Come soon for the incredible 2016 wildflower season in Paso Robles

So, I feel like the Chamber of Commerce here, but really, if you like wildflowers, this is the year for you. The combination of good rain early in the season and ample sunshine in February has produced the most impressive display of color in several years. I'm going to share a few of these that we've taken here at the vineyard, which is impressive enough. The vistas on the rolling hills east of town are even more impressive, at least for their scale. I remember a trip that we were making to Utah nearly a decade ago when the wildflowers were in bloom off of Highway 46, and people were pulled haphazardly off the road just staring at the mesmerizing, hypnotic scenes. We have a link to some of these scenes at the end of the blog. But first, what we're seeing here at the winery, starting with this pretty purple flower that carpets any areas we didn't plant a cover crop, and peeks through even the taller growth like an ultraviolet wash behind an oil painting:

Wildflowers

The mustard flowers are familiar to anyone who drives around the Central Coast in the springtime, but this year's growth is particularly lush:

Mustard

The lupines are just beginning. In another few weeks, they will be swaying hypnotically to the spring breezes and covering the area with their thick perfume:

Lupine

Some flowers you'd like to admire from afar, like the thistle, whose spines make it a nuisance in the vineyard.  We've largely eliminated it from problematic spots, but along the fencelines it still shows off its deep purple, spiky blooms:

Thistle

But the crown jewels of the wildflower season, of course, are the California poppies: our state flower.  They are so plentiful, and so photogenic, that I have photos of them from nearly every day this month.  I'll spare you the entire collection, but here are a few of my favorites:

Single poppy

Poppies

Poppies limestone and deep blue sky

If you're interested in knowing where to go, a good article in the San Luis Obispo Tribune yesterday has recommended routes and lots more photos. But come sooner than later. By June, this burst of color will have largely faded to the golds and deep greens of California summer.


On the Road: 10 Hedonistic Highlights from 2015

By Darren Delmore

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

Industrial Eats, Buellton, California

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

Shaya, New Orleans, Louisiana

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

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

Coya, Miami, Florida

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

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

Cured, San Antonio, Texas

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

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Arroyo Vino, Santa Fe, New Mexico

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

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Okra, Phoenix, Arizona

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

Bone luge 

The Waterboy, Sacramento, California

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

Waterboy

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

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

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

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

Spoon trade

Hatchet Hall, Culver City, CA.

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

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

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


On the Rhone: a Post-Cruise Appreciation

By Robert Haas.  Special thanks to Jeffery Clark, who provided most of the photos.

I’m back in Vermont, basking in the afterglow of our Tablas Creek cruise of the Rhone. It was a ten-day celebration (including the optional three-day visit to Paris and Champagne) of great food and wine, organized by our partners at Food & Wine Trails.  By the end, new friends felt like old friends, and our 120-person group had made the S.S. Catherine ours.  On a personal level, I very much enjoyed sharing with the group the homeland of the Rhône varieties that we have nurtured at Tablas Creek Vineyard. 

About one half of our large group of adherents opted for the Paris-Champagne addition, July 30th-August 1st.  The Bel Ami Hotel was comfortable, nicely air-conditioned (needed in the hot weather France has been seeing this summer) and well placed around the corner from Paris landmarks on the Boulevard St. Germain, such as the Brasserie Lipp, and the cafés Deux Magots and Café de Flore.  

For the trip to Champagne, we arrived in Vrigny at the property of Roger Coulon, propriétaire-récoltant on the Montagne de Reims, with an hour and a half bus trip.  Coulon produces only about 90,000 bottles from his own vines.  His cellars were straightforward, simple but modern.  We tasted his wines.   They had an artisanal terroir character that I loved.  We enjoyed an excellent champagne lunch at his close-by restaurant, Les Clos des Terres Soudées.  He paired his various cuvées of champagne with each course.  We then visited the cellars of Taittinger -- quite a contrast -- with traditional old cellars cut deep into the Champagne chalk under Reims, followed by a tasting of their wines.  The visits were enjoyable and educational.  Some of us preferred the artisanal drier, richer style of Coulon and others the traditional "grande marque" style of Taittinger.

We had some time to spend on our own in Paris and then took the TGV from the Gare de Lyon in Paris to Avignon on the 2nd to join the rest of the cruisers boarding the ship.  On my first visits to pre-autoroute France in the 1950’s, that trip down the N7 took 10 hours.  The TGV made it in 2. 

Pont d'Avignon 2
The famous Pont d'Avignon

The voyage began with a short overnight sail to Tarascon, a little south of Avignon, from where there were interesting shore visits to Tarascon, a city that dates back to the late bronze age.  It has a riverside castle from the 15th century that is known as "The King's Castle" (Château du Roi René).

There was also a visit to Arles, which is close-by.  Arles is a fascinating city.  It was a Phoenician port by about 800 B.C., taken by the Romans in 123 B.C., and still is home to some of the best-preserved Roman remains outside Italy.  In modern times it was an attractive abode for Vincent van Gogh, who arrived there in 1888.  Many of his most famous paintings were completed there, including The Night Café, the Yellow Room, Starry Night Over the Rhône, and L'Arlésienne.

Arles amphitheater
The Roman amphitheater at Arles 

The centerpiece of the cruise was the stay in Avignon, which provided a base for twin cellar visits and delicious open-air lunches in the court of Château de Beaucastel.  It was fun to share the Beaucastel secrets with our group.  We were too large a group to all go at once so half the group went on the 3rd and half on the 4th.  Everybody got to taste from barrels and visit the old spotlessly clean cellars, as well as learn about Beaucastel's wine making.  Each day, those not on the Beaucastel visit got to tour the old city of the Popes with its palace and crenelated walls.

