Anxiously Awaiting Winter, When We Want it to Freeze

Vineyards in Paso Robles worry about frost every year. Springtime frosts can be devastating, killing the new growth and forcing the vine to dip into its reserves to re-sprout from secondary buds. We've lost around 40% of our crop from April frosts in years like 2001, 2009, and 2011.  I've written (more times than I care to remember) about the nightly worry we face between bud break (typically in late March) and mid-May, when our nights have warmed enough that we're out of the danger zone.

We're worrying about frost now. But not because we might lose production if it freezes.  Instead, we're worried that it hasn't frozen yet.  

Three weeks ago, most of the vineyard looked dormant.  Leaves were off varieties like Roussanne, Counoise, Grenache and Mourvedre, all of which worked late into the season to finish ripening their grapes, exhausting themselves in the process. The earlier grapes that had to expend less energy were brilliantly colored in typical autumn splendor.  All that's normal enough for late October.  But with the nice rain we received in mid- and late-October, many of these blocks have sprouted new growth. A Mourvedre vine behind the winery is a good example:

New Fall Growth in Mourvedre

Ironically, a lack of frost in the fall can have the same negative impact as a late frost in the spring, as a grapevine spends its stored energy on growth that won't be usable to ripen the fruit.  It will freeze, sooner or later, and this growth will die.  We'll come through and prune during dormancy, and when the vine sprouts for the 2017 season in April, it will do so with less vigor than it otherwise would have because of these depleted reserves.

Typically, this fall growth isn't a problem in Paso Robles, because we usually get our first frost more or less in conjunction with our first rain. But this year, the rain we've received so far has been tropical in origin, instead of moving south from Alaska with Arctic air behind it. 

That's not to say the rain we've received has been unwelcome; getting rain this time of year has meant that the cover crop is already well established and we're unlikely to see much erosion should we really get dumped on.  And drought, right now, is a bigger worry for us than a little pointless end-of-season growth.  It's going to freeze sooner or later; in a typical winter, we see 30 or 40 nights drop below freezing, and in December and January frost is a sure thing. 

But the scene below, as pretty as it is with bright green grass and autumn colors on the vines, isn't ideal. Each week we continue to see warm nights will sap a little of next year's vigor.  Winter can come any time it likes, please.

Nov 2016 Foliage + Cover Crop growth


Introducing the Dinner Party Holiday Pack: Four Wines, each with its own Paired Recipe!

By Suphada Rom

Over the years, many of you have given one of our holiday packs as gifts to your friends or family. Thank you! This year, we have a new addition to our collection of five special holiday gift packages: what we're calling our "Dinner Party Pack", which comes with four different wines and four original recipes, each designed to pair with one of the wines. Whether you indulge in an over-the-top four course meal and have them all at once, or showcase the wines and dishes one at a time, we're confident that the pairings will be outstanding.  We had a blast designing and testing these recipes- I hope you enjoy them as much as we did! Here's a teaser:

\Cotes Pairing

2015 Cotes de Tablas Blanc with Crab & Avocado Salad & Meyer Lemon Vinaigrette

Our 2015 Cotes de Tablas Blanc (26% Viognier, 25% Grenache Blanc, 25% Marsanne, and 24% Roussanne) has outstanding intensity from the incredibly low yields we saw in 2015. Lots of citrus: key lime along with some tart nectarine. Notes of white flowers. On the palate, this wine is both concentrated and peppy, with vibrant notes of fresh peaches, spice, and nice minerality on the finish. 

A wine this rich requires a dish with a certain amount of weight, but also some refreshment so that the experience doesn't feel fat or weighty. I chose to put together a really simple crab and avocado salad and finish it with a citrus vinaigrette. The meyer lemon vinaigrette provided a sort of sweeter acidity on the finish, versus the sharper acid of that you'd get from a regular lemon. Have this dish as an appetizer or add butter lettuce to make it into a more substantial salad. 

Counoise Pairing

2014 Counoise with Pomegranate Glazed Pork Belly

The 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.

With lighter red wines, I love pork. I'm a huge fan of pork belly and I decided to throw in a pomegranate glaze to play up the high fruit tones of Counoise. We were pleasantly surprised with the depth of flavor and earthiness that shone through, specifically in the wine. Not that Counoise doesn't have depth or earthiness, it just doesn't flaunt it on its own. It was as if the perfect bite of pork and mushroom brought out deeper umami-type flavors that can be hidden by the wine's charm.

Esprit Pairing

2011 Esprit de Tablas with Garlic & Herb Crusted Rack of Lamb

Deep, concentrated, and brooding, the 2011 Esprit de Tablas (40% Mourvedre, 30% Grenache, 20% Syrah, 10% Counoise) is, in my opinion, one of our more serious vintages of Esprit. The nose (think meat drippings, currants and black tea) is lush and inviting, pulling you into its savory depths. On the palate, it's sleek and serious, with a gorgeous creamy texture and notes of dark fruit, leather, and earth.

Lamb and Mourvedre blends are pretty much a shoo-in. When it comes to lamb, the preparations for it are endless- you can sear it, braise it, tartare (is that even a verb?!) it. I was blown away by the complexity of the Esprit, so I wanted to keep the lamb preparation relatively simple, with a four ingredient herb mixture for the exterior. This makes it even more versatile when it comes to pairing sides. I love a rustic ratatouille, but feel free to pair this with any of your favorite fall sides.

