Farming in the Blood: Q & A with Craig Hamm, Assistant Winemaker

By Lauren Phelps

Craig Hamm, Assistant Winemaker, is living the dream and savoring every moment. We get the inside scoop on what's it's like making wine in the cellar at Tablas Creek and what inspires this fifth generation farming native to evolve his skills into winemaking.

Where were you born and raised?
I was born in San Luis Obispo and raised in Templeton.  We spent a couple years in Shandon.  My dad farmed hay on a couple flats around where the Target is now in Templeton.  My brothers and I started helping my dad when we were really little.  My twin brother and I were the youngest of four.  I remember how we couldn’t use the hay hooks, because we were too small, and my brother and I would push the bales to get them closer to the truck so our bigger brothers could help pick them up.  Eventually we got big enough that we could throw them up into the truck with hooks.  Then as we got older we’d get into the truck and help from there.  Growing up in this area, that’s just the kind of stuff we did. 

When and how did you get into wine?
1996 was my dad’s first year of getting fruit off his vines so I started helping out with that when I was young.  Later, when I was in my twenties, I worked at a steakhouse and met a lot of winemakers.  I was bartending and they were always a really cool crowd of people, so I figured I wanted to try working in the wine industry.  I started my wine career in the barrel room at Meridian where they put me on a machine spinning and washing barrels all day- that’s all I did, it was very monotonous.  From my work station, I could see the guys on forklifts, which looked like a lot more fun, so I eventually moved up to a position that allowed me to drive alongside them.   The forklift work was essentially racing around as fast as I could; it was intense, trying to go faster than the other guys without dropping barrels- it was a challenge but it was a blast.  I took two years off after that harvest and then got a job working in the cellar at Justin Winery where I worked for a couple of years.

What has been your career path to where you are?
While working at Justin I would do weekend events with Chef Jeffery Scott.  We did a few events at Tablas Creek, which is where I met the Tablas Winemaker, Neil Collins.  Neil was a really nice guy and we got along well.  After a few years I was looking to work somewhere where there was more variation and smaller lots to work with.  I reached out to Neil, who said there was an opening at Tablas Creek.  I got the job in 2013, and I worked my way up from Cellar Assistant to Cellar Master and now Assistant Winemaker.

In your view, what makes working in the Tablas Creek cellar special?
It’s got to be working with new varieties, and being with a winemaker and crew that’s open to experimenting.  We don’t have any sort of regimentation in the cellar here, so we’re able to figure out what we like on our own terms.  We’re working with wines that don’t have an established legacy here in the United States and we’ve been given the opportunity to help write their history.  It’s really fun seeing what comes in the doors every day during harvest. 

Craig Edit

What’s your biggest challenge as Assistant Winemaker?
My biggest challenge is part of what I really like about working at Tablas.  It’s working with these new grape varieties and building a log of history and maintaining it with each new vintage and with each variation we try in the vineyard and in the cellar.  My challenge is noting these details, because up to this point all we had was what was in Neil’s head, his knowledge and experience. I’ve been challenging myself to learn more about these varieties and organizing written notes that we can use for years to come.

Which are your other favorite wines or wineries locally or around the world?
I prefer rustic, country style wines, you know- easy drinking country wines.  I love Tablas, so I drink a lot of our wine.  I like Pinot a lot, I’ve worked a lot of World of Pinot events and I really like tasting those.  Papapietro from Sonoma Coast makes killer Pinot Noir.  And I really like Demetria in Los Olivos, they’re really fun and nice to visit and big fans of Tablas too.

If you had to pick one red and one white to drink for the next month which would you choose?
I'd probably pick the Grenache Blanc for the white because it maintains a great balance between richness and texture without going too far in either direction.  For red, I’d choose En Gobelet not only because I love the wine, but also because I’m really into the story behind the wine.  The farming technique employed to make that wine is really important in the narrative of the future of California winemaking, I think.  Those would be two solid wines I could drink with each meal.

How do you like to spend your days off?
Now my days off are pretty much spent taking Jackson, my two-year-old son, to the beach.  We play soccer, kick the ball around a little bit.  It’s something we’ve both been into.  My free time is spent hanging out with the little man. I used to love to go surf, once he gets old enough I’ll get him out on a board. My fiancée Annika and I spend a lot of time traveling and even more cooking together and learning to pair wine with the new cuisine.