Cellars at Beaucastel
The cellars at Beaucastel

Lunch at Beaucastel
Lunch in the gardens at Beaucastel

Lunch menu
The lunch menu

BSH, RZH & FP
Barbara Haas, Robert Haas, and Francois Perrin at lunch

From Avignon we sailed north to Viviers, and then on to Tain- l'Ermitage. This stretch was during the day, so most of us assembled topside to enjoy the views and the passages through the écluses (locks).  I was fascinated by the ship's design, from the ballast tanks below that fill with water to the to the retractable pilot house, railings and awnings, all to lower the ship's profile in order to pass under low bridges across the Rhône.  

Lock
The lock at Viviers

On deck
Mind your heads!

Tain- l'Ermitage was a second highlight.   We received a very good tour of the Hermitage vineyard and a sit-down tasting of Chapoutier wines. We were also treated to an excellent lunch served with northern Rhône wines.  I was interested to see the upright cane and spur pruning of the Syrah, a pruning we have adopted at Tablas on "Scruffy Hill."

Neighbor Jaboulet
The remarkable hillside vineyards of the Northern Rhone

From there, we continued north to Lyon, passing the vineyards of Côte Rôtie and Condrieu on our port side just as we were served a dinner on board paired with wines of those very appellations from Maison Nicolas-Perrin

On day 5 of the cruise (August 7th, for those keeping track) we got to tour Lyon, a center of classical French gastronomy, and home to the remains of two side-by-side spectacular Roman amphitheaters: one for music and the other for drama.   In the evening we reconvened on the Catherine for a nice Tablas Creek cocktail party in the ship's lounge, followed by dinner in the dining room. 

Lyon marks the northern edge of what France thinks of as the Rhone Valley (though the river originates in Lake Geneva, in Switzerland).  But the cruise continued north to dock in Macon on the Saône, for an excursion to nearby Burgundy.  Many guests took a bus to Beaune, toured some of the vineyards of the Côte de Beaune, and visited the 15th century Hospices de Beaune, scene of the annual wine auction of wines from its vineyards.  We heard this was all wonderful.  However, Barbara and I, along with Neil and Marci Collins, instead took a car and drove through the vineyards of Pouilly-Fuissé and Beaujolais to visit an old friend Claude Geoffray, the 7th generation proprietor of Château Thivin in the Côte de Brouilly. 

Market Radishes
Radishes in the market in Beaune

From Macon we all sailed overnight back to Lyon where we debarked August 9th and went our own ways. 

Although the unusually hot weather was noticeable on shore visits, no one seemed daunted, and they proceeded as planned and seemed to be enjoyed by all.  The ship, of course, was well air-conditioned and the cabins very comfortable.  The food and service aboard was excellent, far exceeding my expectations, and the wines from Famille Perrin, Beaucastel and Tablas Creek set the scene.  We were definitely on a Food and Wine Trail.  Lots of good conversation flowed in the Leopard Bar before and after dinner. 

Cabin
The view from inside the cabin

We are already looking forward to our next cruise in 2017.


On the Road: a Rhone Pilgrimage

By Darren Delmore

I had the distinct pleasure of tagging along last week on a trade visit to the Perrin family's holdings in the Rhone Valley.  Our odyssey began with our thirsty quintet of wine professionals packed into an undersized rental car like foie gras terrine as we traversed from Dijon to Valence. I sat shotgun with GPS in hand and snails in my belly as we watched the landscape change from the sunflowers and Charolais beef pastures of Burgundy to the lavender fields and olive groves of the Rhone.

I had been on three surfing expeditions to the old country -- relic of an earlier life -- but I had never visited an AOC. I had been waiting years to see the land where my favorite grape varietals hail from and experience the Tablas Creek mothership of Château de Beaucastel for the first time.

An hour into the southward drive, Côte-Rôtie stretched out to the west, with its expansive south facing range planted densely with vines. Between the hills and our American automatic transmission predispositions, our unfortunate rental car received the name “Le Clutch Fumé” about this time.  “The Hill of Hermitage should be popping up like a Jack in the Box next,” our driver advised.

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We were first scheduled to meet with Nicolas Jaboulet and taste the wines he is making and selecting for Maison Nicolas Perrin. Having the last name of Jaboulet in a burg like Tain-l'Hermitage is like living in Hollywood with the surname of Hitchcock: it’s billboarded on the hill of Hermitage itself, which at one time his family owned a coveted 30 percent of. When he started Maison Nicolas Perrin (in partnership with the Perrins) in 2009, he used his many key connections to source fruit and wine for the project, the range of which includes Hermitage, Côte-Rôtie, St. Joseph, Crozes-Hermitage, and Condrieu. We met up with Nicolas at a brand new tasting bar in the main square of Tain-l'Hermitage, where you can buy all of the Famille Perrin wines and taste a range of them too. 

IMG_0719Nicolas Jaboulet

“Crozes-Hermitage is the wine we want to be known for,” Nicolas pointed out during the tasting. His 2013 certainly makes a case for it. We learned that 85% of the Crozes-Hermitage plantings are Syrah, with the balance being Marsanne and Roussanne. “Many growers have taken out Roussanne,” he said. “They only wanted Roussanne if it could be co-harvested and fermented with Marsanne. Growers didn’t want to wait to have two different picking dates for the whites.” 

IMG_08312014 Nicolas Perrin wines resting in foudre and barrique.

At the tail end of the tasting we met Benoit Busseuil, Nicolas' assistant winemaker. He drove us up onto the top of Hermitage to see the labyrinth of Syrah plantings stretch out below us to the banks of the Rhone river. Seeing the tiny parcels and gnarled vines, the price tag on the rare bottles to hail from the hill instantly made sense to us. 

