January 2017 is Tablas Creek's wettest month ever

Sometime around 6:30 this morning, as the third of three powerful storms pushed through the Paso Robles area, our rain gauge for January passed 16.32" for the month and displaced February 1998 as the wettest single month in Tablas Creek's history.  Our running total (with much of this storm still to pass, and 9 days left in January) is now 17.17", more than triple the normal average for January, our wettest month:

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For the year, we're at 23.88", just about at our 20-year average for the winter rainy season and about more than 90% of the way toward the 26" that old-timers quote as the long-term annual "normal" for our pocket of the Paso Robles Adelaida District. You can see, looking at the last 20 years, that we're still quite a ways from matching our wettest-ever rainy season, 2004-05:

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Of course, we're still only just past the midpoint of the normal winter rainy season. It seems like we'll get another inch or so in the aftermath of this storm, and February-June brings another 11.47" of rain on average.  That would put us up above 35" of rain, on par with the last two wet winters, 2009-10 and 2010-11.

Even with the recent rain, we've got a long way to go to climb out of the hole the last five years of drought has put us in. Between the winters of 2011/12 and 2015/16, we built up a deficit of more than 54" (compared to that 26" average).  So, it will take more than one wet winter to recover.  But between the reports of greatly increased capacity in our local reservoirs and the news that most of Northern California has been declared free of drought it's clear that the rain has made a measurable difference.

As for the vineyard, it's wet. Springs have sprouted in low-lying areas, and enough water has drained to cause Las Tablas Creek to flow during more than the immediate aftermath of a storm for the first time in four years.  You venture into the vineyard at peril of losing your footwear.

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After this low pressure system passes through on Tuesday, we're forecast for a week or so of dry weather.  That's perfect.  It will allow the surface water to drain down into the limestone clay layers, and give the cover crop a week of sun.  And then the long-term forecast suggests a return to a wet pattern in early February.  That's perfect too.  At this point, we're feeling good about where we are.  Anything more at this point is gravy.


A Horizontal Retrospective: 2007 at Age Ten

In 2014 we began the tradition of looking back each year at the vintage from ten years before.  Part of this is simple interest in seeing how a wide range of our wines -- many of which we don't taste regularly -- have evolved, but we also have a specific purpose: choosing ten or so of the most compelling and interesting wines from this vintage to show at the public retrospective tasting we hold each year (this year's is February 11th).  Ten years is enough time that the wines have become something different and started to pick up some secondary and tertiary flavors, but not so long that most wines are at the end of their drink windows.  And, in fact, most of the 2007 reds are just entering their mature peak. 

Five years ago, as part of a look back at each of our vintages for our then-new Web site, I wrote this about the 2007 vintage:

2007 was a blockbuster vintage in Paso Robles. Yields were very low (down between 15% and 30% from 2006, depending on variety) due to a cold and very dry winter, which produced small berries and small clusters. A moderate summer without any significant heat spikes followed, allowing gradual ripening, and producing white wines with deep color and powerful flavors, and red wines with tremendous intensity, excellent freshness and a lushness to the fruit which cloaks tannins that should allow the wines to age as long as any we've made.

I was interested in the extent to which we'd still see what we'd noted when the vintage was younger.  Would the wines (red and white) show the balance of power and lift that made it one of the most exciting young vintages we'd experienced? How would the (at times massive) concentration have affected the balance over time?  And were there any lessons we might take for the wines we're making now?  Joining me for the tasting was our cellar team (Neil, Chelsea, Craig and Brad) as well as Darren, our National Sales Manager.

In 2007, we made 17 different wines: 6 whites, 1 rosé, 9 reds, and 1 sweet wine.  But we actually tasted 18 wines, because as part of our ongoing experimentation between corks and screwcaps, we bottled our 2007 Cotes de Tablas under both closures, to track how each closure impacted the wine's development over time. Still, 18 wines was actually fewer than we'd tasted from the previous couple of vintages.  The short crop meant that some wines we'd made in previous years (like Viognier, Picpoul, Bergeron and Counoise) weren't practical, although we did add two new wines: our first-ever Pinot Noir and En Gobelet bottlings.  The lineup:

2007 Horizontal

My notes on the wines are below. Wines with SC noted were bottled under screwcap, while those with a C were finished under cork. Most wines are also linked to their technical information on our Web site, if you'd like to see a breakdown of the winemaking or our tasting notes at bottling.  For some reason we never made Web pages for the Vermentino, Grenache Blanc, or Pinot Noir (perhaps because there was none left to sell after sending them out to our wine club?) but if you have questions about those, please leave a comment and I'll do my best to answer:

