What We're Drinking with Thanksgiving 2022

Thanksgiving has always been one of my favorite holidays. It's brings extended family together for a day of cooking, eating, and reflecting on what we're grateful for. It's still largely uncommercialized. And it comes at a time of year where those of us who work at wineries are finally able to slow down and relax. After the ten-week sprint that is harvest, that's something to be thankful about indeed.

Before diving into specific recommendations, it's worth going over some things that don't change. Try not to stress over your choices. Open a range of wines. Expect each of them to sing with a dish or two, coexist peacefully enough with another, and maybe clash with something. That can be fun, and instructive. Remember, and accept that it's OK, that nothing will pair particularly well with sweet potato casserole or roasted Brussels sprouts. Open a few more wines than you think you'll need, and don't feel bad about having wine leftovers, along with your food. You'll likely learn something, and have fun along the way. Remember that open bottles kept in the fridge should be fine for a week or more. And if you're still stressing after reading all these recommendations, I refer you to the 2016 piece on W. Blake Gray's blog where he set up a simple 5-question quiz to answer the question "is this wine good for Thanksgiving". I'm sure I haven't gone through every possible combination, but I've never gotten any answer other than "yes".

OK, now that I've told you any choice is perfectly fine, it's only fair that I acknowledge my own preferences. After all, there are wines that I tend to steer clear of, like wines that are powerfully tannic (which tend to come off even more so when they're paired with some of the sweeter Thanksgiving dishes), and wines that are high in alcohol (which tend to be fatiguing by the end of what is often a marathon of eating and drinking). But that still leaves you plenty of options. With a traditional turkey dinner, I tend to steer people toward richer whites and rosés, and fruitier reds relatively light in oak and tannin. Plenty of Tablas Creek wines fit these broad criteria, so if you want to stay in the family, you could try anything from Marsanne and Esprit Blanc to Dianthus Rosé to Counoise or Cotes de Tablas. Richer red meat preparations open up a world of Mourvedre-based reds young or old, from Esprit de Tablas to Panoplie to En Gobelet, which just (say it out loud) sounds like something you should be drinking at this time of year.  

But I'm just one person. As I've done the last several years, I reached out to our team to ask them what they were planning on drinking this year. Their responses are below, in their own words, in alphabetical order.

Charlie Chester, Senior Assistant Tasting Room Manager
This year for Thanksgiving we are going non-traditional and skipping Turkey. We will be having an apple cider brined pork loin. I was thinking of roasting it in the oven but the weather looks too good to pass up some time with the Webber! In addition to the pork, we will have some bacon-roasted Brussels sprouts, a yet-to-be-chosen potato dish, and my sister will bring an undisclosed vegetable dish and dessert of some kind. I am sure Amber mentioned other sides that will be made but I can’t remember them now. A very mysterious menu I know. For the wines I am thinking of opening:

  • My last bottle of the sold-out TCV 2021 Vermentino (while I man the grill)

With dinner:

I am sure we may get excited about and open other wines we have on hand but that will be determined as the day progresses. Happy “Turkey Day” everyone!

Neil Collins, Executive Winemaker
Jordan instigated Lone Madrone's first Riesling in 2021, dry farmed and head trained, from the Wirz Vineyard, planted in 1964, located in the Cienega Valley. This will be a good place to start. I have a couple of bottles left of 2010 Madeline Cabernet Franc which should be showing wonderfully, coincidentally also from the Cienega Valley. I have been attempting to organize my cellar and have some older Tablas Creek wines to enjoy. Perhaps a 2016 Le Complice and a 2006 Esprit Rouge. As always there will be a Bristols Cider in the mix as it is so perfect for the occasion, currently I am enjoying the NC2. That should be a good line up, but as always we reserve the right to pull wine that feels right at the moment!! Happy Thanksgiving to everyone!!!

Thanksgiving 2022 - Champagnes from Ian's tripIan Consoli, Director of Marketing
I look forward to celebrating Thanksgiving with my mother, father, brother, two neighbors, and my mother’s friend visiting from England. She came out to experience her first American Thanksgiving and enjoys wine, so I am planning an array to choose from. We’ll start the meal with a Champagne I picked up this past May. I traveled to Champagne as part of my EMBA program through Sonoma State. I brought back five favorites from the wineries we visited, and Ayala Brut Majeur feels right for this occasion. We will open an Anderson Valley Chardonnay from FEL, a wine my friend made that happens to be on the same Gayot “13 Best Thanksgiving Wines of 2022” list as our 2020 Esprit Blanc. I still need to decide on the rose, but A Tribute to Grace’s is the frontrunner. I have a few French wines lined up for reds: A Savigny-Les-Beaune 1er Cru Les Narbantons 2017 and Xavier & Agnes Amirault St Nicolas de Bourgueil, Les Clos Le Quarterons VV 2015. Finally, Tablas Creek Counoise completes any Thanksgiving meal. Wishing everyone the best this Thanksgiving!

Terrence Crowe, Tasting Room
This year's Thanksgiving festivities will be elevated by a curated selection of spectacular white wines. The following wines will adorn the table with graceful aplomb:

2016 Maison Les Alexandrins Hermitage Blanc 
2019 Tablas Creek Vineyard Marsanne
2015 Tablas Creek Vineyard Esprit De Tablas Blanc

Gobble gobble!

Thanksgiving Darren Delmore WhitethornDarren Delmore, National Sales Manager
After carousing most of America's Southwest for the last three months selling wine, my family is kicking back in Templeton this year. I have one bottle left of the 2020 Roussanne, which I confess nipping on while it was sitting in its French Oak oval during élevage. Autumnal in character, rich but light on its feet, it should be an excellent starting and ending point. My Thanksgiving red was chosen for me, signed on the label actually for Thanksgiving consumption, by the first winemaker I ever worked harvest for. Whitethorn Winery 2007 Pinot Noir Demuth Vineyard Anderson Valley, which should bring the cranberry, cherry, pennyroyal holiday waves. Happy Thanksgiving.