Sacrerouge

2014 Sacrerouge with Chocolate Truffles

Our 2014 Sacrerouge (100% Mourvedre) is a dessert wine that converts the "non-dessert wine" people. It's remarkable in its youth, and incredibly vibrant, with an assertive nose of rich milk chocolate, macerated cherries and a touch of mint. On the palate, this wine is absolutely stunning with a texture that reminded me of how chocolate shavings melt in your mouth: soft, yet chalky. Waves of golden raisins and sea salt caramel come barreling through. It's sweet, but complex too, particularly with chocolate.

To pair with the Sacrerouge, I had a similar mindset to my Esprit pairing: don't overcomplicate it; just showcase the wine. Chocolate truffles are about as simple, yet luxurious, as it gets. They bring out the deep chocolate notes of the wine, without overwhelming it in terms of both texture and flavor profile. The truffles are not overly sweet and are creamy, standing up to the Sacrerouge without being overwhelmed. 

We hope that your holiday gatherings bring smiles to the faces of your loved ones and create warm, wonderful and lasting memories for all. 

As usual, with our food and wine pairings, we love to hear any feedback on the success of your pairings! If you try out the pairings, 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 more resources:

  • The Dinner Party Pack is one of five special holiday gift packages (on which we include no-charge shipping to any of the 39 states to which we ship). Check out the different offerings here
  • These special holiday packs will only be available for pickup or shipment until the end of December. For gift orders, we are happy to enclose a holiday message. Order here
  • Interested in a larger number of gift packs, customized with your personal or company information? Contact us.

 


A Taste of Fall: Butternut Squash Pappardelle and Marsanne

By Suphada Rom

I am not unique in saying that fall is my favorite season. In Vermont, I spent the days outside, listening to the crackle of fallen leaves under my boots while inhaling the crisp and cool air. Even though fall is a transition towards the eventual hibernation of plants and animals, there is something outstandingly vibrant and alive about the burnt orange colors that drape over the fading leaves and the steady winds that rustle about the loose bits of earth. Although I don't have the New England fall foliage anymore, I do have gorgeous autumn influenced vineyards along with local barns and stands, offering everything fall from freshly picked apples to mountains on mountains of pumpkins. 

Avila Barn

Avila Valley Barn in San Luis Obispo, California

Fall in the kitchen means roasting, braising, and doing anything to take the chill off. It felt completely natural (and let's be honest, it felt right!) to tie butternut squash into my latest pairing endeavor. I found a fantastic recipe via Food 52 for Crispy Kale, Roasted Butternut Squash, & Tomato Pappardelle. I was talking to a friend the other day about her criteria when she is searching for a new recipe and she mentioned she doesn't like to tackle anything that requires her to buy anything too out of the ordinary, like an obscure spice or something she'll never use again. This recipe reels in a nice combination of things you already have as staples around your home, like onions, garlic, pasta, and, in my house, a splash of wine. Technically, this recipe is a breeze. Boiling the pasta, sauteing garlic and onion, roasting the vegetables in the oven -- none of these require any special culinary skills or much prep time. Also, I'm always on the market for a good vegetarian recipe because every once in a while, my mother's voice pops up in the back of my head saying, "Suphada, don't forget to eat your vegetables!". Okay Mom- this one's for you!

Roasting tomatoes and butternut squash

Tomatoes and butternut squash liberally coated in olive oil and ready for roasting

Crispy kale

Crispy kale adds the crunch factor -- don't skip it with this dish!

Bread, cheese, and pasta

Pasta, Bread, Cheese, also known as my life's staples!

Final product

The final product with our 2014 Marsanne

To enjoy the meal, I escaped the confinements of the kitchen and dining room table, opting for the inviting couch and warm fire. Curled up and fork in hand, I dove in, twirling a strand of pasta around while jabbing at bits of kale, cubes of butternut squash, and piercing through the deflated, yet juicy tomatoes. The crispy kale doesn't lose its crunch or texture and adds earthiness, while the roasted butternut squash is sweet and creamy. Roasted tomatoes are a personal favorite of mine, whether they are slow roasted and concentrated in flavors, or simply blistered in the oven, like the ones I used here. They add a subtler touch of acidity and the flavor is a bit more on the reserved side. And parmesan cheese on top of pasta is a requirement by law- fact. 

I sat down with a list of our white wines and our 2014 Marsanne practically jumped off the page. A varietal bottling which we only produce occasionally, Marsanne is noteworthy for its quiet elegance, its low alcohol, and its gentle flavors of nuts and melon. I couldn't think of a better wine on our list to pair with this dish. In the glass our 2014 Marsanne is a soft golden color with edges on the brink of a lighter straw hue. The nose is mellow, especially compared to the likes of other Rhone varieties, like Viognier or Roussanne. Notes of spice and baked golden apples shine through, however, there is this delicate wheat aroma that reminds me both of sake and a lighter lager. On the palate it proves to be incredibly refreshing, as flavors of honeydew melon and lemongrass shine through. Low in acidity, it is the appearance of citrus nuances such as preserved lemon that keep your mouth watering, not the actual acidity of the wine. Coming in at a moderate 12.7% alcohol, this is an easy wine to get lost in. 

Perfectly rich and outstandingly balanced, I loved this pairing. This dish is rich in textures, but not in fats such as butter and meat. The sweet and nutty notes of the roasted squash brought out the delicate spice and wheat qualities of the wine. Roasted tomatoes provides just a hint of acidity to balance the dish, but not so much to overexpose Marsanne's lovely low acidity.