  • 2007 Vermentino (SC): Still bright and clear in the glass. On the nose, very reminiscent of an Australian riesling with some age on it: citrus pith and petrol. Clean on the palate, with a nice grapefruit/lemon curd citrus note and noteworthy richness for Vermentino. This wasn't a wine I particularly loved when it was young (I didn't feel that the 2007 vintage's density particularly played to the bright freshness I admire in Vermentino) but this was a very good showing.
  • 2007 Grenache Blanc (SC): A clean but fairly neutral nose, with a little green apple skin and a touch of sake-like alcohol showing through. The mouth showed round and very nice: apple and anise and baked pear and a mouth-coating texture.  Clean, fresh, and chalky on the finish.  Pretty impressive, I thought, for a variety that is not supposed to age well.
  • 2007 Cotes de Tablas Blanc (SC; 38% Viognier, 25% Marsanne, 20% Roussanne, 17% Grenache Blanc): A little darker than the first two wines in the glass, perhaps from the unusually high percentage of Roussanne in this vintage. A rich nose of creamy mineral, caramel, watermelon rind and some fresh herbs (tarragon?) on the nose. The mouth was soft and round, with a creme brulee richness, nice acids, and flavors of honey and roasted hazelnuts on the finish.  A great expression of an aged white Rhone.
  • 2007 Antithesis Chardonnay (C): The nose predicts a sweet wine: butter and roasted nuts and caramel corn and honey.  Like Cracker Jacks turned liquid. The mouth is dry by contrast, with flavors of honeycomb and pine resin. The finish is rich, with some nice aged Chardonnay character.  This isn't going to go much longer; drink up.
  • 2007 Roussanne (C): I usually love our Roussanne at age 10, but I wasn't quite sure what to make of this. The nose is a touch medicinal (acetate?) with a hint of dried white flowers and a minty, honey note coming out with air. The mouth is more classic, but without the age-driven richness I was expecting: some fresh pear, baking spices and a graham cracker note.  I tend to think this wine is in a stage it will come out of, but I'm not sure.
  • 2007 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc (C; 68% Roussanne, 22% Grenache Blanc, 10% Picpoul Blanc): From a vintage where we maxed out our Picpoul percentage in the Esprit, to give balance to the weight coming from the Roussanne and Grenache Blanc. The nose is deep and spicy: honey graham crackers given lift by a minty tarragon note and a refreshing minerality that Chelsea called "ocean air and citrus blossoms". The mouth is rich, with nice acids framing that richness, and flavors of baked lemon, nutmeg and Bartlett pear.  The long, vibrant finish showed mineral notes and sea salt caramel flavors. The wine is showing its age in a really nice way, and I think will drink well for another decade.
  • 2007 Rosé (SC; 57% Mourvedre, 31% Grenache, 12% Counoise): A deep copper amber color. The nose is like an aged light red, almost bloody, like drippings from a roast, with some strawberry compote behind. The mouth shows candied orange peel, rose petal, and dried strawberry, and finishes dry.  I remember this as the apex of richness in our rosé; starting in 2008 we pulled back on the skin contact and focused on making rosés with more freshness and bright fruit. While this was interesting to taste, I like the direction we've been heading.
  • 2007 Pinot Noir (C): Fun to taste our first-ever Pinot, made from a handful of rows in our nursery block. A wildly expressive (if not particularly Pinot) nose: menthol and dried herbs and cherry cola. The mouth is darker: black cherry and sweet oak and black tea and eucalyptus. Substantial tannins still. In many ways, more like an elegant Shiraz than a Burgundian Pinot Noir.
  • 2007 Cotes de Tablas (SC; 50% Grenache, 25% Syrah, 25% Counoise): Under screwcap, the initial impression is of a bright red-fruit driven nose, with deeper anise, chocolate, black cherry and spice notes coming out with air. On the palate, bright, luscious plum fruit, with black pepper and still some substantial tannins. Garrigue complicates the spicy fruit on the finish.  Beautiful.
  • 2007 Cotes de Tablas (C; 50% Grenache, 25% Syrah, 25% Counoise): Under cork, quite a different nose: much more animal: meaty and spicy like a roast with a rosemary rub. The mouth was more similar to the screwcap version, with minty red raspberry and red plum fruit and youthful tannins. This really benefited from air; we definitely recommend a decant if you're drinking this soon.
  • 2007 Grenache (C): An inviting nose of cola, milk chocolate, campfire, red fruit, and spice.   The mouth is loaded with sweet fruit: like a milk chocolate covered cherry. There's a luxurious texture, brought under control by some still-substantial tannins.  The alcohol (the wine is 15.3%) shows a bit on the finish.  The wine showed quite young, and we thought that (in contrast to the fully mature 2006) this wine might still be on its way up.
  • 2007 Mourvedre (C): A nose of leather, roasted meat drippings, and chocolate.  The mouth is pretty spectacular: milk chocolate, plums, and currants, made savory with tobacco leaf spice. The texture is plush and appealing, with tannins with a powdered sugar character that we often find in great vintages.  There's a little spicy, herby lift on the finish. Neil said "bring on a leg of lamb" and we all agreed.  Delicious.
  • 2007 Syrah (C): Quite a different nose than the previous red wines: an iron-like minerality, with aromas of duck fat, pine nut, dark chocolate and Worcestershire giving a savory depth. On the palate, more dark chocolate, blackberry, with a creamy texture and lots of beautiful structure. There's a little nicely integrated oak on the long finish. Easily my favorite of our older Syrahs I've tasted, and (unlike the 2004, 2005 or 2006) ready to drink at age 10.
  • 2007 Tannat (C): A very dark black-red color. The nose is spice and juniper and coffee grounds and black cherry. The mouth is nicely lifted, brighter than the nose suggested, with sweet wild strawberry and blackberry fruit, before big, dark tannins reassert control. There's a cool florality on the finish, like candied violets.  A really fun interplay between brighter and deeper elements, and still a long life ahead.
  • 2007 En Gobelet (C; 48% Mourvedre, 47% Grenache, 5% Tannat): Our first-ever En Gobelet, which we made because when we were doing our component tastings that year, we noted that the head-trained, dry-farmed blocks seemed to share a mineral-driven elegance that the trellised, irrigated blocks didn't. At this tasting, we found a gentle, inviting nose compared to the Tannat: garrigue, lamb juices, raspberry and spice. The mouth shows sweet milk chocolate, playing off tangy cherry and ripe plum. There's a nice salty note on the finish that showed why we came up with this wine in the first place..
  • 2007 Esprit de Beaucastel (C; 44% Mourvedre, 29% Grenache, 21% Syrah, 6% Counoise): A really beautiful mix of sweet and savory on the nose: roasted meat, currant, black pepper and eucalyptus. The mouth is luscious, with a great balance between sweet red fruit and savory meaty soy marinade character. The wine has been in a closed phase for the last three years, but only on the finish do I still see hints of this, with a little heightening of the tannins.  This is well on its way out of that closed phase, and will be even better in 6 months.  For now, decant it if you're opening one, but prepare to be richly rewarded.
  • 2007 Panoplie (C; 60% Mourvedre, 30% Grenache, 10% Syrah): Deeper and even more savory on the nose than the Esprit, with an umami rich density and lots of spicy wild herbs. The palate is spectacular: deep and rich, plum skin and dark chocolate and candied orange peel, with elegant tannins on the exceptionally long finish.  Fitting that this is the highest-scoring wine we've ever made; it's impressive, from beginning to end.
  • 2007 Vin de Paille Sacrérouge (C; 100% Mourvedre): A more port-like nose than is often the case with our Sacrérouge, perhaps because of the unusually high 15.4% alcohol: dried cranberries, dark chocolate, fruitcake and a little juniper lift. The mouth is sweet, rich, and showing younger than the nose: chocolate-covered raisins, with a nice bit of tangy acidity giving relief to the sweetness.

A few concluding thoughts

There was definitely a signature to the 2007 vintage: powerful fruit balanced by substantial structure and lifted by savory meaty and spice notes.  This thread carried through all the wines, but was particularly noticeable in the reds.  As we thought at the time, it's a better red vintage than white vintage, with only two whites making the 10-wine cut for the public tasting on February 11th. But those reds have really rewarded the decade in the cellar, and they'll all go out several more years without a problem.

