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.



20140616_012805 20140616_012828
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.

Tablas Esprit and Beaucastel Châteauneuf: Takes Two to Tango

By Darren Delmore

As the National Sales Manager for Tablas Creek vineyard, my travels keep leading me to circumstances where I’m asked to compare Esprit de Beaucastel to Chateâu de Beaucastel. “So which wine is better?” I’ve heard many times over, as if there’s a clear right or wrong answer to such an open-ended question. I’ve narrowed down the climate-soil-varietal-diurnal-historical pontification to the simplest response of “It’s all in the timing.” What you want out of the wine you want to drink and, most importantly when, are the real questions here.

A few recent examples follow. In Anacortes, Washington at a Tablas Creek tasting at Compass Wines, their best customer arrived on crutches wielding a bottle of 2006 Chateâu de Beaucastel and plopped it right down on the counter before he even introduced himself.

Compass Wines' legend and his 2006 Beaucastel offering.

At a Tablas Creek dinner at 32 East in Delray Beach, Florida that I hosted with Vineyard Brands’ south Florida manager Taylor Case, the owner paired off Tablas Creek and Chateâu de Beaucastel in a consumable course-by-course tango - blanc to blanc and rouge to rouge.

The show in Delray Beach at 32 East.

Some attendees of the collector persuasion snuck in some older vintages of the Beaucastel Chateâuneuf and were passing them around beneath the tabletops. Tablas Creek, as it always does in my experience, held its own very well, thank you very much, though we didn’t have any older Tablas Creek to put up against the surprise Beaucastel library wines. The 2010 Cotes de Tablas Blanc was the talk of the tables, accentuated by a great wild mushroom crostini pairing. The contrasts between the estates’ top two red 2010’s, served side-by-side with the braised short rib and polenta main course, was fascinating. Taylor and I were blown away by this flight: the wines smelled nearly identical. Further swirling revealed just a touch more open fruitiness in the Tablas Creek, but not much. Onto the taste and the identities became clear. For me, what differentiated this young vintage of Chateâu de Beaucastel from Esprit de Beaucastel (and to a degree, differentiates Chateâuneuf-du-Pape from American Rhone blends) is a mid-palate gravelly richness that attaches to the sides of your mouth as if a soil-glazed galet was tossed onto your tongue. I could taste why so many collect this wine and normally keep it out of sight for 5 to 10 years before it softens up enough for stellar drinking. It was my first opportunity to taste each, and having read that the vintage brought eerily similar growing conditions to both the southern Rhône and Paso Robles, it was wholly fulfilling. Though both Tablas and Beaucastel benefit from time in the cellar, the brighter fruit and higher acidity of the Esprit gave it an accessibility that led patrons, that night, to attack it like white, touristy ankles by an angry mob of Biscayne bull sharks. And the bottles of the amazing 1994 Beaucastel Rouge that were secretly making the rounds were a convincing testament to the rewards of patience.

 The lineup in Florida.

One of my favorite comparisons of the two estates occurred last week in Santa Fe, New Mexico at the awesome wine bar and restaurant Arroyo Vino. At the end of a day visiting restaurant accounts in Taos, I brought the remainder of the 2010 Esprit de Beaucastel bottle to Arroyo Vino’s owner Brian Bargsten. I’d first met Brian last fall at the Santa Fe Wine and Chile festival when his business was simply a high-end wine store at the foot of a luxury community just outside of town. Brian has since expanded Arroyo Vino with a beautiful, modern dining room and bar and hired chef Mark Connell, whose resume boasts stints at Salt (in Cambridge, MA) and the French Laundry (in Yountville, CA) to oversee the kitchen. After eyeballing the impressive collection of bottles for sale in the retail area, I found a seat at the bar next to a lone diner mid-way through a bottle of Bethel Heights Pinot Noir. The dining room was packed for a Wednesday night. I spoke with Brian for a bit and pulled out the Esprit. He introduced me to Larry – the man beside me – and told him the story of Tablas Creek and the Perrin family.

“They picked Paso Robles?” Larry protested, surprised that one of his favorite southern Rhône producers had set up shop in what he had always assumed to be a hot area known for “high alcohol, jammy Zinfandel.” This fired Brian up to talk about limestone-rich west-side vineyard sites, say “Larry, want to compare the two?” and disappear to fetch a 2010 Chateâu de Beaucastel off the rack. A couple other servers hovered around the bar as Brian returned, cutting off the foil swiftly and talking about Chateâuneuf-du-Pape when I noticed it was in fact the Côtes du Rhône 2010 Coudoulet de Beaucastel that he was driving the corkscrew into. “That’s the Coudoulet, Brian,” I said, seconds too late.

“What, that’s not the one?” Larry asked.

“No but it’s good,” I added. “The Coudoulet is their vineyard just outside of the AOC of Chateâuneuf-du-Pape.”

“Oh,” Brian paused mid-twist. “Well, guess we’ll do a flight of all three.” Sure enough he went over and grabbed the correct bottle and asked one of the servers to line up three glasses for each of us. Brian poured the wines in order: Coudoulet de Beaucastel, Tablas Creek Esprit de Beaucastel, and Chateâu de Beaucastel.

Perrin Flight
Left to right: 2010 Coudoulet, 2010 Esprit, and 2010 Chateâu Beaucastel.