Benoit  - 1Benoit and Syrah vines in Hermitage.

We piled back in the car and headed south where Nicolas met back up with us and treated us to lunch at Michel Chabran in Pont de l’lsére. The wiser of us followed Nicolas’ lead and opted for the Tapas Dégustation menu, along with tastes of the 2013 Hermitage Blanc, 2012 Cote-Rotie, and a rare 2013 St. Joseph Blanc from Domaine Bernard Gripa. 

Northern rhone lunch - 1Lunch at Michel Chabran                                                           

*    *    *

In a way, the region of Vinsobres reminds me of Mendocino County in Northern California. The most northernmost appellation in the Southern Rhone, the vines perch on hills up to 1200 feet elevation with plenty of wooded areas between the steep hillside plantings. Vineyard blocks of all different sizes, unmarked and unfenced, with little trellising, must require institutional knowledge or government intervention to keep straight who owns what.

Vinsobres - 1Vinsobres' name originates from the Latin words "vin sobre" meaning "dark wine". The dark color comes from the high percentage of Syrah in the appellation: higher than any other in the southern Rhone.

In a small cluster of houses -- might we call it a Patelin? -- a few kilometers outside of the village of Vinsobres, the Perrin Family guest house is notoriously difficult to find.  That said, I take full responsibility for typing in the incorrect address on the GPS.  We pulled up at the wrong house, unloaded our bags and even entered a place that kind of looked like it could be the Perrins' house (with the exception of dirty dishes in the sink, shoes and socks at the door and a desk with documents and an adding machine in place). Paul drove off to see if we’d overshot the address, leaving four of us to roam the grounds. Soon an engine sputtered its way up the drive and I encountered a 60-something couple and their terrified faces upon the sight of four dudes and my beard in particular, plus all of our luggage sprawled out on their driveway. They handled it well enough, especially since they had no idea what we were saying and vice versa. Paul reappeared with word that we were two kilometers short of the destination. We hoped they didn't lose much sleep over the knowledge that we were still somewhere in the vicinity.

IMG_0762The real Vinsobres house.

The Perrin guest house at La Vielle Ferme de Vinsobres would have author Peter Mayle reaching for an advance. They carefully restored this centuries-old five-bedroom farmhouse over a decade, adding a modern kitchen, bathrooms, swimming pool and wi-fi.  Well-manicured lavender and rosemary line the property, with old vines above and below and no neighbors in range. A well stocked wine cellar on the ground floor awaited us, and we’d shopped heavily in Tain for the night’s provisions, which one of my fellow travelers (a chef in real life) attacked with aproned vengeance.

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With Merguez sausage from the grill, steak, cheese and jambon d’Ardeche, plus the biggest salad we’d ever seen, we enjoyed an extended evening on the outdoor balcony, eating and raving about the day, with some major anticipation for the next day's agenda. 

IMG_0765 Five bottles of Famille Perrin for the five of us… seems about right!

*          *          *

Kirsty Manahan is the hospitality director for Famille Perrin. Born in England but raised in the south of France, she arrived the following cloudy morning with the property caretaker Mohamad to guide us around. The weather had changed dramatically, and she pointed out that we were due for a code orange weather day, which includes heavy rain, thunder and some lightning. As we took our positions in Mohamad's pickup truck for a vineyard tour, the luckier ones got in the four-seat truck cab, while the rest of us hopped in the back of the pickup with two umbrellas. A roar from the sky above had us looking at each other as "Momo" hit the gas. The drops soon followed. 

Truck tour - 1Code Orange storm tour of stony Vinsobres via pickup truck.

We bounced up along a clay terrace and climbed a good 400 feet past Syrah vines and an interesting patch of Clairette Gris. It wouldn’t have taken much to roll right off of the tailgate with the speed and rocks we were pounding along. The landscape would vary from cobblestones to fluffy clay then to pure pink sand. At the top of the hill the gusts of wind whipped away at us and in spite of the umbrellas, we were now officially soaked, even before a gust imploded one umbrella, leaving it looking more like a weapon than anything useful in the rain. For the last half hour left on the tour, our wonder at the rugged scenery provided our only shelter from the elements. 

Umbrella - 1Our ex-umbrella. 

Once we thawed and dried out, we followed Kirsty to Gigondas for a tour of Clos des Tourelles. In my previous life as a cellarhand, this micro, single vineyard operation would be my dream winery. Built to only produce the one estate wine, it’s compact, clean, historic, and simply appointed with open-top cement tanks for fermentations and French oak foudres for the aging process.  The Clos des Tourelles is the only clos (walled vineyard) in Gigondas, and the Perrins have been rehabilitating the buildings since they bought it a few years ago.  Construction was actively going on, with the goal of making it the centerpiece of the Famille Perrin holdings. The views are incredible, and the tasting room and guest rooms (scheduled completion: 2016) should be an instant landmark when they open.

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16th Century architecture at Clos des Tourelles | One of a mere four foudres in the cellar.              

From the Clos you can walk directly up to L’Oustalet which is the hotel and restaurant the Perrins opened a couple years ago. 

IMG_0801L'Oustalet in the village of Gigondas.

The sleek restaurant was fully booked for lunch service and chef Laurent Deconick was in the house. We started with a splash of Miraval Rosé then had an incredible menu of Mushroom Risotto with 2011 Beaucastel Vielles Vignes Roussanne, chicken prepared three ways with a dense, powerful Famille Perrin L’Argnee 2010 Gigondas, and then -- we still had work to do, after all -- Rhubarb sorbet and espresso. I made a mental note to spend a few more days in Gigondas next time around. 

IMG_0821Ancient Grenache vines for L'Argnee in Gigondas. 

L'oustalet lunch - 1A very happy table at L'Oustalet.