Neil commented at one point in the tasting that "most of these wines could use half an hour in a decanter" and I very much agreed.  Both reds and whites -- and in the case of the Cotes de Tablas, both cork-finished and screwcap-finished versions -- became more expressive with time in the glass.  That's partly a function of the power of the 2007's, but generally a good idea for helping any wine that's been trapped in a bottle for a decade open up and express itself.

I was quite excited to see that the 2007 Esprit de Beaucastel seems finally to be emerging from its closed phase.  As is often the case, the biggest wines take the longest time to get through the closed phase, but they reward those with the patience to wait by drinking well for longer once they've emerged too.  It seems like we'll finally be able to offer the wine to members of our VINsider Wine Club Collector's Edition this fall.  I can't wait.

Finally, we chose ten pretty exciting wines for what should be a great February 11th Horizontal Tasting: Cotes Blanc, Esprit Blanc, Cotes de Tablas (screwcap), Grenache, Mourvedre, Syrah, En Gobelet, Esprit, Panoplie, and Vin de Paille "Sacrérouge". If you haven't signed up yet but are interested, please let us know soon; we have about a dozen spots left.


A gentle exit from holiday excess: chicken braised with olives & lemon, paired with Grenache Blanc

By Suphada Rom

In the course of a month and a half, I've managed to fly to New York City and back, drive up to San Francisco, drive down to Los Angeles, and fly back out for an East Coast Christmas. These moments where I see friends and familiar faces are always incredibly rewarding. Most of the time, we haven't seen in each other in months and in turn we feast like we haven't eaten in years. I know you can relate- "just one more bite!" or "well what the heck- we never see each other, let's just have that extra bottle of wine". We kid ourselves slightly by getting more specific with the, "well, I haven't had that particular vintage yet" or "I had a creme brûlée, but you know, it wasn't as good as I know they'll make it here." Clearly, the time has come to ease into a transition from rich holiday fare to dishes that refresh and rejuvenate your palate. Right now, I'm craving simple, satisfying dishes with minimal preparation and a "set it and forget it" technique because with all that time on the road, I've got a lot of work to catch up on.

On one of my flights to the East Coast, I was reading The Raw and the Uncooked; Adventures of a Roaming Gourmand by Jim Harrison. One episode he mentioned (several decades ago) was the exportation of thousands upon thousands of pounds of chicken thighs, simply because at the time the restaurants and people of America wanted just the white, tender breast meat.  Of course, my mind instantly darted to dozens of recipes I have on hand that specifically use flavorful chicken thighs, or better yet, the whole bird. David Tanis has a fantastic recipe that I've used before and have always loved. But I was looking for something new. So, I scanned through one of the many cookbooks I received for Christmas -- I seem to receive several each year -- and found a great, nourishing recipe from It's All Good, co-written by Gwyneth Paltrow and Julia Turshen: simply braised chicken with olives and lemon. This recipe is classic and clean eating at its most flavorful. 

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Braised Chicken with Lemon and Olives paired with 2015 Grenache Blanc


It was so good that I made it twice.  Note the second attempt (below) I showed a bit more patience when browning the skin. In case you were wondering, the 2014 vintage of Grenache Blanc paired and drank wonderfully, too!

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Lemony and tangy, this dish jumpstarts your  palate from any post-holiday daze it may be in. It's vibrant and fresh, and a surefire cure for the winter blues. And I don't know about you, but olives and lemons are household staple (I'll let you do the math on that one...). Assembly and preparation are a cinch. Per the usual, I recommend a good and patient browning of the skin. I wasn't overly patient the first go around (I was starving, can you blame me?!) and I flipped it a little too soon. It still tasted wonderful, but I wished I had gained a little bit more of that deeper roasted chicken flavor. Staying with the plan of keeping things simple but tasty, I opted for a smooth and savory white bean puree to go with it, but any starchy side will do. If you've got potatoes in your pantry, whip them up into a nice puree for the chicken to perch upon. 

Our 2015 Grenache Blanc is enticing. I take a whiff and I'm instantly enveloped in this sweet and citrusy aroma, reminiscent of candied apples and Meyer lemon peel. Don't let the nose fool you, because this wine is fermented dry, meaning there's no residual sugar to be found. On the palate, it's a dream. Rich with a coating texture -- a Grenache Blanc signature -- the weight is cut by precise acidity, making your mouth water from all angles. On the palate, there are characteristic notes of green apple and tart pears. The finish on this wine is long and graceful, with some nice citrus and spice providing depth and complexity. Sometimes you want a wine that's going to provide contrast with your food.  Sometimes you want a wine that's going to echo a dish's elements. This was definitely the latter: the wine and the dish both had richness and freshness, creamy texture and citrus notes. As you can see, I was excited enough to make it twice. The pairing was, in the words of our National Sales Manager Darren Delmore, "spot on". 

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 resources:


Creating an Experience Worthy of Being Called the "Collector's Tasting"

By Lauren Phelps

It is a very rare treat to pour an aged, library wine for guests in our tasting room.  Wines that have been carefully cellar aged have a rich and complex quality that many California wine drinkers have yet to discover.  After a few years of bottle aging our Esprit de Tablas wines are impossibly complex, with layers of complementary flavors ranging from dark cherry and plum to leather and spice.  I have exhausted myself and our guests attempting to explain with words and gestures the benefits of bottle aging,  imploring my audience to "forget about our wine at the back of your closet" or "write a special occasion on the bottle" and keep it aging for at least five years, upwards of thirty in the right conditions.  As you might imagine, my passionate attempts at persuasion are mostly met with doubtful gazes and guilty confessions about their lack of will control.  

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Our traditional tasting list guides guests through our new releases, which for many wines mostly conveys the wines' potential.  It's easy to judge these fresh, young wines as they are, without a perspective as to their long and developing lifespan.  It's like writing the biography of a teenager.  I would never suggest guests not enjoy our wines in their youth; they are lovely young as well.  I would simply caution tasters from only experiencing the wines before they've had a chance to fully develop.  I often suggest having a few bottles of the same vintage on hand and tasting one every couple of years to watch them mature and change over time.  [We provide a vintage aging chart on our website to help take the guess work out of when to open our wine.]  Alas, we cannot all have closets full of Tablas Creek wine on hand for such experiments and that is why I am excited to share our Collector's Tasting Experience (previously known as our "Reserve Tasting").