Chelsea Franchi, Senior Assistant Winemaker
Any time we’re able to get the family together is a cause for celebration, and celebrations beg for bubbles!  We’ll start (and continue…?) the day with a bottle of J. Lassalle Cachet Or Champagne. We’ll be up in Mammoth, so whether it will be opened carefully in the kitchen or sabered out in the snow with a ski is a decision yet to be made.

In our family, we don’t typically do the traditional Thanksgiving Day turkey, but this year we’re giving it a go.  I’ll be packing a bottle of Domaine Lapierre Morgon in the wine bag, along with the new release of the Carbonic Grenache from our neighbors at Alta Colina.  And no celebration of thanks would be complete without making it clear how much I love my coworkers and job; so a bottle of the 2019 Esprit Blanc will most certainly make an appearance.  Wishing everyone a happy and healthy holiday season!

Eddie Garcia, Logistics
Excited to get together with family this Thanksgiving 2022. Being able to share stories of what we are thankful, enjoy the time together, and being able to share wines we are excited for. My family usually gets together pretty early to start watching the football games. So, I have a couple bottles of 2021 Dianthus Rosé to start the day’s festivities. Who says you can’t Rosé all day, while watching the NFL?

For the dinner table, I  have some pretty diverse palates in my family, so I have a couple bottles that can satisfy. Earlier this year, I managed to “trade” for a 2014 Dry Farmed Cabernet Sauvignon from Venteux Vineyards. I’ve always been a huge fan of this Templeton winery, and am excited to be reacquainted with this varietal from them.  And for those that have a palate for hearty reds, I have a Caliza 2019 Reserve Syrah that checks the box in that category and was very tasty when I did a tasting earlier this year.

Wishing everyone a very Happy Thanksgiving!!

Ray King, Tasting Room
This year’s Thanksgiving will be with my family, of which most live in the area. We celebrate a traditional turkey dinner, of which my mother and three sisters handle in spectacular fashion. I simply bring wine, enjoy family and the holiday. I will be bringing a host of wines to intrigue and enjoy with a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. 

To start the evening:
Bristols Cider- Mangelwurzel
Amirault Crémant de loire 

For the meal: 
Tablas Creek 2021 Patelin Rose
Terrassen Gamay Noir 2019 (Finger Lake region)
Tablas Creek 2018 Mourvèdre
Tablas Creek 2017 Esprit Rouge

This is a solid line up for a solid Thanksgiving meal. 

Cheers and Happy Thanksgiving 

Jordan Lonborg, Viticulturist (sent in from vacation)
Mezcal margaritas and shrimp tacos in Bacalar Mexico!!

Erin Mason, Regenerative Specialist
Regardless of the holidays, I seek to enjoy wines that feel like they fit into the holistic context of my life. Ones that intrinsically reflect the people and places from which they are born. Eyrie Vineyards in the Willamette Valley is always this for me, and I’ll be opening a bottle of their 2015 Muscat Ottonel this Thanksgiving day. Bone-dry, savory perfection—not your typical Muscat. It’s almost impossible for me NOT to drink Grenache at any occasion and this year I have two to savor. The first, a 2021 Tribute to Grace from the Santa Barbara Highlands and Vie Caprice vineyards in Santa Barbara county—Angela Osborne’s first ever 100% whole cluster creation; the other is a special bottle I acquired while working in the Columbia River Gorge this past winter: a 2019 Tzum Aine from the folks at Hiyu Wine Farm. This was one of the most compelling wines I tasted all year and look forward to the revisit. Of course, the day is not complete without giving thanks for all the amazing experiences I’ve had this year—specifically becoming part of the vineyard team at Tablas Creek—literally a dream come true. I’m opening a 2019 Esprit de Tablas Blanc to celebrate because the whites from this estate have always been exceptional, and the Esprit blend is one of the best examples of them.

Haydee McMickle, Tasting Room
This year about 24 are gathering. Family ages from 90 to 2 years. It will be loud, for the 90-year-old to hear and loud because of the 2-year-olds. It will be a casual all day affair, so we can all catch-up. Some will enjoy Cremant de Loire, others a Paloma cocktail (nephew’s assignment).  The wines for dinner will include a selection:

Esprit Blanc 2018
Terret Noir 2020
En Gobelet 2018

Happy Thanksgiving.

Nadia Nouri, Marketing Assistant
Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays, and I am grateful that I get to go back to the Bay Area to spend it with my close family and friends. My family hasn’t had the opportunity to try much Tablas Creek wine since I joined the team this year, so it is only fitting to have an array of Tablas wines on the Thanksgiving table. I am looking forward to introducing my family to Picardan, as well as sharing the newest vintage of Esprit de Tablas Blanc and Cotes de Tablas - my tried and true. I’m excited to see how they pair with our Thanksgiving dishes!

Westin Reynolds, Tasting Room
We are very excited to bring a magnum of 2015 Esprit de Tablas to Thanksgiving! It is our first large family gathering since Covid started, so there is a lot to celebrate and magnums are always sure to excite. I also loved the 2015 vintage so I’m excited to see how it has aged. It is currently packed very carefully in a suitcase that we are planning to check, so wish me luck with that! We’ll also be sharing a 2021 Carbonic Grenache from Alta Colina where my wife Ivey works, and a 2022 Pet Nat from our friends in Walla Walla as a celebration of our son Jessee’s first Thanksgiving! 

Amanda Weaver, Cellar Assistant
This year I am looking forward to Martinelli's Sparkling Cider! Hah! Unfortunately/fortunately I will have to abstain from the fun and beautiful bottles that will adorn our Thanksgiving table due to the small human I am growing. However, what I lack in wine consumption I look forward to making up in food consumption! Even though I cannot participate I will be bringing a 2019 Tablas Creek Roussanne, per my mother’s request, and most likely a Cab Franc from the Loire by Domaine Xavier & Agnes Amirault, to keep the husband happy, and possibly a bottle of bubbles to keep everyone refreshed and feeling celebratory! This will be a very thankful Thanksgiving in our home this year! May all your tables be filled with good wine and good company! Happy Thanksgiving Day!

