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. 

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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.


The Shepherd and His Flock- Q&A with Nathan Stuart

By Suphada Rom 

Tablas Creek has a thriving animal program that is an essential piece of the organic farming practices here at the vineyard. We are thrilled to welcome Nathan Stuart, who brings years of animal experience to Tablas Creek and who will be managing and expanding the flock alongside additional responsibilities in the vineyard and winery. His first goal: get 100% of the vineyard grazed by our flock of sheep during the off season. Down the road, once we've built up the flock, we'd also like to have Tablas Creek organic lamb to be a more regular presence on the menus of great restaurants in the Central Coast.

Nathan usually can be found amongst the animals, with his trusty sheepdog, Maya, by his side.

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Where were you born and raised?
I was born on Spring Street in Paso Robles. I grew up in a little yellow house there.

So you've seen Paso Robles grow exponentially over the years. Did you always like wine and the wine industry? 
No, I actually went down to Mexico when I was 18, and lived there until about 5 years ago. I didn't really get into wine until I met Leslie (Many of you may know Leslie, as she is one of our stellar Tasting Room leads!) and from there, making wine in Mexico.

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Tablas Creek has an established animal program, but has room for growth. Where is it right now and where do you project it going?
The animal program has all the right ideas, just on too small of a scale to make the impact on the vineyard it could. We've got 120 acres under vine and for us to graze 120 acres, we need a lot more sheep than we have now. I'd like to have 150 ewes eventually, that will be used for breeding, giving us at least 200 lambs per year. Also, the sheep program (in contrast to the vineyard which is certified organic) is treated organically, yet not certified. I'd like to be certified by next year; we'll probably be the first certified organic sheep producers in the county.

We have diversity of species, with llamas, alpaca, and donkeys, which helps a lot. Each animal will eat different grasses based on preference. Keeping that diversity is important because if you only have one species, they would just focus on their favorite style, allowing for some other weed to grow out of hand. Then this good plant would never get a chance to catch up and re-seed. 

Why the focus on sheep?
Sheep, although tricky, are a great tool that can improve soil. Managing them well by moving them frequently throughout the vineyard and keeping them in higher concentration is the most incredible way to improve soil. And by improving soil you're acquiring/retaining carbon in the soil. For example, take the buffalo grazing on the Great Plains. They've created the best soil to this day for farmland. They would move quickly across the plains, never stopping or staying in one place, as they were being chased by predators. I plan to mimic nature by moving the flock every 2-3 days, as if they were being moved by predators.

The cool thing is that the sheep can go over and graze all the grass off and then put down 0.2 cubic feet of manure per day, per animal. Right now, we've got about 88 animals out there and they are contributing several cubic feet of manure on each block every single day. Everything that they eat, mainly cover crop consisting of vetch, peas, clover, and oats, they put back as much as 90% of the nutrients back into the soil. So they only keep up to 10% to stay alive and will also grow up to a pound a day, which is insane. That's pretty awesome, to me. 

What is your philosophy when it comes to animal management?
For animals, it would be very low inputs, and allowing for natural selection. My focus is going to be on breeding animals that are perfect for Tablas Creek's property. So over the next 5 years, through natural selection on the property, you end up with an animal that is very healthy and adapted to this place. Which is cool, because we'll have the best sheep for Tablas Creek. 

Is there one piece of your job that is particularly rewarding?
Well, when a ewe is having trouble birthing and I get to help her give birth and basically, help her save a lambs life. That definitely makes your day. To actually help life become is pretty amazing and I'm definitely on Cloud 9 afterwards.

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Sounds like you could have been a veterinarian in a past life! Would that be something you'd be doing if you weren't managing the animal program here?
Nah, I'd take Neil's job (Neil Collins is both our Vineyard Manager and Executive Winemaker)! Kidding, no, I'd be looking for another job like this. This is pretty much what I want to do. I guess it's a good sign if I can't think of anything.

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What do you like to do on your days off?
Surf! I normally go North of the grade, but somewhere between Los Osos and Las Blancas. I'm also kind of a geek on the computer and into videography. 

What is something that would be surprising for other people to learn about you?
I was the first American to get a diploma in Mexican real estate.