The clouds clamored as we approached the four o’clock hour and the town of Courthézon near Châteauneuf-du-Pape. In case we were uncertain of its historic significance, there was actually a sign for Beaucastel on the main roundabout along with major cities and highways. People were snapping pictures outside of the Château as we parked. This was it. We’d finally made it to mecca. We took turns taking cell phone glory portraits of us standing on the stones while Kirsty gave us some backstory on the viticulture laws in the region (no irrigation, head trained low to the ground). 

IMG_0846Chateauneuf's famous galets (river stones) in the vineyards at Beaucastel.

We toured the cellars and I wasn't entirely surprised to see the same bladder presses, destemmer and French oak foudres that we use at Tablas Creek. Cesar Perrin -- who worked harvest at Tablas in 2011 -- appeared at one point pushing a bottle cart to collect some wines to label for sale. In the foudres, 2013 and 2014 lots of Coudoulet de Beaucastel and Château de Beaucastel slumbered, while the rain hammered on outside.

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Seguin Moreau Troncais Forest oak foudres.                                                                                                                      

IMG_0858  Bottles of 2012 Château de Beaucastel Rouge. 

Kirsty had arranged an impressive array of Famillle Perrin wines to taste above the cellar, starting with 2014 Les Sinards Blanc, followed by Coudoulet de Beaucastel Blanc and Rouge, three wines from Gigondas, and a powerful foudre sample of 2013 Chateau de Beaucastel Rouge. "And I have some surprises for you," she announced near the end, as if the tasting needed surprises to keep our interest. These treats included a stellar 2001 Hommage à Jacques Perrin, a lively and ethereal 1970 Beaucastel Rouge, and a 1985 Vieilles Vignes Roussanne that at 30 years old was clear, precise, and full of life.

IMG_0862The Southern Rhone, only slightly abridged. 

It was clear to all of us in two days of touring that the Perrins are not only the ambassadors of the Rhone Valley, but they have achieved that difficult balance between tradition and modernity with their wines. Their vision, their experience with their terroir, and their commitment to making wines of place have produced a range of different village cuvees, each with its own identity and well-defined personality. And their commitment to converting each parcel they take over to organic farming means that over time these personalities will only become clearer. 

For our last hurrah, we met Marc Perrin afterward for an early dinner in the village. He arrived from Provence where he'd been meeting with Brad Pitt and looking at vineyards and sources to grow the Miraval brand. Why not? If we needed a reminder of how the Perrins are always looking for new good ideas, Marc provided it. One of the guests brought up at dinner that they thought Miraval rosé half bottles -- which haven't been produced yet -- would have potential in the Los Angeles market. As if Marc didn't have enough going on in both the Northern and Southern Rhone, his eyes widened with interest at the suggestion, and you could see his mind immediately begin working. "If I can find the glass, we will try it," he offered. I can't wait.


Weekly Roundup for December 15th: 8000 Years of Wine Storage, Months of Great Press for Paso, and a Week of Rain

This last week, it seems we've been dominated by stories about our rain.  Whether it's in its pre-precipitation anticipation or its post-fall analysis, it's clear that California is excited about the unusual moisture falling from the sky and curious to know whether it makes a big-picture difference in our multi-year drought.  But that's not all we've been seeing.  Paso Robles got another mention in what has been an amazing year for our area, we got a nice mention ourselves from the Los Angeles Times, and we learned about how wine has been transported and stored through the millennia.  Plus, I discovered a blog I'll be following regularly going forward.

OK, About that Rain

  • We wrote about our rain twice, once looking forward to it and once mid-storms.
  • The Los Angeles Times pointed out that the storms aren't just having an impact on the vineyards directly; they're also building the Sierra snowpack, which provides so much of California's summer water source.
  • Looking back, our local KCBX Public Radio interviewed me for a piece on how the drought impacted the 2014 vintage (it wasn't all, or even mostly, negative). My conclusion was "the quality of this vintage, as is often true with low yielding vintages, looks spectacular -- but now it can rain". And it has! Listen »

In Between the Raindrops
LAventure Clouds

  • Winter isn't just about rain clouds and green grass; the interludes between the storms provide mixed skies appealing in a different way than the deep unbroken blues of summer. I loved this shot from the L'Aventure Winery Facebook page, of their iconic sign hanging under a cornflower blue sky dotted with sheep-like clouds.

Some Nice Press for Paso

  • This year has seen Paso Robles recognized in the Washington Post, in Forbes, in the San Francisco Chronicle, in Conde Nast Traveler, and in Passport Magazine. This week, Travel & Leaisure got into the act, putting Paso Robles at #16 in its list of America's Best Towns for the Holidays. Most visitors come to Paso between April and October, and bask in its warm days and clear golden light. The winter is different, softer and greener, slower-paced, and it's nice to see a piece focusing on our winter charms.
  • Paso Robles was also the feature of a great blog posted by Chef and Sommelier Shauna Burke.  Her piece, called Stopping in the Middle: A Weekend in Paso Robles Wine Country, touched on several of my favorite places to go and things to do. Like the rest of her blog, it also was beautifully written and illustrated. I was intrigued that her previous blog piece was about Vermont (where I grew up) and equally impressed with what she picked to feature in that piece. With that inducement, I ended up reading a year's worth of entries, chock full of terrific recipes, thoughtful recommendations and her terrific photography. Check it out »

And for Tablas Creek

  • It was really nice for me to see the 2012 Cotes de Tablas picked by S. Irene Virbila as the Los Angeles Times' Wine of the Week, for two reasons.  The first is that as the "middle child" (between, in price, the Esprit de Tablas line and our Patelin de Tablas) the Cotes wines, which I think have never been better, seem to struggle to get their fair share of attention.  And second, I thought her review was particularly perceptive and really nailed the wine's character: "cherries, plums and wild herbs, with a licorice kick".