And as for me...
Typically, my choice is to open the largest bottle I have to hand at Thanksgiving gatherings. There's usually a story behind a big bottle, and the randomness of "just open it" adds a certain amount of pleasurable discovery to the gathering, as well as the festivity that large bottles bring. But there will only be six of us around the table this year, and only four adults. That means that a big bottle will limit the diversity of what we can open. So we'll stick to little (ok, normal) bottles. One will for sure be our 2020 Marsanne. Marsanne is a quiet grape, gently elegant, with honey and lightly floral aromatics and low alcohol. It won't elbow for attention at the table, and at a table that's so full of assertive flavors, that sounds nice. My mom loves Beaujolais, so we'll crack open a bottle of the Clos de la Roilette Fleurie. I'd love also to open an old-school California field blend, which seems appropriate for this quintessentially American holiday. Maybe one of the Ridge Lytton Springs that I've been saving, or maybe something from Bedrock. I'll have to dig around in my stocks to see what I have. After that, we'll have to see! 

Thanksgiving 2022 - Capon

Wherever you are, however you're celebrating, please know that we are thankful for you. May your celebrations, small or large, be memorable, and the wines you open outstanding.


Rhone varieties should be (even more) valuable in a California impacted by climate change

Over the last month, I've had three different wine people ask me some version of the same question, asking me to share what I thought were the right grapes to be planting in California right now, given the near-certainty that they'll mature in a future notably warmer (and probably drier) than today. That question is usually followed by another asking whether we're looking outside of the Rhone family for future plantings, or if we think we've already got the right collection of grapes to allow us to succeed. So, in the spirit of using this blog to answer the questions I get every day, let's dive in.

Casual wine drinkers may not realize the full extent of the diversity within the vitis family. There are 79 accepted species of grapes, of which the species that encompasses all non-hybridized wine grapes (vitis vinifera) is just one. Within vitis vinifera more than 5,000 different varieties have been identified. Of course, not all are used to make wine commercially, but in the authoritative tome Wine Grapes, Jancis Robinson and her co-authors identify 1,368 different grapes worth documenting for their use in wine around the world. That's a mind-boggling number. What's more, at least half of these have proven useful and adaptable enough to have been brought to regions outside where they first evolved. In California alone, Foundation Plant Services at UC Davis has 479 different non-rootstock varieties in their collection for nurseries, growers, and wineries to purchase. 

Yet if you ask most American wine drinkers to name grape varieties they'll probably struggle to rattle off even a dozen or so. The best known grapes come from high-profile regions in France and Italy. A quick look at the best-selling varietal wines in the United States from 2020 begins with Cabernet Sauvignon and end with Malbec, with the "big" grapes Chardonnay, Pinot Gris/Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, Muscat/Moscato, Merlot, and Pinot Noir making up the rest of the top tier. There's a huge dropoff after the first few grapes, and a twelve-fold difference between #1 Cabernet and #8 Malbec. 

What do you notice about those eight grape varieties? One thing that jumps out to me is that they all are best known from regions that we think of, at least in the word of wine, as being either cool (like Burgundy or the Loire) or mid-warmth (like Bordeaux or northern Italy). This is all the more surprising given that all these modern-day regions are cooler than where modern research suggests vitis vinifera was first domesticated in the hot, dry climate of the eastern Mediterranean, somewhere near where modern-day Turkey, Armenia, and Iran meet.

All this is a long way to say that not only is much of California wine made from just a few grapes, but also that those grapes are representative of a narrow, continental European part of the much wider spectrum of grapes used to make wine.

How does California's climate relate to that of, say, France? It's complicated, both because California is big and how hot it is here is determined at least as much by our distance from the ocean as it is by how far north or south we are in the state. But it's still possible to make some general observations. California wine country is quite a lot further south than nearly all of Europe. San Francisco is roughly the same latitude as Seville, in Spain's hot, dry south. There's no part of California that's the same latitude as Burgundy (but Quebec City is). Paso Robles is the same latitude as places in the southern Mediterranean like Tangier and Cyprus and Tripoli. Of course, climate is not determined solely by latitude; California is cooled by the chilly Pacific Ocean, while Europe is warmed by the Gulf Stream. And both regions are subject to the impacts of a warming climate. But when I went to look for the best climate comps to Paso Robles in a blog about our climate from 2017, the closest match wasn't Bordeaux, or Burgundy, or even Chateauneuf-du-Pape. It was the Bekaa Valley, in Lebanon.

My point in diving into all this is that if we were looking just for grapes that would do well in the intense sun and summer heat of a place like Paso Robles, we wouldn't start our search in a region like Bordeaux or the Loire. It would be someplace sunnier and drier, and likely farther south. So how were the grapes that are found here chosen? They were what was in demand in the global wine market (or perhaps they were the grapes the people looking to get into grapegrowing and winemaking were familiar with, which is related). You'll see that the mix in Paso Robles, like much of California, is dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon (image from the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance press kit):

Wine Grapes in Paso Robles
It's important to remember that the mix of grapes here wasn't the result of extensive experimentation about what would be best suited for the California climate. So if we were to make the case that Rhone grape varieties might be the right grapes for a California whose climate is already more like that of the Eastern Mediterranean than Continental Europe, and continuing to warm, how would we go about it? We might start with evolution. In just about every case, Rhone grape varieties evolved in hotter climates than grapes like Cabernet, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, and Pinot Noir. Some, like Grenache Noir, Grenache Blanc, and Mourvedre, evolved in Spain. Chateauneuf du Pape is at the northern extent of their viable range. Many others appear to have evolved in the southern Rhone or nearby Languedoc, including Counoise, Cinsaut, Vaccarese, Muscardin, Picpoul, Picardan, Clairette, and Bourboulenc. That leaves four that research suggests evolved in the northern Rhone: Syrah, Viognier, Marsanne, and Roussanne. You can make the case that the northern Rhone is a similar climate zone to that of Bordeaux or northern Italy. But Aragon, the Spanish homeland of Grenache (known there as Garnacha), and the Levante, the Spanish homeland of Mourvedre, are both significantly warmer and sunnier, as are the areas around and west of Avignon where the bulk of the Rhone grape pantheon evolved.