One last question; how do you define success?
Having peace and joy in your life. Both of those things can travel through suffering- you don't always have to be happy with where you're at to be at peace. Peace is one of those things that can translate through life, even in bad situations. 


Checking in on 2015: an "Athletic" vintage

My dad got back to California earlier this month, and since his return we've been making time one day each week to taste through a thematic slice of what's in the cellar. Today, we took a look at the 2015 reds that have been aging quietly in foudre since we blended them late last spring.  

Esprit 2015 in foudreA lot has happened in the last six months, including the arrival of a whole new vintage into the cellar and our release of our flagship wines from 2014.  So, with both 2014 and 2016 more prominent in our thoughts than 2015, it was great to make a reintroduction to the wines today.  The timing was serendipitous because this coming Saturday we're hosting our annual futures tasting where we'll present the 2015 Esprit de Tablas Blanc, 2015 Esprit de Tablas, and 2015 Panoplie.  This will be their first public appearances, and I wanted a preview.

[A bit of an aside: if you aren't aware of our futures tasting and en primeur offering, it's one of the benefits of membership in our wine club.  We offer members the chance to taste before bottling and reserve quantities of our top wines before they are otherwise allocated, all at a special futures discount. For details, click here and if you're a member and want to come Saturday, let us know right away since it's almost full.]

Overall, the 2015 vintage was exceptionally scarce compared to recent years, due to a combination of four years of drought and some unfavorable weather at flowering [for details, see my 2015 harvest recap].  Early grapes like Syrah, Grenache, and Viognier were particularly affected, while later grapes like Mourvedre and Roussanne saw yields closer to normal.

The 2015 whites have been notably powerful, thanks (we think) to their very low yields.  But the 2015 reds, while they had excellent power, seemed more noteworthy today to us for their focus, their purity, and their expressiveness.  Overall, it seems like it will shape up to be a superb vintage.  My notes on the four red blends (plus the Esprit Blanc, which I figured we should taste because it will be available at the en primeur event):

  • 2015 Esprit de Tablas Blanc: An exotic and compelling nose of passion fruit, honeysuckle, lanolin, candied orange peel, and sweet spice. The mouth is both richer and more traditional than the nose suggests, with flavors of honey, pear, preserved lemon, and nutmeg. The finish is long, clean, and peachy.
  • 2015 Cotes de Tablas: A spicy, briary nose of raspberry and red plum, sweet spice and cherry pit. The mouth is juicy and generous, with strawberry, clove and milk chocolate flavors, and a long, clean finish with a little hint of mint bringing lift.
  • 2015 En Gobelet: A sweeter, denser nose than the Cotes, with notes of wine-soaked figs, licorice, pepper, new leather, and an exotic note that reminded me of cumin. The mouth was powerful too, with flavors of blackberry, roasted meat, tar, and that recurring curry note. There are nice chalky tannins on the finish, but elegance too.
  • 2015 Esprit de Tablas: The nose was instantly identifiable to me as Esprit: red plums, chocolate, sweet gingery spice, soy, and currant.  The mouth is vibrant, with flavors of chocolate-covered black cherry, more currants, and loads of structure. The long finish reverberated between red and black licorice, with chewy tannins and a lingering note of baker's chocolate. 
  • 2015 Panoplie: A very Mourvedre nose: loamy, foresty currants, with additional notes of cloves, balsamic, and juniper. The mouth is powerful, showing leather and earth and meat on top of its dark red fruit. It reminded me of my wife Meghan's description the first time she tasted Mourvedre out of foudre: that it reminded her of "butter in a butcher shop". The finish is rich, tangy, and long without being heavy.

A few concluding thoughts.

  1. This seems like a vintage with a somewhat different personality than the 2014, whose principal trait seems to be lushness.  2015 wasn't as warm a year as our other recent vintages, with temperatures more like average than the near-record warmth we've seen in 2013, 2014, and 2016.  The freshness that these cooler temperatures produced was noteworthy today, alongside the concentration from (presumably) the record-low yields. My dad called the wines "athletic", which I thought was a nice way of complimenting both their power and their lack of any sense of heaviness.
  2. It struck us all that these are wines that will age beautifully. To age well, wines need intensity and balance. All the wines we tasted showed both of these, in spades.
  3. Those of you coming for the en primeur tasting on Saturday are in for a treat.

