Congratulations to Neil Collins - 2013 San Luis Obispo County Winemaker of the Year

It was with great pleasure that we received the news that our winemaker Neil Collins was voted by his peers the 2013 Winemaker of the Year for San Luis Obispo County.  You can read the full press release here.

Neil - Praise the Lard

With one exception -- the 1997 vintage, for which Neil was working at Beaucastel -- Neil has had a hand in every vintage of Tablas Creek since our first harvest in 1994, when he was Assistant Winemaker at Adelaida Cellars and we were renting space there.  We used this rented space to make our first few vintages of wine before we'd built our winery and gotten our French clones into production. (Props to anyone who can remember some or all of the names those early wines carried on their labels; leave a comment if you do.)

So that means that this 2013 vintage will make twenty years since we first began to work with Neil, and be the sixteenth vintage he will have overseen here in our estate winery.  What a luxury that continuity is.  Grapevines aren't like most agricultural products; they take years (decades, even) to show their full quality, and a winemaker who joins a project mid-stream might well second-guess the vineyard choices that a previous administration had made and yet not have much flexibility to change it.  To have worked with Neil for so long means that he was involved in turning our vision into reality from the very beginning, and his input in our early choices is reflected across our operations, from vineyard to cellar to the events we host.

Equally important is the fact that Neil oversees both the vineyard and the winery here at Tablas Creek.  These are not, in our view, different worlds, to meet only at harvest.  Our goal has always been to make wines that are at their core expressions of this vineyard, and the choices that we make in the vineyard are a direct result of what we want the grapes to bring to the winemaking process.  Neil has been central in shaping our viticulture efforts, including dry farming, organic and biodynamic viticulture, our animal program and our efforts to bring biodiversity into the vineyard.  This has meant that his work in the cellar begins with grapes that have been grown specifically to emphasize the character of place that our winemaking seeks to highlight.

Perhaps most importantly, it's not every winemaker who is excited to let the expression of place take center stage.  California is full of wines that bear the indelible stamp of winemakers' stylistic decisions, from signatures of new oak barrels to specific yeast strains, extreme levels of ripeness or extraction.  It takes a winemaker with a particular personality and a high level of self-confidence to let his or her own work be to modulate and reinforce the signatures of place, grape and vintage.  We are exceptionally fortunate to have found in Neil such a winemaker, who despite plenty of creative vision -- on full display in the wines he makes for the Lone Madrone label he owns with his wife Marci and his sister Jackie -- is willing and able to step into the background in order to give pride of place to ... well ... place.

Congratulations, Neil, and cheers to many more great vintages.

A fertile beginning to 2013

The vineyard is still safely dormant, but our flock is growing. It's lambing season, and we've turned our sheep barn into a nursery.  In the manner of new parents everywhere, I'll share a few baby photos because I can't help but think you'll agree that they're irresistibly cute.

First, we welcomed a little girl we named Molly after soliciting receiving an amazing 176 suggestions on our Facebook page:


Next, a boy we named Luis after Shawn Luis Dugan, who left us a week ago to pursue his love of flying after two years in the tasting room, cellar and, most recently, heading up our animal program:

Shawn with luis

And yesterday, we got twin girls, as yet unnamed:

Twin girls

These sheep will join our grazing herd, which is already hard at work chewing down our cover crop, fertilizing the vineyard block they're in, and mixing everything around with their hooves.  We move the flock around to different acre-and-a-half sections every week or so, and keep them together and safe with a movable, lightweight electric fence.

Meanwhile, if you're coming out to the winery, take a look down at the stone lambing barn just below the winery.  You'll likely see, and definitely hear, one of our new kids. 

Er... lambs.

Our most memorable wines of 2012

As we move forward into the new year, I asked some of our key team members to reflect a bit on what wines stuck with them from 2012.  Some chose Tablas Creek, but most did not (and those who did all chose different wines!).  The wines they chose are every bit as eclectic as you might expect, but are, equally as you might expect, great reflections of the amazing team we have here.  They are presented to you in alphabetical order, in the original words of each person, except I'm saving my comments for last.