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In our Collector's Tasting Experience, I can finally take a deep breath, relax and allow the wines to speak for themselves.  It's an intimate, seated tasting, focusing on wines that we've cellared for some years, and typically including multiple older vintages of our Esprit de Tablas. This allows guests to experience first-hand how the bottle aging process deepens and complicates the youthful flavors, while also often revealing  the secondary flavors a young wine just hasn't developed yet.  It is so satisfying to watch the recognition stretch across my guests' faces as they recognize how dramatically these wines develop with age.  I hope this tasting experience will encourage guests to purchase current release wines and hold them to their peak maturity, but we also have a small stock of these library wines to offer to the guests who've come for this special tasting.

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Whether you are a long-time member of our wine club or have recently discovered Tablas Creek, we hope that you'll find the Collector's Tasting to be both a memorable and worthwhile experience. We offer two sessions Sunday-Friday at 11:30am and 3:00pm; Saturdays and holiday weekends we offer one session at 10:00am. We ask that reservations be made at least 24 hours in advance. The cost for the tasting is $40 for non-members/ $25 for members, and each tasting fee is waived with $250 purchase. To reserve a spot for this tasting, please contact us at visit@tablascreek.com, or just give us a call at (805)-237-1231.

It is a honor to share these wines with our fans who appreciate them and those who are also passionate about the Rhone movement in California.  Please don't hesitate to call the vineyard or email me with any questions you may have (lauren@tablascreek.com).  Cheers!


Celebrating the direct shipping progress we made in 2016... and all that's changed in 11 years

I am typing this from Vermont, where we've taken the boys for New Year's to get a dose of real winter.  And Vermont has been cooperating, with 8 inches of snow the day after we arrived and temperatures that have since that snowfall stayed below freezing to keep the snow light and powdery.

It's lovely to be able to come back to the place I grew up, and even more so to be able to bring our California kids to experience this magical place: to rediscover the best sledding runs that will take you over the frozen pond; to find the best icicle roofs; to explore the pine groves whose boughs, covered with snow, make a great secret fort.  Of course, you have to also make peace with the fact that the sun goes behind the western hills around 2:30pm.  It's typically full dark by 5.

Happily, we have lots of fireplaces and a wine cellar that my dad has given us free rein to plunder.  Some of the treats down there are wines from the very early days of Tablas Creek... wines like the 1997 Rouge, back in the day when we thought we were only going to make one red wine and one white wine each year.  Things have definitely changed at the winery.  

Things have changed around the country too. I remember the challenges my dad had in getting those wines from California to their Vermont house back in the day.  The nearest of the 13 states to which we could send wine legally via UPS or FedEx was West Virginia.  Because of his connections, he was able to get wine shipped to a distributor warehouse in a neighboring state and then have someone from the warehouse come and bring the wines here.  I used to help him load the cases down into the underground cellar after they arrived. But this clearly wasn't practical for most wine lovers. Happily, things have changed a great deal since the Granholm v. Heald decision in 20051.  Vermont is one of 39 states we can ship to, encompassing 86.7% of the United States' population and 88.4% of its wine market.  Of the 12 prohibited states, only New Jersey (#5) and Connecticut (#18) fall in the upper half of total consumption by state.

The progress has come in fits and starts, with several states opening up in the immediate aftermath of the Granholm decision and continued but irregular progress since then.  I thought it would be fun to look at how the shipping map has changed in a graphical way. Notice that until 2004, the states to which we could ship clustered around the west coast and the upper Midwest:

Shipping State Animation

The key holding of the Granholm decision was that states could make whatever rules they wanted about wine shipping, as long as they didn't use the rules to give their in-state wineries a competitive advantage.  They could allow easy shipment, place restrictions on shipment, or prohibit it altogether.  But they couldn't carve out exceptions for their local wineries (read: constituents and potential donors).  This key point meant that change came first in other wine producing states like New York, Virginia, Texas and Michigan, whose local wineries demanded that their legislatures maintain their access to their local customers. The example that these states set -- and the fact that none of the negative side-effects warned of by liberalized shipping's opponents came to pass -- encouraged other states to follow suit. Typically, the resistance to liberalized shipping comes from wine & spirits wholesalers who don't want to miss out on their cut of profits on wine sales that might otherwise pass through their hands on the way to a retail shop. In the back rooms of state legislatures, where liquor wholesalers are major campaign donors, such an argument can be persuasive. But this sort of special interest legislation doesn't play so well out in the open, and the umbrella advocacy group Free the Grapes played (and continues to play) an important role in drafting model legislation and helping spread the word broadly whenever a state's legislature debates a shipping issue. By 2008 half the states and well over half the US population had the right to order wine from most wineries.

In addition to opening markets for their local wineries and making their own consumers happy, states realized that creating direct shipping legislation was also an easy way to bring revenue into their coffers.  For most states, we have to collect and remit sales taxes on each shipment (though it's worth noting for the record that I have trouble seeing why this is constitutional when Quill Corp. v. State of North Dakota determined in 1992 that states cannot ask merchants to remit taxes unless they have a physical presence in the state in question). In general, as far as I can tell, most wineries are so happy to just have access to these markets that they've made the pragmatic decision not to rock the boat.

The three states that opened up this year are all in the top half of wine consuming states: Pennsylvania (#10), Arizona (#17), and Indiana (#23). Together the more than 26,000,000 residents of these three states represent 6.2% of the American wine market and more than a third of the consumers we couldn't ship to at the beginning of the year.

What lies ahead for direct shipping in 2017? With fewer and fewer states prohibiting it, and with no problems reported in any of the states that have opened up, the pressure will continue to mount on the handful of holdouts. That said, we're unlikely to see another year like 2016, not least because there aren't many states left of the importance of those that opened up this year. What's more, several of the remaining states to which we don't ship actually have shipping laws on the books; they're just too convoluted and/or too expensive for it to make sense to take out the license. New Jersey and Connecticut fit that description, as do South Dakota and Louisiana.2  That leaves a handful of low-consumption states in the deep south (Oklahoma, Arkansas, Mississippi, Kentucky, and Alabama), as well as mostly-Mormon Utah, whose general resistance to alcohol and lack of in-state wineries to apply pressure are likely to mean change will come slowly if at all. And it leaves two small states on the east coast (Rhode Island and Delaware) with complicated post-Prohibition blue laws, which seem the most likely to open up next. Delaware, in particular, has debated shipping legislation the last two years.

We'll keep working on both the prohibition states and those like New Jersey whose laws were written to protect distributors from as much competition as Granholm would allow.  Maybe 2017 will be the year the ball will drop for them.  Meanwhile, I'm going to open up another great bottle and enjoy knowing that for 86% of the country, it's no longer just those connected to someone in the distribution business who can patronize the wineries they love. That's progress anyone can root for.