A great use for leftovers: Post-Thanksgiving Sandwiches and Counoise

By Suphada Rom

Thanksgiving is the holiday of extremes. Two days or so before T-Day, you've done your grocery shopping and now your refrigerator, freezer, pantry, and every lick of free counter space is overwhelmed with produce and decorations galore. The night before, and the morning of, serve as prep time for pie crust, basting of the turkey, and mashing of every root vegetable that can be peeled, boiled, or roasted, all the anticipation of a feast. You are (well, OK, I am) extremely hungry. Then dinner comes and you somehow manage to get a heaping spoonful of everything on your plate, using the large hunk of turkey skin as a deflector from any judgement that is passed from other ravenous folk. You sit down and in-less-than-60-seconds style, eat every morsel on your plate. You are now extremely full and need a nap. Fast forward to the next day with your post-Thanksgiving lethargic self, there is only one cure- a little hair of the dog, but in this particular instance, it's more about the construction of the unparalleled post-Thanksgiving sandwich. Paired with our juicy and thirst quenching Counoise, it is just what you need to recover post-holiday.

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Through the years, I have worked towards constructing what I consider to be the most architecturally sound Thanksgiving sandwich. I was having lunch the other day and I was inspired to do a sketch of what that would looks like (see mediocre drawing below):

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Thanksgiving sandwich sketch; In this case, it tasted much better than it looks!

Believe it or not, I have thought about the minute details that may seem over the top but I promise you, it'll all make sense when you have that perfect bite and your sandwich doesn't crumble to shame all over your plate and your lap. For this sandwich, you'll need the following ingredients, mostly leftovers from your Thanksgiving feast:

  • White sourdough bread
  • Cranberry sauce, whole berry if possible
  • Mayonnaise
  • Turkey, sliced (I try for 1-2 centimeters thickness)
  • Stuffing
  • Gravy
  • Iceberg lettuce
  • Crunchy fried onions
  • Salt and pepper

The first step is toasting the bread. I tried buttering the toast but I found that it created too much of a slick coating for the cranberry mayo, so if learned to bypass the butter (which is not often the case!). I like a nice golden toast that gets the bread a little rigid on the edges, but still forgiving in the center. The next step is whipping up the cranberry mayonnaise- it's as simple as it sounds. I like a combination that incorporates more cranberry sauce than mayonnaise, so I use about a 2:1 ratio. If you're looking to make enough for just one sandwich, I go by the tablespoons, so 2 tablespoons of cranberry sauce to every 1 tablespoon of mayo. Whip that up and spread it on one side of each slice of bread. I like a generous amount to where a little sauce sneaks its way out of the sandwich upon first bite.

Now it's time to stack! Heavier ingredients will be on the bottom, so I stack the turkey first. I overlap slices on an angle to give the sandwich more volume and to fit more slices of meat in there. Dust the turkey with salt and pepper before adding generous spoonfuls of stuffing on top. The next step is probably my favorite part- gravy! Adding gravy to the top of the stuffing, slowly, allows the stuffing to soak up all the savory goodness that is pan dripping based gravy. To that, I add a couple slices of iceberg lettuce. I know iceberg lettuce is sort of frowned upon in the tiers of lettuce hierarchy; however, it adds both crunch and watery goodness, essential for this sandwich. Adding loose, crisp onions on top of the lettuce is precarious, so I've found the best way to keep the fried onions in place is to adhere them directly to the second slice of bread before stacking. And that's it- simple enough, right?

Sando

An up close shot- I'm not sure if the sandwich is upside down or if it's just me...

This Thanksgiving sandwich is the perfect way to work through the heaps of leftovers in your fridge, without the feeling of deja vu from trying to recreate a meal you've already had. And the assembly? Piece of cake. Although I have specific ingredients and technique for this sandwich, you can literally build it any way you like. I love the creaminess and tang of cranberry mayo, salty and crunchy onion bits, gobs of earthy stuffing, iceberg layers, and of course succulent turkey, all stacked up on sturdy slices of sourdough. Each bite serves as a reminder that the rewards of all your Thanksgiving work can be lasting.