Craig 2

What would people be surprised to know about you?
I guess probably that my Great-Great-Grandfather lived out in the Adelaide. They were part of the Mennonite train that came out here.  So my family’s been here six generations.  That’s a lot of history, and roots in the farming community.

How do you define success?
You’ve got to be happy with the people you work with and the job you do and I think Tablas does a great job at creating that atmosphere.  It’s amazing.  When you walk around working and you just smile and realize, hey I’m at work and I’m really happy, I think that’s success.

Craig 3


Harvest 2017, the Beginning

By Brad Ely

[Editor's Note: With this post, we welcome Brad Ely, Tablas Creek's Cellar Master, to the Tablas blog.]

Friday marked the first day of harvest for us here at Tablas Creek. A whopping 8.72 tons of Viognier for the Patelin Blanc. This is just the soft start of our busiest season in the cellar. Soon the sweet smell of fermentation will be wafting from full tanks, our hands will be stained purple, and we will be busy with the task of guiding grapes through their transformation into wine.

Harvest is the culmination of an entire year’s worth of work in the vineyard. A year of sunshine, rain, wind, temperature fluctuations, frosty mornings, heat waves, all having an effect on the character of the next vintage in bottle. Countless hours of work, making sure the vines produce the best fruit possible. Our job in the winery is not to mess it up. Once the fruit is placed on our doorstep, the vineyard’s work for the year is done.  The vines can rest, and begin dreaming of winter hibernation. Now it is our time, our opportunity, to create something spectacular.

We have been preparing the winery for the last month, cleaning harvest equipment, pressure washing fruit bins, rebuilding pumps, making sure presses work, and tanks are sanitized. We have purchased supplies, new winemaking toys, and tools to fix the new toys when they inevitably break. At times it feels like preparing for battle, making sure every detail of preparedness has been taken care of. Our goal is to come out victorious, with new wines that have reached their maximum potential as our spoils. (Perhaps I have been watching too much Game of Thrones.)

We have also been preparing ourselves, both mentally and physically. We desire harvest to run smoothly, like a well-oiled machine. That means we need to be as equally prepared as the winery. Safety training, CPR and first aid certifications, training of excited interns, revisiting our standards and procedures for everything harvest related. The row of machines dedicated to supplying artificial energy has appeared in the lab. A coffee pot, espresso machine, and even an iced tea maker, to help us grind through the longest days.  Soon a beautiful leg of cured Spanish ham will appear, fondly known as “The Stinker”, for our snacking delight. The fridge has been stocked with cold libations to help us keep our sanity at the end of a hard day's work.  

We rejoice with the opportunity to stop shaving, (the men anyways) not worrying about looking presentable to the general public. The slow process of transforming into cave men has begun. We have had our last suppers and bits of summer vacation, both friends and family knowing we will be out of social commission for the next few months. Every bit of down time will be needed for sleep, a decent meal, and perhaps a stab at the pile of dirty, grape-stained laundry looming in the corner of the bedroom.

Relationships will be built, friendships made, stories told, and also created. So many hours spent with one another provides a connection deeper than the average 9 to 5 workday experience. Musical tastes will emerge, and then be sub sequentially suppressed by the opposition.  Senses of humor will arise, movie quotes rehearsed, dirty jokes told, and a few curse words may take flight. We have come together with a common objective, to raise wines through the start of their long journey to our dinner table. If we are successful, we will enter harvest as a team, and exit as family.

Harvest is the best time of year. Tensions are high, and so are emotions of excitement and thrill. Creating fine wine is an exhilarating feeling matched by very few experiences in life. It is the perfect combination of science and nature, with opportunity for artistic expression every step of the way. Hopes, dreams, and aspirations of creating something magical gain traction around every corner.

This morning, we way our first day of red fruit, beautiful clusters of Pinot Noir that will ultimately become the Full Circle. Perhaps an ironic foreshadowing of what harvest will signify for the vineyard? The last arc in the annual circle it takes on its mission to produce the world’s most noble beverage.

Meanwhile, we'll celebrate the beginning, in style.


