San Luis Obispo County: the Little County that Could

This week, the San Luis Obispo Tribune posted a nice article pointing out the terrific representation of San Luis Obispo County in the two most influential year-end "Top 100" lists published by the Wine Spectator and by the Wine Enthusiast.  The Wine Spectator included seven local wines in their Top 100, while the Wine Enthusiast added three more in their Top 100.  Let's stop and think about this for a moment.  That's 10 of the 200 wines represented in the two lists from our little county, or 5%.  And even better that most of the wines listed were toward the tops of the lists. Already pretty satisfying, right? It's actually even better than that.

Tablas Creek Long View 2014

How much wine does San Luis Obispo County make, compared to the rest of the state, country, and world?  In 2016, San Luis Obispo County ranked seventh in the state of California by bearing acreage according to the USDA:

  • San Joaquin: 68,210
  • Sonoma: 58,007
  • Monterey: 44,095
  • Napa: 43,589
  • Fresno: 37,831
  • Madera: 32,763
  • San Luis Obispo: 31,480

Overall, our county represents 6.8% of the 459,629 bearing acres in the state of California.  So, 5% doesn't seem like that great a representation.1  But of course, not all the wines in the two "Top 100" lists are from California. In fact, just 39 of the 200 wines in the two lists (17 in Wine Enthusiast and 22 in Wine Spectator) are from California.  So, that's 25.6% of the state's "Top 100" representatives that come from SLO County.  Not bad.

Perhaps you'd prefer to look at what percentage of American wine our little county represents?  Opening up the list to wines from Washington, Oregon, and New York adds an additional 22 wines.  That reduces SLO County's percentage from 25.6% to 16.4%, still well above the 3.45% of the country's total production that San Luis Obispo County represents.2

Or perhaps you're prefer to look internationally.  In 2015, the United States produced 10.48% of the world's wine.  So, San Luis Obispo County produced 0.36% of the world's wine: just one out of every 277 bottles made.  That means that in the two "Top 100" lists, the 5% that SLO County represents is overperforming by something like 14 times, measured as our percentage of world production. 

However you choose to measure it, we punched way above our weight class in 2017.

You go, San Luis Obispo County.

Footnotes:
1. It's actually a little better than it sounds, since although SLO County represents 6.8% of California's acres, it represents something less than that of its production. That's because coastal regions like ours generally produce many fewer tons per acre than counties in the Central Valley.  Figuring out by how much is a little tricky, since production isn't tracked by county, only by Grape District.  In the California Grape Crush Report for 2016, District 8, which includes San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, and Ventura Counties, produced 224,584 tons.  If SLO County represents the same 67% of tonnage that it represents of the district's bearing acreage, which seems reasonable, it would produce 150,471 tons, or about 3.7% of the state's 4,031,000 total tons produced.

2. This calculation required a bit of cross-referencing, since grape acreage statistics in states outside California, Washington, Oregon, and Texas are hard to come by.  I used instead the tons estimate I calculated in the above footnote, and calculated the percentage of total national production based on the Wine Institute's data that California represents roughly 85% of the United States' total national production.


5th Annual December must! Month at Tablas Creek

By Lauren Phelps

We have a saying in Paso Robles, “it’s not the wine industry, it’s the wine community” and this sentiment is never more apparent than during the holiday season.  During these winter months our community of winemakers, wine lovers, and growers rally together to make a significant impact locally through donations and volunteer work.  And we concentrate our philanthropic efforts, multiplying the benefits through must! Charities- a local nonprofit organization that donates 100% of its proceeds directly back to specific community projects in North SLO County. 

Must Donation
Our 2017 must! Charities donation

This December is our 5th annual must! Month fundraiser where we donate $1 for every bottle sold (online, by phone, and in the tasting room) throughout the month.  In total, Tablas Creek has donated over $31,000 from funds raised during must! Month since 2012.

2017 must
December Tasting Room List

Often we are asked by guests in the tasting room what must! Charities does and how buying a bottle of Tablas Creek wine during the month of December supports families in need.  To put it briefly, must! Charities brings together hundreds of individuals and businesses in a collaborative effort to pool funds and resources together to give bigger and better for our community.  Must! strategically selects the most essential projects to fun and supports them with large, lasting contributions that make sustainable change in North SLO County.  Some of what they have supported in recent years includes: 

  • Food Bank Coalition's Children's Farmer's Market Expansion- The $27,000 Cash Investment over the last 12 months added an additional 9 sites to the north county and provided over 170,000 pounds of fresh produce for children and families.
  • Big Brothers Big Sisters-  4 year, $253,000 - $273,000 commitment with Big Brothers Big Sisters of SLO County with financial and business expertise that will grow the North County reach from the 10% that it represents now, to a realistic number based on community need. 
  • CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates)- must! charities is committed to a 4-year, $262,551 collaboration with CASA to address the 120 children remaining on the waitlist in North County.