I would certainly recreate this recipe and who knows, maybe a little bacon will manage to sneak its way in next time! 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:

  • Recipe for Crispy Kale, Roasted Butternut Squash & Tomato Pappardelle can be found here, via Food 52.
  • The 2014 Marsanne is available for purchase by clicking here or by visiting us in the tasting room.
  • Interested in learning more about Marsanne? Check out this post, "Grapes of The Rhone Valley: Marsanne" to learn more about it!

Anticipating a Wet Weekend

This morning, our local weather expert John Lindsey posted an impressive rainfall projection (click to see it larger) on his Twitter feed. This storm is headed our way thanks to a combination of an upper level low pressure system and abundant moisture from the remnants of Hurricane Seymour:

Weather map oct 27 2016

Those orange and red bands that he shows stretching across the Paso Robles area (look for "PRB" on the maps) suggest that areas near us should expect between 1.5" and 4" (!) of rain between this afternoon and Saturday.  How unusual is this?  Fairly.  In an average October, we receive just over an inch of rain:

Average Rainfall at Tablas Creek

This year, we've already surpassed an average October, with 1.1" from a small storm two weekends ago.  If we were to get another few inches, that would put us well ahead of our average pace.  It is of course worth pointing out that while the above rainfall graph represents the average since 1942 (as listed on the Paso Robles City Web site, extrapolated for the difference between town and Tablas Creek) it never comes so regularly.  California's winter weather consists of long dry stretches broken by storms that can dump multiple inches of rain in a day or two. The episodic nature of our precipitation means that it's not unusual even in a dry winter to have a few significantly wetter than normal months, or mostly dry months in what is otherwise a wet winter.

And, as happy as we are to receive rain at this time of year, doing so is no guarantee of a wet winter.  We only have to look back as far as the winter of 2012-2013, when our current drought began, to see a year where the first half of the winter looked very wet indeed, but the second half didn't follow through:

 

Rainfall Chart Winter 2012-2013 - Updated

At the end of December 2013, we'd already received 12.4" of rain, 152% of average winter-to-date.  The rest of the winter brought less than 3" of additional rain, and the drought was on.  That drought is still very much ongoing; despite some relief (particularly for Northern California) from the El Nino-fueled winter of 2015-2016 and some early rain this year, over 60% of the state is still in severe, extreme, or exceptional drought:

CA Drought Monitor Oct 2016

Long-term forecasts for this winter have generally been pessimistic on drought relief for California. Still, banking what we can now will only improve our chances of making it through this winter in good shape.  We've gotten the cover crop seeded out in the vineyard, straw down on the hillside tractor paths, and are even seeing the first sprouts of green push up among the vines.  Should it rain buckets, we'll be ready.  Fingers crossed, please, while we batten down the hatches.

New grass Oct 2016

 


Grapes Two Ways: Oven Roasted Chicken with Grapes and Shallots, Paired with Grenache Blancs

By Suphada Rom

Walking through the cellar a couple of weeks ago, I was engulfed by the raw sensations of the place. The sweet yet pungent aroma of fermenting grapes. The music blasting out from the high positioned speakers, reverberating off the large tanks and walls. The complex dance of forklifts moving grapes in, must out, and bins to be cleaned. The intense focus of the cellar team, going about their individual tasks.  It's one moment in time, but critical to everything we do the rest of the year.

In celebration of harvest, I decided to incorporate grapes into my next food and wine pairing. After a few relatively easy recipes, I decided to step up my game a little bit and focus on a more complex dish, including sides and sauces. I chose an Oven Roasted Chicken with Grapes recipe from Bon Appetit. The chicken is lightly dusted with Chinese Five Spice, a mix of Sichuan peppercorns, star anise, cloves, cinnamon, and fennel whose subtle warmth and pepper quality I love. Another thing I love about this dish is that everything is prepared in one pan (I chose a cast iron skillet). Deglazing this pan and liberating all the drippings from the chicken and caramelized shallots is amazing. For the sides and sauces, I got a little creative: an avocado mousse and lemon sabayon. Here are some photos of the process:

Chicken in Pan

A one pan wonder

Finished with Patelin

Oven Roasted Chicken, Avocado Mousse, and Lemon Sabayon- paired with our 2015 Patelin de Tablas Blanc

Finished with Grenache Blanc

An additional wine! Our 2015 Grenache Blanc

This dish had quite a few elements, with contrasting textures, degrees of crunch and acidity. And the pairings really worked. For my first bite, I was adamant about tasting everything together (you can imagine that this was a bit of a challenge, since grapes are not entirely conducive to cutting!) and I was rewarded with the gentle spice of the crispy skinned chicken mellowed out by the creamy avocado mousse. The lemon sabayon was light and airy, reeling in all the qualities of fresh squeezed lemon, without the astringency lemon can sometimes provide. In the form of sabayon, the lemon is set somewhere between a sauce and custard, with creaminess as well as brightness. All together, it harmonized marvelously, like a well practiced barbershop quartet: acidity, textures, richness, and flavors. 

One component of the dish that I was particularly fond of was the lemon sabayon. The peculiar thing about the lemon sabayon is the presentation of acidity. It's almost as if the acid and citrus notes are the backdrop to the concoction's amazing texture. It's sort of like a leaner and lighter Hollandaise sauce. The avocado mousse was just as simple as it sounds, which was important because when you've got a couple of high-volume elements (i.e; spice on the chicken and lemon sabayon), you've got to have something that can compliment the dish without creating cacophony. That extra bit of color on the plate is nice, too!