Food for Thought (Drink for Thought?)

  • This last piece isn't new (it was published in March) but it was new to us, and we all found it fascinating.  It's a long-format article on the Web site Vinepair called The 8,000 Year Effort To Transport Wine Around The World, going back to when ancient Georgians invented the kvevri, a massive earthenware vessel used to ferment, age and store wine made from locally growing wild grapes.  Smaller, more portable amphorae came next, then wood barrels, and finally bottles in recent centuries.  And even once they were invented, wine wasn't initially put into bottles at the estate; it was transported in barrels and bottled nearer its eventual destination.  In any case, we found the article fascinating, and hope you will too.  Read more »

Why River Cruise?

By Larry Martin

[Editor's Note: Larry Martin is President of Food & Wine Trails, Tablas Creek's travel partner on our 2015 Rhone River cruise, which will be highlighted by a special visit to Beaucastel.  We asked him to contribute a first-hand account of what cruise-goers might expect should they join us next year.  For all the details on the August 2-9, 2015 trip, which will begin in Avignon, end in Lyon, and include many historical and oenological visits along the way, visit foodandwinetrails.com/tablascreek2015]

Our luggage was stolen from our rental car before we boarded our cruise; my wife twisted her knee and then got ill, so imagine my surprise when she said she wanted to do the same cruise again, “this time to get it right.” That’s a testament to how much we loved our first river cruise along the Rhône.

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The Uniworld Catherine, Cruising

River cruising has exploded in popularity, and it’s now difficult to find a cabin during high-season as these cruise fill up months and months in advance.

Food & Wine Trails does not sell what we haven’t personally experienced, so because so many of our winery clients have been asking us about river cruises, we’ve now cruised on five different ships, on three rivers with three different cruise lines.

Each was as great as our first trip on the Rhône but fortunately without the calamities. Here’s why: Whether from the deck or the sliding glass door in my cabin, there was always something to see, from steep vineyard hills and medieval castles to picturesque villages.

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Medieval castle, viewed from the Rhone

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The famously picturesque hilltop village of Gordes

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M. Chapoutier's terraced hillside vineyards at Hermitage

The small scale of river ships, which typically carry less than two hundred people, explains much of their appeal, as they offer more intimacy than ocean-going ships. On a river ship, you don't need a GPS device to find the lobby or the dining room. The staff is much more attentive and friendly. There are also plenty of opportunities to immerse oneself into the region and with the locals. Because the ships dock right in town, it’s easy to take off on one of the bikes the ship carries, or drop into bars and coffee shops at night.

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Lyon, from the Rhone River

So after our first cruise, we cruised on the Danube, the Garonne (Bordeaux), the Volga and decided last year to return to the Rhone, and to cruise with our favorite cruise line: Uniworld. 

Why you might ask? Because the trip begins in Provence, one of France’s most beautiful regions, and ends in Lyon, France’s most important food city.  Each visited village and city was filled with history and charm, made all the more beautiful by the unique light that has inspired such artists as Picasso, Renoir and Van Gough. And for a wine lover, this particular cruise offers two special additions: One it traverses or visits five major wine regions; Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Gigondas, Crozes-Hermitage, Hermitage and Burgundy. And two, you’ll be the guests of the Perrin family for lunch, owners of one of the most important wine estates in the region.

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Beaucastel, behind the famous gobelet-trained vines of Chateauneuf-du-Pape

So what else does one need? A great ship, and Uniworld’s newest ship the Catherine is considered by many to be the world’s best river cruise ship.

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On the Rhone, entering the lock at Chateauneuf-du-Pape

The only thing that I found lacking was time, because with all the great scenery, history and food and wine to explore, I never found enough of it. I guess I’ll have to return for a third time.


On the Road: Innovative Spots for Food and Wine

By Darren Delmore

It’s been a busy year selling Tablas Creek on the wholesale market. I’ve hit 12 states so far, many more than once, braved flight cancellations due to fog and dust storms, haggled with many a’ sold out rental car agency (cue the classic Seinfeld scene), and had one laptop and two license plates ripped off in the process. But the travel has had its rewards. Hopefully you're seeing more Tablas Creek in your necks of the woods than before, and based on my experiences I think the food and wine scenes around America get better every year.  This year, I was struck by the number of amazing restaurants and wine bars I saw who aren't afraid of charting new and unusual paths. Though there are many more to mention (to be continued), here's a shortlist of places I've come across in my travels that I thought were doing particularly cool things with food and wine.

Girl and the fig

Given our own Rhone focus, it's fitting that we start with Sonoma's The Girl and the Fig, whose wine list, aside from a couple of sparkling wines, has always been exclusively devoted to Rhone varietals.  Want a less-known grape?  No other restaurant would try dedicating a page of their wine list to older domestic Counoise. Their wine buyer Brian Casey cleaned us out of the few cases of 2005 and 2006 that were left in our library. After I met with him in March to taste through the new releases, he made sure to ask me, for the second time, “Would you guys make us a sparkling Picpoul Blanc next year?” 110 W Spain St. Sonoma, CA. 95476

Foragers city table

I first read about Foragers' City Table in New Yorker magazine. Equal parts grocery store, wine shop, and restaurant in Chelsea, they are big supporters of organically grown food and wine, and the vibe both times I've been in the place is infectious. You can see how the kitchen opens up to the grocery store in the photo above. Though the options are fresh and inventive, and the pricing a bit less than what you find in other acclaimed Manhattan restaurants, they may be best known for making the best deviled egg in the Big Apple, which is no small feat. 300 W. 22nd St. New York, NY. 10011