Larry pointed out that aside from Oregon Pinot Noir, he only drank and collected European wine. He was one of Brian’s biggest customers, a bona fide Burgundy lover and buyer of first-growth Bordeaux allocations, and familiar with only a couple of producers in the Rhône. It was as much a moment for Brian as it was for Larry to see how close California could get to real Chateâuneuf-du-Pape.

The Coudoulet was in amazing shape, with a juicy unison of savory herbs and reddish fruit, and a refreshing, snappy palate and long finish. The Tablas Creek was showing a warmer, more lifted aromatic profile of Mourvédre, with black olives, raspberries, baking spices, and foresty notes and a finish filled with graceful, plush tannins. The Chateâu de Beaucastel was the biggest wine of the flight, with a brooding nose of black licorice, roasted meats and rain soaked city streets, before a powerful sip unfolded into a gravelly, mineral-rich, thick dark wave of density that required a bit of my rabbit agnolotti dish to soak up some of its youth. I was more of a wine fan than a wine salesman at that counter, mesmerized by the diversity of these three related wines from two continents, and it wasn’t until much later when Brian leaned over and asked me, “are you selling this tonight?” that I came back around to reality.

“That Esprit is good, man,” he added. 

A Flash in the Pan

By Darren Delmore

The mood on Election Night was as tense as a cold vintage Condrieu inside the dank, red velvet-lined interiors of Bern's Steakhouse in Tampa, Florida. Home of the largest private wine collection of the world and any cow’s worst nightmare, the windowless, carnivorous version of a Disneyland for adults had plenty of men and women in “I Voted” stickered-suits clinging onto wine stems and Republican dreams. “Don’t you worry,” said a permed older woman with shoulder pads in line with a Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ uniform, “it’s still early, and we’re gonna get our country back tonight.”

I quietly sipped on a 2007 Jean Luc Colombo Terre Brulees Cornas while I waited for Irishman Freddy Matson of Vineyard Brands and the chief wine buyer for Whole Foods and his wife to turn up for what was set to be an encyclopedic evening of older wines. I was alone in my bearded, short sleeved, California persuasion and had just stepped off the plane. The bartender allowed me to linger over the by-the-glass list which had mostly current release wines and yet a double take-inducing Chateauneuf-du Pape from 1975 for $14.75 and a 1986 Gigondas for 5 bucks. On the last gamey, sedimentary sip I caught the white, glimmering rock-and-roller curls of Freddy in the back with two others, and he was waving in my direction.

After introductions we were seated at a back booth in the bar and greeted by the sommelier Eric Renaud who is the envy of many master sommeliers by having the luxury of working with one of the oldest, most famous and random wine inventories on the planet. The wines and beef variations flowed for the next four hours, all at Eric’s recommendation.

Wine # 1: 1971 “Les Beaux Monts” Vosne-Romanee

Bern's cork
A cigar of a cork from the 1971 Les Beaux Monts 

Wine #2: Mid-1960’s left bank Bordeaux (with pristine color but the Chateau's name escapes me)

Wine # 3: 1981 Jaboulet Hermitage La Chappelle

Wine # 4 1989 Domaine Henri Gouges Les Pruliers Nuits St. Georges (my favorite)

Wine # 5 1976 Beerenauslese in the dessert room.

After the euphoric experience and a tour of the dank cellars, we parted company. I noticed that the bar was like a ghost town by ten pm. Had the election gone a different direction I imagine the place would’ve smelled of cigars and vintage Napa Valley Cabernet and been raging at full capacity.

 *    *    * 

The last time I was in Florida I was 13 years old and Disney World was the focus. This time around I was working the Gulf Coast territory, visiting restaurants and wine retailers and pouring the current releases of Tablas Creek to wine buyers. With Freddy as my guide and six different Tablas Creek wines open for tasting, we crossed various bodies of alligator-infested waters from Sarasota to St. Petersburg, and Tampa to Naples to show our stuff. The wind was coming from the north all week so humidity was low and the temps were crisp and warm. The businesses we visited varied from Whole Foods Markets to independent wine shops/bars, and modern-hipster restaurants to Nixon-era relics. I was blown away by a few funky old school restaurants, like Bern’s, that were packing surprisingly deep and consumer-friendly bottle lists. One such restaurant was Bob Heilman’s Beachcomber in Clearwater Beach. This place was out of the 1970’s for sure, had a massive dining room and surf and turf concept going on, with merely a two page wine list full of 1980’s and 1990’s Champagne, Burgundy and Rhone at prices that never changed since release. All in a place where most customers probably drank gimlets, Napa Cabernet or White Zinfandel more than anything else! 

On my second night in Florida, Tablas Creek was the featured winery at the cool new restaurant in downtown Sarasota called State Street Eating House and Cocktails.

State Street kitchen
Tablas Creek night at State Street Eating House

Not only did the lead singer of AC/DC turn up to taste through our white wines (he loved the 2009 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc), but a packed house thoroughly enjoyed chef Christian’s pairings, which included Alligator Ribs matched with Patelin de Tablas Rouge. Freddy ordered a gator platter afterwards and lumped a fat one onto my salad. I ventured a bite and a local guy named Kyle leaned over and asked me “Do you actually like that, man?”

“I’m guessing you don’t eat this stuff,” I said.

He widened his eyes like we were insane.

Farm Raised Gator and Patelin de Tablas Rouge!

