Customer service lessons from an overcrowded restaurant

On the Monday between Christmas and New Year's, I called into a favorite local restaurant from my 8-year-old's soccer practice to get takeout. I had volunteered to provide dinner that night for the large group of extended family who were in town for the weekend, who were relaxing and watching football back at my house while I collected Sebastian. The restaurant I chose isn't fancy, but it's the kind of solid neighborhood place that forms the backbone of a lot of communities. Good food, an unfailingly helpful staff and no fuss. We eat there (or order from there) a lot.

FC797B68-F820-4860-9EE3-24DFA6F07B09

This experience was pretty much a nightmare. When I called, I was asked if I could hold. Sure, no problem. But when no one came back to the phone for a minute, then two, then five, it became clear that whoever had answered had put down the phone to take care of whatever else she was working on, and then forgotten about me. I hung up, and called back. Busy. I tried again. Busy. Over the next twenty minutes, I called another half-dozen times, getting a busy signal each time. The phone was evidently still off the hook. I was about to abandon the attempt -- worried at this point I wouldn't have any food for the assembled dozen people, but without a plan B I could think of -- when the phone rang through, and was picked up. I ordered, and she let me know that because they were so busy, I should count on a half-hour for the food to be ready.

I had been planning to pick up the food on my way back home from practice, but at this point, the ordering had taken so long that I figured I should drop Sebastian back home to play with his cousins and then head back out to get the food. And it's a good thing I did. I arrived at the restaurant about a half-hour after ordering, and it was absolutely slammed. Every table was full, there were people waiting at the entrance, and the bar was full of patrons waiting for orders they'd called in. It took another twenty minutes (which felt like an hour, at this point) before I got my food and headed home to a very hungry household.

I'm a regular customer, and knew enough to cut them some slack after dozens of good experiences. But, I thought, what if I had been one of those people in from out of town, and this was my first visit? I wouldn't be writing this blog; I'd be writing a review on Yelp (if I were that sort of person) or at least telling my dozen or so assembled friends and family what a disorganized mess the restaurant was.

I realized later that this experience held two clear lessons for restaurants, winery tasting rooms, or really any other retail business with an ebb and flow of customers.

  1. Keep good records, and use them. Clearly, the restaurant was surprised by the traffic they saw on this Monday night. Should they have been? Probably not. That week is always one of our busiest of the year in the tasting room, with what feels like an entire week of Saturdays. The restaurant has been there for several years, so they should have data from past Christmases. Maybe they had someone call in sick. Or maybe things sequenced badly for them, with several big groups arriving all at once. Things happen. But they're a lot less likely to take you by surprise if you're looking at past history. This year, we saw 931 people at the Tablas Creek tasting room that very week. That was a lot. But since we had 836 the same week last year, we were prepared. Similarly, after being blindsided by exceptionally busy weekends thanks to other wineries hosting wine club events, we started a calendar in conjunction with other wineries out near us that we all share. Now, we know when to expect the overflow from an event at Justin, or Halter Ranch, or Adelaida.
  2. Staff for your peak times.It's easy and logical to look at your staffing costs and decide you can save a little by aiming to be appropriately staffed when you're averagely busy. But I think it's usually a mistake. Customer traffic rarely comes in an even flow. It comes in rushes and pauses, and a rush when you're unprepared can put you behind for some time after. But, more importantly, if you're staffed for your average traffic you're guaranteed to be providing the worst service when you have the most people there. Far better, in my opinion, is staffing for when you're busy, and being creative with your staff so they're not unproductive when customer traffic is light.

These lessons were always important. Research has shown that a bad customer experience gets retold many more times than a good one. But with the increasing popularity of review sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor, and the easy sharing of information over social media, it's more important than ever. Go back to my initial experience. If I had written this up on Yelp, how many customers do you think would have read it and decided not to chance a first visit? How many of those customers might have become regulars? Suddenly, the cost of the extra person to work the floor, or answer the phones, doesn't seem so substantial.


Tasting every wine from 2006, a decade later

In 2014 we began the tradition of looking back each year at the vintage from ten years before.  Part of this is simple interest in seeing how a wide range of our wines -- many of which we don't taste regularly -- have evolved, but we also have a specific purpose: choosing ten or so of the most compelling and interesting wines from this vintage to show at the public retrospective tasting we're holding on February 20th.  Ten years is enough time that the wines have become something different and started to pick up some secondary and tertiary flavors, but not so long that whites are generally over the hill. In fact, each year that we've done this we've been surprised by at least one wine that we expected to be in decline showing up as a highlight.  

A few years ago, as part of a look back at each of our vintages for our then-new Web site, I wrote this about the 2006 vintage:

The 2006 vintage was a study of contrasts, with a cold, wet start, a very hot early summer, a cool late summer and a warm, beautiful fall. Ample rainfall in late winter gave the grapevines plenty of groundwater, and produced relatively generous crop sizes. The relatively cool late-season temperatures resulted in a delayed but unhurried harvest, wines with lower than normal alcohols, strong varietal character, and good acids. White wines show freshness and expressive aromatics, while red wines have impeccable balance between fruit, spice, and tannins, and should age into perhaps the most elegant wines we've made.

I was interested in the extent to which we'd still see what we'd noted when the vintage was younger.  Would the wines (red and white) show the elegance that we thought we might find? Would this vintage of moderate concentration (sandwiched between two of our most powerful vintages) have retained the stuffing to make them compelling a decade later?  And were there any lessons we might take for the wines we're making now?

In 2006, we made 20 different wines: 8 whites, 1 rosé, 8 reds, and 3 sweet wines.  But we tasted 21 different wines, because as part of our ongoing experimentation between corks and screwcaps, we bottled our 2006 Cotes de Tablas under both closures, to track how each closure impacted the wine's development over time. The lineup:

2006 Horizontal

My notes on the wines, with notes on their closures, are below (SC=screwcap; C=cork). Each wine (except for the 2006 Bergeron, which for some reason we never made a Web page for) is also linked to its technical information on our Web site, if you'd like to see a breakdown of the winemaking or the tasting notes at bottling.  If you have a question about the Bergeron, or anything else, leave it in the comments and I'll do my best to respond:

  • 2006 Vermentino (SC): A nice nose of green fruit (maybe quince?), crabapple and petrol, with a stony/minerally note.  In the mouth it was fresh, medium-weight, with nice acids and flavors of apple skin and watermelon rind.  The finish was notably saline, with a yeasty note like aged Champagne.
  • 2006 Grenache Blanc (SC): An effusive nose of candied grapefruit, apple pie, and sea spray.  The palate was rich with glycerine but cut by a salty mineral note that reminded me of saltwater taffy. Flavors of preserved lemon and anise softened into a long and rich finish with a sake-like creaminess and a hint of menthol.  I loved this wine, though the group was less excited, with a few complaints as to the wine's heft (it was 15.3% alcohol) and thoughts that it could have used a touch more acidity.  Still, long after I'd expected this wine's natural life to end, it was a treat to taste.
  • 2006 Viognier (SC): A bright, herby nose of tarragon and sage, with some lemon peel and candied pineapple coming out as the wine opened in the glass.  The mouth was really nice, salty, not particularly fruity, with crunchy nectarine and some citrus pith flavrs.  The finish was clean with good acids.  It didn't play at all in the typical Viognier blowsy profile, instead much more linear and mineral.  My dad said it reminded him of "older Chateau Grillets" (a monopole producer of Viognier in the northern Rhone).
  • 2006 Antithesis Chardonnay (C): A deeper color and aromatic profile than the previous wines, with aromas of cedar, maraschino cherry, and butterscotch.  The mouth was still holding on pretty well, showing some oak, a very rich texture, and some ripe apple.  A little heavy on the finish.  A warm-climate rendition of Chardonnay, at the end of its life but still alive, but almost certainly better when it was younger.
  • 2006 Cotes de Tablas Blanc (SC; 59% Viognier, 32% Marsanne, 6% Grenache Blanc, 3% Roussanne): The nose shows an herby peppered citrus Marsanne note (more than Viognier, despite its predominance in the blend). On the palate, lots of sweet fruit, like honeydew melon and mint, then a long, soft finish of chalky minerality and marshmallow.  Still showing nicely, though a touch low in acid.  I like what the higher Grenache Blanc percentages we're using now on this blend bring to the table.
  • 2006 Bergeron (SC): Made from 100% Roussanne, harvested a little earlier from cooler blocks around the vineyard. The nose was initially somewhat neutral, with a little tart green kiwi fruit coming out with time.  The mouth is medium-bodied, somewhat neutral as well, with good acids and nice minerality.  The finish came across as a touch sour, with a watermelon rind note.  A bit unexciting now, though we all remembered liking it quite a lot when it was young.
  • 2006 Roussanne (C): A first bottle was oxidized, but the second bottle was gorgeous: a medium gold color, with a stunning nose of orange peel, lilac, bit-o-honey, and something minty (tarragon, maybe) giving lift.  On the palate, the wine was rich, long, and caramelly but fully dry.  The finish was candied orange, citrus blossoms, and a nice saltiness that provided freshness.  Really impressive, if you like white wines with power and density.
  • 2006 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc (C; 65% Roussanne, 30% Grenache Blanc, 5% Picpoul Blanc): The nose was higher toned than the Roussanne, with an appealing bit of Grenache Blanc's austerity: pink grapefruit to go with the honey and herbs.  The mouth shows a good balance between sweet fruit and fresh acids, with white flowers, quince, and peach juice.  There are some signs of age but the wine is in a very nice place.
  • 2006 Rosé (SC; 60% Mourvedre, 28% Grenache, 12% Counoise): A pretty deep amber-pink color. The nose is like a light red, with bing cherry and wild strawberry.  The mouth is rich and luscious, with lots of grapey, plummy fruit.  There are still some good acids, though the wine finishes heavy at this age.  Not really a style of wine any of us drink, but still interesting to taste.
  • 2006 Counoise (SC): Quite dark for a Counoise.  A classic rustic Gamay-reminiscent nose, with peppered raspberry and cured meat.  The mouth is really nice, with spicy red plum fruit, still quite light on its feet.  A clean, youthful finish with still some noteworthy tannins.  Plays much more youthful than its ten years of age, and made us all think we're underestimating Counoise's longevity.
  • 2006 Cotes de Tablas (SC; 72% Grenache, 11% Syrah, 9% Mourvedre, 8% Counoise): Under screwcap, a bright, clean nose of raspberry fruit.  The mouth was medium-bodied, with strawberry and plum flavors, nice baker's chocolate tannins, and a bright finish.  Tasted very youthful.
  • 2006 Cotes de Tablas (C; 72% Grenache, 11% Syrah, 9% Mourvedre, 8% Counoise): Under cork, the same wine tasted totally different. A deeper nose, more mocha than chocolate, with the fruit aspect more stewed than fresh. On the palate, deeper, chewier, more full-bodied and older: tasted fully mature, with less life left but more depth. Like a 10-year-old wine.
  • 2006 Grenache (C): A lovely meaty animal and red fruit nose.  The mouth was gorgeously balanced between sweet strawberry fruit, salty mineral, chocolatey depth, and earthy funk. Showed good acids and some tannins yet on the finish. A pleasure. 
  • 2006 Mourvedre (C): A nose of roasted meat drippings, milk chocolate, red cherry and currant.  The mouth is again beautiful, with great balance like the Grenache, a bit more weight, and a little longer and plusher (showing less acidity) on the finish.  Chelsea commented that it had "the right amount of unruliness" which seemed right on to me. A beautiful showing for this wine.
  • 2006 Syrah (C): The nose is meaty, with a little peppered bacon.  The mouth is still quite youthful, with fairly big tannins still, and a savory finish without the generosity of the two previous varietal wines.  We liked the nose more than the palate at this stage, and thought that the wine was really still too young.
  • 2006 Esprit de Beaucastel (C; 45% Mourvedre, 28% Grenache, 22% Syrah, 5% Counoise): Fascinating to taste after the three varietal wines, as it shows aspects of each. A pretty nose of meat drippings, Provencal herbs, and balsamic marinade, with something cool and spicy (juniper?) behind it.  The mouth is rich and tangy, with sweet fruit and nice herbs, a meaty, chocolatey aspect, good tannins, and a clean, long finish.  It was still, we thought, on its way up, and fleshed out with time in the glass.  Decant this if you're opening it now.
  • 2006 Panoplie (C): A deep, dark, brooding nose of marinating meat and roasted root vegetables.  The palate shows sweet black fruit (black fig and black cherry), nicely tangy, plush and luscious.  Tannins are still big, but necessary with all the richness and body.  Chelsea said "if I was going to take a Panoplie home to my parents, this would be the one."  Impressive, from beginning to end.
  • 2006 Tannat (C): The nose was higher toned than we were expecting, with a yeasty chocolate souffle note.  The mouth was really nice, with milk chocolate, salty and tangy aspects. The tannins were pretty resolved for a Tannat, and the flavors as much red as black.  Mature, we thought (in contrast to the 2005, which still felt very young a year ago).
  • 2006 Vin de Paille (C; 40% Grenache Blanc, 23% Viognier, 20% Roussanne, 17% Marsanne): The nose felt a little unsettled, with poached pear, spice, and a slightly volatile potpourri note.  The palate was quite sweet, and still quite primary: peach syrup, candied violets, roasted pecans, and some welcome acids on the finish.
  • 2006 Vin de Paille Quintessence (C; 100% Roussanne): A deeper and more savory nose than the straight Vin de Paille, with intense essence of apricot, golden raisins and molasses.  The mouth was sweeter but also more textured and with more acid than the Vin de Paille blend: really rich and powerful, and long, long, long.  Tyler's comment was "I might not open a wine like this often, but if I wanted to show off to friends, I would".
  • 2006 Vin de Paille Sacrérouge (C; 100% Mourvedre): Compared to the two white vin de paille wines, the nose is savory, with saddle leather, black olive, and chocolate-covered cherries.  The mouth is younger than the nose, sweet with fig and date flavors, but medium-bodied.  Some tannins show up on the finish.  Still young, we thought.