Deviled egg

HuskChef Sean Brock's Charleston outpost of Husk Restaurant has a bar space next to the more formal dining area where wine director Matt Tunstall has arranged a by-the-glass list of wines based on the rocks they're grown in. I've never seen this before. There's a limestone section, ironstone, sandstone, and even volcanic. The food is renowned, and the night I landed in town I had the Husk Burger and a $14 glass of 2004 Cote-Rotie, which you don't see that often either. Look for the Patelin de Tablas Rouge which is currently on the "calcareous" list he put together for the fall. (Photo courtesy of Husk) 76 Queen St. Charleston, SC. 29401

 

Covell night

A great wine bar I find myself returning to in Los Angeles is Bar Covell in Los Feliz. Owners Dustin Lancaster and Matthew Kaner just celebrated the 4th anniversary of this hangout on Hollywood Boulevard. They made waves in the area for being the first wine bar without a wine list. Even today if you ask for one you'll get politely denied. Don’t worry, the team knows what's up and will ask you what sort of mood you’re in, or what you feel like, then offer you tastes of a few options. When you taste something you like, that’s the glass they’ll pour you, with prices running anywhere from $8 to $15. A lot of the wines are small production and can border on the obscure, but there’s always a back story on why they have it on rotation. Covell added some great small bites along the way and even started doing themed nights like “Babes, Brews and Burgundy” and “Winemaker Wednesdays”, which Tablas Creek was a part of in July. (Above photo of TCV Cellarmaster Tyler Elwell and me, at the event, courtesy of Bar Covell) 4628 Hollywood Blvd. Los Angeles, CA. 90027 

There is nothing ordinary about Cowboy Ciao in Scottsdale, Arizona. One look at owner Peter Kasperski's wine list will not only take you an hour to get through, but it may make your head spin. He was a fixture at the annual Hospice du Rhone event in Paso Robles and is a devout lover of Rhone varietals from here and the world over. I've eaten at Ciao twice with our Arizona distributor, ordering a couple dusty gems from a server who disappeared down a hatch with a walkie-talkie. There's a $10,000 bottle of 1917 Bordeaux on that list, in addition to Peter's own personal collection intermixed with the odd new release or two. Where else can you order a 2002 Tablas Creek Vermentino to match with a quesadilla, or choose from twelve different vintages of Chateau de Beaucastel Blanc to go with raw Buffalo? (Photo courtesy of Cowboy Ciao) 7133 East Stetson Drive, Scottsdale, AZ. 85251

Pressclub

Press Club in San Francisco is a large, lavish, underground space on Market Street that is home to a serious collection of wines. They host industry trade tastings and private parties throughout the year. It's a cool place to hang out on the later side of the evening and taste something on the fringe or famous. Wine director Mauro Cirilli is seen here using the Coravin to pour glasses of 2005 Chateau de Beaucastel Rouge. Though I've seen the Coravin (which uses a needle and gas to access wine without ever removing the cork form the bottle, keeping it fresh) being used at restaurants across the country in various capacities, Mauro went big and added five pages of magnums to his by-the-glass list. Now it doesn't have to be a special occasion to drink a glass or two out of a big bottle. He also has installed more wine taps than I've seen anywhere aside from Father's Office in Culver City, making this a real wine lover's dream lair. 20 Yerba Buena Ln. San Francisco, CA. 94103

Chaney post falltacular

Burgers are all the rage right now, but Chef Noah Blom at ARC in Costa Mesa may be getting the final nod with this one. Just look at it: a wood-fired animal trifecta of pig, duck and beef. It's the kind of burger that Noah says "you have to sort of mentally prepare yourself for." Noah does all of his own butchering in house, and everything is cooked in the fire. Since opening up in the OC Mix center off the 405 Freeway in Southern California in 2013, ARC has rapidly developed a rabid following, and Noah (to whom we are grateful for his help in a former life introducing Tablas Creek to key accounts in Orange County) has earned "Chef of the Year" honors from the Orange County Register. Befitting a chef with serious wine chops, there's not a boring wine on the glass list, managed by beverage director Koire Rogers, with $10, $16 and $20 options (oftentimes including our Grenache Blanc, Dianthus, and Mourvedre). 3321 Hyland Ave. Costa Mesa, CA. 92626

Tartare

When I worked in Minnesota last May, lawns were still frost-scorched by what the reps were calling the never-ending winter of 2014. Good thing the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul have a vibrant food scene to keep spirits up. I was blown away by the quality of cuisine in the few restaurants I sought out, but even more so by the portion sizes and friendly service. I was told that 112 Eatery in downtown Minneapolis is the place where most of the city's chefs and servers go after work, and the inventive menu, including the deconstructed steak tartare pictured above, reflects this. A couple other places I loved in Minneapolis included Butcher and the Boar and The Bachelor Farmer.  

I'd love to hear who we're missing. Comment below and let us know!


A first timer's visit to Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Château de Beaucastel

By: Lauren Cross

I arrived in Paris with two bags. One small bag was full of camera equipment.  A second large suitcase held a few clothes and lots of packaging material.  I had come with the intention of taking France home with me to California, bottle by bottle and image by image. While I cannot share with you the wine I brought back, I can share a few images and thoughts which I hope will get you into the spirit for a trip to your local wine merchant if the Rhone itself is out of reach.

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As I rolled south from Paris on France's wonderful high-speed train, the scenery through the windows transitioned from flat green meadows dotted with red brick villages to the rolling hills, tall trees and beautiful rivers of southern France. I rented a car in Avignon and followed directions to the tiny winding streets of the village of Châteauneuf-du-Pape.  It was clear that these passageways -- and those similar in the other ancient villages of France -- were not intended for vehicular travel, but dated from the days when horsepower had a more literal meaning.