Neil Collins, Executive Winemaker and Vineyard Manager
As someone who spends far too much time indulging in wines both fine and not so much this is generally a tough question. However not so this time around. Whilst on the east coast attending a charity event as the Tablas Creek guy behind the table, I took the opportunity to visit the Haas family home in Vermont. Splendid place. Now Robert Haas is not known for pouring the not-so-much ones anyway, but on this occasion, WOW. An absolutely perfect rack of lamb on my plate, the wine served was a perfectly cellared 1978 Clos de la Roche out of magnum. As I sniffed the glass I was taken aback with its subtle beauty, I glanced at Bob who with a glimmer of a grin merely raised an eyebrow in agreement, a rare one. The wine was stunning, with the lamb even better! Had I not already been seated I may well have fallen to my knees. I am a lucky boy!!

A slightly more attainable bottle was a Madeleine Cabernet Franc, my favorite non-Loire Cabernet Franc to date. CHEERS NEIL

Darren Delmore, National Sales Manager
My most memorable wine of 2012: 2008 Ramey Chardonnay Hyde Vineyard, Carneros, California.The Hyde Vineyard, in my opinion, is the best Chardonnay vineyard in America, and winemakers working with this site, like Whitethorn, HdV, Patz and Hall, and Ramey, have stories of harvesting Chardonnay at sky-high sugar levels, supernaturally low PH’s, and significant natural acidity levels. The matching of varietal to site is spot on here. Place, time, occasion and food are all key factors in determining an impressionable wine, and the Ramey ticked all the boxes. This was my first Father’s Day, even though my son was in the womb, and on a golden late afternoon on a ridgetop in Anderson Valley, I matched this weighty, citrusy, barrel-fermented beauty with a local abalone that was bigger than my face.

Best of 2012 - ramey

Chelsea Franchi, Assistant Winemaker
When prompted to talk about my most memorable wine of 2012, I have a feeling I will deviate from my peers in terms of criteria for my finalists.  While I did have some lovely wines this past year, for me, the most truly memorable wines are those that are shared with my favorite people in the world.  Sometimes that means the wine is a special bottle from a well-respected producer, a bottle that has been saved in the back of the collection waiting for the perfect occasion, or sometimes, it can be a bottle picked up from Trader Joe’s the day of the party and enjoyed with fabulous company. 

That being said, I’ll choose my wine this year based on the company it was enjoyed with and, I suppose, the way in which it was presented.  My family always enjoys a bottle of bubbles on Christmas morning and this year, we made it all the more memorable by sabering the bottle with a ski.  Why a ski?  Well, why not?  I certainly do not encourage this kind of behavior, but I will say it was exceptionally fun (and my skis are in dire need of a tune anyway, so I wasn’t particularly worried about the edges).   Tell me that doesn’t look fun.  And memorable?  Quite.

Best of 2012 - chelsea

Nicole Getty, Wine Club and Hospitality Director
I did not consume very much wine in 2012, as I was pregnant for most of the year, and even on special occasions, it was not appealing to me. However, a few days after my son was born, we celebrated with what I had been craving- a margarita with extra salt! Oh, and lots of salty chips and salsa! I plan on digging out some of my bottles of wine from my wine fridge in 2013 (including of course Tablas Creek and Beaucastel that I’ve tucked away).

Levi Glenn, Viticulturist
2011 Domaine de L'Idylle Mondeuse Noir (Vin de Savoie): Not a blockbuster is the traditional sense, this wine wins with charm, not brawn. It lies somewhere on the spectrum between Cru Beaujolais and St. Joseph, and is grown high in the French Alps. Aromatically it just jumps out of the glass with its bright macerated cherries, but as it opens up intense fresh ground pepper aromas starts to dominate while a warm stony minerality lurks below. Its light ruby color mirrors its impression on the palate. In the mouth the wine is lively and light on its feet. A nice punch of acidity hits you on the back end, and entices you to take another sip. A great example of a wine that is intense without  being heavy, and true food wine. Pair with a traditional Raclette meal.

Runner-up: 2010 Chateau de St. Cosme Gigondas: From my favorite appellation in any country or continent, this wine shows the cool side of Grenache. This AOC is higher in elevation than most in the southern Rhone, and while it doesn’t have quite the worldwide recognition of Chateauneuf-du-Pape, the best Gigondas wines can be equally as good. They have plenty of concentration in most vintages, but they usually more acidity than CdP, and tend to exhibit more rustic tannin structure. Villa Creek Restaurant in Paso Robles is pouring it, but get it while you can, because this wine just received the No. 2 spot on Wine Spectators Top 100 for 2012. 

