In the winter, west Paso Robles is a rain forest. In the summer, it's a desert.

I was struck recently by a headline posted recently by a Seattle-dwelling friend of mine: Seattle just broke a 122-year-old record for rain. The total rainfall for this famously rainy city between October 2016 and April 2017? 44.67".

Here at Tablas Creek, over the same period, we've received 41.57" of rain.  No, you aren't reading that wrong. The rainfall we've received this past winter would be one of the wettest winters ever recorded in Seattle.  So perhaps it shouldn't be surprising that the below landscape (taken down near our creek a few months ago) could be straight out of the Pacific Northwest:

Lichen draped oaks

And while 2016-17 was quite a wet winter here, winters like it aren't all that rare.  Looking just over the last 20 years, this is the fifth winter that our weather station recorded 37" or more of rainfall here: 

Rainfall by winter as of 2017

Although the winter of 2016-17 was an outlier, our average rainfall here at the vineyard (25") is still pretty wet.  Other areas that average 25" of rain include lots of places in the upper Midwest, Texas, and northern California.  Also Chateauneuf du Pape, Alsace, and Burgundy.  What makes our rainfall here extraordinary is that almost all of our rain comes in a six-month period between November and April.  Take a look at our average rainfall by month at the vineyard:

Rainfall by month at Tablas Creek

During the six wet months, we get 92% of our annual rainfall and average 3.82" of rain per month.  If we were to extrapolate this to an annual basis, that's nearly 46" of rain, which you see in climates like New York City, Boston, Columbia MO, and Wilmington NC.  Seattle, by contrast, receives 38" per year.

If you look on the flip side at our six dry months, we average 0.35" of rain per month May-October.  On an annual basis, that's 4.14", slightly less than the city of Las Vegas (5") and slightly more than Lake Havasu, AZ (3.8").

How unusual is this rainfall distribution for a wine region?  Extremely.  Take a look at three regions in Europe.  First, Dijon, in the heart of Burgundy, which receives nearly the same amount of rainfall on an annual basis as we do, but with an almost-equal distribution each month (note that these graphs are all from the fascinating site climate-data.org, on which you can find similar information for thousands of locations around the globe):

Climate-graph-dijon

Maybe a more Mediterranean region like Tuscany?  The city of Florence sees about the same amount of rain we receive on an annual basis, and a distribution with slightly drier summers than winters, but nothing close to the degree we see here:

Climate-graph-florence

Chateauneuf du Pape is a better match still, though their two rainiest months are September-October:

Climate-graph-chateauneuf

In order to find an Old World rainfall distribution similar to ours, you have to go all the way into the Eastern Mediterranean. The Bekaa Valley in Lebanon would be a great match, if they only received 175% as much rain as they do:

Climate-grap-bekaah

OK, that was a lot of graphs.  But it's important, I think, if you're trying to wrap your head around the climate here in west Paso Robles, to pay just as much attention to the winters (wet) and nights (cold) as one does to the dry, hot summer days.  For visitors who come during the summer, the heat and dry landscape can make the cool green hillsides of winter seem like a mirage.  But they are two facets of this same climate: a climate in which massive oak trees grow draped with lichen, and in which dry-farmed grapevines can reach down 20 feet into limestone clay to pull out enough moisture to survive through five months of negligible precipitation.  As a bonus, it rarely rains during the harvest season, when the grapes are vulnerable.

Desert in the summer, and rain forest in the winter?  We'll take it. Even if it is hard to believe.


Talent in The Tasting Room; Q&A With Leslie Stuart

By Suphada Rom

Leslie Stuart, Tasting Room Lead and environmental advocate, is passionate about all that is Tablas Creek and what that means. What is it that makes her so special to all of us here at the vineyard? Read on.

Where were you born and raised?
I was born and raised in Mexico City. I'm the youngest of 4, and was born about 10 years after everyone else. I grew up in the north part of the city, which is more like a suburb and it has everything you could possibly need. I love Mexico City, it's a really cool place. It's very vibrant and full of culture. It's funny, during spring break I would actually beg my parents to stay in town instead of going somewhere because during that time, everyone who lives in the city goes to the coast. That's when there's less traffic and you can go anywhere in the city in half the time. 

Leslie mexico
 

So when did you first get into wine?
When I first moved to northwestern Mexico. In the county of Ensenada, there is a little wine region known as Valle de Guadalupe. At the time, I was working for an architect and she had a real estate development with a huge focus on wine. She hired me and from the beginning she said, "Here's the room that will be a wine store and you'll be in charge of it." So I was in charge of this wine shop, like starting it from zero. Everything from contacting winemakers, wineries, bringing new wines in, along with doing the marketing and advertising. I was just sort of thrown into the wine world and I fell in love with it!