Not All Those Who Wander Are Lost: Q&A with Cellar Master Brad Ely

By Suphada Rom

Brad Ely, a native of the Central Coast, has found his way back to the area after several years of travel and cellar experience, taking him from the far reaches of Australia and New Zealand all the way to Washington state and the Rhone Valley. I sat down with him recently to talk all things travel, winemaking, and what makes Tablas Creek special to him.

Brad truck

I know you're local to Central Coast- where did you grow up?
I grew up in Arroyo Grande, California, so about 45 minutes south of Paso. It was a good town to grow up in- close to the beach, which was great since I surfed a lot. Small town but a really good place to raise a family, and it's on the central coast so that's definitely a plus. After high school, I went to Cal Poly.

Did you study wine and viticulture at Cal Poly?
So I was torn between wine and viticulture, construction management, and business. At the time, I thought business would be the most versatile option, but really all my work experience after college has been in the wine industry. My first job was at Saucelito Canyon in Edna Valley. I went into it thinking I'd just do a quick harvest, then do a ski season somewhere else, but I stayed on for two harvests. After that, I took off around the world for 3 years, to travel and continue my passion for making wine.

Brad Barrels

Where have you traveled and worked?
The first place I went to was Australia, to work harvest for Two Hands in the Barossa Valley. I stayed beyond harvest, took some time to travel to Asia, then moved up to Washington to work for Owen Roe, making everything from Pinot Noir to Bordeaux varieties and Syrah. I worked there until winter and went straight back to Two Hands in Australia to work another few months, leading into harvest. After that harvest was done, I hopped on a plane to go to New Zealand for another. Literally, our harvest ended on a Friday and that following Monday morning I was scheduled to start in New Zealand for a custom crush facility called Vin Pro in Central Otago. After that, I traveled through Indonesia and the Philippines, before going to France. While in France, I worked for a producer called Domaine La Barroche under Julien Barrot. The vineyards there have been in the family for centuries, records going back to about the 14th century. Originally sold to negociants, Julien decided to keep the wines and start a label. The year that I was there was the first year they were producing out of their new cellar, which was just a beautiful cellar. All concrete fermenters, large foudres, and gravity flow. I came back and it wasn't long until I heard about an opening at Tablas Creek. I've been here about a year now, which has been a huge blessing!

What makes Tablas Creek special to you?
It's just an amazing property, with a completely different feel than a lot of wineries in the area. I think that has a lot to do with being co-owned by a French family. Just walking through, it feels very French, especially coming from Chateauneuf-du-Pape and basically going straight to Tablas. Not only are the winemaking philosophies pretty similar, but it has that French feel; and that's part of why I like our winery so much. Tablas is a special place and an awesome piece of land to grow grapes on. Everything we do here really reflects tradition, as well, which I am a huge proponent of. 

As Cellar Master, what are your tasks?
It's everything in the cellar and everything winemaking oriented. We have an awesome team and between Craig, Chelsea, Neil, and I, we pretty much have all the bases covered and organizationally speaking, things run really smoothly here. Working in the cellar, it's fruit to glass. During harvest time, it's everything from processing fruit to pump overs to digging the tanks. No job is too small or too big, we're doing it all. When harvest is over, it's a lot of moving wine around, lots of tasting, and making sure everything is going in the direction we want it to. Working in the cellar is very mechanical and you have to wear all sorts of hats. You may be a plumber and then an electrician and a repairman. And cleaning... a lot of cleaning!

Brad Tractor

What would be something people would be surprised to hear about working in the cellar?
Well a lot of people think we drink wine all day, which isn't true! You've got to drink in moderation, which doesn't include drinking at work, so we're constantly spitting. I believe you can taste a lot better when you're spitting, as well. And depending on who you talk to, not everyone knows how much work goes into making a bottle of wine. I've had people shrug it off and say, "Oh yeah, you know... you pick grapes and then make the wine." That's when I have to tell them it's a bit more complicated than that!

What is your personal winemaking philosophy?
Wines that are pretty close to Tablas. I like to be pretty hands off and I don't really like oak. I like natural fermentations, and getting away from additions if you can, even in terms of acid adjustments. I like lower sulfur wines, as well. Basically, trying to make wine as naturally as possible, while still making clean drinkable wines that reflect terroir and sense of place. In terms of what I want to make, I want to make Rhone wines- that's where my passion lies. If I could, I would make Grenache and Roussanne all day, those are the two I care most about. 