Pairing wines with Thanksgiving fare is relatively straightforward in my book- I want something that's on the lighter side with bright acidity. And because Thanksgiving is a marathon, not a sprint, reaching for something that is relatively low in alcohol is a good idea. With this dish, and with Thanksgiving in general, I really love our Counoise. It is mostly seen in small proportions in our Esprit de Beaucastel and Côtes de Tablas wines, where (according to Assistant Winemaker Chelsea Franchi), it "acts as a polishing agent that smooths out the rougher edges of both Syrah and Mourvedre, and even Grenache. It sort of brings everything together in little package." Every few years, typically when it has longer than average hang time before harvest, we reserve a bit to bottle on its own.

Our 2014 Counoise is a brilliant shade of garnet, bright and warm. The nose is earthy and spicy, with notes of currant and pomegranate seeping through. The spices are high toned- think those you'd use for mulling warm apple cider, like cinnamon, cloves, and allspice. To me, this is Fall in a glass- all you're missing is the crunch of Autumn leaves and you'd be all set! On the palate, this wine is bright, light, and juicy. Nice tart cranberry and raspberry notes, balanced with those mulling spices. (Can you tell I love this wine? I am a gamay girl, after all). Great acidity, refreshing, juicy... I wouldn't change a thing about this wine.

I continue to recreate (and attempt to perfect!) this recipe year after year and I'm thrilled to have found a wine to enjoy with 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:

  • Given it's low production, Wine Club members can purchase our 2014 Counoise by clicking here or by visiting us in the tasting room.
  • Not a member? You're in luck! We included a bottle in our exclusive "Dinner Party Pack" for the holiday season, available for purchase online and (double bonus!) shipping is included!
  • Interested in learning more about Counoise? Check out this post, "Grapes of The Rhone Valley: Counoise" to learn more about it!

What We're Drinking at Thanksgiving 2016

Image By TheKohser, Wikimedia CommonsThanksgiving is a holiday that -- even more than most -- centers around family and food.  While that seems like an invitation to open that special bottle you've been saving, the diverse nature of the traditional Thanksgiving fare, much of which is somewhat sweet, challenges certain wines while also opening up a range of possible options.  A common response to this has been to declare that anything goes.  If you want to drink it, go ahead.  And I support that, to an extent.  One of my favorite things I've read around the holiday wine pairing blogosphere this year was Blake Gray's simple 5-question "Is this wine good for Thanksgiving" quiz on his blog the Gray Report. No matter what multiple-choice boxes you check, as far as I can tell, the answer is yes.

Still, I do think that some wines tend to be better than others, and lean myself toward flexible, lower-alcohol, lower-oak reds, and rich whites.  Or rosé! In fact, Rhone-style wines fit alll these bills.  Rhone reds tend to be fruity and open-knit, while the whites tend to be rich but unoaked.  All these characteristics are friendly with a Thanksgiving dinner.  The fact that over the years nearly a dozen different newspapers have suggested Tablas Creek wines for Thanksgiving -- and that the suggestions have been for our reds, for our whites, and for our rosé -- suggests a certain affinity.

To get a sense of some of the different options out there, I thought it would be fun to ask different members of the Tablas Creek team to share what they're pairing with their Thanksgiving feasts this year (whether Tablas Creek or otherwise).  Here is what they shared, in their own words, in alphabetical order:

Neil Collins, Executive Winemaker
I will be seeking out an older Esprit Blanc, maybe 2002, as those wines are showing so beautifully with age. I also have a 2004 Chinon in magnum which i am looking forward to, the large format bottles are good fun at the big family table. There is a strong possibility that there will be cider present as well!! Happy holidays to all.

Darren Delmore, National Sales Manager
With the joys of parenting little ones both stricken with Hand, Food and Mouth disease, our out-of-town travel plans have been replaced with Ebola-like home confinement in Templeton. Thus, my only defense is to cook and sip something stellar, which will be local rabbit carnitas matched with 2007 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc and my last bottle of 2015 Domaine Tempier Bandol Rosé.