How did you learn about Tablas Creek?
So, my husband Nathan (Tablas Creek's Shepherd) is from Paso, born and raised. Three years after we got married, we wanted to try out living up here. We would visit and I just loved how quaint it all was, especially the west side. We actually got engaged on one of the back roads out here in the Adelaida! When we were here and I was applying for my green card, I spent some time researching the local wineries to see where I could continue my career in the wine industry. Nathan suggested I look at Tablas Creek. I checked it out online and I fell in love with it. From everything I searched I thought to myself, "when I get my green card, I definitely going to apply to that place!" Then I came and interviewed, tasted the wines and I was like, "Oh my gosh!". I was hooked. I've been here since 2013 and I feel the same as I did when I first came- like, this is a place I can thrive. 

Maya and leslie

What is your role at here at the winery?
My role is a Tasting Room Lead. I help train and coordinate the great people we have working here sharing our wines and our story with our guests. Recently, I started a series of "Saturday Morning Talks" that take place about once a month for our tasting room staff. When we were smaller, these happened informally, but as we've gotten busier I thought it was important to make sure that we keep the conversation going between the people who make our wine and those of us who sell it. We started these monthly chats on Saturdays, basically so we can have someone from behind the scenes, like from our vineyard or cellar, to come to the tasting room and talk to our staff. Our tasting room staff is so enthusiastic and I was really excited to connect the front lines of our tasting room to the other workings within the winery and all the way out to the vineyard. People like our viticulturist Jordan, our winemaker Neil, and our shepherd Nathan have come and shared their passion for what they do here at Tablas Creek. They share a little bit about what's going on right now, a little bit about what they do, where we are currently as a winery, and a projection to where we're going to be. I think it's so important to link the two departments together- a little bit goes a long way!

What is your tasting room philosophy?
I think just being natural and not pretentious. Those are the two words that come to mind, and that's what I feel most comfortable being when I'm with people. Just being myself, and for the staff to be themselves, as well. When you have someone in front of you, I mean, they're tasting the wines that we are crafting here. When I'm talking, I try to plant a seed of excitement about us and about what we're doing here- and I think the only way we can accomplish that is by being easygoing and authentic. 

Leslie nathan maya

What is one of your favorite memories here?
Oh, there are so many! I think one of my favorite memories was a few years ago, when I was working in the office. There was a guy from the Brazil press that came to interview our founder, Bob. They were talking and tasting, and Bob requested that I come and pour wine for them during interview. I so enjoyed just being there, and watching how natural Bob is. He's so approachable and honest about the wine and the vineyard. Just seeing this amazing businessman sitting there being so humble and approachable was incredible.

When you're not working, what are you doing?
Ha! When, I'm not working, I like to work out and do yoga. I have two dogs, Maya and Jo, who also work with my husband, Nathan, on the Tablas Creek property. I love my family and we like to spend our evenings together. I love to cook, and for me, at the end of the day, even if it was long and stressful, I'll come home and cook something because I love it so much and actually, it gives me energy!

Yoga

Speaking of food and wine, do you have a favorite pairing?
My latest one was garden artichokes and our 2016 Vermentino. We steamed them and I made a creamy citrus-cashew dip to go with it. It was perfect with our Vermentino, and one of my favorite pairings. It was so nice, and we just sat and ate our dinner on the porch and enjoyed the sunset.

Besides Tablas Creek, do you have any other favorite wines/wineries?
Well this last Christmas, I went back to Ensenada to visit my friends and family- with friends, as well! Neil (TCV Winemaker) and his family joined Nathan and me, and we went wine tasting at our favorite places. There's a handful of wineries in Mexico that I love. One that comes to mind is Tres Mujeres- she makes awesome white wines, like Carignan Blanc- it's so good! There is this honesty about her wines that I really love.

How do you define success?
I think life is too short, and, to me, success is doing or pursuing the things that you are passionate about in life. And it might sound cliché but your destiny is not in the future, but your destiny is today. Deciding what you are going to do today to move within the freedom you have been given will lead to success.


One last gasp of winter amid spring's progress

Over the last week, we've seen what feels like the last gasp of winter.  Two storms have come through, the first dropping about an inch and a half of rain (a lot for April; our long-term average for the entire month is just 1.86") and a couple more are expected this and next week. We've had several other days with significant cloud cover, and two nights where we got down around freezing, though we think we escaped any damage to the new growth.  At the same time, the days are lengthening and the sun is warm, the vines have all come out of dormancy, and we're getting the cover crop turned under where the animals weren't able to do it for us. It's a point in time where the view in any given vineyard block changes daily.  A few photos will give you a sense.  First, one taken on Friday 4/7, during our rainy day, with the cover crop and vines a mix of winter green/brown and summer gold/green:

Misty April 2017

In the areas where the animals last grazed in February (or earlier) the grasses are knee-high and starting to turn gold. This view, with high grass and new growth, is going to be short-lived, as we need to bring the cover crop under control for a variety of reasons.  The winter's heavy rain and its associated risk of erosion are largely in the rear-view mirror. With our always-dry summer on its way, we want to eliminate the vines' competition for the soil's available water. Returning the cover crop to the soil renews the earth's fertility and provides nutrients for the vines to draw on the rest of the year. Finally, it's important to knock down the cover crop to allow the cooler air at the surface to drain downhill rather than having it pool around the vines and cause frost damage. From the head-trained, dry-farmed "Scruffy Hill" block yesterday:

Scruffy Hill April 2017 2

Within a few weeks, all this growth will be turned under and decomposing in the topsoil, while the vines begin their trek toward harvest.  Last April 27th, I spent a morning taking photos on Scruffy Hill.  The difference from the photo above is dramatic, but not likely much different from what you'll see in two weeks:

Scruffy long view

The April rainfall pushed us over 40" and made this winter our second-rainiest ever.  We still have a chance to catch 2004-5, which at 42.85" is our wettest since we installed our weather station in 1996:

Rainfall by winter as of 2017

And yes, if you were wondering, the 2017 vintage is underway. The Grenache vines on Scruffy Hill already have tiny flower clusters forming:

Flower clusters April 2017

I'm sure we'll be sharing many photos in coming weeks and months of the new growth and the 2017 growing season. This is where it all begins.


Picture Tells a Thousand Words: Animal Edition

We are just finishing the time of year in which we can safely have our animal herd out in the vineyard. With the continued progression of budbreak, even our latest-sprouting grapes are starting to push buds. Leaves are not far behind. So, we've moved the animals to two vine-free sections of the property: the new parcel on the other side of Tablas Creek, and a smaller area in the middle of the vineyard where we pulled out some struggling Syrah and Roussanne vines, and which we are letting lie fallow this summer.

Still, it's not hard to see the impact of the animals on the blocks in which they spent time, particularly at the fence lines which mark the dividers between grazed and ungrazed areas. I snapped a photo of one of these borders yesterday, halfway up the hill of Mourvedre that's behind the winery:

FullSizeRender-7

Five days ago, the entire hillside looked like the prairie. Now, the bottom dozen rows (beginning at the middle of the frame above) look like they've been neatly mowed. It took the animals just two days to graze their enclosure down to a few inches. They spread manure throughout the block. And we didn't have to use an ounce of fuel or a single tractor pass to accomplish either goal.

This is the second time this winter that this block has been grazed by our flock; we moved them down the hillside in January. So, even the tall grass on the uphill side of the fence line is regrowth after an initial grazing, fueled in part by the fertilizer left behind on the animals' first pass.

It is this efficiency -- that we can use natural processes instead of artificial ones -- that makes Biodynamics so appealing. We're creating a more complete, more resilient ecosystem by building biodiversity, and saving ourself the costs (and side-effects) of having to buy (and spread) fertilizer, and of having to drive through the vineyard (and compact the soil with a tractor) mowing. The other benefits -- better water retention, no erosion, more topsoil, and the occasional lamb chop -- just tilt the cost/benefit calculation further in the right direction.

I drive by a few vineyards each day on my way into work whose soils look dead. Between the herbicides they use to keep weed growth down and the soil compaction created by the tractor work, even this winter's ample rainfall couldn't make grasses grow. The difference between soils like that and what you see above couldn't be plainer. Do you think this difference will impact the grapes that grow there, and the wines that result? You bet it will.


Flatbread (and Roussanne) Two Ways: Potatoes/Fennel/Rosemary/Onion and Leeks/Mushrooms/Corn

By Suphada Rom

How many times have you decided to have a casual get together with a couple of friends and then, all of a sudden, you're throwing some sort of backyard shindig for the neighborhood? We've all been there and trust me, I know the feeling of panic. The sensation rushes through your body as you try to figure out what you're going to make to keep the party going and keep the hungry well-fed. My go-to has always been pizzas (or in modern California parlance, flatbreads). Diverse in their nature, they serve as a blank canvas, ready for you to throw on a multitude of toppings. With that in mind, you can craft different flatbreads to appease all palates, not only making everyone happy but making you look like the most well planned host ever! We decided to have a little flatbread party of our own here at the winery, and went non-traditional. The result: two recipes for flatbreads that pair beautifully with Roussanne. Both are vegetarian, though if you're the type who that makes nervous, both would do beautifully with a sprinkling of crisped pancetta cubes too.

 2015 flatbread 2
Rosemary, Fennel, and Potato Flatbread with Comte Cheese to the left, and Leek, Mushroom and Corn Flatbread with Gruyere Cheese on the right. And Roussanne.

44E00793-7402-4822-8F91-9F71D1F20C1E
Garlic and herb dough, ready to rise!

8384041F-85FE-452B-94DF-A4E6EDCD5F32
After just an hour in the sun, the dough was so big and pillowy! 

2013 flatbread
The flatbreads were delicious and versatile with multiple vintages of Roussanne, including the 2013!

2017-03-16-14-49-28
More Roussanne than I can (almost) handle!

For the flatbreads, I didn't follow a recipe, per se, but to say I created the recipe is certainly an overstatement. I picked elements I knew would play up the features of our Roussanne. Tender cooked leeks, sweet fennel, and rich potatoes were just a few of the ingredients I knew would marry well. All of those ingredients atop a light garlic and herb crust? Delicious. Also, whenever I cook with Roussanne in mind, I love caramelizing any and everything. Doing this step in cooking not only softens the ingredient for texture, but it tends to bring out this sweetness, and not the cloying kind, but the kind that is rich with mellow sweetness. Caramelized onion tart? How about oven roasted fennel? Yes to both- and yes to a fantastic pairing with our Roussanne.