When you're not cleaning tanks or moving wine, what are you doing?
I like to travel. I just got back from Cuba, which was really cool. I like to ride motorcycles and work on them. Growing up, I surfed a lot, which I still do a fair amount of. I'll also golf with my Dad and although I'm horrible at it, it's something we can do together. And then of course wine stuff!

Brad Lamb

Do you have a favorite food and wine pairing?
I always love pork and Grenache, like a pork loin or something with a little bit of gaminess. I had a pairing recently with rabbit and Pinot, which was pretty tasty too.

Finally, how do you define success?
I think you’re successful if you’re happy. If you’re happy and you feel like you’re in a good spot then I think that’s success. I wouldn’t tie it anything monetary. I’ve never been into status symbols and nice things, don’t get me wrong, I would love to have nice things, but it’s not a make or break for me. If you’re happy and healthy and the relationships you have are meaningful, that’s success.


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

By Suphada Rom

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

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

Leslie mexico
 

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

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

Maya and leslie

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

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

Leslie nathan maya

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

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

Yoga

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

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

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


A Lesson in Thai Cooking and Pairing with a Flight of Tablas Creek Wines

By Suphada Rom

The Tablas Creek team, as you might suspect, includes a large number of foodies, each with a different background. Around the lunch hour, people congregate in the kitchen to cook or just reheat lunch and socialize.  John Morris, our Tasting Room Manager, always creates a buzz with his authentic Thai dishes brought from home. And these aren't leftovers from a local restaurant, either. His wife Christina is a very accomplished and well versed Thai cook. For years, we've all felt pangs of jealousy when he opens one of his Tupperware containers, revealing yellow-gold curries with floating shrimp and bamboo.

So, when Christina invited a group of us over for a lesson in Thai cooking, we brought willing and able hands to help, and a passel of Tablas Creek wines to enjoy with our feast.

Couple with food
The happy (and hospitable) couple!

Walking into John and Christina's kitchen, the smell of the different spices was heady in the best possible way. I was hungry for food, but we were all eager to learn. Christina was incredibly warm and lovely and her years of restaurant experience show with her calm demeanor, warm hospitality, and a happy willingness to answer any and all of our questions. I'm sure she would have been able to balance a stack of books on her head the whole time, while maneuvering about the kitchen. I adore her and can't thank her enough for hosting all of us because, as I'm sure most of us know and have experienced, entertaining ravenous folks with a line-up of several bottles of wine is most assuredly always a handful!

Christina Curry
Christina starting the curry with some paste and coconut milk in the pan

We -- OK, I use "we" lightly when it comes to us cooking -- made a rich chicken and vegetable curry, fish cakes, tapioca dumplings, and papaya salad, all accompanied by a warm bowl of Jasmine rice. The chicken curry glimmered, a beautiful golden yellow color with vegetables poking through the surface. Fish cakes, seasoned with pungent curry paste and fried to perfection, quite literally rose to the occasion as they inflated in the pan while cooking. Tapioca coated dumplings were stuffed with a combination of fermented radish and ground pork, with dry roasted peanuts for texture. The papaya salad was done classically, with slivers of green papaya, mixed in with fresh cherry tomatoes and lime, tossed in crab paste and fish sauce. Christina taught us how to make it all, and like many good chefs, without a recipe. Tasting all these dishes was both familiar, yet intriguing. I tasted a lot of familiar flavors, but they appeared in different form. It's sort of like when you really start to smell all the different nuances in wine. It's surprising and intoxicating- I just couldn't stop smelling and tasting everything, and neither could anybody else. And in the spirit of togetherness, I really wanted to know what everyone else thought about our meal and what they thought the best pairing was:

Wine
The line-up of wines we tried (not pictured was a jug of Bristol's Cider, made of course by our Neil Collins!)

Lauren Phelps, Marketing Coordinator:
My favorite pairing was the Patelin rosé with the papaya salad!  The crisp refreshing qualities of the rosé balanced the spicy tangy flavors of the papaya salad.  With the lingering spice of the salad, taking a sip of the rosé was like enjoying a refreshing sip of cool water, but better.  I also enjoyed how the savory berry flavors of the rosé sustained through the bite of salad leaving me with a tart raspberry flavor lingering before the next bite (which wasn’t very long).