Freddy had me booked to do a couple in store tastings at various Whole Foods Markets over the next two days. The first one was in Sarasota right by the bus depot which is a fairly new store. The buyer David introduced himself and helped me set up the table full of both Patelin Blanc and Rouge. Turns out he is from San Francisco. I’d never worked one of these tastings before, but it entails engaging wine browsers and cheese department-bound customers to stop by for a couple free tastes in hopes that they tuck a bottle into their cart or basket to go. A hobbling, fragrant, trenchcoat-adorned man on a wooden cane and with about as many teeth as my 3 month old son was our first guest of the day, and it took me ‘til his second taste to realize he had no cart or basket at all. He waxed poetically about the wine being better than “any French wine anywhere” and took my card and told me he wanted to come visit the estate sometime before moving on. A similarly fashioned woman with a mustache turned up next and David swiftly intervened and told me not to give her any more alcohol and that they kick her out of the store daily. Some Tablas Creek fans materialized next and took four bottles of Patelin red with them. Another young mother packed away two bottles of the white. A group of grommets rocked up – one in a Viking helmet and another in face paint – and I carded them before pouring them the wines. When all was said and done we sold about a case and a half, and even better, the buyer David was able to try the wines and loved them. 

Pat blanc whole foods
2011 Patelin de Tablas Blanc @ Whole Foods Sarasota

The Whole Foods in-store tasting in Tampa was a whole other demographic and story. Whereas the Sarasota tasting was on a Friday evening, Tampa’s newest Whole Foods (opened November 1st) had me pour on Saturday from 11-1:30 and it was packed. Patelin de Tablas Rouge swiftly sold out. I hope to do more of these tastings at various Whole Foods Markets in the future.

*    *    *

The culmination of my Floridian five day run was the Stone Crab Food and Wine Festival at the Longboat Key Club in Longboat, FL. The event organizers set us up in probably the most amazing setting at the best time of the day for a wine and food event.

Sunset   Photo[1]

I poured along with 20 other wineries at sunset as guests ate the first delivery of stone crab while a classical quintet performed on the center stage. We were positioned next to Robert Kacher Selections which wasn’t a bad place to be, since Bobby brought along nothing but White Burgundy to a crab festival. Patz and Hall and King Estate had some great wines out as well.

Stone crab
The season's first delivery of Stone Crab in Longboat, Florida

With a flight leaving Tampa at 6 am the next morning, I wisely left Freddy Matson at a hotel room after party and called it a night. I’ll be back in Florida at the end of January for the Forks and Corks festival in Sarasota and few other Tablas Creek related events, so check back on our events section for the emerging details.    

Seeing red -- and green -- in Santa Fe

By Darren Delmore

Before spending a week in New Mexico for the 22nd annual Santa Fe Wine and Chile Fiesta, I called my gastroenterologist to inquire about getting my esophagus lined with stainless steel. It seemed like the smart thing to do. The residents of New Mexico’s high desert utopia - perched at 7,000 feet – love wine as much as their art and hot peppers, and this four day festival is one of the finest, spiciest celebrations of food and drink in the country. I was going to need some kind of intestinal support network to wage this battle.

After surviving close to a week in that 402-year-old city, I can safely report that Santa Fe is alive and kicking with art, food and music. I learned some fun facts as well: the state dinosaur for starters, that it's the third-largest art mecca in America behind NYC and Los Angeles, the and that when a server asks you “green or red” after you order anything from oatmeal to a Ribeye you should respond with “Christmas”. Although being so far removed from an ocean can be tortuous for me, I hardly even noticed during my week there; I was too busy eating, drinking and taking in the culture.

The opening event of Wine and Chile Fiesta was the invitation only Trade Tasting at the Hotel El Dorado on Wednesday afternoon. I arrived early enough to set up our table and ready the nine Tablas Creek wines I’d be pouring. [A little business -- any accounts in New Mexico interested in Tablas Creek can find us through National Distributing Company.] It was nice to be pouring alongside fellow central coaster Jessica from Zaca Mesa who informed me after a half glass of Ruinart Champagne to mind my altitude. She was right. Something had felt off. Walking up from the parking garage alone had me huffing as if the lungs of Keith Richards were inside me. “Just drink a lot of water,” she added. I had researched restaurants around the city, and as the event filled up I was able to meet a lot of the buyers, managers and staff of wine loving establishments from Santa Fe down to Albuquerque and on up to Taos. A lot of good wineries were in the house. It was going to be a good week.

The fine wine specialist for National, Andrew Jay, recommended that I go have a bite to eat at Café Pasqual’s that night, since they were pouring our Patelin de Tablas by the glass and loved Tablas Creek. I walked into town from my hotel on the north edge of the city and entered the clamoring, legendary eatery. The manager saw my green Tablas Creek bag and introduced herself enthusiastically. The only spot available was in the center of a silent, ten person communal table in the middle of the dining room. I wedged myself in next to four couples and a guy on his iPad. After ordering a glass of Fontsainte Corbieres Rosé and doing that 21st century solitary shuffle of staring into my phone, a huge plate of complimentary roasted red peppers with a wedge of lime materialized before me, and the whole table suddenly had entertainment akin to a gastronomical version of Survivor to bring us all together.

Pascqual's peppers

“You must work here or be really special,” said the Texan next to me.

“You gonna eat all them?” asked the woman on my right. The couple I’d later learn was from South Korea just started at me through their black-rimmed hipster glasses, fully prepared to witness me burst into flames.