The dish's combination of richness and brightness makes it a natural pairing for Grenache Blanc, which we often describe in those same terms.  For us, this means our the 2015 Grenache Blanc, and I decided to see how it worked with the 2015 Patelin de Tablas Blanc (56% Grenache Blanc, 23% Viognier, 12%Roussanne, 9% Marsanne) too. All in the name of "research", of course. Both wines are from the incredibly low yielding 2015 vintage. Wines from this vintage are aromatically appealing, with what I like to call "definites". When I delve into wines from this vintage, if I smell or taste something, there is no doubt in my mind that that fruit, spice, or earth flavor exists. For the Patelin de Tablas Blanc, on the nose, there is freshly exposed lemon pith teamed up with a racy expression of lemongrass. The wine is mouthwatering and juicy, with notes of tart green apple and pink grapefruit. A certain sea salt quality keeps the salivary glands going, and keeps me wanting another sip. The varietal Grenache Blanc smells, tastes, and looks somewhat different. There's green apple there too, but it's like a slice of an apple dunked into a bowl of warm caramel. There's also a great deal of citrus, but richer flavors of the pith of limes and oranges rather than lemon. On the palate, it's not as tart as the Patelin de Tablas Blanc and in fact, it's got more of that sneaky acidity quality, more so than the vibrant and obvious kind. There is an added layer of creaminess that I would attribute to the proportion of the wine that saw neutral oak barrel time. 

In terms of the pairing, I thought both wines went extremely well with the dish. Honestly, it was kind of a toss up between the two wines and you can guess why based on the descriptions. The wines worked well with the spice on the chicken: Chinese five spice is just forward enough to showcase the subtle spiciness of the wine, without dominating. The not-overbearing citrus quality of the sabayon teamed up with the racy acidity of the wines for a lovely balance of like flavors. 

This was a technical -- but fun -- recipe to produce and all grapes aside, a delicious one to taste. 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:

  • Recipe for Oven Roasted Chicken with Grapes can be found here, via Bon Appetit.
  • Recipes for Lemon Sabayon found here (original recipe with asparagus and prosciutto) and Avocado Mousse found here.
  • You can purchase the 2015 Patelin de Tablas Blanc and 2015 Grenache Blanc by clicking here or by visiting us in the tasting room.
  • Not local? Good News! Our Patelins can be found throughout the country! Check out the distributors we work with here.
  • Be sure to check out this post, "Grenache Blanc's Moment in the Sun" written by General Manager & Partner Jason Haas on the recent rise of Grenache Blanc.

Harvest 2016 Recap: Solid Yields, High Quality and a Furious End to our Earliest-Ever Vintage

And boom, after a flurry of activity last week, we're done with harvest.  Last to arrive, on Saturday, was a final pick of Grenache, but the final week saw 72.8 tons from a whopping six different grapes: Tannat, Counoise, Mourvedre, Roussanne,  and our small bock of Cabernet, in addition to the Grenache. And not just one pick of each.  We saw six different Mourvedre picks, five Grenache picks, and two picks each for Counoise and Roussanne.  This is not usually how things sequence out; in a normal year, we'd expect the last week to be dedicated to Mourvedre and Roussanne, while the other grapes are done.  No wonder our hard-working cellar crew was ready to celebrate:

Crew final bin

The compressed and overlapping picks were characteristic of 2016's harvest.  Because we plan to use each of our fermentation tanks and casks as many as 6 times each harvest, the shorter the total duration of the harvest, the more pressure we have on our available space.  But in the end, we managed to make it all fit, and were very happy with the quality we saw. But you can see from the below chart that it didn't follow a normal bell curve distribution, with a slow beginning and end.  Instead, after a modest start, we stayed busy, with at least 70 tons coming in all of the last five weeks. In fact, our last two weeks were our two busiest weeks in terms of tons harvested off the estate. In the chart, blue is purchased fruit for the Patelin program, and orange estate grown fruit:

Harvest by week - tons

Yields were much better than 2015, and even a little above the levels we saw in 2013 and 2014.  The increases were particularly noteworthy in the early grape varieties whose yields were so low last year, with grapes like Viognier, Vermentino, Grenache and Syrah all up 70% or more (of course, all those grapes were down at least 40% last year from our 2014 levels).  But even with the later varieties, on which we weren't expecting much of an increase, we saw some, with Roussanne up 11.9% and Mourvedre up 32%.  The complete picture, with 2014 added for some context:

Grape 2014 Yields (tons) 2015 Yields (tons) 2016 Yields (tons) % Change vs. 2015
Viognier 11.4 6.3 14.2 +125.4%
Marsanne 9.9 5.9 4.5  -23.7%
Grenache Blanc 31.9 22.0 30.6 +39.1%
Picpoul Blanc 7.5 5.0 7.7 +54.0%
Vermentino 17.3 8.7 19.0  +118.4%
Roussanne 42.8 42.0 47.0  +11.9%
Total Whites 120.8 89.9
123.0
+36.8%
Grenache 50.7 30.7 58.8  +91.5%
Syrah 38.1 21.4 36.8  +72.0%
Mourvedre 52.3 47.5 62.7  +32.0%
Tannat 15.4 9.8 12.3  +25.5%
Counoise 17.0 13.7 18.0 +31.4%
Total Reds 173.5 123.1
188.6 +53.2%
Total 294.3 213.0 311.6 +46.3%

Overall yields ended up at 2.97 tons per acre, right at our ten-year average.  Other years in which we've seen yields between 2.5 and 3 tons per acre have included 2003, 2004, 2007, 2008, 2013, and 2014, which includes many of our favorite vintages. Those crop levels seem to bring a balance of intensity and elegance that make the blending a pleasure in the spring.