PicMonkey Collage Village

When you decide to visit Château de Beaucastel, take my advice and don’t follow the directions of your GPS, however well-intentioned its electronic voice may sound.  It was an absolute miracle I finally found the vineyard and made it to my appointment with Cesar Perrin on time.

PicMonkey Collage_Outside

Château de Beaucastel is more than vineyard, offices, winery and cellar.  It remains the spiritual center of the Perrins' work in the Rhone, and has been a literal home for the Famille Perrin since 1909. César’s grandmother Marguerite, widow of Jacques and father of Jean-Pierre and Francois, lives there still. 

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We started our tour in the vineyards that surround the winery.  I had heard about the “rocky soil” of Châteauneuf-du-Pape but I was not expecting this!  Large rounded rocks, rolled down by the Rhone River from the Alps, cover the vineyard, storing up the sun's warmth during the day and radiating the stored heat late into the evenings.  There are vines here that are over 80 years old.  It looks like a miracle that anything grows at all!

PicMonkey Collage_Winery

There were more similarities than differences when comparing the wineries of Tablas Creek and Beaucastel.  Both use large barrels, foudres and stainless steel for whites.  Uniquely, Beaucastel uses concrete vessels lined with porcelain tile for some of their reds where Tablas would use steel.  Why don't we use tile-lined concrete here in California?  One word: earthquakes.

PicMonkey Collage_Foudre Room

At Beaucastel they have entire huge halls of foudres.  These large aging vessels are the same size as -- in fact, made by and built in the same place as -- those that we have at Tablas Creek.  They have one larger foudre almost double the size of the others.

PicMonkey Collage_Cellar

Down a winding staircase, below the winery and offices, is the aging cellar of Chateau de Beaucastel. Winding hallways are stacked unimaginably high with unlabeled, unboxed bottles.  Bottles ranging back a decade and more are piled on sand-covered floors, awaiting the special event for which they'll be labeled, boxed and shipped away. Since Beaucastel is sold in nearly 100 countries, each with their own language and labeling regulations, it's best to store the bottles unlabeled until they know their final destination.

PicMonkey Collage_Tasting

The highlight of my trip was the cellar tasting.  I sampled the newest 2012 Beaucastel Blanc and 2011 Beaucastel Rouge (both delicious).  Then we tasted the 2009 Rouge and a very dusty half bottle of 2007 Rouge (very reminiscent of their Tablas Creek sisters but with unmistakable flavors of the Beaucastel terroir- deep, earthy and spicy).  Finally, Cesar asked me what else I wanted to taste.  I was so blown away by this time that I left it in his hands.  He dug around for a while and returned with another very dusty half bottle and after pouring me a taste asked me to guess the vintage.  He gave me a hint, that this was the vintage Château de Beaucastel was named #1 wine of the year by Wine Spectator….drum roll please… I guessed 1989 correctly! (I did my homework, you see.  It was incredible!  The wine was silky smooth with unparalleled depth and additional aging potential.)

My visit done, I headed back north to begin my homeward journey.  As I traversed the crowded Paris subways with a suitcase loaded with wine, I decided that drinkable souvenirs may be cumbersome but are worth every exhausting step and sideways Parisian glance.  I had the adventure of a lifetime and feel even more connected to the wine and wine loving people that give Tablas Creek its unique connection to France.


In Anticipation of Cruising the Rhone River

By Robert Haas

"Cruising" a river seems like an odd term.  One usually cruises on an ocean.  But two old northern Rhône wines with our roast pork loin last night reminded me of the pleasures of the Rhône River.

OldRhoneDinner3

I have visited the Rhône River Valley over a hundred times since 1954 and have viewed the river from both banks but have never seen the banks from the river.  Nor have I stopped at the little ports along the way.  This will change next summer, when Barbara and I will join Neil and Marci Collins to lead the Tablas Creek Rhone River Cruise.  It will be a new experience, and one I am really looking forward to.  I have always loved the old town of Avignon and its crenellated walls, where the cruise will begin.  And, of course, the ruins of the famous old pont d'Avignon, where on y danse tout en rond.  It will be fun to see these things from comfortable quarters on a boat.

Along the southern Rhone, our itinerary will then take us to Arles -- one-time home of Van Gogh and the location of some of the best-preserved Roman buildings outside of Italy – and Tarascon, with its imposing medieval castle.

We will also, of course, be making a pilgrimage to Château de Beaucastel, our partners in Tablas Creek, and friends and colleagues for 45 years.  This visit will include a special tour of the property and a classic  southern Rhône lunch in their gardens prepared by Beaucastel's Michelin-starred chef Laurent Deconick.

Next we’ll head north, to Tain L’Hermitage, a landmark destination for lovers of the northern Rhone’s signature Syrah, Roussanne and Marsanne grapes. I have spent many days over the years visiting the historic cellars of famed northern Rhône appellations such as Hermitage, St. Joseph, Cornas, Condrieu, Château Grillet, and Côte Rotie.  No less a wine lover than Thomas Jefferson said in 1791 “Hermitage is the first wine in the world, without a single exception”.

Further north we'll continue to Lyon, a center of French gastronomy with the architecturally famous Place Bellecour, for a few days.  While there we’ll make an excursion to Chalon-sur-Saone on the Côte Chalonaise, the southernmost Burgundy appellation, and on to Beaune, a center of the Burgundy wine trade.  I have visited the Beaune area regularly since 1954 and see the old streets very little changed.  A major attraction, as well as the surrounding vineyards of Beaune, is the old Hospices de Beaune, originally a charity hospital founded by of the Dukes of Burgundy in the 15th century.  A tour there includes the remarkable architecture and a view of the famous Beaune Alterpiece, a triptychpainted in the 17th century by Rogier van der Weyden.