“Those aren’t bad,” the Texan consoled me. “Those are sweet ones. You’re all right.”

Thankfully they were. And delicious at that. I had a caramelized onion and poppy seed tart and “Albondigas de Pigolo con Adobolo” afterward, which are meatballs of bison and pork. A spicy mole dish tore up the woman to my right and she sent it away swiftly. “I’m beyond done,” she said, and didn’t utter another word all night. This was hot culinary terrain here. Tourists were going down by the minute!

Thursday was mostly a day to explore and absorb some Santa Fe culture. After some internet research I headed to Garcia Street Books just south of the river, which had a well-chosen selection of the authors I was looking for. Next door was a newsstand/café called Downtown Subscription, which is highly recommended for not only its brew but also the relaxed patio space in back to while away a lazy morning or afternoon. I checked out some of the galleries a block down from there, and a woman at Manitou Galleries that had a really stunning show going for painter B.C. Nowlin steered me toward the Museum of Contemporary Native Arts, which was a great decision.

There was a forty-five minute wait for lunch at The Shed, which I spent browsing through the wine shop at La Casa Sena. I salivated over a 3-liter of 2009 Hommage a Jacques Perrin and their expansive selection of Ridge.


My restaurant pager went off as I checked out with a half bottle of 2005 Turkey Flat Barossa Valley Shiraz. The patio at The Shed was still crowded so I was led by the host to a deep secret room built in adherence to the local overhead clearance of five foot four. In fact an older gentleman was pacing by his table in there and grabbed the host, demanding to be relocated due to claustrophobia. He was freaking out and I couldn’t blame him. I failed the “green or red” test by asking my server for the mildest salsa on my enchiladas. The food was only on the verge of devil spice, which was just what I needed.

From 4:30 to 6:30 there was a soirée’ at the Governor’s Mansion for all the participating wineries at Santa Fe Wine and Chile. This was a chance to relax a bit and taste through everyone else’s chosen wine selection. I met France’s “Whispering Angel” who was there in a blue sport coat cinched at the neck with a little pink sweater representing his magnums of rosé de Provence wines. The Tablas Creek selection being poured by an array of sommeliers and restaurant wine directors was the 2011 Rosé, which was the perfect choice for the heat of the day. The hot desert sun was scorching the bottles of red wine. Nothing like having a glass of 90-degree Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon.

TerrasunsetI cut up through a quintessential orange-pink New Mexican landscape to the Four Seasons Rancho Encantado. Word traveled my way about a prix fixe dinner their restaurant Terra was doing all week, with four courses paired with Tablas Creek wines. After a commanding sunset (right) I sampled two of the courses and their chef blew me away with his Green Chile Cioppino and 2011 Patelin de Tablas Blanc pairing: an innovative and thoughtful food and wine combination that really brought out the spice of the wine's Grenache Blanc component. Rhone whites are often a surprisingly good pairing with spicy food, which tends to fight with oak and can make high-acid wines taste shrill. The cioppino:


Out of all the days at this festival, Friday was my busiest. Tablas Creek and chef Fernando Olea were being paired up on the outskirts of town at world famous artist Allan Houser’s sculpture garden and residence. I could’ve driven myself later in the morning but opted to get on the bus with everyone else and get the full experience. I’m glad I did. His work, carved out of limestone, granite, bronze and other organic materials was full of grace and soul. As was the luncheon that the amiable Fernando Olea put together to pair with the 2011 Rosé and our two new Esprit de Beaucastel wines. There’s a first time for everything in life, and grasshoppers paired with a Mourvedre-based rosé was certainly new to everybody in attendance.


With a bus full of snoring passengers, we returned just in time for me to down an espresso and set up for the Reserve tasting at the El Dorado. This event was far more crowded than the trade tasting, as the attendees were an equal mix of industry and general public. Tablas Creek donated a ten vintage vertical of Esprit de Beaucastel Rouge for the auction. Wines were flowing fast. A small, exhausted group of us met up for dinner at La Casa Sena afterward, where the wine list is as thick as a Tom Wolfe novel. We drank a 2009 Domaine Weinbach Grand Cru Gewürztraminer. I had the Wagyu steak with it, which might show just how mentally debilitated I was from the succession of the day’s events.

Saturday was the grand tasting at the Santa Fe Opera with over 5,000 in attendance. I parked and walked down to the Flea Market beforehand, expecting to find locally-crafted art and jewelry made from indigenous gems and stones but instead found rugs and clothing from South Korea. I hoofed it up through the opera grounds to the series of event tents and found the Tablas Creek table. It was already packed an hour before starting time. Manny Guerra from Vineyard Brands came over for a glass of Rosé and the heads up that he had the 2009 Chateau de Beaucastel open two tents down and that I’d better come over now if I wanted a glass of it. I was getting the vibe that the crowd waiting behind the roped-off entrance was there to party. Thankfully over 75 restaurants were sprinkled about with plenty of food to keep things agreeable. 1 to 4 pm was the busiest blur of my lifetime. I poured both Patelin de Tablas wines, Rosé and Esprit de Beaucastel to the merry masses, at times with a bottle in each hand. I couldn’t believe how well organized and managed such a big tasting event could be. No wonder this was the 22nd annual.  