A few concluding thoughts

I was very happy, overall, with how the wines showed.  This was the most different varietal wines we'd bottled to this point, including our first-ever Grenache, and I was happy with how well -- and how much varietal typicity -- they all showed. However, compared to our tasting of the 2005's, there were more wines that tasted like they were on the downslope (Antithesis, Bergeron, Rosé), and some wines that were fully mature whereas in 2005 they were still youngish at ten years of age.  But the elegance of our principal wines, including both Esprits, and the power of wines like the Panoplie, Roussanne, and Vin de Paille Quintessence, suggests that the best wines from 2006 are among the best we've ever produced.

I thought that tasting the Esprits after their principal components was the most interesting aspect of the tasting.  The Esprit Blanc showed both its Grenache Blanc and Roussanne aspects, in a way that complemented each.  And the Esprit red showed how each of its components combined to make something none of the parts could have achieved individually.

This tasting was yet another data point for me suggesting that Syrah really needs time.  This 2006 was still, I thought, too young, and it was the tannins and structure of the Syrah component that kept the Esprit red feeling younger than either the varietal Grenache or the varietal Mourvedre.  I guess this shouldn't be surprising given that Syrah-based wines from the northern Rhone and Australia are among the longest-lived wines in the world, but I'm concluding that a decade in, ours still want a longer rest.

The cork/screwcap contrast on the Cotes de Tablas was really fascinating, and provoked the most discussion around the table. We split evenly as to which we preferred, with some people opting for the depth and weight of the cork finish and other choosing the clarity and vibrancy of the screwcap finish. I preferred the brightness of the screwcap, but I totally understand why others (including my dad) preferred the cork.  If this sort of thing interests you, you might want to check out my older blog Bottle Variation, Very Old Wines and the Cork/Screwcap Dilemma, spurred by a conversation with Bonny Doon's Randall Grahm in which he posits that most wines, in the long run, probably do benefit from screwcap's protection from oxidation.  Of course, the $100,000 question is whether most wines are drunk before that point or after.

Finally, we chose ten pretty exciting wines for what should be a great February 20th Horizontal Tasting: Viognier, Roussanne, Esprit Blanc, Cotes de Tablas (screwcap), Cotes de Tablas (cork), Grenache, Mourvedre, Esprit, Panoplie, and Vin de Paille "Quintessence". I hope many of you will join us!


On the Road: 10 Hedonistic Highlights from 2015

By Darren Delmore

As my travels representing Tablas Creek across the country in 2015 came to a close, I wanted to round up some of my favorite discoveries in the food and wine scene. I didn't hit every pocket of the country, but I did work with our wholesalers in Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Missouri, Louisiana, Florida, New York, and even sprinkled in Huntsville and Reno for good measure. Here's a shortlist of ten trendsetters who are working their delicious and clever magic at the moment, and inspiring myself and others to rethink the concept of "going out to eat": 

Industrial Eats, Buellton, California

This industrial park-based, counter service gem features local wines on tap (including our Patelin de Tablas Blanc), is open from 11 am to 9 pm straight, and is stocked with some of the purest, most flavorful ingredients and preparations in Santa Barbara County. Owner Jeff Olsson is really into farms and backstory. One bit of evidence: while I was midway into a wood-fired pizza, I saw a local diver do a delivery of softball-sized, bright purple sea urchins for their famed Uni Avocado Toast. Salivate over their menu at www.industrialeats.com

Shaya, New Orleans, Louisiana

Hyped as America's best new restaurant by Esquire magazine, Shaya calls its cuisine "modern Israeli food in chic". Our Vineyard Brands rep Todd booked us for a lunch tasting appointment at this uptown eatery in October, which is a total gamble in my line of work. We were an hour late after our previous tasting stops ran into overtime, and we had to cram both lunch and a tasting of all of our new releases with Shaya's wine buyer into a 25-minute window. Todd ordered one of everything and we crushed our way through lamb ragu with crispy chickpeas on heavenly hummus, baba ganoush, and shakshouka.

IMG_1244

Shaya's menu is less about massive mains and more about smaller plates, the vibe is nice but casual, and the wine list is short and concise, with 40 well chosen wines on offer. www.shayarestaurant.com

Coya, Miami, Florida

Miami is a humbling place for me to work every year. No other place in America makes me feel like I am more in need of teeth whitening, Armani suits, and some light cosmetic surgery. With significant population blocs originating from Russia, Argentina, Brazil, Venezuela and beyond, it's no surprise that the city is chock full of models and globally inspired cuisine (with ironically large portions to boot). Coya seems like you're in an entirely different country, with its impressive glass vases full of random fermentations (black corn essence?) stacked floor to ceiling, dark wooden interiors, massive chandeliers, and a mind blowing menu of delicious, high-brow Peruvian fare.