Ampelography Cover PageLooking at points of origin isn't conclusive evidence. But it's suggestive. Typically a plant is adapted to thrive in the place in which it evolves. That gives us a good clue to where we might look for grapes suited to a warming future California. Another clue is the research that has been done here, particularly in the era before California's wine regions were defined like they are today. Here we're helped by a remarkable 1884 Ampelography of California (cover page featured right) written by Charles Wetmore, the state's first Chief Executive Viticultural Officer. In it, he explicitly tackles the question of the "adaptability to certain locations and uses" of the grapes known at that time in California. Were his conclusions to plant lots of Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay? Nope. He saved for his particular praise Zinfandel and Mataro (Mourvedre) of which he said, "the Zinfandel and Mataro, each good bearers, will each become the favorite basis of our red wine vineyards." I wrote back in 2020 about his enthusiasm for Mataro, of which he says "Although this is not as extensively cultivated now as other varieties for red wine, yet its present popularity demands for it a place next to the Zinfandel; indeed, I believe that for the future it will have a wider range of usefulness."

For cooler regions he recommends Trousseau for its "general adaptability and fine qualities." For drier regions he suggests Grenache, which he says "will succeed and flourish in arid places, where Zinfandel would fail." And he expresses interest in future experiments on grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon ("I believe that those who aim at fine wines of a Bordeaux type cannot afford to be without it") and Spanish whites like Verdelho and Palomino ("Our best success may be in those types"). Zinfandel evolved in the warm southern coast of Croatia and thrived in the heel of Italy as Primitivo before coming to California presumably with southern Italian immigrants. Chalk another mark up for looking to warmer parts of Europe for California's vineyards.

Finally, let's look at what we're seeing in our own vineyards. In another blog from 2020, I talked about how the warming climate is making the higher-acid Rhone whites like Picpoul, Picardan, Bourboulenc, and Clairette Blanche more valuable both here and in the Rhone. I would submit that the same things is true for reds like Counoise, Cinsaut, Vaccarese, Terret Noir, and Muscardin. At last night's En Primeur Live broadcast, Chelsea and I were talking about the impact of the newer varieties on the 2021 Esprit de Tablas, which has our entire production of Vaccarese (7%) and Cinsaut (5%) as well as 4% Counoise. My analogy was that adding these grapes, all of which have good acid and in the case of Vaccarese also dark color and tannic grip, was like turning up the contrast on an image, or turning up the bass and treble on a piece of music. They make the wine more dramatic, even as its core character is determined by the mid-palate richness and balance of earth and fruit that Grenache, Mourvedre and Syrah provide. We haven't yet found a home in the Mourvedre-based Esprit de Tablas for the even higher-toned, grippier Terret Noir and Muscardin grapes, but they're doing wonderful things to the Syrah that provides the base for our Le Complice bottling.

This is not purely an academic question. There are practical considerations. A widely-shared 2019 article in Wine Business Monthly made the case that within thirty years "many current Napa vineyard locations will be too warm for some Bordeaux varieties to scale luxury-priced wines" and "anyone planting or replanting a vineyard today should be taking climate warming trends and optimum grape-growing temperatures into account." A 2019 study suggested that if global temperatures rose 2°C, grapegrowers in Burgundy and Bordeaux could cut their climate-related losses in half by planting with Mourvedre instead of their current grapes. Just last year, France's Institut National de l'Origine et de la Qualite (INAO) approved the use in Bordeaux six new varieties "of interest for adapting to climate change". Closer to home, we're getting more requests through our grapevine nursery for the high-acid grapes in our portfolio -- like the Picardan, below, that we ourselves only first planted in 2013 -- than I can ever remember.

Picardan planting 2013

What the right grapes will be for this warmer, drier California isn't clear yet. But if the rest of the world is looking to the grapes of the Rhone to help mitigate their own climate change concerns, it seems likely that we'll be able to shift within that Rhone family to make sure that even as things get warmer and drier, we'll be able to make great wine. I have faith in the diversity of vitis. And in the blending tradition of Chateauneuf du Pape.


Why this week's early-season storm is the ideal start to our winter season

This week, we had our first serious storm of the winter roll through Paso Robles. It started late Monday night, reached its peak with the passage of a cold front around 8am Tuesday morning, and continued with showers throughout the rest of that day and night. Overall, we got about an inch and three-quarters of rain. Although we did have about a half-inch of rain in mid-September, harvest rain comes with a mix of positive and negative impacts which combine to make it hard to enjoy. Not so the first rain after we've finished picking, which is an unmitigated good. At this point, with the vineyard put to bed for the winter, we're able to sit back and enjoy the show.

Puddles Nov 2022

The passage of that frontal boundary between 8am and 9am saw some of the fastest accumulation of rain I can ever remember out here, with nearly three-quarters of an inch coming down in that one hour. I was doing a Zoom call from home, and couldn't believe what I saw when I checked our weather station:

Hourly Rainfall November 8 2022

If you're wondering what it means for a vineyard to be put to bed for winter, there are a few things we always do after we're done picking. The most important of these are planting the seeds for our cover crop and spreading compost so that they have the best chance to thrive. Last year, our first storm came early enough in mid-October that we were only partway done seeding at the time, and then when it dried out enough for us to get back into the vines, it was dry for six weeks and we lost many of the seeds to birds. Not this year; we expect to see shoots of green within a week in blocks like this one:

Newly seeded block Nov 2022

The couple of inches of rain weren't limited to the Paso Robles area. The entire length of California got significant rain, and one of the storm's most important impacts is that it ended the state's fire season. We've been pretty lucky this year, with no major fires impacting California wine. But knowing the state got enough rain to put an end to any worries about future storms is always a relief.