At nightfall with a full harvest moon over New Mexico, I was in a quiet, off-Broadway part of the city, sitting in the Second Street Brewery watching one of New Mexico’s best singer-songwriters playing a set with his trio, drinking a stout and giving the spicy food one more try. The nachos, complete with Christmas, were crushing me with its spice and acids, and again the native chile won the dusty battle against this Californian wineslinger

A Family (Winemakers) Trip to the Golden Gate

By Darren Delmore

As we loaded up nine cases of wine into the Subaru on a sunny Sunday morning, I immediately got the drift that two days of representing TCV at Family Winemakers of California’s San Francisco tasting wasn’t going to be a relaxing, casual affair. Pouring 108 bottles in approximately two four-hour tastings equals over a case an hour, and (assuming one ounce pours) over five tastes per minute. There’s no way any winery would go through that much wine at a trade event where 300 other wineries were also pouring, would they?

Family Winemakers SF 2012

We made speedy, all-wheel-drive time into the city, unloading the wines at a bustling Fort Mason Center, parking, and inhaling sandwiches from Greens Restaurant as the whites chilled. It was an absolutely beautiful day to be pouring wine on a pier in San Francisco. We poured a pretty serious lineup, everything that we make that sees any distribution at all for the mostly wine-buying trade and media attendees of this long running event:

The Whites
2011 Patelin de Tablas Blanc
2010 Cotes de Tablas Blanc
2010 Roussanne
2010 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc
2011 Vermentino

The Rosé
2011 Rosé

The Reds
2011 Patelin de Tablas
2010 Cotes de Tablas
2010 Mourvedre
2010 Esprit de Beaucastel

I hadn’t been to a Family Winemakers event since 2008 in Pasadena, so I was wondering how the organization had been faring in recent years. There are so many trade and consumer tastings these days, what niche did Family Winemakers continue to fill? As a wine buyer for a restaurant, I recall the abundance of high end California wines on hand at these tastings, and the opportunity to actually talk to winery owners and winemakers in a more spacious atmosphere. I also dug walking away knowing which wineries in California were family owned and/or independent. This year’s event filled up slowly but surely on the first day, with sommeliers and buyers from a great array of restaurants, bistros and wine shops turning up to taste what’s new. Before we knew it we were pouring full throttle to a mass of both trade and consumers alike. The disadvantage of pouring so many wines is that it takes serious tasters quite a while to get through your lineup. The advantage: you sure look busy.

The action didn’t wind down until three hours in when Jason urged me to go taste around the room. My throat was parched from shouting what Counoise was over the thunder of tasters, so I went straight to Ramey Wine Cellars, who, along with Kistler, is the master of California Chardonnay in my opinion. The trio behind the table looked as exhausted from the day’s pouring as I felt so I didn’t take up much more of their time. I was just happy to know that their 2009 Hyde Vineyard Chardonnay was as good as their 2008.

That night Jason and I cabbed it to Park Tavern in North Beach for what would be a fabulous meal with our distributor's new key accounts specialist for the Bay Area. Until recently a sommelier at a top Napa restaurant, she was happily already a fan of our wines and psyched to meet us and taste what was new. Over a discussion of the glories of Mourvedre-based rose and a bottle of 2011 Chateau Pradeaux, Jason told the tale of how his father and the Perrin family ultimately picked Paso Robles in 1989 to found Tablas Creek. For me, listening to limestone-enlivened wine tales is to me what hearing the latest on a cinematic celebrity’s pregnancy or Justin Bieber’s eating disorder is to the rest of America. We moved on to the bright, honeyed 2010 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc when the main courses hit the table, which collectively paired with their choices of Black Cod and my highly-recommended bone-in pork chop plate with bacon confit that should’ve simply been called "the pacemaker". "You win," the server quietly said to me when he placed my selection before me.

The following morning I chose to take in the sights of the city. Jason (who had a board meeting) had warned me that the Tenderloin, a few steps the wrong way from our excellent hotel, used to be a really terrifying place. But there was a Blue Bottle Coffee location ten minutes away according to my iPhone, so I took a brisk morning stroll down Taylor into an area that I’d later find out was graced by a bustling methadone clinic. I about to abort the mission when I saw the most-welcome sign for Jessie street and power walked down a mere half a block to find a line full of black-rimmed spectacle-adorned hipsters awaiting their morning brew. What a difference a hundred yards makes!

I met up with Jason at 1:30 for the final trade tasting, and before long we were swarming with fans and tasters. The Vermentino was a hit. The Patelin de Tablas Blanc was showing extremely well and if you’re in the Bay Area, you’re surely going to see this killer blend on by the glass lists. A lot of people had never tried Mourvedre on its own, and our 2010 was much-requested. By 5 pm, an hour before the cutoff, my voice felt like Janis Joplin’s after a two-hour whiskey-fueled set. Come closing time, all but one of those nine cases of Tablas Creek were gone, and once outside en route to the getaway ride, the winds whipping off the San Francisco bay were full of mercy.

Golden Gate

Nine lessons the Kimpton Hotel Group offers wineries

Last week, Meghan and I escaped for a night down to Santa Barbara to see David Sedaris perform.  We stayed downtown at the Canary Hotel, a few blocks away from the Arlington Theater where he would be performing. When we checked in, it was during the evening wine hour that Kimpton Hotels are known for, and we sipped on glasses of a local Sauvignon Blanc while the clerk completed the registration.  We were greeted warmly, told that we had been moved to a corner room with a balcony, and then were on our way.