IMG_1281

The ceviche mixto with prawns, squid, mussels, yuzu and tobiko made our mouths rain, as did octopus and olives. I'd brought along a 2003 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc which excelled in such company and came to a crescendo with a truffle oil-splashed Tiradito de Cobia. www.coyarestaurant.com/miami 

Cured, San Antonio, Texas

Although dry aging meats has been a part of the steakhouse business for decades, more and more restaurants are making the effort (and time) to cure their own meats for world class charcuterie. Cured, located in San Antonio in the heart of the Pearl district, serves up house-cured arrangements that look every bit as floral as they are edible, which pair well with their two page wine list full of savory red and rosé offerings. www.curedatpearl.com

IMG_0107

Arroyo Vino, Santa Fe, New Mexico

Owner Brian Bargsten is a few years into this hotspot just outside of Santa Fe proper, where tumbleweeds, cacti and old world wines co-exist. I've seen this concept in a few cities - an excellent wine shop with a chef and full scale kitchen. Pull a bottle of something interesting off the shelf and pay a modest corkage, versus getting hit with a quadruple mark up price tag. New Mexico lamb is every bit as good as its more famous Colorado brethren, and Arroyo Vino serves it as well as anyplace in this culinary utopia. (Brian is seen below in the white t-shirt, hand-sorting Tablas Creek estate fruit in September). www.arroyovino.com

Sf - 1

Okra, Phoenix, Arizona

Cullen and Maureen Campbell from Crudo opened up Okra this year, with biodynamic wines, cool drinks, and Southern fare. "Put a little south in your mouth" is their tagline. Turns out, Tablas Creek Vermentino pairs extremely well with fried chicken, which no doubt inspired me to do a bone luge after the marrow plate. www.okraaz.com

Bone luge 

The Waterboy, Sacramento, California

Chef/Owner Rick Mahan of The Waterboy and OneSpeed in Sac is obsessed with quality lamb. My first time tasting with him three years ago the subject came up when I was describing our biodynamic practices at the vineyard. "Do you ever sell any?" he asked me. There are two farms in the Sacramento Delta that he works with regularly, but Tablas Creek lamb has been on his brain ever since. In November of this year, we finally realized his dream of doing a dinner event at this midtown gem where our meat took center stage, with four of our wines selected to pair with it.

Waterboy

I fear the day Rick asks me about our Alpacas! www.waterboyrestaurant.com

Ember, Arroyo Grande, California | The Spoon Trade, Grover Beach, California

I grew up near Grand Avenue in Arroyo Grande, and a fancy dinner out usually occurred at Sizzler. I never thought I'd see the day that two hip, chef-owned eateries would open up on opposite ends of the workingman's strip and be immediately successful. Ember is owned by Brian Collins who cooked at Chez Panisse and ran Full of Life Flatbread in Los Alamos prior to opening up his wood-fired temple in the former Leisure Mart building. (I bought acrylic paints and goldfish here as a grommet!) Serving a seasonally changing menu featuring flatbreads, local fish, a ribeye with chimichurri, and inventive small plates like the pork belly and Cayucos abalone plate, I'm consistently floored by what Brian and his team have managed to do in a location that many feared wouldn't work. www.emberwoodfire.com

Two miles west near the vehicle beach ramp where Modesto monster trucks often roam, Jacob and Brooke Town opened The Spoon Trade after devoting a chunk of time to road trip and eat through America. They are a powerhouse restaurant couple that worked in some of the main Bay Area hubs (like Nopa) before deciding to move back home and open up their dream spot. The tri-tip tartare with house-baked sourdough is as local as a central coast meat dish can get, the burger is simple and legitimate, and there's an already-famous Fried Chicken and Waffle plate on hand if that's your thing. There's something for everybody here, with four local wines on tap, Oregon wines in cans, and a short geeky bottle list that wouldn't look out of place in Oakland or Portland. www.thespoontrade.com

Spoon trade

Hatchet Hall, Culver City, CA.

And lastly, mainly for your consideration, here's the wildest wine list of the year. In fact, its mere existence made headlines on sites like LA Weekly for infuriating customers and critics alike. Have a look...

IMG_1079

You've gotta admit, it makes you think twice and realize that the times they are a'changing. (I think I ordered the Vielles Vignes '13 and was served a glass of South African Sylvaner or something.) www.hatchethallla.com

I'd love to hear what you think about this list, and any of these other cool spots I've mentioned here. And if there are restaurants and wine bars in your neighborhoods that you love, please share so we can keep them on our radar for 2016. Happy New Year and thanks for reading! 


Assessing Winter 2015, So Far: Cold and Often (but not Very) Wet

This far, despite several storms that passed near or over us, and despite the historic El Niño conditions that persist in the Pacific Ocean, we haven't gotten much rain yet.  Most of the storms have seemed to peter out just north of us, or pass just to the west, or south.  Yesterday's storm dropped multiple inches of rain in Cambria, Morro Bay, and even San Luis Obispo, while we got just a trace.  I'm not sure I ever remember that happening.  Today, on the solstice, thick clouds sat over the Santa Lucia range to our west, while we spent much of the shortest day of the year in unexpected sun:

20151222_131156_resized

And yet, it has felt very much like winter the last month, with no warm stretches, frosts most nights, and several days that have seen at least some measurable precipitation.  So, how do the early days of this winter stack up against recent years?  It's... well... complicated.  Let's see what we can say.

It's been cold.
So, when I say cold, I mean both cold nights and cold daytime highs.  In the last month, we've had 13 nights drop below freezing.  Our average over that period (November 23rd-December 22nd) since 2009 is 8.6 freezing nights.  Last year we didn't have any in that stretch.  As for daytime highs, we've topped 70 only 3 times in the last month, and only barely, while 17 days have failed to make it out of the 50s. That 17 figure is the most going back to when the detailed weather database starts in 2009.

It's rained fairly often, but not much.
Typically, when it's cold here in Paso Robles, it's also clear.  The two other times we've hit double-digits in number of freezing nights in  this period (2011 and 2013) we had just 5 and 2 days with measurable rainfall, respectively.  This year, we've had 10 days recording measurable precipitation, but only accumulated 1.23 inches over the period.  By contrast, the other years we measured double-digit days of precipitation saw much greater rainfall totals.  The number of rainy days and the total precipitation November 23rd-December 22nd for the last 7 years: 

  • 2015 (10 days): 1.23 inches
  • 2014 (17 days): 7.75 inches
  • 2013 (2 days): 0.58 inches
  • 2012 (14 days): 6.87 inches
  • 2011 (5 days): 0.34 inches
  • 2010 (16 days): 9.76 inches
  • 2009 (11 days): 5.40 inches

What does this all mean?
I'm not sure it means that much.  Looking at a single month is such a small sample size that it doesn't even correlate significantly with the rest of the winter.  Last winter, and 2012 for that matter, looked like they were setting us up for great rainfall -- and are really indistinguishable in this period from the wet winters of 2009 and 2010 -- only to find the storms take other paths after the new year.  2011 and 2013 saw very dry end-of-years, but we got decent rainfall late in the winter season.  So, while it's tempting to draw larger conclusions, I think it's premature. We're one month into the 5-month stretch -- starting mid-November and ending mid-April -- where there's a good chance of significant rain. We've largely missed out on the first of those 5 months.