Robert Haas, Founder
I have been privileged to taste and drink many stunning older wines in my 63 years in the wine trade: Bordeaux, Burgundy, Rhône back to 1870, Napa Cabernets of the '70s and '80s, and some remarkable Champagnes in the days when the special cuvées were made in the hundreds of cases rather than the tens of thousands.  This year I particularly delighted in two great 1981’s:  A Vosne-Romanée Orveaux of Mongeard and a Beaucastel.  I wrote blogs about them: A Summer Dinner in Vermont and A Truffly Duet.  

Two other wines struck me as outstanding this year, both from Tablas Creek.  One was on the young side, yet seemed in absolute perfect balance: the 2007 Panoplie.  It was surprisingly seamless from nose to finish and delightfully savory.  You can read about it in our blog, We Celebrate the Holidays with a Vertical Tasting of Panoplie.  The other was the 2011 Esprit tasted from one of the foudres after I returned from Vermont.  Its complexity, fruit and spices, all singing out in harmony, despite the fact that it was still nine months away from bottling, blew me away.  What a great release it is going to be later this year!

Sylvia Montague, Assistant Tasting Room Manager
I "think pink" a good amount of the time, not just when the temps begin to rise.  This year I was able to secure a case of the Robert Sinskey 2011 Vin Gris of Pinot Noir (after only being able to purchase one bottle of the 2010 while on a visit there in April of 2011) and have been enjoying them throughout the summer and fall.  It is dry, crisp, aromatic, nicely structured and above all, elegant.  The wine has great texture, a beautiful salmon color and pairs very well with a variety of foods.  To me it is, indeed, summer in a glass. The only dilemma is when to enjoy the one bottle remaining in my cellar…

John Morris, Tasting Room Manager
My life has changed a quite a bit in the last few years.  Formerly a life-long bachelor, I married two summers ago and became an instant step-father to three.  This has brought a new sense of purpose to my life, but as you might imagine, has shifted my priorities considerably.  Seeking out the pleasures of food and wine has taken a back seat to new shoes, dance and cello lessons, a bottomless refrigerator, and rather lengthy Christmas lists.  Meanwhile, my cellar has shrunk to a few precious bottles I cling to with hope.

However, at the risk of seeming a homer, I have my work to look forward to, and the pleasure of tasting Tablas Creek wine every day.  We recently bid farewell to the last bottle of 2009 Esprit de Beaucastel, my favorite vintage to date.  We dread the end of the 2010 Côtes de Tablas, which we all pretend not to see coming.  The 2011 Roussanne, released in the latest wine club shipment, is a revelation.  But the wine that has moved me the most is the 2010 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc:  Waxy and honeyed, floral and savory, minerally and refined with a long, sophisticated finish, it’s the embodiment of what a white Rhône wine should be. 

Deanna Ryan, Tasting Room Team Lead
I would have to say the 2009 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc for its fantastic balance of richness and acidity that never fails to satisfy, with or without food.  Also, the 2010 Counoise for its flirtatious gentility. I found it to be the ideal wine to reward oneself with at the end of a long workday.  Of course the 2010 Mourvedre is another strong contender due to its subtle layering of flavors and gentle tannins. Cheers!

Jason Haas, Partner and General Manager
As for me, I've found my most memorable wines this year to be signposts on the development of Tablas Creek.  There are three that stood out.  The first was the amazing discovery that Cesar Perrin and I made on the incomparable wine list at Bern's in Tampa, FL.  On a night when I tasted my first birth-year wines (1973 wasn't a year that many people felt like keeping around) and some incredible old Riojas and Burgundies, our indelible memory would be a 1966 Pierre Perrin Chateauneuf du Pape -- the first-ever Haas-Perrin collaboration, that neither of us knew existed.  The wine itself was elderly.  But the discovery of its significance was a revelation.

Best of 2012 - perrin

Moving forward in time, the family dinner my dad blogged about last week, where he opened a mystery vintage of Beaucastel to find a remarkable bottle of 1981, was probably my favorite meal of the year. Like the classic dish it was paired with, the 1981 Beaucastel didn't shout at you.  It didn't elbow the meal's other components out of its way.  But it sang, on its own and with the food, mellow yet still utterly sure of itself.  I didn't want to get up from the table.