John Morris, Tasting Room Manager: 
Vermentino worked with everything for me, especially the 2015.  It’s counterintuitive to the old saw of sweet wines with spicy food, but I think the aromatic sweetness works here.  Also, the acidity helps mitigate the heat.  The cider (Bristol's Cider, locally made by Tablas Creek's winemaker, Neil Collins) was great too!  I didn’t taste the Grenache Blanc, but I’m sure it would have worked as well.  I wanted the Petit Manseng to work, but for me it was just too sweet to balance everything. 

Amanda Weaver, Tasting Room Lead:
In my humble opinion, the Vermentino was the perfect pairing with all the beautiful dishes. The only close rival was the Patelin rosé. Both had refreshing acidity which complimented and challenged the notes of kaffir lime and Thai chilies that made their presence in most of the dishes. For a novice in spicy foods, the cool crisp Vermentino kept me from running for the fire extinguisher and kept me at the table enjoying our delicious meal! I'll be honest, when I heard that the first course was going to be fish cakes, I was ready to just stick to a nice full glass of Vermentino. However, once I caught a whiff of the tangy yet earthy Kaffir lime I knew I had to give it a try with the cool liquid in my glass! From there I was hooked. From fish cakes, to the translucent tapioca balls, to papaya salad and curry, I could not have asked for a more complete meal to pair with our 2015 Vermentino!

Leslie Castillo, Tasting Room Lead:
Out of all the TCV wines there were I only tasted 2014, and 2015 Vermentino and the 2014 Patelin Rosé; from those 3 wines, to me 2015 Vermentino had the most vibrant acidity and citrus notes which paired great with the fish patties, it contrasted the fatty content in them and complemented the fragrant lime leaves; that was my favorite pairing with the curry too!

Me:
This was a tricky one for me, as I truly enjoyed most of the wines at different parts of the meal. I loved the Patelin Rosé's liveliness with the curry, and how it sort of brought out more the curry's aromatics. Vermentino was incredibly versatile, bringing out the heady fresh herbs in the papaya salad, making my mouth water for more. Petit Manseng served as a rich and textured conclusion to our meal.  

Curry
Curry with chicken and vegetables

Leslie Cakes
Leslie, assembling fish cakes

Papaya
Papaya salad

Life gets so busy sometimes, with kids, schedules, appointments, and outings, that it's often difficult to coordinate get-togethers. However, I've come to realize we need to continue to make the time and the efforts to do the the things we love with the people we care about. In my experience, time spent often has either food or wine weaved in. While both food and wine are great, without the right company, the experience isn't quite as sweet. How lucky are we that we get to call each other both coworkers and friends. 

  Group
Cheers from the Tablas Creek team!


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.

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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.


Biodynamic Bon Vivant: Q&A with Gustavo Prieto

By Suphada Rom

When work doesn't feel like work and is a joy, you know you've got it made. By this measure, Gustavo Prieto lives an incredibly fruitful life, balancing passion in his work with a zeal for adventure. From cellar to vineyard to tasting room, Gustavo's role at Tablas Creek is as fluid and multifaceted as the seasons themselves. 

Gustavo feeding lamb

Where were you born and raised?
I was born and raised in Chile and moved after high school to attend university at Cal Poly.

What did you study at Cal Poly?
I studied fruit science there for five years. After that, I moved a lot, always working in the produce industry. I was in Holland for four years, moved back to Chile for eight years, then finally back to California for good in 1999. In 2000, I decided I needed a break from that industry, and just did some consultating on the side.

When did you get into the wine industry?
I got my first winery job in 2005, working for Wild Horse during harvest and I just loved it! That was my first harvest and after that, I decided that I wanted to continue working in the wine industry. I worked a harvest at Bianchi on the east side of Paso Robles, then after that, I started hearing a lot of conversation about Tablas Creek and I got really curious about it. In 2007 I was able to get a position in the tasting room and have been here ever since. When I first started I was primarily tasting room, but that grew into doing more out in the vineyard and the cellar. I had a lot of experience with farming and produce, so Levi (our then viticulturist) asked me to help him out with some cool new projects. We wanted to get a staff garden going on the property, as well as planting more trees for the orchard. I also work in the cellar during harvest season.