So what's the silver lining?
The fact that we've had several nicely distributed days of light rain has meant that the cover crop has gotten a great chance to start growing, and should be in good shape to hold the soil in place when the rains do come.  A photo from this morning shows the vineyard's new soft green coat:

20151222_130717_resized

Other silver linings are more big-picture.  The snowpack in the Sierra Nevada is above-average for the first time in years.  The vineyard is conserving the water that it has received; the frosty nights have pushed the vineyard into full dormancy, and the cool, cloudy days have meant that very little moisture is being lost to evaporation.  And most other wine regions in the state have gotten better rainfall than we have, particularly regions to our north:

Rainfall CA December

But the most important silver lining is that El Niño is still on track to produce a very wet next three months.

Anticipating El Niño
This year's El Niño, caused by elevated surface water temperatures in the South Pacific Ocean, is still on track to be one of the strongest ever.  And past El Niños haven't produced much of their effect before Christmas, but have produced Januaries, Februaries, and Marches of roughly double normal rainfall.  It's not a guarantee, but at least the right conditions are in place.  And it does feel different than the past couple of winters, when we went long stretches with clear, warm weather, produced by what meteorologists dubbed the "ridiculously resilient ridge": a persistent high pressure area that deflected the Pacific storm track well to the north of California for months at a time. The more storms that come our way, the better our chances of getting a big one.

And that would be the best possible Christmas present.


Traversing the wine business - Q&A with Tablas Creek's National Sales Manager Darren Delmore

By: Lauren Phelps

I visited a while with our National Sales Manager Darren Delmore to get the inside scoop about the wine business from his very unique perspective.  Darren has a fascinating past as a published writer, professional surfer, winemaker and now travels the country educating people about Tablas Creek wine.  Darren is also is a husband, and a father of two adorable children, Shea and Canyon.

Winemaking Forrest
 

Where were you born and raised?

I was born in San Luis Obispo, California and grew up in Arroyo Grande and Shell Beach.

When and how did you get into wine?

I started with working in restaurants; both my parents owned restaurants while I was growing up. I went to a distributor tasting when I was 21 with local wineries and it blew me away. Then I found myself growing more and more interested in wine. That set me off on a path to learn how to make wine for the next ten years.

What has been your career path to where you are?

My first harvest position was in Humboldt County, of all places. I worked there for two years followed by a complete harvest internship at Bonny Doon. From there I moved back to the Central Coast and started working in tasting rooms at Eberle and managed the tasting room for Saucelito Canyon.  Tasting rooms are another piece of the industry that was new to me and that was interesting. I also found myself, after a few years, wanting to get back into making wine. So I went to live in the middle of nowhere in Cazadero and worked for the Hirsch family. It was an hour to the grocery store, there was no internet in my little cabin, and there was no phone service… it was a decompression time. Also, I completed two-hemisphere harvests for two years in a row in Australia and that kind of completed everything I wanted to know about making wine. Even with all that experience it would have been difficult to get a winemaker position without a degree in oenology. So when I was up for an assistant position and Jillian and I had our first baby on the way, I ran into Tommy Oldre, the previous National Sales Manager for Tablas Creek. Tommy had just accepted a new position at Vineyard Brands and he suggested I apply for the open position at Tablas Creek.  I had always wanted to work at Tablas Creek so I jumped at the opportunity. It was a frantic summer, I was up for two jobs, an assistant winemaking position in Anderson Valley and the sales position at Tablas Creek, plus we were 8 months pregnant with our first child. Surprisingly, I heard back from both jobs on the same day! We talked it over and I accepted the Tablas Creek position on August 1st. I started the job on August 6th and we had our baby Shea on August 18th… 2012 was a whirlwind year!

What are your main responsibilities at Tablas Creek?

The main responsibilities are scheduling market work with distributors on a monthly basis, traveling to those appointments, bringing the new wines and tasting them with sommeliers, wine directors, and shop owners. We invest a lot to go out to work the market for a three day stretch and the pre-planning is huge; the work that we do there is key because we’re meeting 5-6 individuals a day and I can’t come off being short with someone at the end. We’ve got a short period of time and you’ve got to connect with people on those days in a unique way so they will have a better experience. I focus on conquering the agenda that’s been set for me in the morning and try to be cheery and try to relay the story and the wines in a personalized way for everyone.

What new industry trends are you most excited about, and why?

I’m seeing smaller wine lists that are often times one page next to the food menu. I’m seeing smaller menus with more well chosen wines from around the world with lower mark-ups. There are more restaurant concepts that are appealing to the “millennial diners” where you’re not handed the tomes of a wine list anymore that are 100 pages. You’re seeing these really cool restaurants that are popping up with less large entree portions, more small plates, more fun, looks more affordable with wine lists that are just more adventurous and encompass the whole world.

Another trend I’ve been seeing is an expansion in the keg wine programs at restaurants. I think that’s also offering a value and a way of thinking about wine seasonally. People are maybe paying more attention to what to drink at certain times of the year.

What’s your biggest challenge as a Sales Manager and Wine Educator?

One of the biggest challenges is getting the distributors to continue the momentum we start when we do our week in the market. So that falls into the follow up of these trips and how to do that effectively. That’s probably the biggest challenge. If you remember something that rep was into that you were into… it’s important to find non-superficial ways to stay connected with those people. Because we’re so small… and for some of these distributors, they’re bombarded with eighty people, large brands too, in a month and finding a way to stay on their radar and keep them excited about Tablas is challenging.

What would you change about the wine industry if you could, and why?

I would lower the intimidation level for consumers. There are still people who are scared to go wine tasting because they feel like they might not have enough money, or a certain type of lifestyle that make them feel comfortable doing it. Honesty, I think a lot of people didn’t know what wine tasting was until the movie Sideways came out. I do think there is still a level of intimidation and I see folks working in the wine business who aren’t as eager to see the intimidation lessened. So I would like to see that happen. There is so much more information available now but there is still a disconnect about how wine is made and what goes into it.

What’s your favorite wine region in the world – other than Paso Robles?

My favorite wine region overall would be the Rhône, rather than just one district of it, there are pockets of it that are incredibly undervalued and I think there is a lot of mystery to all the different villages and regions that keep the prices down and I think they’re the best value overall for what you get if you can figure out what you like and how to get them. With a lot of domestic regions and the more famous regions you’re just never going to get that and so I think the Rhône still delivers.

How do you spend your days off?

That has certainly changed a lot over time. I used to spend my days off surfing. But now I spend so much time traveling that when I’m home I have to give Jillian, my wife, a much needed break. My days off now are with the kids. And most of those days are spent just doing dishes.

What would people be surprised to know about you?

I worked at a tofu factory in Arcata California. I was the “curdler”… they hired be because I have long arms, on the spot.

If you weren’t working in the wine industry for a living, what would you be doing?