But if I had to pick one wine that I keep coming back to from last year, it was (as it has been each time I've had the pleasure to drink it) the 1989 Beaucastel that Cesar Perrin poured for us in a farewell vertical before he completed his year-long stint at Tablas Creek in April.  That 1989 was perfectly poised between fruit and earth, between richness and freshness, between youth and maturity, and for all its meatiness and juiciness tasted indelibly like the rocks in which it grew.

May your 2013 be equally as full of good food, great wines, and memorable company with whom to share them.

A farewell treat: Cesar Perrin presents a Chateau de Beaucastel vertical

We've had the pleasure of hosting Cesar Perrin here at Tablas Creek for the last year.  Cesar is Francois Perrin's youngest son, a few years out of enology school in France, and proceeding through a series of apprenticeships at notable wineries around the world while being groomed to eventually take the reins at Beaucastel.  During his stay he has helped in the cellar during harvest, in the vineyards during our integration of our grazing herd, and at events around the country.

Last week was his last full week here, and he took the opportunity to say thank you by leading the cellar and management teams here through a vertical tasting of eight different vintages of Beaucastel.  The vintages selected were a combination of wines that the winery had available and those that members of the team had managed to accumulate over the years, so there are some notable vintages like 1998 and 2001 that weren't available.  But this is not necessarily a bad thing.  The list focused on the wines in the roughly 20-25 year old range, which is historically a sweet spot for these famously long-lived wines.  There were also two young examples (2005 and 2007) from great recent vintages, still showing the power and polish of youth.  The one wine in what might be termed middle age (the 1999) was from a vintage that was a bit overlooked in the great Chateauneuf-du-Pape run between 1998 and 2001, and showed better than we were expecting, with some of the younger, fruitier characteristics balanced by welcome secondary balsamic and mushroom characters.

Overall, the tasting was a treat, showcasing the remarkable personality and ageworthiness of the estate's wines.  The lineup, lined up and ready to go:


My tasting notes, starting with the youngest wine:

  • 2007 Beaucastel: A very rich, minty and herby nose, with aromas of rosemary and roasted meat.  The mouth is rich and dense but not yet very giving, with power more than nuance right now.  I found this less expressive than I did when I tasted it last, where a powerful undercurrent of iron-like minerality framed the lush fruit in a way not evident at this tasting.  Stock this away for a long while yet.
  • 2005 Beaucastel: A nose less dense than the '07, more spicy, though overall on the same continuum, with juniper and chocolate/cherry and a slightly foresty wildness.  The mouth was rich and nicely tannic, with red apple skin, licorice and menthol flavors and a little noticeable oak.  There was a nice coolness and balance on the finish, with granular tannins and cherry skin acidity.  I found this more drinkable now than the '07, with a wonderful future ahead of it.
  • 1999 Beaucastel: From a vintage, according to Cesar, with an unusually high percentage of Mourvedre.  On the nose rare steak and pepper, bright, with a note reminiscent of aged balsamic.  In the mouth clean and long, fruity and spicy with good acids coming out on the finish.  There was an appealing forest floor character that Neil called "mushroomy... in a good way".
  • 1993 Beaucastel: From a cold vintage where much of the later-ripening Mourvedre and Grenache didn't get ripe, so a notably high percentage of Syrah for Beaucastel.  A perceptibly older nose of leather, thyme and juniper.  The nose is so dry that the little burst of sweet fruit on the palate is both surprising and welcome.  Cesar declared that he's a big fan of this "lesser" vintage for drinking now.
  • 1992 Beaucastel: Another cold vintage, with some rain during harvest.  The nose is a little denser and showing younger than the '93, with cedar, cocoa and leather predominant.  The mouth is nicely constructed, with flavors of pencil shavings and cherry skin.  There is a little nice saltiness on the finish.  Not sure if I'd have identified this as Chateauneuf tasting it blind... very Burgundian.
  • 1990 Beaucastel: The nose is rich, with plum and some game meat, juniper, allspice and clove.  Wow.  The flavors are still intense, like marinating meat, with a distinctive Worcestershire Sauce flavor that was unlike any other wine in the tasting.  Spicy red fruit and cocoa powder on the finish.  According to Cesar, this was another vintage with an unusually high percentage of Mourvedre, and it showed in the red fruit/chocolate/meat character.
  • 1989 Beaucastel: Rich, mature and spicy, but smells higher-toned than the 1990, a little fresher and more open.  Aromas are cola and herbs and meat and balsamic, with a nutty almond-like character I kept coming back to.  The mouth was just spectacular, rich, with nice cola and spice high tones, pure, clear and notably mineral in the mid-palate, and then herby with sweet spices on the finish.  A great Grenache vintage, according to Cesar, and my favorite wine of the tasting.  An outstanding vintage of a superb wine, at its peak.  Just a treat.
  • 1988 Beaucastel: A classic year, according to Cesar, overlooked in the excitement for 1989 and 1990, but very good in its own right.  The nose shows a little older, with charcoal, pepper and caramel notes.  The palate is sweeter than the nose suggests, with cola and tart cherry flavors.  Still quite powerful, with tannins that could even use another few years.