Why Roussanne? Well, with the release of a new vintage along with some exciting news and press, I knew I wanted to pair these flatbreads with the pure varietal bottling. In any vintage, Roussanne reels in richness on the nose and persistence on the palate. Incredibly versatile, but not in the same way that, say, rosé is. You may have read my last post about tacos and rosé and how I love rosé's versatility. This is considering that most rosés should be consumed relatively youthfully. Roussanne is versatile in the sense that you could enjoy it now, in fact, we gladly did! However, if you stumble across a bottle that has a few years of age on it (maybe it's even a decade old), you'll be in for a real treat. Roussanne ages gracefully and through years in bottle, increases its depth and complexity ten fold. Youthful Roussanne evokes fresh honey and fresh floral notes while an older bottling may lean towards being a bit more towards notes of caramel- you may even detect a little saltiness. Drink now... or not. The choice is yours!

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. As for us, well I'm advocating for more days with flatbreads... Flatbread Fridays, anyone??

A few resources:

  • Our Roussanne is making headlines! Recently given 93 points and described as "fragrant, ebullient, ripe and refreshing" in Wine Spectator  
  • Everything Roussanne:
     - 2013 Roussanne is almost sold out! Call the wine club office at (805)-237-1231 to reserve your bottle(s)
     - 2014 Roussanne is available in the tasting room or through our online shop
     - 2015 Roussanne is part of our spring wine club shipment. Members of our VINsider club get access to this exclusive        bottling and a 20% discount. Not a member yet? Find out more information here.
  • Curious about how Roussanne ages? Check out our Vintage Chart- we update every season to give you a better idea of how the wine is drinking!

Ingredients and recipe for flatbreads are as follows:

Flatbread No. 1:

- mini gold potatoes (skin on, and thinly sliced)
- fennel (thinly sliced and lightly sauteéd)
- yellow onion (thinly sliced)
- rosemary
- comte cheese

Flatbread No. 2:
- leeks (cut in half lengthwise, thinly sliced and sautéed until soft)
- mushrooms (any kind will do, I used crimini- sliced)
- corn (oven roasted)
- gruyere cheese

Instructions:
1. Make dough according to recipe. You can use any you like, I chose one from the Minimalist Baker for a Garlic Herb Flatbread. Instead of frying it in a pan, I chose to bake them in the oven (with the toppings) at 375 degrees.
2. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
3. While the dough is rising, you can prepare the toppings. The leeks should be sautéed in a splash of olive oil over medium-low heat, until translucent and tender. After the leeks are done, remove them from the pan, spoon into a bowl, and use the same pan to quick sauté the fennel. I stirred them around the hot pan for just a minute or two, just until they'd softened slightly. 
4. On a cookie sheet, spread out the corn kernels and coat with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Roast in the oven for 20 minutes, or until tender and golden in color. 
5. Following the flatbread recipe, divide the dough up and roll each dough out. Coat the top surface of the dough with olive oil before adding toppings. Finish with salt and pepper.
6. Bake for 10-15 minutes, or until edges of crust start to golden slightly.


Budbreak 2017: A Return to a More Normal Time Frame

After our very wet beginning to 2017, I was hopeful that we'd see a delayed start to the growing season, at least compared to the past couple of years.  But after a chilly beginning to March, including frosts 5 out of the first 7 nights, we got a very spring-like two-week stretch starting March 8th, with sun, no frost, and consistent days in the upper 70s and low 80s. So, it wasn't a total surprise when I got a photo from our viticulturist Jordan Lonborg with a photo of a sprouting Grenache Blanc vine on March 13th:

Budbreak 2017

Budbreak, as you probably guessed from the name, is the period when the grapevine buds swell and burst into leaf.  It is the first marker in the growing cycle, a point when we can compare the current season to past years.  Upcoming markers will include flowering, veraison, first harvest, and last harvest.

Budbreak isn't uniform. Different grape varieties sprout at different times, just as they ripen at different times.  On a ramble out through the vineyard today, there were several grapes that were out significantly, including Grenache Blanc (unsurprisingly), Viognier, Vermentino, and Grenache (below):

Budbreak 2017_grenache

By contrast, our later-budding grapes like Roussanne, Counoise, Mourvedre and (this year, at least) Syrah are still mostly or entirely dormant. This Counoise block is just down the hill from the Grenache block I photographed above, without a green sprout in evidence:

Budbreak 2017_counoise

While this year is two weeks later than our record-early 2016, it's still on the early side historically: tied with 2014 and 2015 as our second-earliest in the last ten years:

2016: Very end of February
2015: Second week of March
2014: Mid-March
2013: First week of April
2012: Mid-April
2011: First week of April
2010: Last week of March
2009: Second week of April
2008: Last week of March
2007: First week of April

Weather_west 2017 tempsWhy was this year still relatively early, when other recent wet years like 2010 and 2011 were two weeks or more later? It turns out that this winter, while it was wet, wasn't really that cold. Normally, in California, the two go together, as the clouds that bring the rain also limit the ability of daytime temperatures to rise out of the 50s. But most of our storms this winter were relatively warm, of the "pineapple express" or "atmospheric river" variety originating in the South Pacific waters near Hawaii. And most of the cold weather came early, with 32 of our 41 below-freezing nights coming November-January. The graphic to the right shows that most of San Luis Obispo County was on the warm side of average, historically. (It, and a great explanation behind the data, come from Daniel Swain's must-read blog Weather West.) Click on it for a larger view.