Gustavo eating cherries

Why is planting trees and a garden important for the vineyard?
It's important for diversity in the vineyard. I mean, we've been growing grapes here for a long time, so growing other crops gives us the opportunity to be around other types of agriculture. Neil introduced the idea of planting fruit trees to bring something else that we didn't already have into the vineyard. By bringing in the fruit trees, we are breaking up the monoculture that is just growing grapes. And we have so many different kinds of trees! Mostly apples, but we also have pears, plums, peaches, nectarines, quince, pomegranates, fig, cherries, and persimmons. 

In the last few years, I've been able to work on a garden, to both diversify the vineyard and provide our staff with good organic produce. In the summer, we have fresh tomatoes, corn, zucchini, squash, melons, radishes, basil, and more. Again, all that adds to the biodiversity in the vineyard. Same with the animals that Nathan's working with and the bees that Jordy introduced. We have this place that is rich and diverse in other elements. We aren't just growing grapes- we're doing much more than that. 

What is your vineyard or garden philosophy?
My philosophy is to bring back Mother Nature. Mother Nature is so savvy and I truly believe will always outsmart us. It's very resilient. I think that's what we, globally, need to get back to. Nature dictates what we do out there. Let the process flow as naturally as well as we can, by guiding in an efficient way. In the end, nature will reward us with what we want to achieve, and in our case, that is to produce good quality grapes on a healthy vineyard. We do that by not using any chemicals. You see, nature in itself helps to keep the population of bad insects under control. It's not about eliminating them, but more about the beneficial insects keeping them under control and not letting them get out of hand. 

Gustavo Grapes

You're coming up on your 10 year anniversary here- what has been your most memorable experience at Tablas Creek or in the wine industry in general?
One of the many highlights was going to France in 2010 and 2011. In 2010, I went to work for Chateau de Beaucastel for harvest. That was amazing! I enjoyed that so much. Everything was great, I worked in the cellar doing everything related to cellar work, helping and supporting them with anything they needed.  Also tasting wines over there, I mean, I can still taste them! It was truly a once in a lifetime opportunity and through working for Tablas Creek, I was able to have such an incredible experience. 

I was also able to spend some time in Burgundy. I even took a class in Beaune. I loved going to France so much that I repeated the experience and worked for Pierre Gaillard in Languedoc for harvest and that too was an amazing experience. Spending time in the southeast part of France, it reminded me a little bit of Paso Robles, you know? Less tight and rigid, less regulated, and less traditional. You have more room for exploring and creativity, too. So much great potential there, as there is here.

When you're not at the vineyard, what are you doing?
On my days off, I like to bike. I live in Santa Margarita, so I can leave my house and bike for hundreds of miles without seeing cars. I also enjoy working on my bikes. Sailing has always been a passion of mine. My wife, Heidi, and I spend time working on our garden; I love doing that. We compliment each other very well in that area; she knows a lot and really, she's the one who started me on gardening. 

Gustavo sitting

Do you have a favorite food and wine pairing?
Well, I'm from Chile, so I love empanadas! To me, empanadas are traditional and a staple. It was a staple in my house every Sunday. We would have empanadas and red wine, most likely a Chilean Cabernet. I love Chilean wines. Old world producers coming from the southwestern part of Chile, with dry farmed vines. Old vine Carignan is very interesting to me. I've also seen Mission blends coming out and getting popular.

Finally, how do you define success?
Success is all about happiness. If you have success and no happiness, I think you've gone nowhere. Stability is important, too. Stability with your family, friends, and yourself. I don't see success from a monetary aspect, it's all about what makes you happy!


East Coast Roots and West Coast Vines- Q&A with Viticulturist Jordan Lonborg

By Suphada Rom

Recently I was able to sit down with our Viticulturist Jordan Lonborg to learn a little bit more about this New England native's transition to California living. Jordan plays a key part in the organic and biodynamic farming program here at Tablas Creek, as well as being chief liaison with the growers we partner with for fruit for the Patelin program. He's often seen traipsing throughout the vineyard with his dog Miles (named after Miles Davis).