Looking at average sugars and pH at harvest gives a quick way of measuring a year's ripeness.  Since 2007:

Year Avg. Sugars Avg. pH
2007 24.42 3.67
2008 23.87 3.64
2009 23.42 3.69
2010 22.68 3.51
2011 22.39 3.50
2012 22.83 3.65
2013 22.90 3.63
2014 23.18 3.59
2015 22.60 3.59
2016 22.04 3.71

2016's average sugars were our lowest-ever at harvest. Nearly every grape saw declines in average sugar levels, though most were small; only Tannat and Grenache Blanc saw (slightly) higher average sugar levels than in 2015.  At the same time, we saw higher average pH levels than we have in the last decade, particularly in grapes like Roussanne and Mourvedre. I think that in this measurement is where you see the largest impact of our ongoing drought, as well as the impact of the warm weather starting mid-September.  This idea is borne out by the fact that the vineyard looks exhausted now, in mid-October, at a time when in many years it's still leafy and green.  Overall, it was a warm year, just a hair cooler than our warmest-ever year, 2014.  Every month except May was warmer than average, even with a cool stretch that lasted nearly a month between mid-August and early September.  The chart below summarizes (October's information is for the first 8 days, as we finished harvesting on October 8th):

Degree days - growing season final

We picked even more lots this year (114) than last, when we ran out of space on our harvest chalkboard.  This too was necessitated by the drought; we wanted to get the fruit off the healthiest vines while they had good acids, while letting the clusters that were ripening more slowly continue to accumulate sugar, even at the price of lower acids.  

Harvest chalkboard - finished

All this happened in near-record time.  At just 51 days between its August 18th beginning and its October 8th conclusion, this harvest clocks in at nearly a week shorter than average (our 10-year average is 57 days). The beginning was our earliest-ever, about two weeks earlier than normal, and the end our third-earliest, trailing just 2013 (by one day) and the warm, frost-reduced 2001 vintage (by 5 days).  We're done nearly three weeks earlier than normal, and will face our third Harvest Wine Weekend (coming up this weekend) in the last four years with no fruit left to harvest. 

In character, it's early to tell what things will be like, but two things give us good hopes for its prospects.  First is the overall similarity in sequencing, weather, and yields to 2014, which we consider our best recent vintage overall.  Second is the deep colors and intense aromas of what we've been harvesting.  Skins on our red grapes appear to have been very thick. Flavors should be intense.  One of the late-ripening Mourvedre clusters illustrates:

Late Mourvedre cluster

The last project for us for harvest 2016 is to make our first Roussanne Vin de Paille since 2012.  This traditional dessert wine-making technique involves drying newly-harvested clusters on straw, and only pressing and beginning fermentation when they have reached our desired level of concentration -- typically around 35°-40° Brix -- after about 3 weeks.  [For more details on how and why it's done, see our blog Vin de Paille: A Dessert Wine Making Technique for the Obsessed from a few years back]. We laid our last Roussanne pick, from Friday, down on straw in one of our greenhouses, and will spend the next few weeks tracking its progress.

Vin de Paille greenhouse

A closeup shows the natural honey color of the Roussanne, which will only get more golden as it dries:

Vin de Paille closeup

Now that the fruit is in, it's welcome to start raining any time.  There is a hopeful forecast that suggests our first rain of the season may come as early as this weekend.  Meanwhile, we're enjoying the autumnal views of the vineyard without having to worry that the cooler nights and the coming chance of precipitation may interfere with what, in a normal year, would still be harvest season.

Colorful owl box


Outtakes from my Decanter "My Paso Robles" article

Earlier this year, I was flattered to be asked by Decanter Magazine to write an insider's guide to Paso Robles for inclusion in their annual California supplement.  My goal was not to recommend wineries, but instead to give potential visitors an idea of some of the other gems of the area: things to do that you might not know about, or that might not appear in a guide book.  What fun.  The article was published last month:

Decanter_my_paso

Unfortunately, it isn't available online.  So, I wanted to share it here.  This also gives me the opportunity to provide some additional details on my recommendations that weren't able to fit into the magazine due to space constraints.  So, here goes:

My Paso Robles

I was sitting in our downtown park last summer on a warm Thursday evening, listening to a local band play and watching my kids thread their way through the crowd with their friends, when I realized that this is what people look for when they come to wine country, and more than that, what we were looking for when we moved out fourteen years ago from a city life to join my family in working on our Tablas Creek project. We were drinking local rosé out of plastic tumblers, sitting with two other winemaking families on blankets, and eating caprese sandwiches from tomatoes we’d gotten at our local farmer’s market that week. And it’s not just that concert series. Paso is like that: few pretensions, still country, but with an appealing overlay of cultural opportunities brought by the wine community over the last three decades.

