By Chelsea Magnusson
A few months ago, my husband, Trevor, and I sat down to dinner in our backyard with a bottle of our new go-to wine: the Patelin de Tablas. I was so struck by the warmth and the casual feel exuding from the moment, I grabbed my camera and took a picture (and yes, I am that person... you know, the one who's always taking pictures of their food?) Looking back at the photo a few days later, I realized that I took the picture because to me, the moment perfectly captured what I see Patelin to be: easy, comfortable, casual, and genuinely, solidly GOOD.
For those of you who are not yet familiar with this wine, you can read notes on the 2010 Patelin de Tablas Blanc and the 2010 Patelin de Tablas. A little historical background from the cellar perspective:
In 2009, we had a pretty rough year in terms of harvest tonnage we brought in from our vineyard. In many ways, it's great to be an estate winery - we have complete year-round control of what happens in our vineyard, we know the subtle nuances of each individual block, we can experiment with different farming techniques, etc. Basically, it boils down to this: the fruit was grown on our property, in our soil, under our watch. However, being all estate comes with challenges. One of them being that we are at the complete mercy of mother nature. If we have one good frost, not enough heat, not enough rain, too much rain at the wrong time, or any number of other issues, our production can be decreased.
For the 2010 vintage, it was decided that Tablas Creek would start a new project. Fruit would be purchased from neighboring vineyards, hence the name of the new wine: "Patelin de Tablas" (the word "patelin" means "neighborhood" in French). All of our other wines remain estate grown, and we do contribute some of our estate fruit into both the Patelin de Tablas Rouge and Patelin de Tablas Blanc.
For those of us in the cellar, the Patelin project has proved to be challenging in a wonderful way. And it is fun. Really fun. The personalities that have come into the cellar (and I mean both the growers and the fruit) are fascinating. The people we have met are all so outstanding, and the fruit they bring us carries with it a character that we physically cannot produce on our estate.
So I think it goes without saying that I am unbelievably excited about this new wine. When I was looking back on the photo I took in our backyard, I thought it would be fun to see what kind of moments others at Tablas Creek would capture if given the prompt "how do you like your Patelin?" I wanted to see the way others enjoy this wine and I was so pleased with what I received, I thought I should share:
The Haas family - Bob, his wife Barbara, Jason and his sister Rebecca - celebrating at Bob and Barbara's home in Vermont. Rebecca sent me the photo and I am told they are Glidden Point and Belon oysters from Barbara Scully (who was recently featured in a blog post by Bob).
General Manager Jason Haas had this wonderfully charming photo snapped at Shakespeare in the Park in San Luis Obispo. Patelin apparently pairs beautifully with theatre on the lawn at dusk!
National Sales Manager Tommy Oldre sent this photo with the question, "how else would I enjoy Patelin?" Here, he is pictured doing what he does best: making new friends and pouring Tablas Creek wine at Venokado in Santa Monica.
Tasting Room Manager John Morris took this photo from the beautiful new patio at Tablas Creek. As usual, his plate is full of gorgeous bounty from his home garden.
Accountant (and self-proclaimed Spreadsheet Queen) Eileen Harms and her husband, Paul enjoying what looks like a bottle of Patelin Rouge and a bottle of Patelin Blanc in their backyard under a full moon... a wonderful lesson: if you can't choose, indulge in both!
Wine Club and Hospitality Assistant Manager Monica O'Connor just couldn't resist and was forced to submit two photos: the first is a photo of her son and daughter-in-law who live in New York (what better way to enjoy Patelin than with loved ones?) and the second, a photo of Humphrey Bogart with a quote that was originally intended for Lauren Bacall, now directed toward Patelin: "You'll fall in love with her like everyone else."
Wine Club and Hospitality Assistant Dani Archambeault submitted this unbelievable photo of a shared bottle of Patelin looking out over Paso Robles wine country. Such a stunning photo... perhaps the Paso Robles Chamber of Commerce should think about using this shot for travel and tourism advertisements?
Assistant Tasting Room Manager Jennifer Bravo submitted a few photos, but this was my favorite: a bottle of Patelin, the newspaper, and a tin of smoked oysters. Perfect.