While budbreak always feels hopeful, it also comes with a certain degree of risk. Dormant vines can freeze without danger, but new growth is susceptible to freezing; April frosts cost us roughly 40% of our production in both 2009 and 2011. And we can receive frosts here in Paso Robles all the way into early May. So far, we've avoided anything damaging, and the medium-term forecast doesn't look too threatening. But we've still got more than a month to go before we can feel safe.

Still, it's hard to feel too apprehensive when there is so much life springing into visibility around you. Please join me in welcoming the 2017 vintage.


A Rebuttal: Drink what you like. And celebrate wine's diversity.

It's rare enough that the mass media writes about wine that I was pleased to see an opinion piece on wine in this Sunday's New York Times, called "Ignore the Snobs, Drink the Cheap, Delicious Wine".  In the piece, author Bianca Bosker begins with a visit to Treasury Wine Estates. One of the world's largest wine companies, Treasury is best known for owning flagship brands like Penfold's, Stag's Leap, Lindeman's, Beringer, and Chateau St. Jean, but those are just a few of the wines they make. Between all their brands, according to their Web site, they sold over 30 million cases of wine in 2015. Ms. Bosker is impressed enough by their wine creation process (which she describes as "created from the consumer backwards") that it encourages her to rethink the place of wines that are, like those she saw, more engineered in a lab than grown in a vineyard.  If you haven't read it, go do it now. OK, welcome back.  

Stock photo - wines in lab
Copyright: freeprod / 123RF Stock Photo

I don't at all disagree with the idea that people should drink what tastes good to them. I think it's great that the wines that are being made for the masses are better than they were a generation ago. I do hear, again and again, that the chance of finding a truly flawed wine is the lowest it has ever been. That's all good. It's a noble goal to make people feel better about drinking the wines they like, and to dispel the intimidation factor from wine. But while this is just an excerpt from what will surely be a more nuanced book, I fear that her central conclusion is wrong, and wrong in a way that will discourage, rather than encourage, the creation of a new generation of wine lovers. 

Let's address the cringe-inducing op-ed title first. I hate that wine knowledge is -- so often -- conflated with snobbery by the general media. The sommeliers I know are eager to share that knowledge, genuinely enthusiastic about wine, accepting that people have different tastes, and explicit that their goal should be to unite their customers with wines they'll love. That said, from my experience with publishers, I'm guessing it was the Times's editors who chose that title and not the author, so I'll leave that there. The second half of the title ("Drink the Cheap, Delicious Wine") seems like something that no one should object to.

And yet... the challenge is, of course, who gets to define delicious, and what that means for the wines that result. I love finding great wines that are steals for their quality, often from overlooked grapes or lesser known regions.1 The process of experimentation and discovery with these sorts of wines tends to lead people to understanding: these less heralded wines are often quite different from one another, and people may well learn that they love the freshness of Gamay but hate the herbal character of Cabernet Franc. Or vice versa. So, as consumers experiment, the diversity of what they taste also helps them better define what they like.

But rather than use modern techniques to create homages to the best simple village wines that a novice drinker might have enjoyed a generation ago, it seems from the author's descriptions that what she found were caricatures of expensive wines. Perhaps this is unsurprising. The production techniques that many elite wineries use for their highest-end wines are expensive: think very low production, to produce intensity; late harvests, to produce luscious flavors; aggressive sorting, to ensure that only the highest quality grapes begin fermentation; and new oak barrels, to provide sweet spices. These together result in wines that tend toward being rich and dense, with sweet fruit, low acid, and soft tannins. That's clearly a flavor profile with its adherents, even if it's not particularly mine.

It doesn't seem like it particularly is the author's taste, either. She describes the wines as "rich, syrupy and heavy", which sounds like a nice thing to pour over your pancakes, but maybe not to accompany your rib eye. Or maybe it does, to you. But even if so, all this reliability comes at a cost.

The rub is that, in a crowded marketplace, these focus-group-engineered wines necessarily displace wines of more interest and more diversity. The process by which focus-group wines are made means that they taste much the same, whatever their varietal makeup or their appellation of origin. Maybe this is OK, if these sorts of wines act as a gateway, getting people on a path that leads (eventually) to wines of more character and diversity. The author (and the Treasury spokesperson she interviews) asserts that. But I'm not sure. While any one of these wines may have a greater chance of appealing to any individual consumer, it seems to me that their sameness -- and the fact that these wines are the (often overwhelming) majority of what's on the shelves in supermarkets -- limits their ability, as a group, to connect with a range of potential wine lovers with different tastes.2

Wine can be a challenging thing. Many consumers who love wine are still intimidated by the arcane (and often foreign) names of places and grapes, the mysteries of fermentation and aging, and the often high prices that come alongside some famous names. But what is the solution to this? Is it to celebrate the elimination of wine's complexities, where wine all follows a specific taste formula designed to please the maximum number of novice drinkers? That seems a shame. Think of food. Is there a place for a Big Mac in American dining? Sure. But does it matter that food can be more than that, or that there are social implications of settling for what's mass-produced for focus groups? Also yes.