Footnotes
1. If you'd like to read our thoughts in the immediate aftermath of the Granholm decision, I posted them in our Summer 2005 Newsletter. Although this was a while ago -- in the same newsletter we announce the release of our first-ever Mourvedre -- the observations and predictions are still relevant. 
2. For a sense of the calculus involved, check out this post from early 2015 that broke down states into tiers based on the cost of doing business there.


East Coast Roots and West Coast Vines- Q&A with Viticulturist Jordan Lonborg

By Suphada Rom

Recently I was able to sit down with our Viticulturist Jordan Lonborg to learn a little bit more about this New England native's transition to California living. Jordan plays a key part in the organic and biodynamic farming program here at Tablas Creek, as well as being chief liaison with the growers we partner with for fruit for the Patelin program. He's often seen traipsing throughout the vineyard with his dog Miles (named after Miles Davis).

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Where were you born and raised?
I was born and raised in Scituate, Massachusetts, a little beach town about 30 miles south of Boston.

How did you get into wine?
I've always loved wine and was exposed to it at a younger age. When I married Molly (Assistant Winemaker at neighboring Halter Ranch), she took me to another level with the wine experience. 

What is your role as the Viticulturist?
I'm here mainly to improve the overall health of the vineyard while maintaining that level of health moving forward. We're using different pruning techniques, fertilizing tactics, and cover crop choices. I think that's the big role for me. Also, the customer relations with our growers for the Patelin program. I work towards maintaining those relationships, while also trying to help them farm a bit friendlier and moving them from a conventional mindset to more biodynamic in terms of farming.

Jordan and Small Fish

Can you talk a little about biodynamic farming and what you're contributing the vineyard?
Having a diverse ecosystem is amazing. You go into any sort of thriving natural setting, you don't see monoculture. You see a plethora of insects, plants, and animals. One thing I noticed though, when I first got here was that there was no bee program, which is part of the whole biodynamic philosophy. I jumped on that immediately! Bees are essential to biodynamic farming- they pollinate the cover crop we grow on the off season. [Editor's note; see Jordan's post from April about our new bee program The Swarm, the Hive, and Tablas Creek Honey.] 

Me, I'm most passionate about the farming aspect of biodynamics. I think having a diverse ecosystem is amazing. Biodynamics recreates what happens in nature. It's not easy- there's more work involved but it just makes sense. I'll go out in the vineyard and see the animals grazing on cover crop. They're providing tillage and nitrogen, taking away work that otherwise humans would be doing. Otherwise, we'd be running tractors and burning diesel to accomplish the same thing. 

What is your biggest challenge out in the field?
My biggest challenge is coming from a conventional farming background and transitioning to a highly sustainable property. With conventional farming, your toolbox is very big. If you see an issue arise in the vineyard, you can respond with a heavy duty fertilizer, spray, or application. Here at Tablas, that toolbox is small, so it forces you to think outside the box. You can't just band-aid the situation, you have to ask the why's, the how's, and what-can-we-do's. 

Jordan and Molly

What do you find most rewarding about working here at Tablas Creek?
Like I said, it's a really magical property. You have the activity with the animals, which you don't have in many places. Everything feels alive and vibrant. The minute I went on my first tour with Neil, my mind was just made up. You go up on Scruffy Hill, a completely dry farmed block of the vineyard, and there are vines on the top of that hill that were planted 6 years ago; and I've seen vines that have been irrigated and fertilized that are a quarter of the size of those plants! We are fortunate to have the soil type and we get the annual rainfall we need to make dry farming possible. Seeing that was, hands down, one of the coolest things I've ever seen. It just clicked.

If you weren't a viticulturist, what would you be doing?
That is a very good question! I could see myself teaching. When I was at Cal Poly, I helped manage the deciduous orchard on campus and had a lot of interaction with students. Since I was a little older than the other students, my professor set me up with a role to take the lead on a lot of our enterprise courses. On the other hand, I could also say I'd could just be fly fishing on a river for the rest of my life.

Besides the extreme sport of fly fishing, what do you like to do in your spare time?
Work on my yard. We have a lot of acreage that I care for. Any chance that we get, we try to kayak- we're on the ocean a lot. Then just exploring Paso, really. Trying to taste as many wines in the area as we can.

Jordan and Big Fish

Do you have any favorite wineries?
I love Halter Ranch. The wines at Terry Hoage (TH) are amazing, and of course, Tablas Creek. I just love how new and different the wines are in Paso. Outside of Paso, Ridge is insane. Molly is from Mendocino, so we'll always hit up wineries along 128 there, which are just phenomenal, as well.

What would people be surprised to know about you?
I didn't always know this is what I wanted to do. I found agriculture when I was 26 and working on a farm in Mendocino, and just kind of fell in love with agriculture. 

Finally, how do you define success?
Happiness! Bottom line. If you're not happy with what you do every day and you don't go to bed happy, then you're not succeeding in life. It's not the money, or status, or your belongings. It's just whether or not you're happy.


A Shared Spotlight: Esprit de Tablas Paired With Porcini Mushroom Risotto

By Suphada Rom

When it's cold outside, you cook inside. Today the rain is steady and winds are gentle, but at the vineyard, we hope we're in for a big storm. The clouds are this ominous matte grey, as they whisk quickly across the sky, leaving behind generous rainfall for our vibrant cover crop, whose electric green makes it look like the rain gods turned on a switch to illuminate the grounds. Trust me- you've got to see Paso Robles this time of year. 

Esprit
Porcini Mushroom Risotto with our 2012 Esprit de Tablas 

Comfort food is just that- it makes you feel warm and cozy. Satiating and satisfying, we decided that a risotto was just what we needed on a day like this. Rich, creamy, and filling, this recipe for Porcini Mushroom Risotto by Food & Wine is classic comfort food with a touch of refinement. Risotto is versatile: a blank canvas, ready for additions of duck for a filling wintery preparation, or with leeks and asparagus for something more spring oriented. This recipe is winter, in and out, and paired with a couple of our wines is exactly what you need to get you through the rainy, snowy, and cold winter months. Here are how today's efforts looked:

Ingredients
Risotto mise en place

Saute
Mushrooms, onion, and garlic gently sauteed in olive oil and butter 

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The beautifully rainy-day view from our kitchen window

A couple notes about the recipe that aren't necessarily critique, but more "be-sure-to's". Tender cooked onion and garlic are the foundation, so when sauteeing them, take your time. Let them sweat it out until they're very translucent. When I'm eating risotto, I want the sweet and sumptuous flavors of both elements, but not the sharp and often astringent flavors of the more raw forms of both. And that porcini broth! That porcini broth is gold in earthly form, so save every drop you can (well, not the gritty bits at the bottom of the bowl) and add that to your risotto as it cooks. It makes the other stuff in the pan besides the mushrooms taste mushroomy.