Brad Ely, Cellar Team Member
For my Thanksgiving table this year, I plan to start with a fun California sparkling. Not only does it put everyone in a festive mood, it also pairs well with a variety of foods. Something like the Roederer Estate Brut with its fresh acidity and underlying fruit will do nicely. As a general crowd pleaser with an affordable price tag, I might have to make it a Magnum.

As far as reds go, a fruit driven Grenache based blend like our Cotes de Tablas Rouge is the perfect fit. With heaps of freshness and elegance, it is sure to hold up to the array of flavors on the Thanksgiving table without overpowering anything. A bottle of Beaujolais will probably be making an appearance as well!

Evelyne Fodor, Tasting Room Team Lead
For my Thanksgiving meal this year, I am choosing Esprit de Tablas Blanc 2014. I knows that it is an unusual choice, and an expensive one considering the good number of my refugee friends with whom I am going to share it. But context is queen here: Thanksgiving is my most cherished holiday. As a first generation immigrant, French native, this is the occasion to participate to the most meaningful and comforting American ritual. Wine has to raise to the occasion.

I love how the freshness, vibrancy and complexity shows through in this Esprit Blanc. And 2014 is an especially powerful vintage. I am going to pair the wine with my classic Watercress Velouté, a silky French soup known for its slight bitterness, peppery flavor and vibrant green color. The honey crisp apple and citrus blossom of the wine will pair beautifully with this creamy dish. Starting with a wine so full of energy works especially well, considering that the meal is likely to go on for hours.

There is also a great probability that my guests will bring mostly reds. My Esprit Blanc will shine even more.

Robert Haas, Founder
2005 Esprit de Beaucastel - it's rich, it's mature, it's graceful.

John Morris, Tasting Room Manager
I had a frightening dream last night. We had sold out of Counoise at the winery just before Thanksgiving! After singing the praises of this wine to our guests as perfect for Thursday night’s feast, it looked like I was coming home empty handed. While there are plenty of good choices, I had my heart set on our 2014 Counoise, with its light red fruit, low tannin, exuberant nose and spicy finish. Quickly I hatched a plan to quietly fill a barrel sample from the 2015 vintage and take it home as a prize. Surely no would notice a mere 750 ml missing! As in all dreams, the winery looked quite a bit different that does in reality. The barrels were protected by foreboding barbed wire, and there were sentries posted everywhere, not one of whom I recognized. I gathered my strength, and relayed to one of these guards that Neil had authorized a barrel sample for a special customer. His withering glare and raised eyebrows said it all, and more, and I hastily retreated, tripping and getting tangled up in a roll of barbed wire. As I struggled to free myself, I woke up tugging on my sheets, and realized I’d been dreaming. I got up in search of a glass of cold water when I saw it in the moonlight: A six-bottle box of 2014 Counoise I’d brought home that day, patiently waiting for Thanksgiving evening. And while the wine isn’t sold out, it’s getting low and won’t last long. We’ll be at the winery until 5:00 on Wednesday if you want to treat your friends and family.

Lauren Phelps, Marketing Coordinator
Thanksgiving at my parent’s house is like a large family reunion once a year. My mom rents tables and chairs and goes all out decorating and buying food for the more than twenty of us that gather. There are only a handful of special occasions when I venture down to their basement, where I keep my cellared wine to age, to resurrect a couple of special bottles to share with my more discerning wine loving family members. This year, I’m starting out the meal with a 2006 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc with its elegance and earthy notes to pair with roasted vegetables and turkey, then a few 2010 Esprit de Beaucastel: a complex and food friendly red to pair with the entirety of delectable goodies overflowing the plate.

Suphada Rom, Sales & Marketing
I want something that's on the lighter side with bright acidity. And because Thanksgiving is a marathon, not a sprint, reaching for something that is relatively low in alcohol is a good idea. I really love our Counoise. Warm with high tones of currant, pomegranate, and baking spice, this wine is literally Fall in a glass.

Another choice would be Gamay. I am a huge fan of the different Crus of Beaujolais, Morgon being a favorite of mine. Foillard produces one called “Corcelette” which I think is pretty stunning. Well balanced with “gobs of strawbs”, along with tons of gorgeous floral aromas. And I love the acidity because it sort of sneaks up on, like that post-Thanksgiving nap you’re sure to succumb to.

