plum, black licorice, leather, cocoa powder and cigar box flavors.  The finish is long, with big tannins enlivened by a minty lift.  A wine to wait on if you possibly can, at least in the short term, but one that should have two decades of life, easily.
  • Production: 670 cases

There were two additional wines (joining the Cotes de Tablas Blanc and Esprit de Tablas Blanc) in the white-only shipment:

2015 VERMENTINO

  • Production Notes: Our fourteenth bottling of this traditional Mediterranean varietal, known principally in Sardinia, Corsica, and Northern Italy. It is also grown in the Mediterranean parts of France (particularly Côtes de Provence) where it is known as Rolle. The Vermentino grape produces wines that are bright, clean, and crisp, with distinctive citrus character and refreshing acidity. To emphasize this freshness, we ferment and age Vermentino in stainless steel, and bottle it in screwcap. Normally a generous producer, our yields in 2015 were down by nearly 50%.
  • Tasting Notes: A classic Vermentino nose of white grapefruit, citrus leaf, and crushed rock, but then surprisingly generous and mouth-filling, like lemon-lime soda, with a briny sea spray minerality and a long, clean, luscious finish.  Drink now and over the next few years.
  • Production: 575 cases.

2014 PATELIN DE TABLAS BLANC

  • Production Notes: Patelin is French slang for "neighborhood" and the Patelin de Tablas Blanc is our white Rhone-style blend sourced from our many great neighborhood Rhone vineyards. We base the wine on the richness and acidity of Grenache Blanc (49%), with Viognier (31%) providing lush stone fruit and floral notes, and Roussanne (12%) and Marsanne (8%) adding minerality and texture.  The wine is fermented entirely in stainless steel and then bottled young (in May 2015) to preserve its freshness.
  • Tasting Notes: The nose is very polished, with toasted marshmallow and lemongrass, honeydew, orange zest and preserved lemon.  In the mouth, the wine is luscious, with caramel apple and rose water flavors, and a little Grenache Blanc tannin that maintains order on the long, aromatic finish.  Drink now and over the next few years.
  • Production: 3000 cases

Three additional reds joined the Cotes de Tablas, Panoplie, and Tannat in the red-only shipment:

2013 FULL CIRCLE

  • Production Notes: 2013 is the fourth vintage of our Full Circle Pinot Noir, grown on the small vineyard outside Robert Haas's family home in Templeton, in the cool (for Paso) Templeton Gap AVA. Its name reflects his career: from a start introducing America to the greatness of Burgundy, through decades focusing on grapes from the Rhone, he's now growing Pinot at home. The grapes were fermented in one-ton microfermenters, punched down twice daily by hand. After pressing, the wine was moved into year-old Marcel Cadet 60-gallon barrels, for a hint of oak.  The wine stayed on its lees, stirred occasionally, for a year and a half before being blended and bottled in April 2015.
  • Tasting Notes: A classically Pinot nose of sarsaparilla, nutmeg, milk chocolate and black cherry.  In the mouth the wine is beautifully fresh and medium-bodied, with cherry cola flavors and a touch of sweet oak on the finish.  Really pretty, and (for us) a validation that we can make classic-styled Pinot Noir here in Paso Robles.  Drink now and over the next decade.
  • Production: 310 cases

2014 PATELIN DE TABLAS

  • Production Notes: Patelin is French slang for "neighborhood" and the Patelin de Tablas is our red Rhone-style blend sourced from our many great neighborhood Rhone vineyards. We base the wine on the spicy savoriness of Syrah (55%), with Grenache (29%) providing juiciness and freshness, and Mourvedre (10%) and Counoise (6%) earth and structure. Fermented in a mix of upright oak fermenters and stainless steel tanks and aged in wooden uprights, it was bottled in July 2015 and aged in bottle to round into its structure.
  • Tasting Notes: A dark, Syrah-driven nose that is creamy, meaty, minerally, and a little bit wild.  A little blue fruit lurks underneath and comes out with air.  The mouth shows both Grenache and Syrah's influence, with black plum, boysenberry, chalky minerality and nice powdered sugar tannins that come out on the finish. Decant if you're drinking now, or age for up to a decade for secondary and tertiary flavors of meat and earth.
  • Production: 3500 cases