Working in publishing somehow or running my mom’s restaurant, Del’s.

How do you define success?

There’s a good quote from Planes, Trains and Automobiles on that one, “Like your work, love your wife”. Because you’ve got to balance it all. If you’re doing something you’re passionate about and you can keep that in balance, that’s success.


A Chicken Recipe Worth Writing Home About

[Editor's Note: With this blog, we welcome a new author, Suphada Rom, who will be bringing her restaurant background to bear on recipes and food and wine pairings in a series we're calling Eat Drink Tablas. I can't tell you how excited I am about this.]

Hi everyone, my name is Suphada and I’m excited to be starting Eat Drink Tablas, a food and wine series for the blog! A little background on me, I am a native of Vermont with an outstanding passion for both wine and food. After college, I worked in a restaurant for four years, where I tasted many different dishes and wines, including Tablas Creek. I fell in love with the whole profile of Tablas Creek: the wines, the family, the story... the whole thing got me more jazzed about a career in the wine industry. A year ago (though It seems like just yesterday) I moved from the East coast to work at Tablas Creek, and every day has presented something new and exciting. You can find me in just about every department, from pouring wine in the tasting room to working with our wine club or events, to sorting grapes in the cellar.  It’s all great! I am beyond thrilled to be working for such an incredible winery and wondering how I got so lucky as to be here, doing what I do.

CrushinGrapes

After moving out from New England, I thought I was done with winter.  And yet, the first post of Eat Drink Tablas is a cold weather pairing. In New England, at this point in the year, I was cooking not only to feed myself, but also to keep warm!  Well, it’s winter here in Paso Robles, and believe it or not, it’s cold.  Before we receive any outrage from the colder regions of the country, I need to clarify that it’s cold compared to my previous perception of California winter.  But even non-natives are talking about how cold it's been, with most nights this month dropping below freezing, and recent days topping out only in the 40's.  This morning, as I took my normal commute to Tablas, the sun caught the branches just right, exposing the sparkles of frost that had accumulated overnight. But given the brevity of California winters, all the more important to share now a recipe that will keep you warm and full when it's chilly outside.

Winter for me signals roasting, braising, or baking just about anything. Any excuse to turn on an oven to warm up my (what feels like freezing!) home is all right in my book. I've got an arsenal of tried-and-true recipes, and this Garam Masala Crusted Chicken with Fig Jus (originally from DeWolf Tavern in Bristol, Rhode Island, via Food & Wine Magazine) is one of them. I have a love/hate relationship with chicken, because well, it’s kind of a “meh” protein, especially when you size it up next to pheasant, duck, and other fowl. I promise that this recipe does not disappoint. The chicken is well spiced and is finished nicely with a fig jus. I love using the smaller chickens versus the larger- I find them to be a bit more flavorful and I love the skin to meat ratio (because that crunchy flavorful skin is what dreams are made of!). It is truly a great balance of sweet and spicy flavors, along with being quite succulent.  The result, from this morning:

ChickenWine_crop

Oven roasting the chicken allowed the spices to bake as well, creating an almost smoky nuance. The only change I made to the recipe was to add about a 1/2 teaspoon of apple cider vinegar to the finished sauce, to cut some of the sweetness from the figs.

We chose two wines to pair with this dish, both based on Grenache, the most widely planted variety in the southern Rhone valley and a grape known for its balance of lush fruit and bright acids, flavors of red fruit and plum, and softer tannins. The garam masala (a blend of ground spices typically including coriander, cinnamon, and nutmeg) adds flavors that are richly aromatic without being spicy or hot,  and the bright acids of Grenache offer contrast and refreshment. We chose to open bottles of our 2013 Cotes de Tablas (55% Grenache, 30% Syrah, 10% Counoise and 5% Mourvedre) in addition to our 2013 Grenache with this dish, and found both to pair nicely.  2013 is a vintage that is still young, though quite intense, and we liked the youthful tannins and fresh acids in both wines cut through and provided contrast with the crunchy, spice crusted skin. I felt that this was a case where the dish provided something the wine did not (smoke), but it worked because it wasn’t overwhelming. 

Cotes_crop

So this holiday season, turn down your heater, turn up the oven, and fix yourself this warm and comforting meal. If you do (or create a TCV wine and food pairing of your own!) be sure to let us know on any of our social media handles, be it Facebook or Twitter or Instagram - or just leave us a comment here!  When you do, tag @tablascreek and use #EatDrinkTablas

A few other resources:

  • For the recipe for garam masala crusted chicken with fig jus, click here.
  • Also, check out PRWCA’s How To Master Holiday Meal Wine Pairings.
  • You can order the 2013 Cotes de Tablas online here, or find it in distribution around the country.
  • The 2013 Grenache is a smaller production wine that was a part of our fall 2015 wine club shipment. Learn more about the VINsider Wine Club here.

What's next for the new Paso Robles AVAs

Last month, I had the pleasure of sitting on a panel discussing the process behind and prospects for the 11 new Paso Robles AVAs (short for American Viticultural Areas). This panel was a part of a conference organized by the Continuing Education of the Bar (CEB), for attorneys interested in wine law from around California.  Joining me on the panel were Steve Lohr (of J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines, another founding member of the Paso Robles AVA Committee) and Carol Kingery Ritter (of Dickenson, Peatman & Fogarty, the law firm that shepherded the AVAs through the federal approval process). [Map below, courtesy of Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance. Click to enlarge, or here for a PDF that also includes descriptions of the sub-AVAs.] 

AVA Map w 11 AVAs

Much of the discussion focused on how the AVAs came to be: the genesis of the idea, the research that took place to discover and support how to draw the boundaries, and the convoluted process that took place once the petition had been submitted to the TTB, lengthened by the TTB's decision to reconsider the fundamental nature of AVA labeling after receiving the submission.  I've written about all of these, and particularly the TTB's struggle with the concept of nested AVAs, on the blog in the past (you can find them all by scrolling through the Legislation and Regulation category tag).  I won't repeat those thoughts here, though I encourage anyone interested in the often convoluted regulations that govern the production, marketing and sales of wine to explore the archive at their leisure.

More interesting, to me, were the questions I received about why I thought the approval of the AVAs a good thing for Paso Robles, and how I saw them being used in the marketplace.  I'll dive into both topics in this blog.

Why the 11 AVAs area a good thing for Paso Robles

For me, there are three main reasons why the approval of the AVAs are good for the Paso Robles region as a whole.  