And should people aspire to drink better than "root beer with a splash of Hershey’s syrup and vodka," as the author described the wines she tasted in the lab? I don't think that's too much to ask, and I reject the idea that a sommelier (or winemaker) who is trying to lead people along a path to something more meaningful (even if it's more challenging) is somehow doing their customers a disservice.

Footnotes:

  1. So does every wine writer I read, from Robert Parker to Eric Asimov, who like very different sorts of wines. We try to make wines that fit into this basic criteria with our Patelin de Tablas line.
  2. It also seems to me a shame that you also lose what makes wine unique among beverages: that it is a window into the grape(s) that it came from, the place in which it's grown, and the people who made it. But maybe that's just me being romantic.

The woman behind the clipboard: Q&A with Wine Club and Hospitality Director Nicole Getty

By Suphada Rom

Many of you know Nicole as the welcoming face at Tablas Creek's events, or as the signature at the bottom of your wine club member emails. She has been at Tablas Creek since 2004: long enough to see the company evolve in so many ways. Her responsibilities include organizing and conducting our events, managing our wine clubs, and overseeing the hospitality for guests visiting the winery. I caught up with her recently to ask about her journey.

Ocean

Where were you born and raised?
I was born and raised in Northern California in Los Gatos. Los Gatos looked a lot different then. It was a sleepy little town, not too different from what Paso Robles used to be say 30 years ago. It's gotten to be a little busier and Bay area-esque, but still beautiful. 

What's your educational background?
I went to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo right after high school. When I went into school, I wasn't really sure what I wanted to do. I knew I loved plants, so I decided to try out horticulture. It was just the one thing that I I felt drawn to and had an interest in. I could see myself growing and caring for plants, and also landscaping. 

You're one of Tablas Creek's longest tenured employees. How have things changed since you were hired?
So I started here in 2004 and at the time, I was really the only wine club employee. Now, I can't imagine doing it alone, I'm really fortunate that I have my team. We're also a lot bigger now that we were, which is a good thing. We went from having around a dozen employees in 2004 to more than 30 now. Half of these are focused in the tasting room! I've never been to another winery where they have so many people working, but it means that on busy Saturdays and festival weekends we can still take care of people how we want, and still do so much more for both our wine club members and fellow industry professionals. 

IMG_6656

Our great wine club, hospitality and events team: from left, Monica O'Connor, Nicole Getty, Suphada Rom, Janelle Bartholomew, and Dani Archambeault

As Wine Club and Hospitality Director, what are your responsibilities?
The main thing is to make sure we're keeping our members happy with the customer service, the wine, etc. We have around 9,000 members! My team and I try to be creative and keep coming up with ideas on how to keep people excited about Tablas Creek and share all the amazing things we do here everyday. We also do a lot of events here; there's probably about one event per month that happens at the winery. And of course we want to keep the wine club growing, so we're both working on how we can gain new members and how we make sure that our current members want to stick around.

What is your favorite event of the year?
I was leaning towards the horizontal tasting because everyone is super excited to taste all the older vintage wines we have. And it's one of the only times where we get to do something like that. We don't taste the older vintages often, so it's pretty special when we do. I also love our annual pig roast. It's the most casual event that we do here and the food is really good. We'll open a lot of nice wines to pair, as well. I think the thing I enjoy most about all the events is seeing all the familiar faces. I know so many people from the beginning, and it's so nice to be able to reconnect with all of them.

What is one of your fondest memories at Tablas Creek?
I have this great memory from about 9 years ago. After a long day of work, we all decided to go take in the view at the top of the hill in the vineyard. That was back when Neil [Winemaker Neil Collins] had the Winnebago. He brought it up to the top of the hill and cooked dinner for all of us. We sat back, drank some rose, and watched the sun set over the entire vineyard. I remember just sitting up there and really enjoying all of what we had. I felt so fortunate to work at a place where you want to spend time with people you work with outside of work.

Trailer

What makes Tablas Creek special to you?
Tablas Creek's history and story are really incredible. There is so much integrity and progressive thinking here. Being passionate about plants and nature, I think it's important to be as sustainable as possible, which is something we do here, too. And then of course there's Bob [Founder Robert Haas] - I have so much respect for him and his vision for the winery, the environment, and just taking care of the people that work for him. The people that work here are special too, it's just this place- it attracts really great people. 

For food and wine, do you have a favorite pairing?
Ah, I have so many! I like seafood with either Vermentino or Picpoul Blanc. The Patelin de Tablas Blanc has been so good, too. If I'm eating something meat based, I love our Mourvedre.