Viticulturist Levi Glenn sent in a Patelin still life that made me wish it was dinner time.
Rat de Cave (a self-professed term meaning "cellar rat") Shawn Dugan enjoyed Patelin out of a mason jar at the Templeton Concert in the Park summer series.
Winemaker Ryan Hebert and his wife, Laura, definitely went above and beyond with their "assignment". I received a memory card with a whopping 86 photos. Seriously. Now, I thought I was excited about this wine! This was my favorite, but I also had to share one more that Laura submitted, because I thought it was funny (and wonderful) how two people in the same household enjoyed Patelin differently:
And finally, this is my photo that spurred the whole photo essay; dinner with some of my favorite boys at home in our backyard:
After looking through all of the photos, it looks as though everyone enjoys their Patelin in more or less the same fashion - with wonderful company and great food in fun settings. We hope you do the same, and would love to see your photos. Please send any that you take to us at email@example.com. We'll publish the best in a later blog post!
by Robert Haas
I began my love affair with oysters on the half shell when I first went to France in 1954. Sure, I had eaten the ubiquitous Blue Points in New York restaurants (with cocktail sauce of course) but I discovered then the flavors really fresh cold water oysters, served with just lemon and fresh ground pepper and accompanied by a Chablis or a Sancerre, could bring to the table.
I was unaware of the availability of terrific oysters at retail for home delivery here until Glidden Point Oyster Sea Farm, owned by Barbara Scully (right), was brought to my attention a few years ago at a wine and oyster tasting in Peacham, VT by Ed Behr, the Vermont-based food and wine devotee best known as publisher of The Art of Eating. Home for the Glidden Points is the Damariscotta River, which flows with some of the cleanest water on the East Coast. It is an excellent place to farm because it produces oysters with a rich buttery-yet-briny taste. Ever since that tasting, my family, friends, and winery neighbors have often profited from that discovery. A few days after our tasting I called Barbara for the first time to order some oysters to enjoy at home. I was intrigued by the idea of “estate grown” oysters with “terroir.” Not only estate grown but hand planted and harvested by diving rather than dragging. Barbara’s terrific web site is a must visit for any who love these hard-shell bivalves and would like to learn more about them, their culture and their history.
Whereas oysters on the half shell were rare in restaurants and even rarer at retail in their shells in the U.S., they were offered frequently in France from simple bistros to the Michelin three-star elites back in the fifties. I really do not know why that was. Perhaps we had lost the art of eating during prohibition, when of course, the emphasis was on high proof drinking; or perhaps a lack of refrigeration or commercial airfreight for shipping. It was not always so. Colonists gobbled up the then-abundant oysters in the river estuaries on the East Coast, and oysters are often mentioned in literature describing fine meals back in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Judging from the piles of oyster shells from Native American feasts -- for example, the Glidden Midden on the Damariscotta shore -- oysters were a favorite American fare as long as two thousand years ago.
Last week my wife and I were renting a small house in Rockland, about half an hour away from Edgecomb, where Barbara Scully and her two teenage children tend the retail shop and the wet storage landing dock on the Damariscotta River where the oysters await shipping. We went to visit, bought two dozen oysters (of course) and persuaded Barbara to take us on a tour later that week of one of her farm sites up river. Seedling oysters (below, left) mature in plastic cages (below, right) for their first year before they are planted on the bottom to grow four more years.
Only then does Barbara dive to harvest them using nets like the one below.
We asked her kids if they ever dived to harvest. The quick answer was "No, only mom dives". The farm is a tough, exacting and sometimes dangerous business that "mom" has been working at for 24 years. She not only plants, grows and harvests herself; she answers the phone and tends the retail stand. Wow!
So order your Glidden Points (here). When they arrive grab your shucking knife, some lemon and a pepper mill. Open a bottle of 2010 Vermentino that you have stashed in your fridge or the 2010 Marsanne that is in your fall VINsider shipment and have a feast.
We've had the same vineyard team here at Tablas Creek for the last fifteen years. Neil Collins has overseen both the vineyard and the winemaking since 1998. He is assisted by Winemaker Ryan Hebert and Vineyard Manager David Maduena, both of whom have been here since our 1997 harvest.