Justin Baldwin, the founder of the pioneering Justin Winery, is fond of saying that when he arrived in Paso Robles in 1983, the best meal in town was the tuna melt at the bowling alley. When I first started spending time out here in 1995, it wasn't quite that bleak, but still, when you wanted a great meal, or interesting shopping, you went over to the coast, or down to San Luis Obispo. No more. Our little town, which locals just call "Paso" (population, about 30,000), is now home to a remarkable collection of restaurants, hotels, and shops, driven by the dramatic growth of our local wine community, from 17 wineries when we started Tablas Creek in 1989 to some 260 today.

Local agriculture means more than wineries. The area has a long history of ranching, and the ample (for California) natural rainfall west of town made it a historical centre of both grain and nut production. Several local olive ranches are producing some of California's best olive oils. Just 20 miles away, the coast offers fishing, kayaking and surfing, a milder climate in which citrus and avocado orchards thrive, and Hearst Castle, the most visited state park in California.

In Paso, you have a vibrant mix of three communities, which interact in interesting and rewarding ways. You have the old ranching community, many of whose members have in recent decades dedicated a portion of their ranches to vineyards. Cowboy hats here are not worn ironically. You have the wine community, which has attracted a mix of new graduates, young families, and second career refugees into the area from (mostly) other parts of California, bringing a more urban, multicultural aesthetic. And you have a vibrant Hispanic community, both first and second generation, with taquerias and mercados, some of which play it straight and some of which incorporate influences from California and beyond.

Whatever you do, plan to stay for at least a few days. We're not near any major cities (or airports, for that matter, although the one-gate San Luis Obispo airport makes for a convenient arrival point) and the pace here isn't one where you should try to do it all in a day or two. Slow down, limit your winery visits to 3 or 4 per day, and take in some other attractions. And then plan to come back.

  • Stay at Hotel Cheval. When this 16-room boutique hotel opened in 2007 it brought a whole new level of luxury and professionalism to lodging in Paso Robles. It's still the town's classiest spot to stay, with live music evenings in their great bar (the Pony Club) and the benefit of being just half a block from the downtown park: an easy walk to (and more importantly back from) the town's restaurants.
  • Visit the Abalone Farm in Cayucos. San Luis Obispo County's agriculture isn't all wine. Ranching is big here too, as are strawberries, citrus, and avocados. Abalone fishing has a long local history, but decades of overharvesting from which wild populations are only beginning to recover means that if you want to try local abalone you should come here, just up from the kelp forests of Cayucos, to one of just three licensed fisheries in the state. You have to call and make an appointment, but a visit is a fascinating look at the five-year journey this mollusk makes from spawn to plate.
  • Shop like a local at General Store Paso Robles and Studios on the Park. Less than a block apart from each other are my two favorite places in town to shop. Studios on the Park is a cooperative work space and gallery for a dozen local painters, sculptors, and printmakers. It even offers classes if you're feeling creative. The General Store is the place to go for anything Paso Robles-themed, as well as a curated selection of cookbooks, housewares, and picnic items. I'd go even more often if my wife Meghan hadn't already bought everything there.
  • Play a round of disc golf at Castoro Cellars. I played Ultimate Frisbee competitively for two decades. Disc golf is more my speed now, and the Udsen brothers Max and Luke built a course that takes players through the gorgeous hillside vineyards of their family's winery.
  • Try the cider at Bristol’s Cider House. Made by our winemaker Neil Collins in homage to his Bristol, England roots, the line of Bristol's Ciders is available to taste at his Atascadero cider house. The ciders are creative and delicious, and the themed food nights (curry Thursdays, anyone?) are great fun.
  • Eat a plate of al pastor tacos at Los Robles Café (no Web site; 805.239.8525). Don't be put off by the bare-bones exterior, a few blocks north of the park on Spring Street. This is the kind of place you think should be everywhere in California: a great, inexpensive local taqueria, where they're equally comfortable taking your order in Spanish or English.
  • Go to the railroad station for the best sushi in town at Goshi (no Web site; 805.227.4860), and know that half the tables there will be winemakers out with their families, refreshing their palates with beer, sake, and amazingly fresh fish.
  • Go for cocktails and appetizers around the square, hitting Artisan, Villa Creek, Thomas Hill Organics and La Cosecha. Everything is within a few blocks, so rather than spend all night at one restaurant, try several. At each stop, try an appetizer and a drink. If you're wined out, sip cocktails made from local craft spirits, like Alex and Monica Villicana's re:find distillery.
  • Order the cauliflower at The Hatch or the French onion soup at Bistro Laurent. New classic, or old? Chef Laurent Grangien was the first to open a fine restaurant in Paso Robles back in 1997. His onion soup has been a staple on the menu ever since, and is a requirement for my boys if we've been out shopping. Meanwhile, the Hatch, started by Maggie Cameron and Eric Connolly just in 2014, is Paso's newest culinary hotspot, with southern-inflected sharable plates and particularly delectable cauliflower with their version of hot dip.
  • On a summer Thursday, bring a blanket, a picnic (try 15degrees C in Templeton), a bottle of local rosé, and join the rest of the community for one of the concerts in the park.  Fun for all ages.

So, that's my Paso. What are the can't miss stops in yours?


Wine and Food for the People: Pork Ragu and Patelin de Tablas

By Suphada Rom

The bite of pork melted in my mouth like a pat of butter would over warm bread- a slow and even coating. The bits of vegetable melded into one with the thick and stewy tomato sauce. Chewing... not necessary with a dish as fall-apart tender as this. A scoop of weighty, creamy, cheese-laden polenta registered on my palate just long enough to be cleared away by the freshness of a large gulp of wine. Comfort food at its finest: ready to power you through the hibernation you are sure to embark on.