I am not a particularly loyal traveler.  I choose airlines based on the rates they charge and the convenience of their connections, even though I'm an elite member of United.  I pick rental car companies based on price, though if it's close (and it only rarely is) I'll give Hertz and Avis the benefit of the doubt due to their superior customer service.  Between Hilton, Hyatt, Marriott, Westin, and the like, I really don't care and mostly can't tell them apart.  But if there's a Kimpton in town, you'll most likely find me there.  As I was thinking about why, I realized that there are lessons here for wineries, and have tried to apply these lessons to Tablas Creek.  Below are nine lessons I take away from Kimpton's success.

  • Get to know your customers... and show that you remember.  As a part of the loyalty program, you're asked questions like what sort of room you prefer (I like corner rooms because of the light and air flow), what sort of pillow you like (feather), what newspaper you like, etc.  And if you're one of their elite members, you get an even more detailed checklist of what you'd like to see and do.  And when you check in, Kimpton figures out how to make your preferences happen.  It requires both infrastructure and commitment, but the result is that your stays feel personalized.  As a winery, do you know what wines your customers particularly like?  Are you letting customers who have enjoyed a particular wine know when the next vintage is released?  Are you recognizing your best customers?  Are people greeted by name when they check out?  Your systems most likely have this treasure trove of potential information hidden inside.  It's up to you to figure out how to apply it.
  • Be friendly to the whole family. Before we even had kids, still in our twenties, we treated ourselves on the cross-country trip that brought us out to California from Washington, DC.  After more than a week of cheap motels and national park lodges, we splurged a little (it was still only about $100) and stayed in the Hotel Monaco in Salt Lake City.  When we arrived, grimy from a day of driving, with our dog, we were greeted warmly and Maddie even more so.  She was led upstairs, had a special bed for her, a treat on arrival and with the turndown service, and instead of being treated as suspicious (as we'd found in some "pet friendly" hotels on our way out) we were made to feel welcome.  Kimpton hotels are all pet friendly, and all, in our experience, equally kid friendly.  As a winery, have you thought about people who are coming with pets or kids?  We have a small table and chairs where kids can color while their parents taste.  And there's a bowl with water outside for dogs.  The cost is virtually nil, and the gratitude from guests who come with pets or kids is wonderful.
  • Offer consistent value. Kimpton hotels aren't cheap.  They're typically in the $150-$250 range, and there are doubtless cheaper options nearby.  But they pack a lot of comfort and personality for what they charge.  As a boutique winery, that's your job.  You don't want to be the cheapest, you want people to feel like whatever they pay they got a lot of value for.  It's also important that your best customers feel like they're being treated fairly.  This is particularly difficult in the ruthless online hotel marketplace.  If you find a cheaper rate online than Kimpton has on its Web site, they'll match it and offer you a $25 credit.  I'm not suggesting that wineries do the same, but if your wine club members are finding your wines cheaper at their local retailer (and with the Internet, the definition of "local" stretches a lot) they're not likely to be members for long.  Make sure you know what your wines are being offered for online, and figure out how to take action if you're finding that you're falling behind.
  • Make your workplace a great place to work. It's clear in every interaction with Kimpton staff that they enjoy what they're doing.  And the recognition has come: Kimpton was #16 in Fortune's Best Companies to Work For 2012.  For Kimpton, this includes rewarding employees who go out of their way to provide outstanding service, funding ongoing education, encouraging a healthy work-life balance and, most importantly, empowering employees to improvise and make on-the-spot decisions that will benefit their customers.  Working at a winery, particularly in hospitality, is similar to working in hotels in that you're "on" each day.  You see new guests every day, and each day will be many guests' first experience with your brand.  Do your employees feel valued?  Are they given the authority to make decisions?  Are they supported when they come to you with suggestions?
  • Be a good corporate citizen. Kimpton has been a industry leader through their Kimpton Cares program.  They have launched out-of-the-box initiatives like "Great Meetings, Great Causes" that try to bring their message of sustainability to non-traditional venues.  And they for many years offered free parking to hybrid and electric vehicles.  Do these make a difference in the world? Probably, to some degree.  And their commitment seems sincere.  But it has brought them lots of community goodwill and free publicity, which never hurts.  Many wineries are doing well here, whether farming organically or sustainably or supporting community causes.  But there is always more to be done.  At Tablas Creek, we've identified arts in our community as an area to dedicate significant resources to, and now are major sponsors of the Central Coast Shakespeare Festival, Festival Mozaic and the Paderewski Festival of Paso Robles. But beyond what we do ourselves, we've been able to leverage our position in the community.  My father founded the Winery Partners of the Foundation for the Performing Arts Center, a group now in its third year, which has together donated nearly a quarter of a million dollars in recognition of the importance of the venue to the county's cultural life and of the wineries in the county's economic vitality.
  • Focus on public relations instead of advertising.  Kimpton hardly advertises.  At first, this was because (like most wineries) the available funds were low and the market penetration of the stable of boutique hotels limited.  But more and more they believe in the higher return on investment of engaging with customers and writers, developing stories organically, and building via word of mouth.  Social media has only made that task easier.  I think that this is even more true for wineries.  Advertising is a blunt tool, where you reach a lot of people but aren't likely to convince many to take action because of it.  Worse, it's only valuable to the extent that you have already achieved market penetration.  That money that you could spend on an ad in a glossy magazine could almost certainly be better used to develop contacts with writers in the hopes of generating editorial coverage, or reinvested in creative incentives for your current fans to share their enthusiasm with their friends.  Is it more work?  Sure.  But someone else's testimonial for your brand is inherently more powerful than your own.
  • Know your history, and celebrate it. Most corporate hotels feel the same, whether they're in San Francisco or Sarasota.  Not Kimptons.  They make a point of searching out and renovating historic buildings and then imbuing them with the personality of their region.  This doesn't feel like a schtick... the way that, say, a W in suburban Atlanta does with its techno and neon.  Instead, the architecture is thoughtfully restored, the connection between the hotel and its neigborhood celebrated, and the space's history displayed and explained.  As a winery, take a look at the entrance to your tasting room.  What does it say about you?  Are you communicating your essentials?  You might be surprised at the story your facility is telling.  Are you slick or personal?  Fancy or down-home?  Artisan or industrial?  Traditional or modern?  There isn't a right answer, but it's important to know and to make sure that you are creating the impression you want.  For a case study, take a look at the blog post from last spring Telling the Tablas Creek story... without words.
  • Give people who don't know you yet reasons to discover you. Each Kimpton has a restaurant, often among the better restaurants in their cities.  These go far beyond the typical hotel restaurant and while they do provide hotel guests a place to have a quick breakfast or a late-night snack, they cater primarily to the local community.  A vibrant restaurant ensures a steady influx of potential new customers and friends of potential new customers, as well as adding to the prestige and reputation of the venue.  Most wineries won't have restaurants on-site, but it's important to stay visible to customers who don't yet know you.  Are you doing open houses for members of the hospitality trade?  Offering your site as a venue for industry events?  Partnering with non-winery businesses to host their events?  It's easy to open your doors and wait for your customers to find you, but being proactive can bring you so much more.
  • Be generous with the little things. Whether it's the complimentary wine tasting, the complimentary internet access, bottles of water in the rooms, the fruit in the lobby or the goldfish and bowl you can take to your room, things that other luxury hotels charge for are included with your Kimpton stay.  I hate the feeling of being nickeled and dimed.  As a winery, if you're charging tasting fees for people who purchase or event fees for your club members who are coming to buy wine, it's worth considering whether the benefits of loyalty and increased sales may outweigh the small amounts of revenue you're bringing in.