Haas Quote 2
While we're proud of the donations we make each year, it's not all we do. Tablas Creek team members volunteer with local organizations such as CASA, local youth sports, Paso Robles Youth Art Foundation, Prado Day Center, and Community Counseling Center.  Last year we helped freshen up the Boys and Girls Club in a hands-on service project.

BGC Collage_sm
2017 Tablas Crew Work Day

We couldn’t do any of this without the support of our wine loving community.  Thank YOU for helping us continue our mission to be positive ambassadors of the Paso Robles wine community.


Why Paso Robles is So Well Suited to Late-Ripening Grapes

This morning, when I got back to the winery after a week on the road, my first order of business was to check in on how harvest was going. I was happy to learn that things picked up a bit last week. After more than two weeks of chilly fall weather, it had warmed back up, with eight days of perfect ripening weather: daytime highs between 83°F and 93°F, and lows between 41°F and 51°F.

And still, when I asked Chelsea how she was feeling, she responded, "this is definitely the first October 1st I can remember where we haven't been stressing about tank space."  Although harvest picked up from the glacial pace it was in mid-September, we are still waiting on most of our Marsanne, Roussanne, Mourvedre and Counoise.  Why? Blame the cold nights. Here's Neil, this morning, next to our first pick of Mourvedre. It was 52°F at 8:30am:

Neil looking chilly

We're used to this here, but most of the Mediterranean world is finishing up harvest about now. Beaucastel's Facebook page (for example) shows that they brought in their last fruit on September 29th:

It's not like this year is an outlier for us, either.  Over the last 15 years, we've averaged a last pick off the estate on October 29th, and our earliest-ever finish was October 7th in 2013.  Six times in those 15 years we were still picking in November. 

To explain why grapes take so long to ripen in Paso Robles, I'll have to detour briefly into some basic plant physiology. Bear with me here, or just skip to the end of the bullet points if you'd like the conclusions without the chemistry. There are a number of different processes which limit a grapevine's ability to photosynthesize at low temperatures. These include:

  • The tendency of plants to close their stomata (pores in the leaves) in response to cold, limiting respiration and the uptake of CO2
  • Carboxylation (sorry for the long, technical term) is the first stage of photosynthesis, whereby CO2 molecules are turned into an acid known as 3-PGA. Carboxylation efficiency declines as temperature declines
  • The electron transport capacity of plants is reduced at low temperatures
  • An enzyme known as Rubisco, essential to the first step of carbon fixation in photosynthesis, is inefficient at low temperatures

So, in essence, at cold temperatures, plants take in less CO2 and are less efficient in turning the CO2 that they do take in into the starches that fuel both plant growth and fruit ripening.  Grapevine ripening proceeds most efficiently between 30°C and 35°C (86°F and 95°F).  It drops dramatically below 25°C (77°F), and reaches zero at 10°C (50°F).  A summary graph from a technical paper published in Plant, Cell, and the Environment shows the combined effects pretty clearly:

Figure-7-CO2-saturated-maximum-rates-of-photosynthesis-meanSE-of-Semillon-leaves-as

For context, take a look at the temperature curve for the most recent 24 hour period:

Temperature C by Hour early October

You can see that while it did get warm, topping out around 30°C (86°F) yesterday afternoon, it only lasted until sunset just after 6pm.  By 8pm it was already down to 20°C (68°F). It bottomed out at 6.4°C (43.6°F) at 6am and wouldn't rise back up above 20°C until noon today.  So, over the last 24 hours, our vineyard spent 5 daylight hours over the 25°C temperature at which photosynthesis happens efficiently (2pm-6pm yesterday). Five other daylight hours (9am-1pm today) saw temperatures at levels where some photosynthesis can happen. Two daylight hours (7am-8am today) saw no photosynthesis at all because it was too cold.  And for 12 hours the sun was below the horizon. 

We are far from the only, or even the most extreme, location in Paso Robles.  The temperature grid from the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance shows other areas that dropped near freezing last night.  Most show diurnal temperature swings of 40°-50°F. 