Mushroom DNA, genetically speaking, sits somewhere halfway between plant and animal, which helps explain why its flavors are so meaty.  Mourvedre, which makes wines known for these rich notes of earth and game, is a spot on pairing for a mushroom driven risotto. Cue our Esprit de Tablas. Wanting something with just a touch of age, we chose the 2012 vintage. I am comfortable aging myself when I say, "I remember when I first had this wine...". No seriously, I do! It was my first day working in the tasting room and it was the most current vintage we were pouring. Now, it stands two years older with this incredible concentration and a finish that lets you know it's just getting started. Deep notes of balsamic and mint chocolate on the nose are enticing. I was left hung up on these deep flavors of roasted meat and blackberry on the palate. This wine is elegant dynamism at its best. It's vibrant without being overwhelming, and paired beautifully with the risotto. Each sip of wine made the risotto taste more like itself, and each bite of risotto made the wine taste more like itself. If there's a better sign of a good pairing, I can't think of it.

If you try 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 resources:

Oh, and in case you didn't believe how electric the vineyard looks right now, here's a glimpse. No rainboots required.

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We warm up for the Holidays with a vertical tasting of Panoplie 2000-2015

Panoplie, for those who don't know it, is our elite red wine modeled after the Beaucastel Hommage a Jacques Perrin, with a very high percentage of Mourvedre and an extremely limited production.  Because it's not a wine that we put into distribution -- it goes exclusively to our wine club members each spring -- it's our chance to make as spectacular a wine as we can, without worrying about having to make it in quantity. Members have the opportunity to purchase 2 or 3 more bottles maximum after each shipment.  Even so, it rarely lasts more than a month.

Because of the wine's scarcity and its long aging curve, I don't open one very often. So today, in anticipation of the upcoming holidays, I decided to reward myself and our team with a chance to taste every vintage of Panoplie we've made, and share the notes so that anyone who's lucky enough to have a few bottles in their cellar can see what we think.

The lots that we choose for the Panoplie are the richest and most compelling in the cellar, and these wines are made to age.  In the tasting, even the oldest (from 2000) was just at maturity, and had in fact improved since the last Panoplie vertical we did four years ago.  The wines from the mid-2000's were fresh and vibrant, and although they're showing well, will go out another decade easily.

That said, it was interesting to me to see just how well some of the more recent wines did, with vintages like 2013 and 2011 standing up proudly alongside the more mature favorites like 2003, 2005, and 2008.  In fact, there was really only one vintage I'd caution people away from at the moment: 2010, which appeared to us to be in the in-between teenage stage that many Mourvedre-based wines go through 5-7 years after their vintage date.  The other wines all offered immense pleasure, even in their youth, and while they will undoubtedly add complexity with additional time in bottle, no one will be disappointed if they open one up this holiday season. The lineup:

Panoplie Vertical Dec 2016

The scene:

Panoplie tasting panorama

From oldest to youngest (note that we didn't produce a Panoplie in the frost-impacted 2001 vintage, and that each wine is linked to its profile page on our Web site if you want detailed technical information or to see the tasting notes we wrote shortly after bottling):