2013 SYRAH

  • Production Notes: Our first varietal bottling of Syrah since 2010.  Despite the warm 2013 vintage, the vintage proceeded largely without extreme heat spikes, and cool-loving Syrah showed both power and freshness in our blending trials.  So, we kept aside one foudre (assembled from a mix of newer and older small barrels) of our most expressive Syrah, and aged it there for a year before bottling in May of 2015.
  • Tasting notes: A dark, spicy brambly campfire wildness that is absolutely characteristic of Syrah.  There is also a marinade wineyness that seems to be 2013's signature in our red wines. The palate is vibrant with blackberry and briary spice, big tannins and a little sweet oak.  I don't think this will hit its peak for a decade or more, but it should be pretty amazing once it does. Decant in advance if drinking soon, or wait up to two decades.
  • Production: 550 cases

If you're a wine club member, you should make your reservation for our shipment tasting party, where we open all the wines in the most recent club shipment for VINsiders to try.  This spring's party will be on Sunday, April 10th.  If you're not a wine club member, and you've read all this way, then why not join up, while there's still a chance to get this spring shipment?  Details and how to join are at tablascreek.com/wine_club/vinsider_club


Congratulations to Jason Haas, 2015 Paso Robles Wine Industry Person of the Year

By Robert Haas

In 1989 The Perrin family and the Haas family bought a 120 acre pasture in Adelaida that was to become Tablas Creek Vineyard, named for the eponymous creek that flowed through the property.  I took over the management.

In 2002 my son Jason, fresh from a stint in the east coast’s tech world, arrived in Paso Robles and started working at Tablas Creek, focusing initially on our marketing and increasingly on our management.  Although Jason has taken over the day-to-day operations here, I'm still working because I enjoy our working together.  It's fun.  His leadership here and his accomplishments at the vineyard and in the community delight me.

Last Friday, the Paso Robles wine community came together at the Paso Wine Country Alliance's annual Winter Gala to honor Jason for “outstanding contributions toward the success of the Paso Robles wine industry”.  He was named the 2015 Paso Robles Wine Industry Person of the Year:

BarrelJason, with Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance Executive Director Jennifer Porter 

KatchoJason with State Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian (left) and State Senator Bill Monning (right) and the decree passed by the Californa legislature

Group
A healthy Tablas Creek contingent gathered to help celebrate

It was fun to hear the wine community recognize his accomplishments in the fourteen years he has been working here. They have been significant!

  • He started this blog back in 2005 and has been its principal author for a decade now. It has been a finalist for “Best Winery Blog” seven of the last eight years and won in 2008 and 2011.   The blog helped establish us as leaders in the wine community and himself as a source for media with thoughts worth seeking out.
  • His writing on the blog has led to invitations to contribute pieces on Paso Robles and Rhone varieties to Wine Business Monthly, Wines & Vines, Wine Industry Network, and Zester Daily, and to regular appearances on radio and television.
  • He established the Paso Robles Rhone Rangers chapter in 2007 and led it for the next several years. In that period, it grew from 15 members to 50 members and helped establish Paso Robles as the epicenter of California’s Rhone movement.
  • He has represented Paso Robles, Rhone grape varieties, and Tablas Creek to industry groups including the American Wine Society, the AIWF, the Unified Symposium, and the Society of Wine Educators, and has been a regular guest lecturer to classes and student groups at Cal Poly and Fresno State, spreading the word about our region and our winery to the next generation of wine consumers and wine professionals.
  • He has helped build Tablas Creek's standing in the community, working with and supporting deserving causes such as must! charities, Festival Mozaic, the Foundation for the Performing Arts Center, and the Paderewski Festival, as well as volunteering as a youth basketball and baseball coach in Templeton.
  • He has volunteered diligently as a board member of the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance, of Rhône Rangers, and of Family Winemakers of California. It is easy to critique the actions of an organization, but much more significant to jump in and help it achieve its goals.
  • He has had, I feel, a particularly significant impact on the Rhone Rangers. When he joined the board in 2004, it was an organization whose sole footprint was one tasting a year in San Francisco.  He pushed the group to expand its Bay Area event to include a greater educational component and a winemaker dinner and auction.  He also led the charge to add additional events, including an annual Los Angeles tasting and “road show” visits to Seattle, Chicago, New York, and Washington DC.  The category of California Rhones has made amazing strides in the last decade, in part thanks to the work of Jason and the rest of the Rhone Rangers leadership.
  • Jason’s support of Tablas Creek’s role in the creation of and advocacy for the 11 new Paso Robles AVAs helped distill a complicated story into a comprehensible message of why this is a good thing for the region.