Temperature Grid October 2nd 2017

So, what does all this mean? That once you get into the end of the growing season here in Paso Robles, it's hard for grapevines to do too much photosynthesizing. That's a benefit, because you can get the last little bits of ripening on your late-ripening varieties slowly, so they continue to build complexity without accumulating too much sugar.  In general, the longer your grapes can stay on the vine before they get to the ripeness levels you want, the more complexity your wine has.  That's why a generally accepted bit of wine wisdom says that the best examples of different grape varieties can be found at the northern limit of their ripening range. So, the best Sauvignon Blancs tend to come from the Loire, and not Bordeaux. The best Pinot Noir tends to come from Burgundy, and not the Languedoc.  And the best California Chardonnay tends to come from cool coastal pockets where the fog slips in from the Pacific, not from the Central Valley.

Of course, at some point, you do need to get things ripe.  Grapes that don't make it to good ripeness produce wines that are green and bitter: no one's idea of a pleasurable drink. But here too Paso Robles has an advantage: that we don't tend to get our first serious rain until mid-November.  If we need to wait, we wait.

Hopefully, this particular waiting game is over for a while. But if it's not, I'm still confident we'll be OK. Thanks, Paso Robles.


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.


Photo of the Day: A Ridiculous Sunset

Winter in Paso Robles typically brings great sunsets.  The moisture in the air brings clouds -- rare in the summer -- and the lower sun angles mean that the colors last longer in the evenings. The shorter days mean that they're often happening while I'm still at work. Tonight's wasn't a given, though. It was chilly and overcast most of the day, and it wasn't until a half hour or so before the sun disappeared behind the western hills that the clouds broke up enough to let the sun's rays through. But oh, what a reward:

Sunset feb 2017

This time of year brings my favorite Paso Robles landscape.  The winter's rainfall has meant that you have deep, lush greens everywhere. Soon, we'll get an explosion of wildflowers, particularly after this wet winter.  And the sky puts on pyrotechnic displays many evenings.  There was actually a rainbow (not really photographable, though I tried) opposite this sunset. 

If you've only experienced Paso Robles in summer or fall, make a point to come out in the winter or spring next time. You won't believe your eyes.


Spreading our love to the Paso Robles community

By Lauren Phelps

When I have the opportunity to share stories about Tablas Creek I find myself repeating this line, “this is one of my favorite things about Tablas Creek…” I say it about the wine (of course), but I also say it about many other unique aspects including our organic and biodynamic vineyard practices, how intentional the vineyard is from the soil up, and our passionate and friendly team- it really is a joy to come to work every day. This morning was another “one of my favorite things about Tablas Creek” moment.  

In celebration of Valentine’s Day and as a way to share our love for our community, the Tablas Creek team came together to clean, organize and donate playground toys to benefit the children at the Boys & Girls Club in Paso Robles.  Eleven of us (from the cellar, tasting room and office) met early in the morning and spent three hours there working on projects too time consuming for the club to manage in their day-to-day operations. We look forward to choosing another worthy cause this fall, and diving back in.

BGC Collage_sm
Service projects at the Boys & Girls Club

We worked to repair the backpack racks used by over 100 children every day. We also organized and cleaned the library, the computer lab, the kitchen, storage room and ball room. Believe it or not, we had a great time! It was a bit of a Mickey Mouse in Fantasia around the Club this morning. Imagine eighties-rock music motivating us, brooms and dustpans in action, donuts for breakfast and friendship in the air. Working to help others, in a collaborative way, with such fun coworkers leaves a lasting sense of joy that we all shared.

BGC Group

I feel honored and privileged to work for a committed, family owned business like Tablas Creek. Also, I feel incredibly thankful to have such enthusiastic, fun, caring friends as coworkers. We’re looking forward to our next project this fall -- another opportunity to share give back to the local community which has been so supportive of us.

---
The Boys & Girls Club in Paso Robles provides a safe place after school for over a hundred children every day. The Club charges just $20 a year and provides academic, enrichment, and leadership opportunities for many children whose parents have limited resources.  It has received major support from must! charities, the amazing local nonprofit that has done so much good work in San Luis Obispo North County, and which we have supported each year since it was created in 2012.  For more about the work Tablas Creek does to benefit our local community please see our In Our Community page.


January 2017 is Tablas Creek's wettest month ever

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

Screen Shot 2017-01-22 at 11.55.13 AM

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

Screen Shot 2017-01-22 at 12.25.48 PM

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

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

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

FullSizeRender-6

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


On being a kid-friendly winery

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

Mother Magazine Paso Robles

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

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

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

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

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

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


Outtakes from my Decanter "My Paso Robles" article

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

Decanter_my_paso

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

My Paso Robles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Just how hot has the summer of 2016 been? More (and less) than you probably think.