Is this a checklist that any successful winery has to mark off?  Of course not.  But most wineries want what the Kimpton Hotel Group has achieved: respect as purveyors of a consistently high quality product, in classy, comfortable environments, with outstanding customer service and positive impacts on their communities.

Sounds worth emulating, to me.

A great dinner, an amazing restaurant, and a wine that marks the beginning of Tablas Creek

Last weekend Cesar Perrin and I were honored to host the keynote dinner at the Bern's Winefest.  Hosted by Bern's Steak House in Tampa, Florida, the festival included dinners, seminars, and a grand tasting.  So far, nothing unique about this.  The dinner that we hosted was excellent, five courses and eight wines, including side-by-side flights of Tablas Creek and Beaucastel, library vintages from both wineries (1996 Beaucastel and 2004 Esprit de Beaucastel, and the remarkable 2000 Hommage a Jacques Perrin).  Terrific, but still not unique.  It was a wine dinner, masterfully prepared and expertly paired, with a selection of wines going back a decade and a half.  At Bern's, that's routine.

If you're unfamiliar with Bern's, it's Mecca for wine lovers.  Opened in 1956 by Bern Laxer and run today by his son David, the restaurant boasts a wine cellar of nearly a million bottles, much of which was purchased by Bern on his annual trips to France and has never been inventoried.  The working cellar of over 100,000 bottles is staggering in its own right, and the wine list (183 pages in the 62nd Edition) is legendary.  It includes big names from Burgundy and Bordeaux, but it's more than trophies.  It encompasses the deepest collections of old wines from California, Spain, Australia and the Rhone Valley that I've ever seen.  And the sommeliers there keep finding more.  When Bern's shipments of wines would arrive from France, the entire Bern's staff would be called on to grab a hand-truck and help move the new arrivals the two blocks from the end of the rail line to the warehouse across the street from the restaurant.  Thousands of cases would be packed into the warehouse, with the only master plan in Bern's head.  To this day, the sommeliers treat a visit to the warehouse like a treasure hunt, and estimate that there are 200,000 bottles, most from the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, not on any inventory list. These discoveries keep the list from getting picked over, as there is a steady supply of treasures to uncover.

Even more remarkable, the restaurant does not mark wines up based on how long they've held the inventory.  So browsing through the list will uncover any number of unbelievable values.  I could choose between a half-dozen California wines from 1973 (my birth year) including names like Parducci, Louis Martini, Souverain, Franciscan, and Trentadue for between $45 and $70.  Had I been born a year earlier, I could have chosen a magnum of 1972 Inglenook Cabernet, an icon from one of the greatest vintages in Napa Valley, for $129.  A year later and I could have had a 1974 Ridge Zinfandel for $72.70.  The list goes on and on.

Knowing that the winemaker dinner would have a set menu, with wines that we knew, Freddy Matson (the Vineyard Brands manager for Florida's Gulf Coast) made a reservation for Cesar and me the night before our wine dinner.  When we arrived, we put ourselves in Sommelier Brad Dixon's hands, and enjoyed an amazing string of wines, beginning with a 1954 Rioja, continuing with great Burgundies from 1978 and 1961, and including not one but two different wines from 1973, both from Souverain of Alexander Valley: one a Zinfandel and one a Pinot Noir.  It was one of the great epicurean experiences of my life.