I'm proud of him.   He has made a difference.


A Valentine's Day truffle recipe... and a wine to drink them away

By Suphada Rom

Prior to working at Tablas Creek, I spent three years working at a small French bistro that was adjacent to a chocolate shop, which was also conveniently co-owned by the owners of the restaurant (pommes frites…check! chocolates…check!). I was in heaven learning not only about our menu, but about the chocolates we produced. As I reflect on my time there, I realized wine and chocolate have really similar foundations. Not unlike a vineyard, cacao farms can vary from plot to plot, and more so from one country to the next. I tasted single origin chocolates from all over South America, each bringing their own exciting aromas and nuances. With both quality wine and chocolate, there is an incredible sense of terroir that is truly amazing to taste. A certain minerality you find in a bottle of wine could be considered equivalent to the nutty nuance you find in a bar of chocolate. You can only imagine our excitement when we decided to pair the two together, creating what may be one of the best wine and dessert pairings I’ve ever had.

Bottle & truffle VertChocolate truffles with our 2003 Sacrérouge.

When I first played around with the idea of pairing wine with chocolate, I wasn’t sure how I felt about it. Chocolate is such a powerful product to work with, given its rich quality and often overly sweet connotation. Some of my favorite chocolate desserts are the most simple, but made with the highest quality ingredients. This truffle recipe by King Arthur Flour (from my home state of Vermont!) requires only chocolate and heavy cream to make the centers, leaving you free to coat them with just about anything you want. The chocolate ganache is smooth and rich, but not cloyingly sweet. Adding nuts or some sort of a crunchy exterior will also break up the overall smooth texture, however there were no complaints about the traditional chocolate dipped ones! Here are some photos from our truffle efforts:

Coatings prep
Toppings in preparation of coating every square (okay, maybe round) inch of each truffle

Dirty hands close
After about 2 truffles, your hands may look like this. I spy some Rebecca Haas jewelry beneath the layer of chocolate.

Dipped truffle
A dipped truffle that we managed to not eat, however due to lack of self control, many truffles were harmed in the making of this blog post.

The wine that we chose to pair the truffles with was our Vin de Paille Sacrérouge. Sacrérouge is a small production dessert wine made from 100% Mourvèdre. It is produced through the meticulous vin de paille process, where the grapes are hand harvested at peak ripeness (but not superripe like a late harvest) and laid out on beds of straw to dehydrate. During this process the grapes concentrate and gather in complexity and character. The results, after a slow oak fermentation, is a sweet wine that brings richness with incredible balance. The 2003 Sacrérouge (which we chose for this pairing) was our first-ever bottling of this dessert wine. We were really thrilled with how this wine was drinking. It had incredibly deep notes of cherry and cassis, with a beautiful mineral quality on the finish. The youthful quality of this wine is what really had everyone talking -- this wine was still vibrant after over a decade in bottle. A bite of truffle and a sip of wine later, we were all relatively speechless. It was a fantastic pairing.

Bottle & truffle HorzThe finished product with our 2003 Sacrérouge, and yes, this picture perfect set up lasted all of 10 seconds before we dove in!

In celebration of Valentine’s Day next weekend, we've released a little of the 2003 Sacrérouge from our library ($75/bottle) so you too can enjoy it with the truffles you'll be whipping up -- it’s sure to be a pairing you’ll never forget. If you recreate this dessert (or create a TCV wine and food pairing of your own!), be sure to let us know on any of our social media handles- Facebook or Twitter or Instagram - or just leave us a comment here! When you do, tag @tablascreek and use #EatDrinkTablas

A few other resources:

 


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).


What's in a (category) name? Maybe a lot.

One of (the literally hundreds of) Shakespeare's phrases that has entered common English parlance is Juliet's question to Romeo, "What's in a name?".  She continues, "That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet" with its implication that names are labels given meaning by those of us who use them, but that there is an essential quality that is independent of the name it carries.  One of the risks of any enterprise is that once you've assigned a name to something, you assume that the other people who hear or read that name understand its relationship to the essential idea described the same way that you do.  Industry jargon is only the most obvious example of this; in many cases the consequences of naming (or mis-naming) something can be much more subtle.