By yesterday afternoon the storm had moved to our east, leaving puffy clouds, plenty of sun, and dark brown earth. I got this picture a little north of us in southern Monterey County, on my way back from a quick trip north. There's not much more beautiful than California after it rains:

Salinas Valley beauty Nov 2022

What has followed in the storm's aftermath has been good too. It dropped below freezing last night, which will push the vines fully into dormancy. That's a good thing. The vineyard this morning showed frost-covered grape leaves under a bright blue sky:

Frosty morning Nov 2022

Of course, we need more rain than this. But November is off to a good start. Our long-term average is 2.48" of rain for November, and at 1.89" we're already more than three-quarters of the way there, with the month only one-third complete. But as we learned last year, a wet beginning to the rainy season isn't enough. The four-month period between December and March account for three-quarters of our annual rainfall, historically. But that's not to say that early rain doesn't matter. It does. And the amount we got is perfect for getting our cover crop to germinate, should extend the season when we can have our flock of sheep grazing the vineyard, and will give the soil's microbial and fungal activity -- which needs moisture to operate -- an instant boost. So while we definitely need more, we're happy we've gotten what we did, when we did. Now let's keep it going.

Rain Nov 2022


Paso Robles is (Still) Insanely Beautiful, Late-Fall Edition

Three weeks ago, with the lower sun angles and the vineyard starting to change into its autumn colors, I caught some of this new beauty and shared it in a blog. Since then, we've seen a decisive turn toward early-winter weather. It's been nearly two weeks since a daytime high got out of the 70s. Nights have been routinely in the 30s, but it hasn't frozen yet. We've had a couple of cold fronts push through the area, and the past two days have seen us get a little rain. The result has been one of those rare moments when we have leaves showing fall colors still on the vines, deep, rich brown earth, and clouds in the sky. It's a dramatic, lovely combination:

Syrah terraces and dramatic clouds

Equally impressive have been the sunsets, with the low autumn light warming the fall foliage:

Autumn colors and bright sky

On clearer days, the low sun angles highlight the changing colors, as in this shot that includes both head-trained and trellised Mourvedre blocks:

Autumn colors in Mourvedre

The sunrises have been equally impressive:

Sunrise in Haas Vineyard

The rain, minimal though it's been so far, has been enough to change the color of the soil. That's particularly evident in the sections that we've prepped and seeded with our cover crop mix, like this Vermentino block:

Seeded ground in Vermentino

What makes the soil so rich? Our flock of sheep, mostly, but also the regular additions we make from our compost pile. As I drove by it this morning, it was steaming in the sun, with the contrasting colors of Roussanne and Tannat in the background:

Compost Pile steaming

The low clouds, when there's not sun peeking through, give things a wintery light despite the fall foliage. That's dramatic in this view down through our Vaccarese block: 

Vaccarese and dramatic clouds

When the sun does peek through, the contrast between the foliage and the changing skies is lovely:

Grenache Blanc on Crosshairs

I'll leave you with one more photo, a slightly different view of the same scene I started with: terraces of Syrah rising at the western edge of our property, with more vineyard and dark hills shrouded by tattered clouds behind:

Syrah terraces and dramatic clouds horizontal

This landscape might not last much longer. We're forecast for a hard freeze tonight, which will put an end to the colorful foliage and force the grapevines into dormancy. That's a good thing from a vineyard perspective, but depending on how widespread it is from low valleys to hilltops, it will mean the end of much of this color. More rain is expected next week, which should accelerate the transition to winter's green hillsides and dark brown vines.

That will be lovely too. But these last few weeks have been special.


Hugelkultur in a Vineyard: A Permaculture Experiment

By Jordan Lonborg

One of the best parts of working at Tablas Creek Vineyard is that any idea that pertains to organic, biodynamic, or regenerative agriculture is on the table for discussion. During a harvest lunch, Assistant Winemaker Craig Hamm spoke with Winemaker Neil Collins about a hugelkultur project he’d started at his home, and the wheels started to spin. I had no clue what this term meant or where it came from. It was easy to find out about, though! The concepts of all forms of permaculture are fascinating and fit into Tablas Creek's recipe book quite nicely, using nature to enhance nature.

Hugelkultur (a German term that loosely translates to English as “mound culture”) is a form of permaculture developed in the late ’70 s by a few Austrian horticulturists. Essentially, hugelkultur is a form of a compost pile that uses wood logs as the base of the pile. The logs are then covered by smaller wooden materials (leaves, straw, prunings, etc.), compost, and a last layer of soil to cover the mound. This then breaks down over time, producing a massive mycorrhizal fungal mat (inter-connected fungi that have the capability of breaking down organic matter and creating a symbiotic relationship with living plant roots acting as a conduit for nutrient cycling) that provides nutrients and moisture to any plants on or near the area.

This form of permaculture is typically used for raised bed landscaping and/or vegetable gardening. We wanted to implement this method between grapevine rows. As we started to discuss where and how we could implement this at Tablas, Neil decided that these beds belong in our wagon wheel planting of Counoise:

Aerial view of the lowest lying point at Tablas Creek Vineyard

This location seemed perfect for many reasons. First, the block is a showcase planting based on biodynamic principles, with the rays of the planting shape acting as vectors to help beneficial insects move throughout the block. Hugelkultur should facilitate this. Second, from the start, our idea was to set this block up as a no-till, dry-farmed planting to see, on a reasonable scale, if no-till dry farming was possible in our dry, hot Paso Robles Adelaida District climate. Because we aren’t planning to till this block, the hugelkultur can sit undisturbed. And third, this block is at one of the lowest points of the vineyard, surrounded by hills. Any water that runs off these hills ends up here. Hugelkultur, like any composting system, requires moisture.