  1. Their approval is a concrete data point that the region is maturing. When the Paso Robles AVA was first proposed and approved back in 1983 it contained only five bonded wineries and fewer than 5000 planted acres of vineyard.  Big swaths of the AVA, including the area out near us, were largely untouched by grapevines.  In the last thirty years, Paso Robles has grown to encompass some 280 wineries and 32,000 vineyard acres.  Until the new AVAs were approved, it was the largest unsubdivided AVA in California, at 614,000 acres. By contrast, the Napa Valley appellation (which includes sixteen AVAs delineated within its bounds) is roughly one-third the area at 225,000 acres. The growth of the region has been a story in itself in recent years, but the approval of the AVAs is something tangible and official that encourages press, trade and consumers to take a new look at what Paso Robles has become. 
  2. The approval was done collectively, as a region.  There were 59 different Paso Robles growers and wineries involved in the Paso Robles AVA Committee, and the work was done hand-in-hand with the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance.  This cooperation allowed the region to push (and eventually pass) a conjunctive labeling law, which guarantees that any winery who uses one of the sub-AVAs on their label will also be required to state Paso Robles equally prominently.  This safeguard ensures that the region will keep the accumulated marketing capital that we've all been working to build in the national and international marketplace.  And the cooperative nature of the AVA Committee reinforced the bonds of our community, which is in my experience a rare and valuable point of distinction for Paso.
  3. It provides a framework for wineries, sommeliers, and wine educators to discuss the incredible diversity of Paso Robles.  Those of us making wine here have been talking for years about how varied the climate, soils, and geography are in Paso Robles, and largely relying on anecdotal descriptions to support our points.  The research that went into the AVAs puts these facts at our fingertips, and facilitates the discussions that show why Paso Robles can make world class wines from grapes as diverse as Cabernet, Syrah, Roussanne, Mourvedre and Zinfandel.  As a quick summary: 
    • The Paso Robles AVA stretches roughly 42 miles east to west and 32 miles north to south. 
    • Average rainfall varies from more than 30 inches a year in extreme western sections (like where Tablas Creek is) to less than 10 inches in areas farther east. 
    • Elevations range from 700 feet to more than 2400 feet. 
    • Soils differ dramatically in different parts of the AVA, from the highly calcareous hills out near us to sand, loam and alluvial soils in the Estrella River basin. 
    • The warmest parts of the AVA accumulate roughly 20% more heat (measured by growing degree degree days) than the coolest.  This difference in temperatures is enough to make the cooler parts of the AVA a Winkler Region II in the commonly used scale of heat summation developed at UC Davis, while the warmest sections are a Winkler Region IV.  This is the equivalent difference between regions like Bordeaux or Alsace (both Winkler II areas) and Jumilla or Priorat (both Winkler IV areas).

How I expect to see the AVAs used in the marketplace

A criticism that I see commonly tossed out by the opponents of new AVAs (and not just Paso Robles') is that an AVA may be approved before it has meaning in the marketplace.  To me, that's putting the cart before the horse.  At the time ours were approved, really only the Templeton Gap AVA had any particular association in the market, and that was mostly as a geographical feature more than as a delineated area (in fact, much of what locals refer to as the Templeton Gap lies west of the Paso Robles AVA entirely).

Given that relative lack of market knowledge about the sub-regions of Paso Robles, should the TTB have denied the petition?  If they had, it's hard to see how these regions could ever be recognized.  Drawing the lines is an essential step in allowing those regions to develop an identity.  At that point, it's up to the wineries within (or at least, who source grapes from) those regions to make their names.  If they're successful at associating the region with quality and distinctiveness, the market will follow.  What is key is that the lines are drawn using good science, and I think that it's here that the Paso Robles petitions were particularly strong.  The climate, soils, and elevation studies that went into the proposals were the most comprehensive that the TTB has ever received, and I believe they will stand the test of time.

To get a sense of how we're using the new AVA designations, take a look at some of the wines that we bottled during the second half of this year.  You can see several (Tannat, Petit Manseng, Mourvedre, Cotes de Tablas Blanc, and Panoplie) with the new Adelaida District AVA noted.  The Patelin de Tablas, which incorporates fruit from four of the sub-AVAs, retains the umbrella Paso Robles AVA.  The Full Circle Pinot Noir, sourced from my dad's property about 8 miles south-east of us, carries the Templeton Gap AVA (click the photo to expand it):

LG Group

The distinctions between these different labels will make it easier for us to tell their stories: whether they are estate or not.  Whether they are single-vineyard or not.  Whether they are from our home vineyard or not.  And the fact that they all say Paso Robles should keep the market from being confused as to the bigger picture.

If I had to look into my crystal ball, I'd guess that of the 11 AVAs, there will be 4 or 5 that will achieve some market recognition within the next few years.  There will be another 2 or 3 that will achieve it, but somewhat later.  And there will be a few that never achieve much recognition in the market, either because there doesn't develop a critical mass of wineries located within that AVA to champion their AVA, or because the wineries that are located there decide that they would prefer to remain associated with Paso Robles rather than their sub-region.  And that's OK.  How many AVAs can anyone but the most bookishly-inclined sommelier name?  Even among wine lovers, most would be hard-pressed to name more than 30 of the 231 approved AVAs (as of November 2015).  If Paso Robles can add a few more to the common lexicon, it's a win for all of us here, and for wine lovers everywhere.


En Primeur: a Tablas Creek tradition since 2003

By Lauren Phelps

Today, we were joined by many of our most enthusiastic wine club members for our annual futures tasting, which provides the first opportunity for anyone outside the cellar to taste (from barrel) our newest vintage of Esprit de Tablas and Panoplie.  

Group
Our Cellar, Newly Decorated for the Holidays

For a little background, 13 years ago we began offering wine en primeur, which is a time-honored French tradition most often associated with first-growth Bordeaux estates. In outstanding vintages, valued customers are offered the opportunity to secure a limited quantity of sought-after wines at a special price in advance of bottling and subsequent general release.

Info
The Tasting List

Our focus today was on the 2014 vintage, which we have felt since blending may turn out to be one of our best.  We showed our two top red wines from the vintage, the Esprit de Tablas and Panoplie, each of which was blended this past spring.  They have been resting in foudre until this morning's tasting, and are only about halfway through their barrel aging; they'll remain in foudre until bottling next summer.

Bottles
The Wines

Jason Haas provided a bit of context for the tasting by summarizing how 2014 compared to other recent vintages, while Viticulturist Levi Glenn and Winemaker Neil Collins dove into the details of the challenges and opportunities that 2014 presented in the vineyard and cellar.  Finally, Robert Haas shared his thoughts on how these wines have come together and express themselves, and where they may go in the future.