The culinary pleasures of the Rhône Valley are legendary, with Mediterranean influences from Provence in the south and the classic French cuisine of Lyon in the north: olives, fruits, nougats de Montélimar, quenelles, andouillettes, saucissons de Lyon, and the Lyon original, onion soup.  I can never get enough of those.

And the wines of the Rhone, from Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Cotes du Rhone, and Tavel in the south to Condrieu, Côte Roti, Hermitage, Cornas, and St. Joseph in the north, can be exceptional.  On the cruise ship, we will be dining together as a group most nights, with wines selected from the Rhone, and a few from Tablas Creek, of course.

Back to last night’s roast, which was flavored with rosemary and juniper, hallmarks of Rhône Valley seasonings.  The wines, both red and white, had aged well and complemented the food.  The Hermitage white, a blend of mostly Marsanne and some Roussanne, was nutty and deeply flavored, minerally and honeyed, and attested to the rewards for aging Rhone whites.  The St. Joseph red, all Syrah, was savory and deep, with flavors of coffee, roasted meat and syrah’s signature white pepper.  Both were wonderful.

Barbara and I are very much looking forward to joining Neil and Marcy and sharing our experience with our fellow cruise guests next August.  We hope that many of our friends will gather with us for the fun.


Finding Closure(s) in Portugal

By Chelsea Franchi

Here at Tablas Creek, we do things by hand and with care.  In the vineyard and the cellar, it's paramount that everyone feels pride for their work and I'd like to think that attention and consideration translates to the product in the bottle.  I certainly appreciate that I work in an industry that is focused on craftsmanship and old-fashioned elbow grease (that's food grade, of course) especially when so many things around us are produced via automation.  I should be clear that I don't have a problem with mechanized production for most items, and these days I tend to assume that large scale production facilities are manned by machines.  So it's nice to discover I'm wrong (every now and then).

Last week, I had the extremely good fortune to be invited on a trip to Portugal with a group of eight other wine industry professionals, hosted by our cork supplier, M.A. Silva.  The purpose of the trip was to tour around Portugal, watch the cork harvest, and see what a cork manufacturing facility does.  And in our spare time, educate ourselves a bit on the subject of Portuguese wines (*ahem*).  And before you ask, the answer is "yes".  I do know how lucky I am.  Truly, I do.

Just so you don't think I was sitting on the bank of the Douro drinking Touriga Nacional and eating bacalhau the whole time I was there, here are some bite sized facts you're welcome to pull out at your next cocktail party:

  • The cork tree is an oak
  • The first harvest of cork oak bark happens after the tree reaches about 25-30 years of age
  • A cork tree can only be harvested once every nine years
  • A single cork tree will live anywhere from 150-200 years (allowing approximately 14-15 harvests during its lifetime)
  • Harvesters of cork bark are the highest paid agricultural workers in Portugal, due to the highly skilled nature of the job

To see the cork harvest in action, we drove to the Alentejo region, which is held in high esteem for the quality of cork produced.  These forests are regulated and protected with rigorous standards, and it was clear, after spending just a  short time watching the harvest, that there is great respect for the land, the trees, the product, and the culture surrounding all of it.  I've never seen anything quite like a cork harvest.  I had a general idea of the process, but seeing it in action was one of the most fascinating and mesmerizing things I've ever witnessed.

By the time we pulled into the cork forest, the harvest crew was already well into their day.  There were workers everywhere - typically about two per tree.  One worker would scramble into the high branches and begin his work from the top while the other worker started in on the base and trunk.  Each worker carries a long-handled hatchet and begins carefully hacking a line into the cork bark.  If the cut is too deep, they risk killing the tree - hence the need for trained and experienced laborers.  From there, the bark is stripped off in long sheets where a tractor comes by to pick it up.

 

 

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A freshly stripped cork tree (left) and the harvested cork bark (right)

20140616_013123Loading the cork bark onto tractors for transport out of the forest

20140616_020422Cork bark stacked and awaiting transport to the M.A. Silva processing facility

20140616_121231The grading and sorting area 

After the cork has dried, it's taken to a facility where it's sorted (by hand), graded (by hand) and sterilized.  All of this manual labor was an impressive sight to behold (we'd seen hundreds of workers by this point), but it was the next step that really surprised me.  I'd seen a piece of cut cork bark with wine corks punched out of it - in fact, we have one such model in our tasting room that I recommend asking about next time you're here (if you're into that sort of thing).  But to see how it gets to that point was a bit of a shock.  One worker cuts the cork plank into uniform strips while workers down the line punch the wine corks from the strip of bark.  Different workers choose different methods: some prefer to use an automatic punch tool that they manually feed, while others choose a foot pedal for increased control (as seen in the video below).  The reason I was so taken aback by this process was the knowledge that we purchase approximately 180,000 corks each year.  And every single one of those was punched by hand.

  

From there, each individual cork goes through a very thorough set of tests conducted by computers: checking density and visual aspects (including but not limited to: holes, pores, cracks, chips, hardwood, etc.) before going onto a conveyor belt where the presorted and computer inspected corks were inspected once more by two sets of human eyes.

It was a delight to see that we're not the only ones so concerned with putting in the effort to responsibly grow, harvest and produce our product.  To learn that others, especially those that have direct contact with our wines, respect and practice the same values was an incredibly pleasant surprise.  I'm not saying we're about to abolish screwcaps here at Tablas Creek.  I am, however, saying the next time I have the opportunity to pull a cork from a bottle of handcrafted wine, I'll certainly take a moment to appreciate the craftsmanship of the closure before turning my attention to what's in the glass.

20140619_152500Let's be real.  While I didn't spend the whole time drinking wine on the Douro, I did spend some time drinking wine on the Douro.