Besides Tablas Creek, what are some of your favorite wineries?
Locally, I like Lone Madrore and TH. Outside of Paso, I like Chamisal, Ridge, and Kosta Browne. When I'm not drinking Tablas Creek Rhone wines, I love Pinot Noir. The Pinot Noir from Kosta Browne was probably the first I ever had and it was definitely a gateway wine for me. 

What is your hospitality philosophy?
I learned this pretty early on, but it's kind the whole philosophy here at Tablas Creek. We want to make sure that everybody that walks in, calls, or e-mails has a good and positive experience. It's my goal every day to make sure that happens.  I mean, we are a luxury industry. People don't need what we're selling. And there are so many wineries to choose from. So it's really important to keep people happy. 

Besides being here at work, how do you like to spend your free time?
My husband Nathan, our son Noah, and I go to the coast quite a bit. We go to Cambria pretty much every other weekend, and we'll go camping in San Simeon. We've also been trying to go on more hikes as a family. Most recently, Noah, he's four now, is riding his bike, so that's fun to watch! I was so afraid to take the training wheels off and I couldn't believe that when I did, he didn't fall once! I think our next thing is we'll get a cruiser for Nathan. I've got a basket on mine and who knows, maybe we'll even put our dog, Penny, in there. With a little bow or something!

Xmas

Finally, how do you define success?
I think success is not all about money, but it's a little about living comfortably and in a way where you can do the things you want to do. Also, it's so much about where you work. If you're coming to work and spending at least 8 hours a day with people, you want to be surrounded by people that you genuinely care about. That further translates to caring about what you do, as well. If I were selling something like, say, fertilizer with pesticides, I don't think I could stand behind it. Feeling good about what you're doing and with people you care about- that's success. 

 


A Taste of Spring: Pairing Rosé With Carnitas Tacos

By Suphada Rom    

What a week it's been! We've been busy out here at the winery, pruning our vines and getting them ready for bud break, all while navigating our first bottling of the year. We typically order lunches for the crew working bottling. However, I took it upon myself to make lunch for everyone, all in service to researching a food and wine piece for the blog. Two birds, one stone or in this case, two rosés and one lunch. 

IMG_6810
Our two rosés, ready for drinking!

Life is so much sweeter with rosé. I love that rosé represents spring, warmth, and the kickoff of the post winter thaw. It's a milestone and the beginning of the endless days of spring and summer sunshine here in California. In the tasting room, it's the most situational wine we have. It evokes memories of sitting by the pool, toes swaying back and forth in the cooling waters, and thoughts of summer parties where you are greeted with a warm hug and a cool glass. Rosé is exciting and with the release of ours, it felt fitting to have a bit of a celebratory lunch in the warm glow of what is still technically winter sun. And I know that groundhog said there would be six more weeks of winter but I don't mind one bit, especially if it's filled with days like this. 

Tacos are delicious, easy, and an across the board favorite among our staff. I love a good braise and slow simmering of meats (I'm sure you've gathered from past posts!), especially pork. Carnitas here in Central Coast are like lobster to the east coast- a staple and something I choose not to live without. A great and straightforward recipe for Tacos de Carnitas can be found on the New York Times website. The meat simmers for hours in a broth warmed by sweet spices like cinnamon and clove, and given citrusy freshness by orange zest. Incredibly fragrant and full of flavor, it was a recipe I'll definitely keep around. Nothing I would have done differently with this recipe except for making more: enough for leftovers!

IMG_6813 (1)
Carnitas- so simple and so delicious!

IMG_6811 (1)
Any and every topping known to the realm of tacos

IMG_6831
Burying my nose in my glass- it smelled amazing!

IMG_6870
Family lunch on the patio, Tablas Creek style!

IMG_6877 (3)
Our shepherd, Nathan Stuart and National Sales Manager, Darren Delmore, having a moment over some wine. This photo was too good not to share! Today was an absolutely incredible day filled with amazing people, great wine, and a satisfying meal.

I absolutely love pairing food with rosé (coming in close second is food and Champagne pairings, which are just delicious!). They're so versatile. We were able to enjoy both our Dianthus and Patelin de Tablas Rosé. Both rosés show the 2016 vintage's vibrant acidity and teem with notes of bright fruit. The 2016 Dianthus is a blend of 49% Mourvedre, 37% Grenache, and 14% Syrah, combining rosé styles of both Tavel and Bandol. The color is a stunning bright pink with neon hues. The nose is fragrant and generous. I dive in and I can trace just about any red fruit under the sun. If it exists, it's in this glass. On the palate, it thoroughly coats each and every inch of your mouth. Close your eyes, you may even think you're drinking red wine, it's just got this amazing density and richness. Delicious notes of mint and lemongrass shine through. There's a little prickle of spice and some acidity makes your mouth water for the next sip. Drink this wine now and drink it with carnitas tacos! We loved the spiciness of the wine with the tacos, however be warned, with extra salsa roja, it can pack a punch and isn't for the faint of heart. Essentially, unless you're in the business of eating spicy food and you like a good pepper challenge, have a bite then take a sip- just don't say we didn't warn you! 