On the wine list, Cesar and I noted a curiosity: half-bottles of 1966 Pierre Perrin Chateauneuf du Pape.  Pierre Perrin was Cesar's great-grandfather, Jacques Perrin's father, but there are other branches of the Perrin family in Chateauneuf and -- until the Hommage a Jacques Perrin debuted in 1989 -- we weren't aware of the Perrin name appearing on a Beaucastel label.  When we asked Brad about the wine, he didn't know anything about its story, but brought us a bottle:


More than the Perrin name, the Leeds Imports strip label identified it as a wine of interest.  My grandfather created Leeds Imports because New York law at the time prohibited retailers (he owned M. Lehmann) from also acting as importer/distributor.  In the late 1960s my dad was the buyer for the wines that Leeds imported, both to sell at M. Lehmann and to offer to distributors in other states.  We decided we needed to find out more. From the restaurant, Cesar texted his father a picture of the bottle. Francois hadn't heard of the wine (of course, he was thirteen during the 1966 vintage).  I emailed my father but didn't hear back.  So Brad gave us each a bottle and asked us to let him know what we discovered.

The next day, I spoke to my dad and got the scoop.  In the late 1960's, my dad had decided that the American market was ready for wines from some regions outside the traditional bastions of Burgundy and Bordeaux.  So he was visiting appellations that he thought were making high quality wine and looking either to find new suppliers or quality wine in bulk that he could then have bottled and out of which he could create a brand.  He visited Beaucastel with a broker in 1967 and found that while Jacques Perrin wouldn't sell him Beaucastel (their American importer at the time wasn't selling much wine, but had an exclusive agreement) he was able to convince Jacques to let him taste through the lots and assemble his own cuvee for bottling.  This is that wine: made by Jacques Perrin, chosen by my dad in Beaucastel's cellars, bottled under a semi-anonymous label in Bordeaux, and imported into the United States.  My dad thinks that there were perhaps 300 cases produced total.  I'm not sure if any is left anywhere other than at Bern's, but I tend to doubt it.

There were no subsequent vintages of Pierre Perrin Chateauneuf du Pape.  The American importer got wind of the wine and asked Jacques not to do it again.  But my dad's interest in Beaucastel was sparked; he kept visiting and in 1970 convinced Jacques to give him the American import agency.

So, there it is: the beginning of the Haas-Perrin partnership that would become Tablas Creek.  Just a great discovery, during an amazing night of food and wine, at a restaurant unlike any other in the world.  If you haven't been to Bern's, you owe it to yourself to go.  You never know what you'll find, but you know you'll find something you couldn't have found anywhere else.

Has TripAdvisor overtaken Yelp for winery visitors?

I keep a regular eye on Tablas Creek's reviews on TripAdvisor and on Yelp.  Reading these reviews helps me keep an eye out for potential problems, and also gives me a good overall sense of what people are thinking about the experience they have when they visit Tablas Creek.  Happily, it's overwhelmingly positive.

I have noticed a recent trend away from Yelp and toward TripAdvisor.  For years Yelp was the dominant review site.  Between 2005 and early 2011, Yelp tallied 69 reviews of Tablas Creek to only 5 for TripAdvisor.  In fact, I didn't even start watching TripAdvisor until mid-2011.  But in the last year, we've received an equal number of reviews (23) on each site, and so far in 2012, TripAdvisor has tallied 13 reviews to just 5 on Yelp. The chart below will give you a sense of how the trend has changed recently.

Reviews by Site
Both Yelp and TripAdvisor are powerful players in travel, dining and entertainment.  Per month, Yelp claims 66 million unique visitors, while TripAdvisor claims 50 million.  And the prominent placing of both sites' reviews in search engine rankings means that increasingly, consumers are using these sites in addition to or instead of the more traditional printed brochures and regional association Web sites that they would have used even a few years ago.  They have the advantages (and disadvantages) of crowd-sourced opinions, combining the perception of incorruptibility with the idiosyncracies of uncurated information.  But their net impact is tremendous, and is only likely to grow.

It's possible that we're starting to see some specialization between the two sites, which have essentially identical interfaces and market niches.  I know that I tend to think of Yelp as specializing in dining, and TripAdvisor as specializing in travel.  But a quick look at a few local restaurants suggests that TripAdvisor may be making significant inroads here as well.  Artisan shows 30 TripAdvisor reviews so far in 2012, but only 20 Yelp reviews (2011 and earlier shows 311 reviews on Yelp and 198 on TripAdvisor).  Il Cortile shows 16 reviews on TripAdvisor in 2012 (compared to just 40 before) and 17 on Yelp (compared to 123 before).  And Thomas Hill Organics shows 25 reviews on TripAdvisor (compared to 48 before) and 35 on Yelp (compared to 180 before).  Even if TripAdvisor still trails Yelp slightly in the restaurant world, it's clear that its trend is positive.

I know that lots of wineries have claimed and edited their profiles on Yelp, and many have also chosen to advertise with them, perhaps encouraged by the aggressive advertising sales push that many wineries, including Tablas Creek, received last year.  I don't see the same level of engagement with TripAdvisor.

Our experience suggests that neglecting TripAdvisor is a mistake.

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.

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.