The 2014 vintage produced wines that are notably luscious, but with good tannins behind them. Jason compared it to 2007, a similarly intense vintage with plenty of fruit balanced by substantial but ripe tannins.  We think that the wines will be impressive young (they showed very well today) but will also be among the most ageworthy we've made.

Neil
Neil (foreground) and Levi (behind) speak to the group

Bob
Founder Robert Haas

We find that often the most interesting topics are raised by the participants in our events, and very much enjoyed the lively question and answer session that followed the vintage discussion and tasting.

Wreath
A wreath hangs on a Roussanne tank

Because we feel it is important to taste these wines both on their own and with food, we asked Chef Jeffery Scott to make a dish that would pair well with them.  He chose a coq au vin, braised in syrah, and we contributed the 2008 Esprit de Beaucastel out of our library to give guests a chance to see how a (relatively) mature version of the wine might look. [Editor's note: we're working with Chef Jeff to get the recipe, or at least a version that doesn't require a 3-day preparation of the stock, and will post it here on the blog if and when we do.]

Yum
Chef Jeffery Scott's delicious coq au vin

We hold this tasting every year, always in early December, if you're setting your calendars for next year. And if you missed the tasting,  you haven't missed your opportunity to buy the wines at their futures-only discount. Members interested in ordering wine en primeur should contact our Wine Club team no later than Monday either by email at vinsider@tablascreek.com or by phone at 805.237.1231 x36.

Mavis
Mavis


Photos of the Day: Hand-Grinding Quinces

We've picked all our grapes, and our olives.  The stone fruits like peaches, nectarines and plums are long past.  The vineyard is largely dormant after several frosty nights last week, and the cover crop sprouting.  But there is one type of fruit tree that still had fruit hanging: our quinces.  A quince, if you haven't had one, looks like an oversized, lumpy lemon, but tastes like a tart, crunchy apple.  In texture, it's harder and less juicy than an apple.  Quinces are a part of the same family as apples and pears, and have some resemblances to each, but they are honestly not great eating solo, so are typically used in one of two ways.  You can juice them, and either enjoy the taste -- like freshly pressed cider, but zestier -- or ferment it into a sparkling cider.  Or you can cook them down into paste or jelly, at which point it's a great accompaniment to cheeses.

Both of these seem like good ideas to us, so we'll try splitting our production between the two uses.

Of course, we only have two trees, so we're not talking about industrial quantities here.  Cellar Master Craig Hamm brought in the hand-cranked press that his family used to make homemade apple cider, and he and Gustavo Prieto spent a good chunk of the morning grinding up the pieces of quince by hand:

Pressing Quinces

Looking down into the mouth of the grinder produced a cool image, like spun gold.  You can see the pieces of quince at the bottom, being slowly ground up:

Quince grinder

Because of the woody texture of the quinces, all this was a lot of work.  But the results -- once Gustavo has cooked down the quince mash, and once Craig and the cellar team have fermented the roughly 5 gallons of juice -- will hopefully be worth the effort.  

By the way, if you're wondering what we're doing growing two quince trees, they are a part of our biodynamic program. We've spent the last several years building as much diversity as we can into the vineyard.  Viticulturist Levi Glenn, who oversees the program, wrote a super introduction a few years back: Animal Farm: The Benefits of Biodiversity in the Vineyard.

As for the quinces, stay tuned!


We Taste a Vertical of Full Circle Pinot Noir, 2010-2015

For the last six vintages, we have found ourselves in the Pinot Noir business.  This is, of course, because we've been making wine from the 3-acre vineyard outside my dad's house in Templeton, on which he decided to plant Pinot Noir due to the cool microclimate, the north-facing hillside, and the calcareous soils so reminiscent of Burgundy.  [For the full story, see the blog from 2013 Robert Haas comes Full Circle on Pinot Noir.]  Each year that we make it, we've felt we learn something important about the winemaking of this notoriously fickle grape.  So, now that the oldest vintage is five years old, we decided to open all of them to see what larger trends we could discern.  The lineup:

Pinot Vertical

My notes on the wines:

  • 2010 Full Circle: The nose was rich but not particularly signed by Pinot: figgy, a little chocolaty, with some dusty, resinous, non-fruit element too.  The mouth is clean, plummy and savory, with bakers' chocolate and cola flavors and nice balance.  Just a little hint of age.  Quite a nice wine, but without the vibrant high-toned fruit we associate with Pinot.
  • 2011 Full Circle: The nose felt more massive than the first wine, with chocolate-covered cherry, coffee grounds, and a hint of oxidation.  The mouth is richer than the 2010, with bigger tannins and some still-unresolved oak.  The finish was long, though a touch pruney.  More like many California pinots we taste, a touch on the massive side for us.
  • 2012 Full Circle: The nose is deeper, more savory, with a little brooding black cherry and some baking spices.  The mouth shows clean dark fruit, with nice acids... kind of a sweet/tart black cherry skin experience.  Still pretty tannic.  We liked the weight and the acids, and thought that they both boded well for the wine's future.
  • 2013 Full Circle: The first wine, for me, whose nose was immediately recognizable as Pinot, vibrant and spicy, with the signature red cherry skin and sarsaparilla aromas.  The mouth was also classic, clean and refreshing if not particularly concentrated.  Silky, with some oak evident on the finish.  A delicate wine, quite classic, which should be fun to get in front of people in the next year.
  • 2014 Full Circle (from barrel): The nose was rich with watermelon and plum fruit and undertone of cola that marks it as pinot.  The mouth showed more watermelon fruit, still some youthful tannins and a little sweet oak.  This was most of the group's favorite, though I preferred the lighter-bodied 2013.
  • 2015 Full Circle (from barrel, only free run juice): The nose was primary, still grapey, very powerful.  The mouth was still so young (it hasn't even gone through malolactic fermentation yet) that it was hard to evaluate.  I got kiwi and passionfruit (likely from the malic acid), maraschino cherry, with good tannins and acids.  It seemed like it struck a nice balance in style between the elegance of the 2013 and the power of the 2014.

For me, the tasting was particularly interesting because of how many of the characteristics I really like in our Rhone reds (like weight and texture) tended to me to obscure the ethereal character I like best in Pinot Noirs.  So, the classic ways of judging how strong a wine or a vintage was didn't really work for this tasting.  The 2013 was easily the lightest in color of the tasting, and had the least body... but it was my favorite.  Go figure.

In any case, it was clear to everyone around the table that we're learning every year, and that every year we have done a little better at allowing the grape's essential character to show through.  The vines won't hit 10 years old until 2017, so we're going to have to remind ourselves to be patient with them.  I remember this being hard when our main vineyard was this age... we wanted to somehow accelerate a process that just takes time.