We decided to develop sunken hugelkultur beds on either side of a grapevine row. Since the vineyard block is already planted, we couldn’t start at surface level. But these sunken beds have the added advantage of allowing us to capture runoff while providing moisture to the Hugelkutur.

We used a mini-excavator to dig a 3’-4’ trench on either side of a grapevine row. Our first sign that we’d made a good choice: even after a very long, dry, and hot growing season, there was a lot of moisture still trapped in the ground at the bottom of our trench.

Inside a hugelkultur ditch at Tablas Creek

Next, we filled 2’ of depth along the entire length of the trenches with oak logs. We followed with a layer of young compost (just started during harvest this year) made up of grape skins, pumice, rachis, grapevine prunings, oak wood chips, leaves, and hay. Then, we added a layer of finished compost made during last year’s harvest. Next, we pumped grey water, recaptured from the winery drains and can be pumped into a water truck, into the trenches to moisturize the hugelkultur. Finally, we covered the trenches with the material we removed when digging them.

Aerial view of the wagonwheel block at Tablas Creek

In the next month or so, we’ll broadcast some cover crop seed and/or a beneficial seed mix blend to cap this process off. We’ll be looking for signs that the nearby rows show better health and vigor than the rest of the block. If the project is successful and we see positive signs in our grapevines, we will continue the trenching, creating two more hugelkultur rows annually.

Whether or not this will work remains to be seen. The fact that there was still a lot of moisture in the soil after a brutally hot summer provides some hope. We will keep you posted.

Hugelkultur graphic - credit vegogardenSource: https://vegogarden.com/blogs/academy/how-to-fill-raised-garden-beds-and-save-money


Petit Manseng and Pavlova: A Perfect Pairing

[Editor’s Note: We would like to introduce Nadia Nouri to the Tablas Creek blog audience. Nadia joined the Tablas Creek team fresh off her graduation from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo this May as our first-ever Marketing Intern. Her natural understanding of marketing's importance to a business, love of wine, and creative abilities convinced our team to create a position for her at the end of her internship. You can expect to see more of her contributions in the coming months.]

By Nadia Nouri

As soon as October hits, Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas can’t come any sooner, and I am ready to get into the holiday spirit. What comes to mind when I think of the holidays is good food, good wine, and good company. I’m always looking for inspiration for food and wine pairings.

I come from a multicultural family where my father was born and raised in Tunisia, and my mother grew up in New Zealand. Both of their cultures heavily influenced many of the dishes I grew up eating. So when I tried the newly released 2019 Petit Manseng, one of the dishes that my mother never fails to make around the holidays came to mind: pavlova. Pavlova is a meringue-based dessert, with the addition of cornstarch to give it a crisp, light texture on the outside, while being soft and fluffy on the inside. I have always been told by my Kiwi family that it is a dessert that originated in New Zealand, but the history of pavlova (or “pav”) is a muddled one. Australians claim that they invented it, while New Zealanders disagree. To put the debate to rest, Oxford English Dictionary ruled that it originated in New Zealand — I’ll take that as a win for the Kiwis!

Pavlova is traditionally topped with fresh seasonal fruit, making it the perfect pairing with sweeter wines. Petit Manseng, a rare non-Rhone variety grown on our estate at Tablas Creek, has a tendency to produce sufficient sugar content while maintaining acidity to produce a naturally sweet and balanced wine that pairs well with all kinds of desserts. I decided to make pavlova and top it with fruit to balance the sweetness and acidity of the 2019 Petit Manseng. The toppings I chose for mine were Golden Kiwi fruit (a traditional pav topping), mango, and passionfruit pulp. You can top it with whatever you like (even chocolate!) and switch it up to pair with different wines.

The recipe is actually quite simple — so simple that it fits on a little sign that my mother keeps in her kitchen — but the result is impressive, not to mention delicious! 

Pavlova Recipe Sign

Servings: 8 

Ingredients: 

For the meringue:

6 egg whites

1 ½ cups super fine baking sugar (can blend/whiz granulated white sugar to make it more fine, but not to the point of becoming powdered sugar)

2 tsp. heaped cornstarch

2 tsp. white vinegar

For the topping:

1 ½ cups heavy whipping cream

3 tbsp. powdered sugar (to taste)

Splash of vanilla extract

Golden kiwi fruit

Mango 

Passionfruit pulp 

Petit Manseng and Pavlova

Directions: 

Preheat the oven to 212°F (100°C). Prepare a baking sheet with parchment paper, and trace an 8 or 9 inch circle using a cake pan as a guide. Be sure to flip the parchment over so the pencil mark is facing down.

Whisk the egg whites until they form soft peaks (4-5 minutes). Gradually add the sugar, cornstarch, and white vinegar, while continuing to whisk, until firm and glossy (another 4-5 minutes). The mixture should be completely smooth, with no grains of sugar coming through.

Mound the mixture onto the parchment-lined baking sheet in a circle, keeping in mind that it will spread slightly in the oven. Be sure to keep it nice and tall, for maximum marshmallow-like fluff. 

Bake on the center rack for 90 minutes until crisp, but not colored. Do not open the door to check on it. If you must check for color, turn on the oven light. 

Turn off heat, and cool the pavlova completely in the oven with the door closed for at least 6 hours (or overnight). This allows for no dramatic change in temperature that could cause it to collapse. 

To assemble, transfer the pavlova to a serving plate. Whip heavy cream with powdered sugar and vanilla. Spread the whipped cream on top of the pavlova and decorate with fresh fruit. Feel free to be as artistic or abstract as you like.

Serve with a chilled glass of Petit Manseng and enjoy! 

