It is time. After a decade of Esprit de Beaucastel, our flagship wines will bear a new name. Please welcome Esprit de Tablas, to debut this fall with the release of the 2011 vintage.
In early 2002, when we made the decision to put the Beaucastel name on our reserve-level bottling of the 2000 red and 2001 white, our business environment was very different. The California Rhone community was far less robust. The natural wine movement and its focus on wines of balance and place (and on organic and biodynamic farming) was restricted to the fringes. Blends were genuinely unusual and hard to sell. Paso Robles, for all its growth, still had fewer than 100 wineries and hadn't been "discovered" by the mainstream media; Robert Parker's first reviews of the area were published that February. I would routinely explain to customers that we were from Paso Robles and get the question “what part of Napa is that in?"
Tablas Creek was at a different stage, too, with only four vintages under our belt and little marketing presence. We hadn't yet opened a tasting room (coming in September of 2002) or started our wine club (first shipment, August 2002). We'd just started going out to represent the wines at public festivals and working with our distributors and the Vineyard Brands team that represented us nationally. I remember visiting wine shops with our distributors in 2001 and 2002 and seeing dusty bottles of Tablas Creek on the bottom shelf of the "other" section of the store. It was hardly surprising; very few people knew who we were, and we hadn’t yet had much time to spread the word.
From the beginning we had talked with the Perrins about the possibility of putting Beaucastel on the label of Tablas Creek, but their opinion was that the vineyard really needed a decade or more under its belt before they'd consider it. They are, after all, rightly protective of the name that they've made for their estate in their five generations there. When they decided that the wines were ready -- in the fourth vintage of red and fifth vintage of white -- it was a powerful endorsement of the vineyard's status, and it really did help in the market. For consumers who had vaguely heard of Tablas Creek but couldn't remember why, the Beaucastel name placed the wine into context, and it started selling off of lists and shelves. And to the distributor, retail and restaurant partners who had followed and liked the wines from the beginning, the name gave them confidence that they would be able to sell it. Since 2002, the sales of our Esprit de Beaucastel (red and white combined) have grown steadily from around 3000 cases a year to some 5000 cases last year, even with the growth in the number and complexity of our other offerings.
Over time, as we've gotten more established, and as more people have come to know Tablas Creek for Tablas Creek rather than for our association with Beaucastel, having the Esprit de Beaucastel name on our flagship wine naturally places us in Beaucastel’s shadow. It's a compelling and comforting shadow, to be sure. But we have known that ultimately, for us to achieve what we want for Tablas Creek, Tablas (rather than Beaucastel) must be the focus of our identity. We’ve been reducing the prominence of Beaucastel on our Esprit labels gradually over time (see right) and we and the Perrins agree that it's time for us to step out of that shadow and focus on our Tablas Creek brand.
The upcoming change isn't an indication of any reduction in the Perrins' involvement. Cesar Perrin recently finished a year here, and we've already had four Perrin visits this year, as well as a week with Claude Gouan, Beaucastel's cellar master since the 1970's. The Perrins are excited to begin developing the new parcel we purchased a couple of years ago. Nor does it signify a change in the way we're making our wines. The Esprits will continue to be our flagship wines, and will be consciously modeled after the Beaucastel red and white: blends based on Mourvedre and Roussanne, made in a classic style with native yeasts, aged in neutral foudres, showcasing our terroir, just as they have done since the beginning.
The Beaucastel name will not disappear from our marketing. We'll continue to talk about our Beaucastel connections, past and present, on the back label, on our Web site and in person. We're proud of the connection. But Beaucastel will resume its place as a part of our story, not a part of our brand.And for all Beaucastel's significance, the key name on this label for us is, and has always been "Esprit". Its literal translation from French is "spirit" but it has a greater connotation than this. Webster's defines it as "liveliness of mind and expression". I think of it more as inspiration. For us, Beaucastel has been our inspiration for our Esprit wines, which is subtly different from them being our model. We're not interested in making a carbon copy, and because we’re in a unique place we couldn't even if we wanted to. But putting the Tablas brand front and center is in its own way inspired by Beaucastel’s example. Beaucastel has always been celebrated for its focus on its terroir. In stepping out with Esprit de Tablas we’re doing exactly that.