I woke to a chilly morning in Paso Robles today, under an overcast sky that seemed equally composed of smoke and fog. The low this morning dropped into the upper 40s, and when I got to the vineyard it was still in the low 60s.  This is a change from the last two weeks, which have been very warm, with an average high of 98.2°, an average low of 57.2°, and six days that topped out over 100°F.

I was interested to research just how warm July was, compared to normal, and I was a little surprised that while it was on the warm side of average, it wasn't as warm, comparatively, as June.  Looking at growing degree days (a commonly used heat summation measure that accounts for both how much time is spent above a baseline temperature (typically 50°) and how much the temperature exceeds that baseline) we saw 689 degree days in June, about 10% above our 20-year average of 626.  The data is probably easier to make sense of in chart form:

Degree Days 2016 vs normal

As you can see, in a typical year, the heat peaks in July and August, with June and September still quite warm.  This year, July was indeed hot, and June nearly as much so: 34% more heat accumulation than normal, above our average July total. Looking at the difference vs. normal shows that dramatically:

Degree Days 2016 pct difference

What pushed June's degree days to such high levels? Two stretches of sustained heat, at the beginning and end of the month, were wrapped around a more moderate middle of the month. The beginning of June saw an eight day period from 6/1 to 6/8 with high temperatures in the mid-to-high 90s and lows around 50°, which isn't unprecedented but is still unusual that early in the year. And then starting 6/19 we saw twelve hot days in a row, with the lowest daytime high measuring 97.1°, nine days in triple digits, and three that topped out above 105°. That's hot, at any time of year.

Late July's very warm weather was balanced out by the first half of the month, which was just about textbook average for the season: two weeks with highs each day between the mid-80s and mid-90s, and lows between the mid-40s and mid-50s.  

And about those cold nights: one thing that bodes well for the vintage is that despite the warm days, we have still had more cool nights than the past couple of years -- 25 days in June and July that dropped into the 40s, vs. just 16 last year and 22 in 2014.

The net impact of the warm close to July has been an acceleration to the veraison that we saw start in mid-July. I took advantage of the cool morning to hike through the vineyard and get a sense of where the different grapes are sitting in their path to harvest. Overall, I think we're almost exactly at veraison's midpoint, with just as many berries now pink to red as there are still green.  Of course, that varies quite a bit by variety, and even within a variety, with cooler spots at the bottoms of hills typically quite a bit behind those same grapes at the tops of the hills.  I'll take them in the order in which we saw veraison start, beginning with Syrah, which I would estimate is at 90% versaison:

Veraison_2016_syrah

Next to go into veraison was Grenache, which I would estimate is about 50% through the process. Note that it was hard for me to get out of the grenache blocks to take photos elsewhere; it's such a beautiful grape, particularly at this time of year when a single cluster can look like a rainbow:

Veraison_2016_grenache

Mourvedre isn't far behind the Grenache, though I found it a lot less even, with many vines that still had small, bright green berries on every cluster even as there were some clusters that looked like they were almost all the way through.  Overall, I'd estimate Mourvedre is at 40% veraison, and the cluster below only slightly more advanced than the average:

Veraison_2016_mourvedre

Finally, Counoise, which is only going through veraison at the tops of the hills, and even there there are more fully green clusters than there are those that look like the one below. Overall, I'd estimate it's only at 10% veraison:

Veraison_2016_counoise

Of course, red grapes aren't the only ones that go through veraison, but it's hard to photograph the subtle changes that white grapes undergo. Two photos might give a bit of a sense. First, Roussanne, which is our last white to ripen, and in which I couldn't find any signs of the softening or turn from green to gold that would indicate that the process has started:

Veraison_2016_roussanne

Compare that to this shot of Viognier, which will likely be our first white to come in off our estate about three weeks from now:

Veraison_2016_viognier

Whether because of the cool nights, the (somewhat) better rainfall we got last winter, or the work we've been doing with biodynamics to make sure our vineyards are as healthy as possible, it seems like the vines are showing fewer symptoms of extreme stress than they were at this time either of the last two years.  And we're hopeful that we'll avoid another hot stretch at least in the near future; today's forecast is suggesting near- to below-normal temperatures over the next ten days.  If we can replicate the cool August weather we got in 2014, we'll be happy indeed.