Our last harvest of the year is olives, which we typically pick in late November or early December. In an ideal year, we might get some frosts before the olives are ripe, but we won't get any hard freezes, because if the olives freeze then they rot and aren't usable for oil. Like the rest of the 2012 harvest, we got pretty much what we wanted for our olive crop, and were able to pick ripe fruit yesterday under sunny skies.
Today, we processed the olives on site for the first time thanks to the marvelous mobile olive press from our friends Yves and Clotilde Julien of Olea Farm:
Yves and Clotilde's press (which they've named "Mill On Wheels") includes components -- some imported from Italy and some made locally -- that wash the olives and separate them from any leaf or stem material, that crush the olives into paste, that separate the liquids from the solids, and finally that uses a centrifuge to separate the oil from the water. I took a short video that tracks the process from the hopper full of olives through to the stream of olive oil pouring out of the centrifuge:
The oil will settle in our cellar for two months, and then be bottled: estate grown, certified organic Tablas Creek olive oil. And it is already delicious; you could smell the rich, pungent aroma of fresh olive oil from outside the winery, even though we're processing the olives in our nursery, a few hundred yards away. One more photo, because it's too good not to share: a single one of our Manzanilla olives, dipped in the oil made from the previous batch. Yum!
We love our Rosé. It shows the charms of Mourvedre when made into a pink wine by being rich yet refreshing, complex yet appealing, and worthy of pairing with substantial food. But it's always been a bit of an outlier in the world of rosés, somewhat darker than most, somewhat fuller-bodied than most, and just a little too expensive for most restaurants to serve in the way that most rosé is drunk in restaurants: by the glass.
So, early this year, we set ourselves to the task of producing a rosé under the Patelin de Tablas label that would complement the rosé that we've been making since 1999. We decided to base it on the world's most popular rosé grape: Grenache, and we identified Grenache vineyards within Paso Robles that we could harvest specifically for this rosé program. These vineyards are starting to arrive in the cellar. The photo below shows one bin, ready for processing Friday. Note Grenache's typical beautiful garnet color:
We don't yet know what the final composition of the wine will be, but we know it will be overwhelmingly based on this Grenache, harvested specifically for the Patelin Rosé and direct-pressed into tank. The rest will come from saignéed lots of Mourvedre and maybe even a little Syrah. We're guessing that the finished wine will end up around 80% Grenache, but we'll see how harvest goes. We want the wine to be a light salmon in color, more typical of a French rosé than the more cranberry tones of our estate Rosé, low in alcohol and vibrant, juicy and refreshing.
What is direct-press, you ask? Happy to show you. I shot a short (90 second) video in the cellar Friday documenting the process. The video begins with Grenache coming down our sorting table, into our destemmer. We then pump the berries and juice into our press, which isn't even pressing... just turning the grapes and letting the free-run juice flow out. That juice is being pumped into a stainless steel tank, where it will start to ferment. We did eventually turn on the press to squeeze the berries, but even in that portion, the color was only gently pink.
Look for the new 2012 Patelin de Tablas Rosé to debut in March, retail for around $20 and be available by the glass at your local dining establishment of choice.
February is the month when the relative calm of winter ends. The days start to get longer, the cover crops explode into growth thanks to the sun and rain, and it starts to feel like spring is just around the corner. Of course, it's not, quite; it's still often below freezing at night, and the grapevines won't sprout for another month at least. But all of a sudden you know the clock is ticking.
This is when we prune. You need to wait until the vines are dormant to prune them, so that they can store up the necessary vigor in their roots. But pruning too early encourages the vines to sprout early too, and in an area prone to spring frosts -- like Paso Robles -- that's a risk. So, rather than prune in December or January, we prune in February and March, starting with the varieties that sprout late, and which we're not too worried about freezing, like Mourvedre and Roussanne. We try to finish with Grenache, Grenache Blanc, and Viognier, which all tend to sprout earlier, in the hopes of getting another week or ten days of dormancy out of them.