The Patelin de Tablas Rosé (73% Grenache, 17% Mourvedre, 6% Counoise, 4% Syrah) is modeled differently, and has more of the look and feel of a Provence rosé. The fruit is sourced from some of the top growers in Paso Robles. In the glass, it's inviting and in my mind, summer in liquid form, with its light peach and pink coloring. The smell is soft and delicate, with notes of fresh nectarines and a tinge of grapefruit. On the palate, it's balanced and generous. So bright and so fresh. Fresh peaches, raspberries, and tart strawberries. Incredibly mouthwatering, I found myself meeting the bottom of my glass quicker than I anticipated! Each sip after bite revealed some amazing nuances I didn't notice the first go around. Great bottling of this wine and already one of my favorite rosés of the year. 

So there you have it- it's officially spring, not just because of the weather but because the rosé is here, it's bottled, and ready for your enjoyment through the rest of the year (or until we run out!). 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:

  • The recipe for Tacos de Carnitas can be found here.
  • Our 2016 Patelin Rosé is ready for your enjoyment! It is available for purchase in the tasting room, through our online shop.
  • Not local? No worries, our Patelins can be found throughout the country! Check out the distributors we work with here.
  • Good News! The 2016 Dianthus, allocated to our wine club, is part of the Spring Shipment, set to go out later this month. Members may purchase up to six extra bottles. Contact our wine club office at orders@tablascreek.com or call (805)-237-1231 x236.
  • Not a member yet? It's not too late- Find out more information here.

January set the table for a wet winter. February brought us home.

At the end of January, I wrote a blog announcing that January 2017 had become our wettest month ever.  But at that time, we were only at 23.88" for the rain year (July-June), which while better than in recent years was still below our 20-year average, albeit with nearly half the rainy season still to come. I concluded that while we were very happy with what we'd received so far, "we've got a long way to go to climb out of the hole the last five years of drought has put us in".

February continued the winter's remarkable attack on our long-term drought, adding another 12.56" of rain to the tally, roughly 250% of what we'd get in an average February. By month:

Winter Rainfall 2016-17 March

How rare are back-to-back 10+ inch rain months?  Since our weather station went in during the summer of 1996, this is the first time.  In fact, we've only once before had two 10+ inch months in a single rain season: December of 2010 and March of 2011.  Otherwise, the closest we've come to these back-to-back wet months was a 13.5" month in December of 2004 followed by a 7.5" month in January of 2005, en route to our wettest-ever year at 42.85".  At 38.41" winter-to-date, we're not far from that now:

Winter Rainfall 1996-2017

You can see the impact of the 30" inches we've received (!) in 2017 in ways both more and less obvious. The vineyard is wet, with springs welling out of many of our hillsides. Las Tablas Creek is running cheerfully through its valley, for the first time since spring of 2012:

Tablas Creek Valley

The lake, which the previous owners made by damming up the creek, which we have visions of tapping to help with our frost protection in the spring, is full for the first time since 2011, complete with ducks:

Lake Ramage

The drought is significantly ameliorated, according to the United States Drought Monitor. In fact, San Luis Obispo County is almost entirely free of drought, upgraded to the lowest "abnormally dry" classification, when at the beginning of the fall it was split between "severe drought", "extreme drought", and "exceptional drought":

Drought monitor changes - v2

So, are we truly out of the woods? I wouldn't go that far. There are still enormous pressures on groundwater. While out here aquifers recharge quickly, compared to most other California regions, it's still early to declare us free from worry. I know that we're going be as careful as ever in how we develop our vineyard. The water in the ground will certainly give the head-trained, dry-farmed vines we're planting this winter on our new property an easier go of it. And we're unlikely to need to irrigate even the close-spaced established blocks this growing season. That's all good. But this year's wet winter doesn't change the likelihood that our climate is going to be gradually getting warmer and drier with climate change.

While we're grateful for all this water, we've also been happy to have the sun in recent days. The ground is so saturated, and so soft, that until the last 10 days or so it's been impossible to get into the vineyard to prune. We're still behind, but making good progress, and feel confident that we'll get everything done before budbreak.  I like this panoramic shot, taken between two Mourvedre rows where our crew left off at lunchtime: pruned, uphill on the left, and as-yet-unpruned, downhill on the right. Click on it to expand:

Pruned Unpruned Panorama

About that budbreak. At this time last year, we'd already seen budbreak in several of our early-sprouting grape varieties. This year, we've been having frosty mornings for most of the last two weeks, which combined with the water in the soil, seem to be convincing the vines to stay dormant a bit longer.  It seems likely that we're going to be back to a more normal start time to the growing season -- late March or early April -- rather than the exceptionally early beginning that we've seen the past few years. That is comforting. But as to whether it insulates us from a damaging frost, we'll have to see.  We've been lucky to avoid frosts these last few years, despite the early onset to the growing season. But the last two years which produced bad frost events (2009 and 2011) both saw late budbreak, in April rather than March.

Is it possible that a cold spring, which leads to a late budbreak, may also put you more at risk for a post-budbreak frost? It doesn't seem far fetched. But we'll still take every dormant night that we can, and shorten the frost season as much as possible. Fingers crossed, please, everyone.