Those of you who have followed Tablas Creek are likely familiar with the vintage chart that we created back in 2006 and have updated roughly quarterly ever since.  With it, we try to help our fans be as informed as we are as to where in its evolutionary life each of our wines is at the moment.  After all, it's in our interest as much as our fans' that the wines that they open be drinking well, and there's no way even the most dedicated Tablas Creek follower is going to be opening as many of our wines, across as many vintages, as we do.  Sharing our experiences seems to me like the least we can do.    

Vintage chart in use
The vintage chart, in use in our tasting room

For the last several years, we divided up the wines into the following categories:

  • Hold - Too Young
  • Early Maturity: Drink or Hold
  • Peak Maturity: Drink or Hold
  • Late Maturity: Drink
  • Hold - Closed Phase
  • Past its prime

Most of these seem self-explanatory enough, except for perhaps "hold - closed phase", whose depths I dove into in a blog post from 2011.

Vintage chart Jan 2016 #2However, in recent months I've gotten a spike in comments from people who have been waiting and waiting on many of our wines to move from "Early Maturity" into "Peak Maturity". Since I've wanted to see some secondary flavors in a wine before moving it between these categories, this has meant that often several vintages accumulated as they waited -- with some wines, for a decade -- for wines to get to their peak.  Now, we're proud that many of our longer-lived wines should age for two decades.  But I also understand our fans' frustration that gratification delayed so long isn't particularly gratifying.  And my idea was never to encourage everyone to wait for full maturity, missing out on wines' juicy vigor.  That "early maturity" phase makes for wonderful drinking, and I almost certainly open more wines then than I keep until those secondary flavors start to show.  Yet it seemed that what I'd hoped would be helpful was becoming, for some followers at least, a burden.  And I understood why.  Wouldn't you, too, like peak enjoyment out of a purchase?  So, in the today's update to the vintage chart, I renamed the different categories as follows:

  • More Aging Recommended
  • Drinking Well: Youthful
  • Drinking Well: Mature
  • Late Maturity (Drink Up)
  • Hold - Closed Phase
  • Past its prime

I am hopeful that this change, minor as it seems, will continue to protect our fans from wines in stages likely to be disappointing while removing the stigma from opening a wine in its (relative) youth.  This change is in keeping with my suspicions of drinking window recommendations (think: "best between 2025 and 2033"), and the idea that there is a single peak when wines should be drunk. This is not to deny that wines can be too young to be truly enjoyable -- often with red wines, when tannins are so powerful, or the fruit is so thick and primary, that they dominate the other elements.  Or that wines can be too old, when the steady work of oxygen and time in breaking down tannins and other structural elements leave a wine tired and flat.  But between these two extremes lies a wide range of experiences during which the wine is in balance.  A consumer who prefers wines to show brighter fruit would typically drink wines earlier in this window.  Another who prefers her wines earthier and meatier might drink them later in this window.  

Or, if you're like me, and love to watch as wines move into different harmonies between fruit, acid, tannin and earth, you might consciously open wines at different phases.  It wasn't Shakespeare who said "Life is a journey, not a destination." (that was Ralph Waldo Emerson), but if what's in a name can encourage more people to enjoy the journey, I'm all for it.


Braised Short Ribs: a Cold-Weather Pairing Fit for Rain or Snow

By Suphada Rom

When I think of braised meats, I am immediately brought back to my childhood. I’m not sure many people can say that, but it’s true for me. My winters growing up in Vermont were spent waking up at the first sign of light, bundling up in multiple layers, and making my mark on freshly fallen snow. Only when the sun had set, or when my second set of gloves was oversaturated, would I find myself making the trek indoors. Immediately upon entering my house, I’d be greeted by the warmth radiating out of our baseboard heaters and the intoxicating smell of braised meats in the oven. This week in Paso Robles, we may not have experienced extreme winter snow, but we did get torrential rain. Looking outside, the oak trees are slumping slightly with the relentless nature of the storm, and the grass is impossibly green. When it rains here, it pours, and in celebration of the much-needed saturation, I've got the perfect dish to warm you up from the inside out.