Two weeks ago, we had just started pruning the Roussanne and the Mourvedre. Viticulturist Levi Glenn and Vineyard Manager David Maduena took a few minutes to explain what they aim for in their pruning, and then demonstrate on a couple of Roussanne vines. First, the overview:
Then, they dive in, first Levi demonstrating how we choose which canes to leave and which to prune off, then David pruning a vine at full speed. It takes him 23 seconds.
Yes, all this is done by hand. We have about 105 acres in production. 80 of these acres are trellised like the ones in the videos, at roughly 1800 vines per acre. The other 25 acres are head-pruned, at much lower density, typically 600 vines per acre. That's about 160,000 vines to prune. At 23 seconds each, that's about 1,022 man hours of work. Figure that we typically have 8 of our full-time crew working on pruning in this season, with an hour of breaks each day makes 146 days of work... or with a crew of 8, just over 18 work days each. That sounds about right... roughly a month of work, if the weather holds.
Why does all this matter? Having the correct pruning on our vines has several positive effects:
It reduces yields and improves quality. As a rough estimate, you can figure on one cluster of grapes per bud that you leave during pruning. Leaving six spurs each with two buds predicts roughly a dozen clusters of fruit, which should give us about the three tons per acre we feel is ideal for our setting and our style.
It makes for a healthier growing season. If we space the buds correctly, we should have good vertical growth of canes and have clusters of fruit hanging below the canopy. This configuration means that air flow through the rows should naturally minimize mildew pressure. It will also shade the fruit from the sun at the hottest times of day, while allowing any nutrients or minerals we spray onto the vineyard to penetrate the canopy.
It promotes even ripening. Different vines in any vineyard block have different base levels of vigor. If left to their own devices, some might set a dozen clusters while others might set forty. Of course, the more clusters, the slower they ripen. Getting an even cluster count helps minimize the spread between first and last fruit ripe in a block and makes the job of the picking crew much easier.
It sets up the vine for the following year. Done well, pruning encourages the growth of wood in places where it will be needed in future years, filling in gaps where cordons may have died back in previous years or separating spur positions that have grown too close.
It saves labor later. A good example of how much labor good pruning saves can be found by looking at a frost vintage, where the primary buds have been frozen and secondary buds left to sprout wherever the vine chooses.
So, we've been spending February giving the vineyard its winter haircut, while we hope for continued frosty nights that will delay the day when the vines will sprout to begin the 2012 growing season, and we get to start worrying about frost.
We've had the same vineyard team here at Tablas Creek for the last fifteen years. Neil Collins has overseen both the vineyard and the winemaking since 1998. He is assisted by Winemaker Ryan Hebert and Vineyard Manager David Maduena, both of whom have been here since our 1997 harvest.
So it's with some excitement that we introduce Levi Glenn, who joins us this summer in the post of Viticulturist. He brings a decade of experience managing vineyards in Napa and Sonoma, and has focused on converting vineyards from modern to biodynamic viticulture for the last five years. Plus, he's got formal training, which none of the rest of us do, with a degree in Viticulture & Enology from Cal Poly. We couldn't be more excited to add him to our team. He introduces himself, and gives a brief overview of shoot thinning, in the below video.
We took some close-up photographs of the shoot thinning process as well. The goal of shoot thinning is to select the two best shoots on each of the three spurs that we've left on each cordon. As our vines are pruned double-cordon, this means we're selecting a dozen shoots per vine, each ideally with one cluster of grapes. These shoots are going to provide the photosynthetic capacity, as well as the grape production, of the vine for the year.
This process completes the effort that we begin with our winter pruning of taking a three-dimensional plant and turning it into something more two-dimensional so that we can better ensure even access to sunlight as well as better flow-through of air. Good air circulation reduces the potential for mildew or rot and allows whatever nutritional or antifungal treatments we think the vineyard needs to penetrate the canopy. On the left is an un-thinned vine, so bushy it nearly obscures Levi, and on the right a vine post-thinning, fruit exposed to the light:
Shoots that don't have fruit, that exit the cordon horizontally rather than angled up, or that are too close to a better shoot, are pruned away. Below, Levi points at the spurs that will be kept, with the others pruned away. In this selection process, we're also thinking of the coming winter, when we'll select three of these shoots per cordon to become the next year's two-bud spurs.