Pavlova and Petit Manseng


Harvest 2022 Recap: We Emerge Cautiously Optimistic

On Friday, with the bin of Counoise pictured below, we completed the 2022 harvest. The combination of our earliest-ever start and a (roughly average) 51-day duration meant that we tied with 2013 for our second-earliest-ever finish, with only the frost impacted 2001 vintage finishing earlier. Our rock star harvest crew deserved to celebrate, as they powered through our busiest-ever week on their way to a 9% increased amount of fruit compared to 2021 in a harvest that was five days shorter:

Last Bin of Harvest 2022 - Cropped
2022 will likely always be defined by the ten-day heat wave that began on August 31st. You can see it clearly in this graph of high temperatures by day, as well as the cool stretch that followed, culminating in our unusual September rainstorm September 18th-19th:

Daily High Temperatures 2022 vs Average - Revised

We were already harvesting before that heat wave hit, thanks to warm early-August weather and relatively light crop levels, but that definitely kicked it into high gear. It's remarkable (though hardly surprising) how closely the harvest by week tracks the temperatures, most notably in our busiest-ever week of over 130 tons between September 4th and 10th. In the chart below, blue is purchased fruit for the Patelin program, and orange estate-grown fruit:

2022 Harvest by Week

Because of the heat-induced sprint in early September, this seems to me to be the kind of year which will separate the wineries with a secure source of labor from those without. When you get an extreme event (typically heat or rain) it impacts an entire region. All the growers and wineries, faced with needing to pick at an increased pace, are competing for the same finite number of field crew. If you can't get the crew, you can't pick. Sugars can spike, acids can tumble, and the cells of grape skins can start to break down, opening the door for insect damage or rot. But we've given our core field crew year-round employment since 1996, which means that we're able to keep up with what's going on in the vineyard. Sure, it's more hours of overtime and more expense. But it's within your control. That's why it's the challenging vintages that shows the true quality of a winery's team. In a year like 2021, everyone should make great wine. That won't be the case this year. But I feel good about our prospects.

Yields were down 8.2% overall off the estate vs. 2021, and averaged 2.37 tons/acre. That's the lowest that we've seen this century except for the extreme drought year of 2015 and the frost years 2009 and 2001. And yet that number could have been worse. Like 2009, we had the twin impacts of drought and frost. But the most serious frost, which came late on May 11th, was localized in an 11-acre section of the vineyard we call Nipple Flat. I'd estimate that this one below-freezing night cost us three-quarters of our production from that section, which includes our largest block of Roussanne and additional sections of Grenache Blanc, Picpoul, and Vermentino. Lo and behold, those were the grapes that were seriously down:

Grape 2022 Yields (tons) 2021 Yields (tons) % Change vs. 2021
Viognier 11.9 11.9 none
Marsanne 8.3 7.6 +9.2%
Grenache Blanc 14.2 23.4 -39.3%
Picpoul Blanc 4.2 5.2 -19.2%
Vermentino 8.7 11.4 -23.7%
Roussanne 10.5 28.1 -62.6%
Other whites 10.0 8.3 +20.5%
Total Whites 67.8 95.9 -29.3%
Grenache 52.5 54.7 -4.0%
Syrah 39.9 37.6 +6.1%
Mourvedre 42.9 44.4 -3.4%
Tannat 13.5 11.1 +21.6%
Counoise 14.4 12.5 +15.2%
Other reds 11.8 8.4 +40.5%
Total Reds 175.0 168.7 +3.7%
Total 242.8 264.6  -8.2%

Complicating year-over-year calculations is our decision to start regenerating some of our weaker blocks by pulling out the vines and building up the soils before planned replanting this winter. Last year, we pulled out vines in two areas,. each about three acres: a block of Mourvedre down on Nipple Flat (which turned out to be good timing, since it would have gotten clobbered by frost anyway) and our second-largest block of Roussanne at the north-east edge of the property (which turned out to be a bummer, since our largest Roussanne block was on Nipple Flat). So we have about six fewer acres in production in 2022 than we did in 2021. All this means that the yields picture looks better that it might appear, as despite our third drought year in a row, the non-frozen sections of the vineyard generally saw yields slightly above what we saw in 2021. That's evidence that the early rain that we got last winter, and the work we've been doing with our flock of sheep to build up our soils' water-holding capacity, helped give the vines the reserves they needed to withstand the stresses of the August and September heat. It also bodes well for quality. 

Help is on the way. In the last couple of years we've planted nearly 30 new acres, including blocks of Mourvedre, Grenache, Counoise, Roussanne, and Clairette Blanche. Much of that is on Jewel Ridge and based on the quality of the first tiny picks we did off those blocks this year seems likely to be the gem its name suggests. And this and next winter we have plans to plant an additional dozen or so acres of Picpoul, Vermentino, Cinsaut, and Roussanne. I'll share more news on that as it happens. It does mean that for the second year in a row our choices in blending are surely going to be constrained. I'm particularly concerned with what we're going to do with the Esprit de Tablas Blanc from this vintage; the wine has never been less than 45% Roussanne, and even if we assume all the Roussanne we harvested is good enough to go into the Esprit Blanc, which isn't a guarantee, that would cap our production of that wine at 1,500 cases, which isn't really enough for the many things we use it for. So, we'll have a challenge on our hands at blending time. The low quantities also preclude us having enough of any single white grape to do a varietal wine in the quantities we'd need to send it out to our 8000 VINsider Classic Club members. But I have faith that we'll figure out something fun and creative to do. Stay tuned on that too.