Two more photos from the tasting, on the left Cesar pouring for my dad, and on the right the 1990 and 1989, two of the tasting's highlights:

Beaucastel_vertical_0002 Beaucastel_vertical_0001
A few concluding notes.  First, the quality of even the lesser vintages is a testament to the work that Francois Perrin and the rest of the Beaucastel team do.  I think that this is the best measure of the quality of a winemaker: not what he or she does with the great vintages, but his or her results from the vintages that present challenges.  I know how great a winemaker Francois is, and I still came away impressed.

I also came away reconfirming my conviction in the value of blending.  Each vintage can then reflect what was great that year, without having to incorporate elements that were less impressive.  And each vintage also shows more individual personality.  That recognition of personality -- that each wine expressed something unique about its vintage -- was my most lasting impression from what was a truly wonderful tasting.

How (and Why) to Decant a Wine

One question we get fairly often is whether to decant one of our wines.  My typical answer is that most of our wines will benefit from some air when young, though it's more important for some wines than others.  And a few of our older red wines have started to show some sediment.  Decanting these wines is highly recommended, as even if you stand a bottle up in advance, pouring the wine around the table will re-mix any sediment.  We've started marking on our online vintage chart wines that particularly benefit from decanting.

The examples above illustrate the two different sorts of wines that you might want to decant. The first is what I'm usually asked about: young wines whose powerful structure can be softened, and whose subtler aromatic elements encouraged, by some exposure to air.  It's not actually that important how you decant this sort of wine.  Often, the more the wine splashes around, the better.  But for the second sort of wine -- an older red wine which has accumulated some sediment over time and which you'd like to be able to enjoy without having to strain it through your teeth -- technique is important.

Over the holidays, the Haas clan gathered in Vermont, and we enjoyed many wonderful wines.  Perhaps the highlight was a magnum of the 1989 Hommage a Jacques Perrin that we drank on New Year's Day with a dinner of truffled roast chicken and a gratin of potato and fennel.  The wine was rich and luxurious, powerful with dark red fruit, licorice, and earth.  It was still quite youthful, but had already accumulated significant sediment.  We'd have decanted it even if it were a 750ml bottle, but as magnums are awkward to pour at the table due to their heft, decanting the bottle into two 750ml decanters made the logistics of serving the wine easier.  Robert Haas demonstrates how it was done, step by step.  My sister Rebecca took most of the photos; you can see more of her great photography on her blog Campestral.  The scene, with the bottle having been stood upright two days before:


To start the process, remove the capsule completely so you can see through the neck of the bottle, and light a candle (a small flashlight works, too, but is less focused and less romantic) to shine through the neck so you can tell when the wine flow starts to include sediment:


Then, pull the cork:


Pour out the bottle carefully and gradually, in one smooth motion, with the goal of creating as little turbulence as possible.  The beginning, with the first decanter partly full and the second decanter at the ready:


Pouring slower now, part way through the second decanter:


If you've poured smoothly enough, the sediment should have collected in the shoulder of the bottle, and you can pour out almost all the liquid without getting any grit.  You can actually see the sediment still in the bottle:




We put the bottle on the table so it could enjoy the dinner too, and so we could read the label if we had any questions:




It's a Wonderful Day in the Patelin (and we have photos to prove it)

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  We'll publish the best in a later blog post!

Maine's Greatest Oysters

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.

Barbara Scully 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. 

Baby Oysters  Oyster incubators

Only then does Barbara dive to harvest them using nets like the one below. 

Harvest Net

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.

Introducing Viticulturist Levi Glenn, who explains shoot thinning

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:

Shoot_bushy_0001  Shoot_thinning_0001

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:


A family stay in Vinsobres

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.

RZH and FP

We’re proud to be their partners at Tablas Creek.