So it's with some excitement that we introduce Levi Glenn, who joins us this summer in the post of Viticulturist. He brings a decade of experience managing vineyards in Napa and Sonoma, and has focused on converting vineyards from modern to biodynamic viticulture for the last five years. Plus, he's got formal training, which none of the rest of us do, with a degree in Viticulture & Enology from Cal Poly. We couldn't be more excited to add him to our team. He introduces himself, and gives a brief overview of shoot thinning, in the below video.
We took some close-up photographs of the shoot thinning process as well. The goal of shoot thinning is to select the two best shoots on each of the three spurs that we've left on each cordon. As our vines are pruned double-cordon, this means we're selecting a dozen shoots per vine, each ideally with one cluster of grapes. These shoots are going to provide the photosynthetic capacity, as well as the grape production, of the vine for the year.
This process completes the effort that we begin with our winter pruning of taking a three-dimensional plant and turning it into something more two-dimensional so that we can better ensure even access to sunlight as well as better flow-through of air. Good air circulation reduces the potential for mildew or rot and allows whatever nutritional or antifungal treatments we think the vineyard needs to penetrate the canopy. On the left is an un-thinned vine, so bushy it nearly obscures Levi, and on the right a vine post-thinning, fruit exposed to the light:
Shoots that don't have fruit, that exit the cordon horizontally rather than angled up, or that are too close to a better shoot, are pruned away. Below, Levi points at the spurs that will be kept, with the others pruned away. In this selection process, we're also thinking of the coming winter, when we'll select three of these shoots per cordon to become the next year's two-bud spurs.
The process this year is more challenging than normal. The principal cause is our April frosts, which damaged many of the spurs that we left last winter and forced the plant to sprout from secondary buds that were not in ideal starting locations. A secondary cause was the wet, cool, late spring, which delayed us getting into the vineyard until later in the year, when the long days, the sudden arrival of warmth in June and the abundant ground water have combined to produce explosive growth.
Despite our late start, we're more than 90% done with shoot thinning. One more photo will give you a sense of the progress: thinned vines on the row on the left, with bushy vines awating thinning further up the row as well as on the row to the right:
By Robert Haas
Where? Well, Vinsobres is in the Drôme, the next département north of the Vaucluse: kind of the northern limit of the southern Vallée du Rhône. We were in the outskirts of Les Cornuds, a village -- patelin, if you will -- of about four houses just east of Vinsobres. Vinsobres is the newest Crû in the southern Rhone, recently elevated from a Côtes du Rhône Villages appellation. Besides wine, the Drôme is also known for its olives, where Nyons is France’s only olive AOC, and black truffles, which are harvested in the fall. Look for Vinsobres on a map between the towns of Nyons (Drôme) and Vaison-la-Romaine (Vaucluse), just north of D94.
We were staying on a vineyard property that the Perrins, our friends and Tablas Creek partners, bought about ten years ago. The house was a ruin at the time of purchase, and the Perrins have lovingly restored it over the last 8 years. What a treat! The kids, 21 months, 3, and 6, learned to play boules and enjoyed (along with the adults) the swimming pool. We visited nearby village farmers’ markets, ate in a few restaurants, enjoyed the visit of our Paso Robles friends, the Careys, and generally relaxed. Well, relaxed as much as being around three young and active kids will allow. Another view:
Vinsobres is so named for the dark color of its wines, due in large part to a higher percentage of syrah than surrounding appellations (The most northerly of the southern Rhone’s top appellations, Vinsobres is friendlier to syrah than further south). The better vineyards are planted almost 50/50 syrah and grenache noir, and the wines show the darker spicy character of syrah along with the chocolate cherry of grenache. The Perrins are big believers in the potential of Vinsobres, and have purchased several parcels totaling nearly 150 acres over the last decade.
The house site was terrific. It was on the top of a hill, had a wrap around patio with great vineyard views and good breezes. We often breakfasted, lunched, and dined al fresco. It struck me how similar the spacing and pruning of the vineyards around the house in Vinsobres are to ours at Tablas Creek. The elevations of 300 to 500 meters and the many different exposures of the hillsides reminded us of Las Tablas/Adelaida in Paso Robles. Even the soils and their geologic origins are similar to ours, with limestone boulders lining many of the roads.