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Where were you born and raised?
I was born and raised in Scituate, Massachusetts, a little beach town about 30 miles south of Boston.

How did you get into wine?
I've always loved wine and was exposed to it at a younger age. When I married Molly (Assistant Winemaker at neighboring Halter Ranch), she took me to another level with the wine experience. 

What is your role as the Viticulturist?
I'm here mainly to improve the overall health of the vineyard while maintaining that level of health moving forward. We're using different pruning techniques, fertilizing tactics, and cover crop choices. I think that's the big role for me. Also, the customer relations with our growers for the Patelin program. I work towards maintaining those relationships, while also trying to help them farm a bit friendlier and moving them from a conventional mindset to more biodynamic in terms of farming.

Jordan and Small Fish

Can you talk a little about biodynamic farming and what you're contributing the vineyard?
Having a diverse ecosystem is amazing. You go into any sort of thriving natural setting, you don't see monoculture. You see a plethora of insects, plants, and animals. One thing I noticed though, when I first got here was that there was no bee program, which is part of the whole biodynamic philosophy. I jumped on that immediately! Bees are essential to biodynamic farming- they pollinate the cover crop we grow on the off season. [Editor's note; see Jordan's post from April about our new bee program The Swarm, the Hive, and Tablas Creek Honey.] 

Me, I'm most passionate about the farming aspect of biodynamics. I think having a diverse ecosystem is amazing. Biodynamics recreates what happens in nature. It's not easy- there's more work involved but it just makes sense. I'll go out in the vineyard and see the animals grazing on cover crop. They're providing tillage and nitrogen, taking away work that otherwise humans would be doing. Otherwise, we'd be running tractors and burning diesel to accomplish the same thing. 

What is your biggest challenge out in the field?
My biggest challenge is coming from a conventional farming background and transitioning to a highly sustainable property. With conventional farming, your toolbox is very big. If you see an issue arise in the vineyard, you can respond with a heavy duty fertilizer, spray, or application. Here at Tablas, that toolbox is small, so it forces you to think outside the box. You can't just band-aid the situation, you have to ask the why's, the how's, and what-can-we-do's. 

Jordan and Molly

What do you find most rewarding about working here at Tablas Creek?
Like I said, it's a really magical property. You have the activity with the animals, which you don't have in many places. Everything feels alive and vibrant. The minute I went on my first tour with Neil, my mind was just made up. You go up on Scruffy Hill, a completely dry farmed block of the vineyard, and there are vines on the top of that hill that were planted 6 years ago; and I've seen vines that have been irrigated and fertilized that are a quarter of the size of those plants! We are fortunate to have the soil type and we get the annual rainfall we need to make dry farming possible. Seeing that was, hands down, one of the coolest things I've ever seen. It just clicked.

If you weren't a viticulturist, what would you be doing?
That is a very good question! I could see myself teaching. When I was at Cal Poly, I helped manage the deciduous orchard on campus and had a lot of interaction with students. Since I was a little older than the other students, my professor set me up with a role to take the lead on a lot of our enterprise courses. On the other hand, I could also say I'd could just be fly fishing on a river for the rest of my life.

Besides the extreme sport of fly fishing, what do you like to do in your spare time?
Work on my yard. We have a lot of acreage that I care for. Any chance that we get, we try to kayak- we're on the ocean a lot. Then just exploring Paso, really. Trying to taste as many wines in the area as we can.

Jordan and Big Fish

Do you have any favorite wineries?
I love Halter Ranch. The wines at Terry Hoage (TH) are amazing, and of course, Tablas Creek. I just love how new and different the wines are in Paso. Outside of Paso, Ridge is insane. Molly is from Mendocino, so we'll always hit up wineries along 128 there, which are just phenomenal, as well.

What would people be surprised to know about you?
I didn't always know this is what I wanted to do. I found agriculture when I was 26 and working on a farm in Mendocino, and just kind of fell in love with agriculture. 

Finally, how do you define success?
Happiness! Bottom line. If you're not happy with what you do every day and you don't go to bed happy, then you're not succeeding in life. It's not the money, or status, or your belongings. It's just whether or not you're happy.


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

By Suphada Rom 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


What We're Drinking at Thanksgiving 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.