12EBFA shot

While scrolling through my library of both digital and written recipes, I remembered how much I love this recipe for Braised Short Ribs (a recipe of Dan Barber, of Blue Hill at Stone Barns, via Food52 website). Although the beef may be the meat of the dish, the sauce is what gets me. I love a sauce that is deeply rich while maintaining some acidity, like in this recipe. Most braised short rib recipes use only red wine, but Dan Barber uses both red wine and Madeira. The combination of both types of wine contributes light fruit character with a rounded nutty flavor. Another ingredient that makes this dish unique is the use of tamarind concentrate. Tamarind paste is the secret ingredient that you’ll learn to love because of its tangy and sour nature. Found in most Asian markets, tamarind paste contains 12% tartaric acid (a little goes a long way!).

Tamarind paste

A couple pieces of advice for making this dish: I beg and plead for you to go above and beyond the braising time of four hours. Given that the meat is cooking at such a low temperature in a completely sealed Dutch oven, there will be little evaporation to be had, just the eventual breakdown of the fat (also known as flavor!) on the meat and increasing tenderness. Whenever I braise anything, there is all the time in the world to clean your home all while being engulfed by the intoxicating aromas being emitted from the kitchen. It would be ideal to make the dish one day and serve it the next; you’ll have more of an opportunity to scale off the layer of fat on top, lending to a cleaner sauce. The other tip I have is that in step one of the dish, you season thoroughly and get a complete sear on the pieces of meat. I recommend seasoning about 10-15 minutes before they meet the hot pan. Enough critique, here are the results from our braising efforts:

Meat and mirepoixThe set up; having everything prepped is key!

  Meat and mirepoix 3
The browned short ribs getting cozy with the mirepoix

13CTFA addition

Adding a splash of our 2013 Cotes de Tablas for good measure

12PNFA Shot

The finished product with one of the wines, our 2012 Panoplie

The wines we chose were collectively based on Mourvedre, the most important grape at both Tablas Creek and at our sister winery, Château de Beaucastel. Mourvedre brings incredible approachability at a young age, with rich mid palate tannins and outstanding dark fruit, meat, and earth character. We had a few options in terms of wine pairings, so naturally, we tried them all (all in the name of research, of course). Our wine choices were our 2012 Esprit de Tablas (40% Mourvedre 30% Syrah 21% Grenache 9% Counoise), 2008 Esprit de Beaucastel (38% Mourvèdre 30% Grenache 26% Syrah 6% Counoise), 2012 Panoplie (70% Mourvedre 20% Grenache 10% Syrah), and 2013 Mourvedre. We were quite pleased with all the wines, as they each brought vintage character and appeal. To be honest, it was a bit of a toss up- we loved the balsamic-y nature of our 2012 Esprit de Tablas, and that was only more focused and evident in the 2008 Esprit de Beaucastel. The 2012 Panoplie has this wonderful rare steak character, that brings out the tender meat of the dish while complimenting the depth of flavors found in the sauce. Our 2013 Mourvedre, young but approachable, brought refreshing tangy character. This was a situation where the wine let the dish take the spotlight, whereas the other wines were very much a part of the entire meal.

Make this recipe and do yourself a favor and go ahead and double it- because as good as this recipe is with whipped potatoes, it is a force to reckoned with in shredded short rib taco form the next day (I ate them too quickly to post a photo!). If you recreate this dish (or create a TCV wine and food pairing of your own!), be sure to let us know on any of our social media handles- Facebook or Twitter or Instagram - or just leave us a comment here! When you do, tag @tablascreek and use #EatDrinkTablas

A few other resources:

  • Feeling like you want to taste these wines? Come join us for a Reserve Tasting, where you'll have the opportunity to taste through vintages of our Esprit de Tablas/Beaucastel along with our exclusive Panoplie. Learn more here or e-mail visit@tablascreek.com
  • You can order the 2012 Esprit de Tablas here, or find it in distribution throughout the country.
  • You can order the 2013 Mourvedre here.
  • The 2012 Panoplie and 2008 Esprit de Beaucastel were part of our wine club shipments allotted to VINsiders and Collector's Edition Vinsiders, respectively. Learn more about our VINsider and Collectors Edition wine clubs here.