We had 115 harvest lots, an increase of five vs. 2021. These included three fewer estate lots (82 instead of 85) and eight more Patelin lots (33 instead of 25). That will be a silver lining to this harvest: we were able to source some great, new vineyards for Patelin, and our quantities of these wines should be assured. In fact, we were able to get enough Patelin that our overall quantity of fruit that we processed this year is up about 9% vs. 2021. In the photo below, the estate lots are in yellow, while the purchased lots are purple on our completed harvest chalkboard:

Finished Harvest Chalkboard

One way that you can get a quick assessment of a vintage is to look at average sugars and acids. Since 2010, our average degrees Brix and pH at harvest:

Year Avg. Sugars Avg. pH
2010 22.68 3.51
2011 22.39 3.50
2012 22.83 3.65
2013 22.90 3.63
2014 23.18 3.59
2015 22.60 3.59
2016 22.04 3.71
2017 22.87 3.74
2018 22.80 3.62
2019 22.30 3.62
2020 22.14 3.62
2021 22.12 3.55
2022 22.14 3.70

While 2022's sugar numbers are very similar to 2021's, we saw lower acids due to the heat and drought. The result were numbers remarkably like 2016, which was culmination of the five-year 2012-2016 drought in California. The 2016 vintage was an outstanding one in terms of quality, so that's good. But eventually, we really do need some rain. Fingers crossed for this winter. 

In character, it's early to tell what things will be like, but I asked Winemaker Neil Collins to sum up the vintage based on what he's seen so far, and the first thing he mentioned was the pace: "It was an insanely hectic month which beat us all up. I think we scared the interns a bit." But he's happy with what he's seen in the reds so far: "The Pinots and Syrahs are tasting super. Not massive, but complex, with good depth of color." Senior Assistant Winemaker Chelsea Franchi had a similar take on the whites: "they feel a little more luscious because of the high-pH year. They're sultry, I think." We're looking forward to getting to know the wines of 2022 even better in coming weeks.

Now that we're done picking, it can rain any time, though there's nothing in the immediate forecast. We've already returned our flock of sheep to the vineyard, where they're eating second crop clusters before they rot and spreading their manure. This should give the soil's microbial activity a boost as soon as it rains:

Sheep reentered into the vineyard

Of course, just because we've finished picking doesn't mean that we're done with our cellar work. There are still plenty of lots to be pressed off, tanks to be dug out, and fermentations to monitor. But it feels different than it does earlier in harvest, when you're emptying tanks to make room for the next pick. Now, when we press something off and clean a tank out, that's the last time of the season. We've already put a couple of our open-top fermenters outside, along with our sorting table and destemmer. And we're going through the white barrels one by one and making sure that they're topped off. A little head space is necessary when it's bubbling away actively, but once fermentation slows down we need to make sure each barrel is full: 

Chelsea topping barrels

After the challenges of the growing season, we're grateful for the return of a slower pace. And we're excited that it looks like quality will be good. I'll let Chelsea have the last word: "Everything is tasting really beautiful. I just wish there was more."


As we ease out of harvest, we welcome the brief and beautiful Paso Robles autumn

Since our heat wave broke on September 10th, it's felt more like fall than summer. Our average high has been 84F, and the nighttime lows have dropped into the 40s more than half the nights. The days are shorter. We've seen some clouds, and even one day (this past Saturday) where the marine layer was so thick the sun never came out. We got our first (small) rainstorm, about two months earlier than normal. If we'd had a cool summer, we might be worried that the conditions weren't going to allow the grapes still on the vine to ripen. Of course, we had a warm summer and an early start to harvest, and then the most long-lasting heat wave in our history as we entered September. Together, these conditions accelerated ripening to the point that we were roughly three weeks ahead of normal before it got cool. So, no worries about later grapes not getting ripe. But as we wind down through the last week or so of harvest, the grapevines appear to have noticed the fall-like weather and have begun their brief, beautiful autumn transformation. It's stunning, and I thought I'd share a little of it, starting with Mourvedre in the block we call Scruffy Hill:

Looking west through Grenache and Mourvedre

The vineyard colors combined with the lower sun angles and a touch of humidity in the air to produce a landscape which is dramatic and beautiful. Witness this view, looking west through some Syrah canopy toward the Santa Lucia Mountains:

Hills through Mourvedre foliage

If you haven't seen wine country in its autumn colors, it's different both from the high-contrast green-and-gold summer and from the softer, yell0w-green and dark brown winter season. And fall can be over in just a few weeks, if you get a frost, after which and the colors fade to brown almost overnight. But given that it's rare for us to get frosts before mid-November, it seems like this year's might last a bit longer. So you'll have a little longer to catch view of Counoise vines looking like this:

Colorful Counoise vine

Often, these colors don't show up until all the grapes are off the vines. Not this year. In addition to Counoise, we've still got both Grenache (left) and Mourvedre (right) on the vines. That won't be true for much longer, as we're likely to come through our last blocks before the end of the week, but it's pretty:

Grenache cluster

Mourvedre clusters

It's been a luxury letting these grapes wait to gather a little extra hang-time. Everything could have been picked a week or two ago, if we'd wanted. But the fall-like weather has meant that we can leave the remaining clusters out to get a little more complexity and a little more sugar without worrying that the acids will fall out. That's a little-known aspect of the Paso Robles climate. By the time you get to October, the nights are typically chilly and the days, which can still get warm, are short. That's one of the reasons that it's such a good spot for late-ripening grapes like Mourvedre, Roussanne, and the like.

It's worth pointing out that not all the grapes color up like a sugar maple. Grenache is famously green, often all the way into November. I like this next shot both for how well it shows Grenache's ongoing vigor, but for how clearly it shows the chalky soils we love so much:

Grenache vines and chalky soil

One last photo, my favorite of the session, combines everything I love about the current moment. It's looking at the bottom of a head-trained Mourvedre vine, including the gnarled trunk and one of the large, loose clusters characteristic of the grape, with the colorful foliage of the rest of the block in the background:

Mourvedre cluster and colorful foliage

With benign weather on the horizon, we might have another month or more of this look. Of course, we'd love it to rain any time, and the more the better. But that's not likely until the end of the month. So, if you have the good fortune to be here over the coming weeks, you're in for a treat. If not, hopefully I've captured some of it for you to enjoy from home.