Amanda Weaver, Tasting Room Team Lead
I’m not in-charge of dinner this thanksgiving, but if I were, I would be roasting a leg of lamb with rosemary and garlic and enjoying a full glass of our 2011 Esprit de Tablas. That’s what I did last year and it was magical! So much earthy goodness between the juicy meat of the lamb and the wet forest/gamey notes of our smoky 2011 Esprit! Perfection!!!

Now I shall be disappointed by any other meal set before me this year…. C’est le vie!!

Me
As for me, I'll be eating with my parents, so it looks like it's the 2005 Esprit de Beaucastel for me.  And I'm sure I'll be very happy with that.  But when we host Thanksgiving at our house, my rule is that we open the largest bottle we have, whatever it is.  Nothing says celebration like a 3L bottle, after all.  And maybe, fundamentally, that's my admission that Blake Gray is right.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.


On being a kid-friendly winery

I was pleased to see us mentioned in Mother Magazine's Paso Robles Guide, published online today. I was even more pleased to see Paso Robles recognized:

Mother Magazine Paso Robles

We moved out to Paso Robles in part because we were ready to start a family, and we haven't been disappointed.  From the great downtown park to a terrific library system, the different children's museums to an active youth sports community, it's been a great place to raise our two boys.  But I think that the kid-friendliness of the food and wine community has been noteworthy as well.  It's been fun to see the enthusiasm of the servers in the restaurants we visit, taking the kids seriously as they learn how to navigate their way around a real menu. And the bartenders we ask to make up fun kids' cocktails. We've never felt like we attract dirty looks by bringing the kids into the many great restaurants here, and for that we're grateful.

So it's really nothing more than paying it forward to do what we can to help make parents who visit Tablas Creek with kids feel welcome.  And, having been a parent in the shoes, so to speak, of our visitors, it's easy to remember how grateful even simple accommodations made us feel.  What do we do?  It's not rocket science.

  • Offer an activity for kids while parents taste. In our case, we have a kid-sized coloring table in the corner of our tasting room, with pictures of grapes and vines that they can color.  Heck, you don't even need to be a kid to use it, though if you're more than about 5'2" your knees may complain.  But giving parents the chance to focus on your wine instead of corralling a bored kid who otherwise is underfoot is good for your customers, your bottom line, and your sanity.
  • Offer events for families to do together.  Clearly, many or most of the events you're going to offer as a winery are going to be focused on wine drinking (or pairing, or making) and won't be appropriate to kids.  But much of what a winery does is agriculture, and it's important and typically fun to get kids involved in how things are grown and made.  We use animals as a part of our biodynamic program, and have created events to bring families out to meet the animals and learn their role in a healthy vineyard.
  • Be inclusive where you can.  We take as many people as are interested out on tours to see the vineyard, our grapevine nursery, and the winery.  All of this is interesting to kids, in my experience.  Have them taste different grapes and see if they can describe what makes them different.  Explain why you plant, or graft, or farm the way you do.  It costs nothing, builds goodwill, and gets kids involved in important conversations.
  • Be involved in your community.  The work that we do here is only one way that we interact with our customers.  Many of them live in our community, and most of them visit.  We have made it a point to get involved in the community activities that enrich the life experiences of kids who grow up here, from creating a partnership with the Performing Arts Center, to donating wine to raise funds for art in schools at the Paso Arts Fest, to creating a program with must! charities to support the Boys' & Girls' Club here in Paso and a local expansion of the Big Brothers Big Sisters program.  There are so many ways to make a difference... and many of the most compelling focus on kids.

It's really not the case where in making your winery family-friendly you have to choose to somehow make it less adult-friendly.  In general, thinking of the needs of kids who may be (unwillingly) accompanying their parents when they come out to visit you is going to make for a better experience for not only their parents, but also the kid-free customers who might otherwise be caught in the crossfire.

And if you can create an experience that involves an alpaca, some donkeys and a whole passel of sheep, so much the better.

Levi at meet the animals
Former Viticulturist Levi Glenn at our "Meet the Animals" family event a few summers ago