During our stay Marc Perrin invited Jason and me to lunch at another recent Perrin acquisition, the restaurant l’Oustalet in Gigondas, where we lunched outdoors right in Gigondas center: an active place. After lunch we explored the Perrins’ many Gigondas parcels, in locations from the top of the town, just under the rocky outcrops of the Dentelles de Montmirail (pictured above), to the town’s only Clos (the Clos des Tourelles just below the old town), to lower down vineyards in sandy soils, where they farm what they believe is the region’s only pre-phylloxera vineyard. These grenache vines, planted on their own roots, are more than 130 years old. Gigondas has a noble history and is the southern Rhone’s best known Crû after Châteauneuf du Pape. The Perrins believe that its ability to show the feminine, floral side of grenache is unmatched. The soils of Gigondas range across four different geological eras, and plantings are dominated by grenache noir. A view down across the appellation, from the vineyard pictured above:
Since Jason had not yet seen them, we also went to visit the new cellar installations at Beaucastel and the greatly enlarged cave producing the Perrin and Nicolas Perrin wines. Impressive!
The Perrin holdings and family are beehives of activity. Besides Jean-Pierre and François, Jacques’ sons, there are seven grandchildren: Marc, Pierre, Thomas, Cécile, Charles, Matthieu, and César (who is working this summer and fall at Tablas Creek) involved in the family wine business. The creative energy of the Perrin family is remarkable, and the efforts they are putting into elaborating the distinct characters of the diverse appellations of the southern Rhone perhaps their most ambitious and important work yet.
We’re proud to be their partners at Tablas Creek.
By John Morris
I recently ran across this photo of our tasting room staff from an outing in December of 2007. The thing that strikes me most about this shot is the size of our group. Our entire tasting room staff at the time consisted of 8 people. Now, 3 and a half years later, we’re 16 strong. Pictured from left to right are David, Phil, myself, Zach, Sylvia, Brian and Gustavo. Absent due to a school-related commitment is Chelsea, then a member of our tasting room staff, now our assistant winemaker. Since that time three of us have gotten married, one has become a father, another a step-father, and two have moved to the east coast. Tellingly, five of the eight are still employed at Tablas Creek, six if you count the occasional guest appearance by Zach.
David, on the far left, was my first hire, and is perhaps our most energetic, even as he is our oldest. Everyone else pictured predates me. Phil recently moved to the Boston area to help with his grandchildren after a lifetime in California. He exuded an oasis of calm in the tasting room for over five years. Zach completed training at the fire academy last year as he juggled shifts here, and became a father a few weeks ago. Sylvia has been our assistant tasting room manager since before I moved to Paso, if that says anything. Brian joined the Peace Corps and was posted in Morocco after a year-long stint here, and now resides in Washington D.C. Gustavo (originally from Chile, but commonly mistaken as Frenchman) came aboard just before me, and has been a rock for the last four years. He spent two months interning in the cellar at Chateau de Beaucastel last fall, and returned even more knowledgeable than before. Much of the rest of our staff, including Steve, Cindy, Tedde and Mary have been here going on three years. Deanna worked here some years ago and returned last year. Recent additions are Alex, Lisa, Joelle, Charlie, Teri and our dynamic new assistant manager, Jennifer. Austin, our winemaker’s son, now helps out on Saturdays.
A lot has been made of our splendid new tasting room, with good reason. It’s much roomier, beautiful to look at, quieter, supremely functional, and has been a dream to work in. The cellar crew loves it because we aren’t setting up tables in their space every weekend. We love it because we aren’t setting up tables in their space every weekend! If you haven’t been in, you owe it to yourself to check it out.
But in even in this striking new space, it still comes back to people. Behind the gorgeous new bars, reflected in the huge glass windows that allow a glimpse into the cellar, you’ll see most of the same faces you’ve come to know, doing our best to provide welcoming, personal service with an educational twist, pouring wines we never forget we are blessed to work with. Here’s to my crew.