The process this year is more challenging than normal. The principal cause is our April frosts, which damaged many of the spurs that we left last winter and forced the plant to sprout from secondary buds that were not in ideal starting locations. A secondary cause was the wet, cool, late spring, which delayed us getting into the vineyard until later in the year, when the long days, the sudden arrival of warmth in June and the abundant ground water have combined to produce explosive growth.
Despite our late start, we're more than 90% done with shoot thinning. One more photo will give you a sense of the progress: thinned vines on the row on the left, with bushy vines awating thinning further up the row as well as on the row to the right:
Late last week, with harvest concluded and the winemaking team rested up after a long, grueling harvest, national sales manager Tommy Oldre caught up with them to talk about their 2010 harvest experience. In the video, you'll see winemakers Neil Collins, Ryan Hebert, and Chelsea Franchi each give their thoughts on what happened, what they're thinking about where we are, and what we learned. I love the way that their personalities each come through in the ten-minute video.
Don't miss the special appearance by vineyard dog Millie, who arrives complete with live vole captured in the vineyard around the 2:45 mark!
With the arrival this past weekend of our last significant Mourvedre block, harvest 2010 is more or less in the books. We have been going through the vineyard this week and cleaning up odd bits here and there in a leisurely fashion, but we can at last be confident we've made it. We are under no illusions that we got lucky. Starting harvest three weeks late always puts you at risk. But we've been saved by the overall wonderful weather that we've seen in early November, and the nearly 60 tons that we've harvested this month has looked terrific.
You can look forward to two more pieces on the 2010 harvest next week: one a detailed recap of the results and a varietal-by-varietal analysis of what we've seen, and then a round-table video discussion with our winemaking team about their impressions. But first, with the pace slowing down in the cellar, Tommy Oldre caught up with Winemaker Ryan Hebert to talk to him about how the harvest wrapped up and to get his thoughts on what we can tell so far about the vintage's character based on the wines in the cellar.
The construction of our new cellar, office and tasting room space is proceeding nicely. We've got floors, walls (or at least framing), and a roof over much of the new addition. It's gone up fast over the last month or so, and we're starting to really get a feel for what the space will be like when it's done.
I have found myself walking through the evolving space each day, envisioning what it will be like from a guest's perspective. And it has been fun to see the reactions of people who've known the property for a long time. I thought it might be appealing to do give a little video tour of the new construction. This video was taken about three weeks ago, and so we've already made a lot of progress beyond what you'll see here. But it should give you a sense of the scale of the rooms that we're creating, and how we hope that they'll make for a great tasting experience.
I will do another walking tour in a few weeks, to keep you updated on how the addition is progressing.
Now, a media arts major I am not. However, armed with a Flip camera, iMovie, and an assignment to chronicle the vineyard and winemaking cycle at Tablas, I will be trying my hand at video production over the next year. These videos will be posted on our blog and our Facebook page and will hopefully give you a feel of what's going on here that isn't possible with still photos and text. What follows is my first effort.
The process of bottling, for all of its clanging and repetition, is actually quite cool to see in action. When the line is running smoothly, it is easy to forget about all the different human and mechanical components that are operating just so in order to produce that result. Additionally, there is a lot of stress that surrounds a well executed bottling; it would be both depressing and disastrous to have things go awry at this stage in the game.
Thankfully, everything has run smoothly this week. The crew is wrapping up six days worth of bottling today and once finished, all of our 2009 whites and 2008 reds will be in bottle. The video below was shot mid-week and it is footage of our 2009 Esprit Blanc being bottled in half-bottles. I had some fun putting it together and setting it to music. I hope it helps illustrate how intricate the process is and some of the rhythm of the work.
As always, please feel free to leave questions in the comments section, and I hope you enjoy the video.