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I've always found ragus to be a great dish when I'm hosting friends. They're made in advance, so you can serve great food and not be running around the kitchen, trying to maintain the temperature of one dish in the oven while stirring another on the stove, all while trying to entertain. Being the perfectionist that I am, my friends (the patient and loving people that they are!) are often okay while I pile them sky high with different wines to try, distracting them from the mayhem that is my kitchen. When I serve a ragu, my dinner parties are a lot more relaxed, because I cook mine the day before both lending to ease of service and adding depth of flavor. A go-to recipe of mine is this super simple and straightforward one that requires quality over quantity- meaning there aren't a whole lot of ingredients, so the ones that you need should be of high quality.

The recipe I picked was Pork Ragu over Creamy Polenta, originally published in Bon Appetit.  It's not fancy, or technique driven. But sometimes, the best meals are the kind without the bells and whistles. Don't get me wrong, some of the most amazing dishes I've had have been crazy elaborate with foam this and herb scented that and I totally appreciate each and every toiling step it took to create this alluring smear of mystery on my plate. But sometimes, I want consistency, I want flavor, and I want uncomplicated.

A few bits of advice on prep. Like my past recipe for Braised Short Ribs, it's incredibly important to both heavily season and thoroughly sear the meat. This is one of the most important techniques to braising successfully. When all is said and done and everything is in the pot, it's not uncommon with this recipe to have a little bit of airspace, where the meat pokes up out of the sauce. My recommendation, if you can, is to readjust the meat in the pot to accommodate. However if this doesn't work, add a little bit more tomato sauce (if you have any) and water to cover the meat. Also, being the thrifty person that I am, I had some leftover corn from the dinner before, so I sprinkled that on top of the polenta when I was plating.

For wine, in keeping with the theme of a dish for the people, I chose our Patelin de Tablas. The Patelin wines were created out of a conviction that our category - California Rhone blends - needed more entry points for people. Having a great everyday wine that people who might not know you will try by the glass at a restaurant or around $20 on a shelf seemed to us to be a really valuable addition. And California has struggled to match the success of the great neighborhood wines from Europe. Wines without pretense, but which provide lots of comfort and pleasure. Wines that pair gracefully with a range of rustic foods.  Wines from and for your neighborhood. And Patelin translates roughly to "country neighborhood". Our current vintage - the 2014 Patelin de Tablas - is bright and wild, showing brambly notes of both darker fruits and grilled meats. Syrah (55%) takes center stage and shows off its black plum and blueberry notes, as well as creaminess and minerality. Grenache (29%), Mourvedre (10%), and Counoise (6%)  give the wine freshness, wildness, and just a touch of complexity. 

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If you recreate this dish (or create a TCV wine and food pairing of your own!), be sure to let us know on any of our social media handles - Facebook or Twitter or Instagram - or just leave us a comment here! When you do, tag @tablascreek and use #EatDrinkTablas

A few other resources:

  • Recipe for Pork Ragu over Creamy Polenta can be found here, via Bon Appetit
  • You can purchase the 2014 Patelin de Tablas by clicking here or by visiting us in the tasting room
  • Not local? Good News! Our Patelins can be found throughout the country! Check out the distributors we work with here
  • Be sure to check out this post,"Creating a New Wine: Patelin de Tablas" written by General Manager & Partner, Jason Haas on the conception of the Patelin program


Harvest 2016 at its midpoint: things heat up, literally and figuratively, in Paso Robles

On Friday, Neil came to me and said that according to their estimates, they'd reached the midpoint of harvest that day.  And looking at the numbers, that seems right to me.  We're done with Viognier, Vermentino, and Marsanne. We're nearly done with Syrah and Grenache Blanc. We're perhaps one-third done with Grenache, and have made a start at Roussanne. All the grapes for Patelin Blanc, most of those for Patelin red, and the majority of the Grenache for the Patelin Rose have been picked.  Off the estate, only Picpoul, Tannat, Counoise, and Mourvedre are untouched so far.  The cellar is humming, with both presses running, new fruit arriving, and barrels and tanks getting cleaned to make space for all the arrivals:

Craig on forklift through press

Our hopes that yields would be much improved over 2015 seem to be holding up.  Of the grapes that we've finished, we saw more than twice as much Vermentino and Viognier as we did last year.  Marsanne was down 25%. But with a couple of small blocks still to go, Syrah is already up 62%.  I'm not expecting the late grapes like Mourvedre and Roussanne to be up much from last year (after all, they were hardly down compared to 2014) but overall, we're likely to be up around 2014's levels, which would be great.