In January I had the pleasure of sitting in on Marc Perrin's presentation of the wines of Beaucastel, Domaines Perrin, and La Vieille Ferme to the Vineyard Brands sales team at their annual sales meeting. (I followed with a presentation of Tablas Creek). The wines were beautiful, and the 2009's from the southern Rhone will be stunning. But what I took away from the experience was a deeper appreciation of how remarkable a family the Perrins are, both passionate about the tradition they inherit and willing to innovate and experiment to improve. This balance between tradition and innovation manifests itself in wonderful ways in the wines they produce, of course, but equally so in their marketing.
Far from the stereotype of technophobic French farmers, the Perrins have been at the forefront of new media, creating the Perrin Family Blog in 2003 and more recently diving wholeheartedly into Twitter (@Beaucastel) and Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/beaucastel).
At the January sales meeting, Marc played a draft of a seven-minute video montage chronicling a year in the southern Rhone. The video takes you through the annual cycle, from pruning to budbreak to ripening to harvest to fermentation and winemaking. I particularly love the vignettes of the family (and Claude, their cellarmaster) deliberating about blending decisions, but the entire video is wonderful.
The idea that there is one perfect holiday wine is silly. There is no one single holiday meal, and no one single holiday group. But at the same time, it's fun to peek into other worlds and see what people are planning. I asked several key members of the Tablas Creek team what they'll be drinking at the holidays this year. There was no requirement that the wine be a Tablas Creek wine, and as you'll see, several non-Tablas suggestions were offered. But there's a healthy amount of Tablas Creek in the plans, too, which has to be a good sign.
As usual, I've left the recommendations in the contributors' original words. In alphabetical order:
Neil Collins, Winemaker and Vineyard Manager
I think for our holiday meal we will begin with a dry Bristol's cider which is always a good fit for the season and the food. With old Tom himself I think I will seek out a demi-sec Vouvray, I suspect that the sweetness will pair well with the turkey coupled with the fact that I am currently intrigued by the Loire Valley wines. And needless to say there will be a bottle of TCV Roussanne on hand, probably the 2002 because that is a sure thing. HAPPY HOLIDAY
Chelsea Franchi, Assistant Winemaker
This is going to be a very special holiday season for my family for many reasons, so we’re going to pull out all the stops when it comes to food and wine. Last year, I had the great privilege to sit in on a Panoplie vertical tasting at the winery just before Christmas, and the 2004 Panoplie struck me as a wine my parents would thoroughly enjoy. Its character is deep, lush and ripe with bittersweet chocolate, gorgeous sweet plum and profound fig notes. It certainly carries a “wow” factor upon first impression and only becomes more impressive with time in the glass. Honestly, I don’t think it matters what this wine is paired with – I’m sure it’ll please its audience regardless.
We traditionally kick off our Christmas morning with a few bottles of bubbly to enjoy as we open presents with the whole family. I’m a fan of just about all bubbles, but my favorites are always on the creamy and yeasty end of the spectrum. My choice this year, the Mumm Napa Brut Prestige Extended Tirage, is a wonderful value in my opinion, considering the extended sur lie aging and the use of méthode traditionelle fermentation techniques. I love finding wines that taste more expensive than they really are, and this happens to be one of them.
Nicole Getty, Director of Wine Club, Hospitality and Events
The traditional Christmas feast at my family's house is a standing rib roast and Yorkshire pudding. We usually change up the first course every year but last year was such a success, we’re doing it again! We will be pairing seared scallops with drizzled honey and apples served with a 2008 Viognier (Halter Ranch Vineyard) and the 2004 Esprit de Beaucastel with the hearty, rich roast.
Robert Haas, Partner
This year, the family is going seashore for our Christmas dinner with Maine lobsters from Barbara Scully's Oyster Farm located at the mouth of the Damariscotta River. They will be arriving at our house live on the 24th after less than 24 hours out of the water. We eschew fancy preparations for simply boiling them in salt water and serving them with lemon and melted butter. Yum!
Our wine choice is Tablas Creek's Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc 2007: an intense minerally white with ripe, full flavors of stone fruits balanced with bright acidity that goes beautifully with this quite rich shellfish presentation.
John Morris, Tasting Room Manager
As always, we'll begin Christmas Eve dinner with a fish or shellfish course. This year we’ll look back to a favorite, Steamed Mussels with Garlic Sabayon, from the Herbfarm Cookbook. Really, just about any clean, dry white will work. The Tablas Creek Côtes de Tablas Blanc loves garlic and would be a great choice, as would our Vermentino. But a dinner guest promised to bring a favorite Chablis (I don’t know the producer), so we’ll put that front and center and go from there.