  • 2000 Panoplie (55% Mourvedre, 30% Syrah, 15% Grenache): The nose was still quite fresh and vibrant, while still showing some of the trademark aromas of maturity: raspberry and fresh plums with roasted meat and Christmas spices. There's nice sweet dark red fruit on the mouth, deepened with flavors of chocolate-covered cocoa beans and given focus by some still-solid tannins.  After tasting the other wines, the Syrah here seemed quite noteworthy, giving power and tannic structure, but also making the wine a touch more monolithic than some later wines in the lineup.  Still, an outstanding performance for this, our first and oldest Panoplie, made from vines no more than 8 years old.
  • 2002 Panoplie (80% Mourvedre, 13% Grenache, 7% Counoise): A nose that was both more mature and more open than the 2000; I immediately thought of an old Beaucastel: anise, rosemary, sweet peppermint, and juicy red fruit.  The mouth was generous, fully mature and in a beautiful place, with a nice dash of white pepper on the finish.  We couldn't imagine this getting any better; drink up if you have one.
  • 2003 Panoplie (69% Mourvedre, 21% Grenache, 7% Syrah, 3% Counoise): Rich and a little more vibrant on the nose than the 2002, with a touch more minty lift and the deeper aromas of milk chocolate and meat drippings more pronounced.  In fact, a nice mid-point (as the blend would suggest) between the 2000's meaty, woodsy power and the 2002's open red-fruited generosity. Rich and mouth-filling on the palate, chewy and savory, with little balsamic/soy/umami character giving relief to the fruit on the finish.  Beautiful.
  • 2004 Panoplie (69% Mourvedre, 21% Grenache, 10% Syrah): The nose is complex but also a touch older than the previous wines, dense, with notes of pine brush, cola, bacon and orange peel.  The mouth shows nice tannic structure, quite dense, with dark fruit and a woodsy note that plays off the fruit nicely.  The finish comes off as a touch sweet right now, with flavors of licorice root, cherry syrup, and tree bark framing still-substantial tannins.  A bit disjointed for me right now, with the sweetness, savoriness, and tannins all fighting for dominance.  I'm interested to see where this goes in coming years.
  • 2005 Panoplie (70% Mourvedre, 25% Grenache, 5% Syrah): An explosive, dramatic nose, full of wild herbs, flowers, and dark, brambly blackberry fruit. On the palate, it's rich and dense: sweet fruit, plum skin, dark chocolate and a tangy marinade note. Amazing that this was from one of our highest-ever production vintages.  My dad called this "a wow wine" and Chelsea added a great analogy: "like driving a performance vehicle, with that weight, but how it holds the road". Should be great for some time.
  • 2006 Panoplie (68% Mourvedre, 27% Grenache, 5% Syrah): If less drama, and a touch more mature, than the 2005, no less appealing. A nose that shows both savory -- spicy eucalyptus and herbs -- and sweet -- sugarplums -- notes. On the palate, seemingly very Grenache in character with lots of fruit, a luscious salted-caramel-chocolate note, great mid-palate weight and mature tannins. A real crowd pleaser with nice sweet fruit on the long, fresh finish. We felt that this was aging faster than the 2005 and, like the 2002, was just about as good as we could imagine it getting. 
  • 2007 Panoplie (60% Mourvedre, 30% Grenache, 10% Syrah): A savory Old World nose with leather, root beer, baking spices, and soy. More youthful and Californian on the palate, with fresh plums, cocoa, a round, voluptuous texture, and big but ripe tannins.  After a long stretch in the closed period, this is singing now, though Neil commented "but it'll be even better in 5 years". This wine got smokier and more chocolaty with time in the glass; definitely decant it if you're drinking it now, but be prepared to be richly rewarded.
  • 2008 Panoplie (54% Mourvedre, 29% Grenache, 17% Syrah): The nose is spectacular, even after the remarkable 2007, focused and inviting with explosive aromatics of sweet spices, strawberries and cream.  The mouth was generous with sweet fruit, like cherry jam but smoother and richer. Lovely, lively, and pure.  My dad called it "a ballerina", which I thought was a nice way of talking about its graceful power.
  • 2009 Panoplie (65% Mourvedre, 26% Grenache, 9% Syrah): A very cool, savory, and exciting nose of dark blue/black fruit, seemingly less about Grenache than the 2008. The fruit is fresh but concentrated, cherry and plum, with a powdered sugar character to the tannins that we often see in great vintages.  Some cocoa powder on the finish, which is still youthfully grippy and fairly primary.  It's still quite a young wine, from a powerful vintage, and may also still be emerging from its closed phase.  Should make great drinking over the next decade.
  • 2010 Panoplie (60% Mourvedre, 30% Grenache, 10% Syrah): The nose is quiet compared to the previous wines, though appealingly savory, like baker's chocolate with a citrus pith note.  On the palate, the chocolate character predominates, with fruit, meat drippings, and a little minty lift.  The finish was a little short.  Four years ago, this was one of our absolute highlights of the tasting; this year it didn't get a single vote when I asked everyone around the table to pick three favorites.  That's a great indication it was in its closed phase, and should be hidden away for a few years.
  • 2011 Panoplie (60% Mourvedre, 30% Grenache, 10% Syrah): The nose is all about dark, as are many of the 2011's right now: a slate minerality, with eucalyptus, black licorice, new leather, and charcuterie notes.  A little peppery lift (Chelsea thought pink peppercorn) gave some aromatic high notes. On the palate, highter toned, with strawberry preserves, a nice creamy texture, and beautiful tannins framing a long finish.  This wine was the one we chose to have with the main course of our Tablas Creek holiday party last weekend, and it shined opposite a braised short rib.  A beautiful wine, in a very nice stage, though it's next in line to shut down.  Anyone drinking it in 2017-2018 would be well advised to check our vintage chart, which we update every few months.
  • 2012 Panoplie (70% Mourvedre, 20% Grenache, 10% Syrah): The nose is still primary, with wild strawberries, a nice rosemary note, and some creamy minerality. On the palate, some nice savoriness on the attack, with garrigue framing strawberry fruit, medium bodied, and very well balanced.  If it's a little simple compared to the 2011 or 2013, that seems a reflection of the vintage.  It will be nice to give this some time in the cellar to gain some secondary notes and a darker tone; we thought the same thing about the 2008 at a similar stage, and look where that is now.
  • 2013 Panoplie (75% Mourvedre, 15% Grenache, 10% Syrah): The nose is explosive like the 2008 and 2005, dark and not particularly fruit driven, with flavors of marinating stew: bay leaves and herbs and meat, on top of plum skin and dark chocolate. In the mouth, it's luscious and powerful, not at all sweet, with concentrated flavors, chalky tannins, and a great precise, dry finish with tons of promise.  My mom commented that it "feels French" and it did.  It will be exciting to watch over the next two decades.
  • 2014 Panoplie (65% Mourvedre, 28% Grenache, 7% Syrah): Rounder edges than the 2013, with a nicely lifted nose of herby wild strawberries, orange pith, a briny mineral note, and grilled game fowl (we had a long discussion about whether the right game was quail, squab, or duck, which probably says more about the fact that lunchtime was approaching and we'd already tasted 13 wines than about any specific flavors). The palate shows the characteristic lush texture of the 2014 vintage: mouthwatering ripe raspberry, deepened by some brambly spice.  Still a baby, and only going to get deeper and better.  Will go out to VINsider Club members in the spring.
  • 2015 Panoplie (71% Mourvedre, 24% Grenache, 5% Syrah; from foudre): Still in foudre and smells very young: intensely grapey, with some meatiness and floral (gardenia?) lurking behind all that primary fruit.  The mouth is less in its infancy than the nose, with a great combination of spiciness, generosity, meatiness, and tannic power that reminded us of a slightly lusher 2011. It's going to be a treat to watch this evolve. It will go into bottle late this coming summer, and be released to VINsiders in the spring of 2018.

A few concluding thoughts:

  • The overall level of quality was exceptionally high.  I asked the nine people around the table for their votes on three favorites, and eleven of the fifteen wines received at least one vote.  The highest vote getters were 2005 (6 votes), 2008 (5 votes), with both 2007 and 2009 receiving 3 votes. Really any of these wines, even the ones that aren't as good as they will be, will make for exceptional drinking if you open it.
  • Things move.  Looking back at our last Panoplie vertical from 2012 our favorites were 2003, 2007, and 2010.  The 2010 has moved into a closed phase, like the Esprit 2010, a process we more or less understand and can predict.  But the older favorites moved too.  The 2003 was still spectacular, but stood out less because of the evolution of wines like 2002, 2005, and 2006, which all showed more mature tannins and better balance than they did four years ago.  And the 2007, which was wildly exciting at age 5, came through its closed phase as a more settled, finished product.  Do I like it better now than I did then?  I'm not sure.  But it's been fun to see it at both stages, and to know that any one bottle you open is only a snapshot.
  • The young wines are drinking very well.  I know that when we let people know that these wines can age two decades it often scares them away from opening one young.  But the young wines in this flight were almost all drinking beautifully, and anyone who opens a vintage like 2011 or 2013 in coming months is in for a real treat.

Now... to decide which one to open with Christmas dinner!