One big project last week was getting the Grenache in off of the dry-farmed, head-trained block we call Scruffy Hill.  It was quite a scene, on a cool, crisp day that felt more like late October than mid-September.  A big fog bank was sitting over the Santa Lucia Mountains to our west, and the day topped out at 71°F, a rare treat at this time of year. A few photos, starting with Vineyard Manager David Maduena overseeing things, fog bank clearly visible:

David

The fruit looked amazing, deep blue and plentiful on the widely-spaced vines:

Scruffy Hill Grenache vimne

It looked just as good back at the winery. The block produced about 25% more fruit than last year, at picture perfect numbers. Flavors were intense:

Grenache bins in front of empty bins

We had one more very cool day last Tuesday, when the sun peeked through the thick fog only at around 4pm, and the temps topped out at 65°F.  Then, a warming trend began, with each day 6-8 degrees warmer than the one before.  By this past weekend, we had two days around 100°F, and and all of a sudden, everything looks like it's ripe.  Looking at our daily highs compared to our 1981-2010 averages will help show the swing:

Aug-Sept Daily High Temps

Before this weekend, temperatures since August 10th had averaged 2.5°F below normal. The last few days have been a different story.  Still, while we're happy to have had a fairly moderate beginning to harvest, it's not a bad thing that it's heating up now.  The later grapes (like Mourvedre, Counoise, and Roussanne) have all been losing chlorophyll, and with it ripening capacity, over the last few weeks.  Having a warm stretch now, while the vines are still mostly green, will do more good than a similarly warm stretch three weeks from now. And with a grape like Mourvedre, which always struggles toward the end of the season, a little boost is just what the doctor ordered. A photo of the Mourvedre from late last week shows the autumn-tinged foliage:

Mourvedre mid-Sept

Looking forward, we've got one more hot day in the forecast tomorrow, and then it's supposed to cool off mid-week before warming back up again next weekend.  An alternating pattern like this often works out well for the cellar, as the cooler periods allow them to catch up on all the lots that have gotten ripe during the warm stretches.  Full speed ahead.


A Cool Stretch Lets Us Ease into Harvest 2016; Yields Seem Solid

The cellar is full of bins of fruit. Our white press is running all day pressing newly harvested Viognier, Grenache Blanc, Clairette Blanche, and Vermentino, and our red press has been working on the first loads of Syrah. Everything smells yeasty and spicy, with the tang of CO2 in the air. We are fully in the thick of harvest.  

Clairette in bins

After a very warm June, July, and beginning to August, cooler weather returned about two-thirds of the way through August, and it's been relatively cool ever since.  In fact, the first week of September has been significantly cooler than normal, with degree days down 24%.  We can complete one more month in the heat graph, and you can see that while August is usually about 20% warmer than June, this year it was cooler, though still a touch above our 20-year average:

Degree Days 2016 pct difference Sept

The cooler respite has been welcome, as there were lots of blocks that were getting close even a few weeks ago, and the cooler weather has allowed us to sequence them a little more gracefully into the cellar.  So far, we've picked about 163 tons of fruit, roughly evenly split between reds and whites.  The bulk of what we've brought in so far (about 70%) has been purchased fruit for the Patelin de Tablas program, both because many of the Patelin vineyards are in somewhat warmer parts of Paso than we are, and because the grapes that these wines are based on -- Grenache Blanc and Viognier for the white, and Syrah for the red -- are harvested on the early side anyway.  We're probably two-thirds done with Patelin.

We're really just beginning the estate harvest. The 50 tons we've picked so far has been mostly Viognier and Vermentino (14 tons each), Syrah (10 tons), Pinot Noir (7 tons) and Grenache Blanc (2 tons).  We've also picked most of our Marsanne, though we only got a ton in so far and are expecting yields on this grape to be down.  The other grapes offer hope for a more generous harvest, though.  In 2015, we only harvested 9 tons of Vermentino and 6 tons of Viognier, totals we've already surpassed with a little more still to come in. One Syrah block (our Syrah "C" clone) we picked just 2.63 tons last year and received 5.16 tons this year, nearly double.  Of course, we're comparing quantities to grapes that saw cripplingly low yields in 2015, so it's not like we're seeing a windfall of grapes.  But yields look a lot more like 2014 (when we ended up harvesting 298 tons off the estate, just a hair below our 10-year average) than like 2015 (where totals ended up at 215 tons only because our late-ripening grapes were down much less than our early ones).  So, while it's early, we're feeling cautiously optimistic about quantities.  If we do end up around 2014's totals, that would mean that we're about 17% done so far.

Quality seems super.  Our sugar and acid numbers are pretty close to textbook, and we're seeing deep colors and tasting vibrant flavors.  We don't see any impact from the two weeks of intermittently smoky weather caused by the nearby Chimney Fire, and feel pretty confident that the smoke wasn't thick enough or long-lasting enough to have left any residue on the grapes.

As for what's next, we're sampling virtually the entire vineyard this week, as well as all the remaining Patelin vineyards.  We're expecting most of the Grenache for us to press directly into the Patelin de Tablas Rosé before the end of the week, as well as more Syrah and Marsanne off our own estate, more Grenache Blanc for Patelin Blanc, and the first Grenache for our Patelin red.  The floor of the cellar looks like a painter's palette:

Samples

In the vineyard, even the latest ripening grapes have completed veraison and are looking (from the outside, at least) like they're ripe.  On the inside, however, grapes like Mourvedre (below) are still weeks, maybe even a month, away from being ready to pick.  Sugars are still in the mid- to high-teens, pH levels are still in the high 2's, seeds are still green, and flavors are not yet developed.  They may look great (and in fact, they make good eating) but we know we have to be patient.

Mourvedre on Vine Sept 2016

The pattern we've seen so far -- early budbreak, warm summer, then a cooldown as harvest approaches -- reminds us a lot of 2014.  Yields seem similar as well.  Given that 2014 is the best vintage in our recent memory, that's got to be a good thing.  Stay tuned.