For a main course we’ll have a rack of pork coated in herbs, crushed fennel and black pepper, roasted fingerling potatoes with rosemary, and braised fennel. An earthy red wine of medium weight seems to me to be the ticket. The Tablas Creek 2008 Côtes de Tablas is the obvious choice from our current roster, with its deft texture and fruity, slightly herbal underpinnings. I’m also going to open our 2003 Esprit de Beaucastel, which was the star of a recent library vertical tasting. It may be slightly weighty for the pork, but it’s so delicious right now that I really don’t care if it’s the perfect match. Other wines I would try are an old-school Rioja (read: not over extracted or oaked), or a high-quality, Grenache-based Rhone.
Tommy Oldre, National Sales Manager
It looks like most of the holiday gatherings I will be attending will be in the potluck category and, for me, this equates to bringing our 2008 Cotes de Tablas. It's versatility and friendly profile make it a great match for many dishes, and many palates, and it's always a nice way to introduce Tablas Creek to any new faces I may meet. I also plan to have Champagne at the ready. I'm not sure which producers I will be drinking, but Bonnaire is a safe bet, as is Billecart-Salmon. I enjoy drinking Champagne for all that it is as a beverage and for all of the celebratory emotion it can inspire. For me, the chance to celebrate family and friends, and to celebrate with family is friends, is what this time is year is really all about.
Deanna Ryan, Assistant Tasting Room Manager
We plan on serving an English style prime-rib dinner, with Yorkshire pudding of course, and Trifle for dessert. At this point, I am thinking of opening an 01 Founders Reserve and the 03 Esprit de Beaucastel.
Last week, we had the pleasure of one of Francois Perrin's semi-annual visits to Tabas Creek. In this immediate post-harvest time, we tasted through the cellar, did our best to evaluate the 2010 components, and took one last look at the 2009 reds before they start to go into bottle.
We also took the opportunity to look back, and pulled a bottle from our library of each vintage of our signature red wines. Of course, when we were first starting, we only had one red wine, but we pulled that anyway. We were impressed with the life still left in even the oldest of these wines, and thought it would be fun to share our notes on how they are tasting now. First, a look at the lineup:
At this tasting, in addition to Francois, were me, my dad, Neil, and Chelsea. Note that we didn't taste a wine from 2001, when we declined to make an Esprit de Beaucastel after spring frosts scrambled up the ripening cycle. We declassified our entire production into the 2001 Cotes de Tablas (which made it one of the greatest bargains we've ever produced; if you have any, drink up; it's at a great stage but probably won't last much longer).
It's always valuable having one of the Perrins over at Tablas Creek, and Francois, who has spent the last three decades as the principal architect of Beaucastel's wines, brings a particularly interesting perspective. That he was as impressed as he was with the 2009's bodes very well for their quality. One more photo, of Francois Perrin and Bob Haas, at the end of the vertical tasting:
From my own perspective, as much fun as the vertical tasting was, I was most pleased by how well the 2010's showed. It's typically a difficult time to taste, a few months after harvest while wines are just finishing primary fermentation and just starting malolactic fermentation. But with the exception of Grenache -- which in my experience is always problematic for at least three months after harvest -- all the red varietals showed richness, balance, and a persistent saline character that seems to be a hallmark of the limestone soils here, and which frame the fruit and structural elements in all the wines. I have never been as impressed with a vintage at this early stage, and am actively looking forward to getting to know the components we have in the cellar as we start the blending process.
Late last week, with harvest concluded and the winemaking team rested up after a long, grueling harvest, national sales manager Tommy Oldre caught up with them to talk about their 2010 harvest experience. In the video, you'll see winemakers Neil Collins, Ryan Hebert, and Chelsea Franchi each give their thoughts on what happened, what they're thinking about where we are, and what we learned. I love the way that their personalities each come through in the ten-minute video.
Don't miss the special appearance by vineyard dog Millie, who arrives complete with live vole captured in the vineyard around the 2:45 mark!