Tablas Creek Olive Oil: A Collaborative Effort Between Tablas Creek and Kiler Ridge

By Suphada Rom

If you've visited the winery, you may have noticed the lines of olive trees that frame the driveway as you enter the property. We have tried to keep our decorative planting in the Rhone theme (think lavender, rosemary, and pomegranates), and in 1992 we planted somewhere around 100 olive trees, mostly Manzanilla and a few Mission. We've tried in many ways to foster biodiversity in our vineyard, and these olive trees were our first non-grapevine plantings! The thought of the harvest the trees would eventually produce was frankly secondary in our mind to the aesthetics of the trees, but we've been harvesting delicious olives for the last decade, and making estate grown, organically farmed extra virgin olive oil each year since 2004.

Our olives give us our last harvest of the year, typically 3 weeks or so after we've finished our last grapes. This year's harvest took place on November 16th. We line the ground under the trees with tarps, to catch the falling olives as they are raked off the branches. It's quite a sight: 

David Olives

Santos Olives

The olives are collected in picking bins and driven over to Kiler Ridge, a local olive milling facility. Kiler Ridge, located at the top of a hill overlooking Kiler Canyon Road just east of downtown Paso Robles, has one of the best views in Paso Robles to go with a state of the art processing facility. Gwen was kind enough to talk, then walk me through the process, because there is not a chance of being able to hear anything over the whirring machines inside. 

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Kiler Ridge's production facility is a frantoio, a straw-bale building finished in natural clay and plaster.
The building is also fully solar powered! 

First, the olives are weighed out on the industrial scale, located outside the building. After they get the numbers, the fruit is poured out onto an upward moving conveyor belt, bringing them inside. At the top, the olives are separated from non-olive material, such as stems, branches, leaves, and rocks and collected in a macro-bin, located outside. They continue on as they're moved through a quick moving water bath and spray. Since the fruit is treated organically, there is no need to wash away pesticides or herbicides, but instead just dirt or debris.

Olives Rolling
Olives going up the conveyor belt after being washed

Olives Grate Sorter
Olives passing through the grill, leaving non-olive material behind

After being washed, the olives are filtered again through a grill that only allows fruit to pass through. From there, the fruit is crushed into a paste, before it enters a malaxer. A malaxer uses spiraling mixing blades to churn and mix the paste. Oil will begin to accumulate and visually, you can see this as the surface of the paste starts to glisten. This paste mixes for exactly 32 minutes before it moves onto the next stage of decanting. During the decanting stage, the solids -- known as pomace -- get separated from the liquid, which is mostly oil, but does contain a bit of water. A centrifuge will separate the oil from that water, before sending it through a strainer and collecting it in medium sized drums. The oil will rest in these drums for a few months before it is ready for bottling.

Olive Oil Process
32 precise minutes in a malaxer; Kiler Ridge has it down to a science!

Oil Dripping
The final straining of the olive oil. It'll rest in a drum for a few months before we bottle it.

The whole process of making olive oil was intricate, loud, and satisfying. Walking outside for a moment of quiet and clarity, away from the clanging equipment, I noticed the pomace being pumped into macro-bins. I learned that the pomace, along with the leaves, will be recycled back into the property: pomace spread in a thin even layer throughout the orchard, while leaves are stacked in high quantity at the base of the tree. 

It's always a pleasure working with neighbors whose beliefs about maintaining a healthy and balanced property line up so well with ours. And as for the olive oil, from first hand tasting experience, I'm anxiously waiting for the bottling and release of the the collaborative efforts of both Tablas Creek and Kiler Ridge.


December in the Vineyard: An Early Winter Assessment and Photo Essay

If you look out at the vineyard, it doesn't look like we're in a drought. The hillsides are impossibly green, the ground is wet enough to make you question whether it's worth even salvaging your shoes after a vineyard walk, and the water-loving winter plants seem happy enough.  The cloudy days we've mostly been enjoying give everything a soft, diffuse light.

Green layers

And yet, we're really hoping this Thursday's forecast storm breaks the recent trend we've seen where storms come in at the low end of (or even below) the range for which they're forecast.  Since the beginning of November, we've had 7 days with measurable rainfall.  Those 7 days totaled just 1.26 inches, with the only significantly wet day coming November 20th, and bringing just under two-thirds of an inch of rainfall.  After a good start in October, we've now fallen behind a normal year's pace (note that the December 2016 information is only through yesterday, whereas the average is for the entire month):

Rainfall Winter 2016-2017

You can see that while November was about as much drier than average as October was wetter than average, we have a long way to go to get December up to normal precipitation. Hopefully, the atmospheric river (one of my favorite terms) that is forming over the eastern Pacific right now will bring the forecast rain (possibly multiple inches) to us later this week, instead of having the bulk of the precipitation stay north of us (as it generally did in November) or impact areas south and west of us (as the storms so far in December have done). Fingers crossed.

Meanwhile, we're taking advantage of the vineyard's early start on its cover crop (thanks to that October rain) and have been moving our animal herd throughout the vineyard. One of our new Shepherd Nathan Stuart's first suggestions was that we hadn't been moving the animals often enough, so now we're moving our flock every couple of days, and they've already grazed a large swath of the vineyard. They're currently on the hillside above the winery, and will be working their way down the hill over the next week.  It should make for some fun viewing for anyone visiting our tasting room.  I snapped this photo over our solar panels: sustainability in action on two fronts:

Animals behind solar

The frosty weather we got last week took care of the issues we'd been seeing with extraneous out-of-season growth, and the vineyard is now properly dormant. Note the difference a few weeks makes.  First, take a look at a hillside Grenache block from a photo I took just after that burst of rain that peaked on 11/20.  The clouds were clearing, and the sun illuminated the new growth in an electric green:

Green Hillsides Moving Sun

It's not the same block (though it is Grenache Blanc) but a photo from Friday shows a much more traditional winter scene:

Dormant hillside

The winter interplay of clouds and sun have provided some great backdrops, which make for quite a contrast to the unbroken summer blue that many guests are used to.  These only get more spectacular at dusk, when winter provides some amazing sunsets.  I'll leave you with a couple of photos, first of a daytime sky I shared on our Instagram page yesterday (if you like photos like these; that's really our focus over there).

Daytime sky

And finally one sunset photo, which I love not for the drama of the clouds (the sky was a beautiful peach, but relatively uniform) but instead for the silhouettes of our vines and one solitary owl box at the western edge of our property:

Sunset

With our early rain, we're still in good shape, if it gets wet. Let's hope that starts on Thursday.