What's the most useless glass bottle? One that never leaves the winery.

Last week, I walked out of my office on my way to the mezzanine level of our cellar, on which we keep a few cases of each of our bottled-but-not-yet-released wines. I was looking for samples of our 2022 Patelin de Tablas Rosé, 2022 Dianthus, and 2022 Vermentino, to write tasting notes for our website in anticipation of the wines' release announcements. 

[Pause for a moment. Hooray for new wines! We've never been as scarce on wine as these past couple of months. I am always excited for the release of our rosés, but it's all the more exciting this year. If you've been looking disconsolately at our online shop as I have, wishing most of the wines didn't say "sold out", the cavalry is, at long last, on its way.]

I got about halfway to the mezzanine before I realized I didn't have to open a bottle. I took a right turn into our tasting room, walked up to the new tap system we installed last month, and poured myself tastes of each of the three wines out of keg. No bottle necessary.

Taps in the tasting room

We're long-time advocates for wine in keg. I wrote back in 2010 on the blog about how much potential the format had, but how frustrating it was that the industry hadn't settled on a standard for keg size and connection yet. By 2013 things had evolved enough that I could celebrate the launch of a national keg program for our Patelin de Tablas, Patelin de Tablas Blanc, and Patelin de Tablas Rosé. And in 2020 we expanded that with small batches of kegs of some of the wines normally only available in our tasting room. Why we're excited boils down to three main reasons:

  • Freshness: The wine that is poured out of a keg is replaced by an inert gas, which means that what remains in the keg isn't exposed to oxygen. A bottle, on the other hand, starts oxidizing as soon as it is opened. Roughly half the glasses of wine I order at restaurants show some signs of oxidation... but not if they're served from keg.
  • Less Waste: Restaurants expect to dump out the unused ends of most opened bottles at the end of each night, and the rest of any bottle that's been open multiple days. This adds up; restaurants I've spoken to estimate they may waste 25% or more of their glass pours this way. Keg wines are good down to their last pour.
  • Sustainability: The bottles, capsules, corks and labels that help preserve, identify and market a wine between barrel and glass are temporary enclosures, that will be discarded when the bottle is consumed. That's a lot of resources tied up in something whose only purpose is to be used and (hopefully) recycled or (more often) thrown away. Kegs eliminate all this wasted packaging. When they're empty, they get returned to be washed and reused. Free Flow Wines, our partner in our national kegging program, recently shared the results of a study showing that reusable stainless steel kegs offer a 76% savings in carbon footprint vs. packaging the same wine in bottles. 

In 2022, our distributors sold roughly 640 of our kegs to restaurants and wine bars around the country. Earlier this week we shared a photo of our new tap handles on social media, and got a lot of excited customer responses and a few inquiries from accounts interested in pouring the wines on tap. Perfect.

If you're a regular reader of the blog, you will know that we've been working to be more selective about our use of glass wine bottles. If not, you might be wondering why we're looking for alternatives, given that it's a package with thousands of years of history, made from a product that should be endlessly recyclable, and still the best vessel for long-term aging. Here's a quick summary. Because glass is energy-intensive to mine and mold -- and heavy and fragile to ship -- it accounts for more than half the carbon footprint of the average California winery. It's also bulky. You can reduce glass's packaging footprint by about 20% by moving to lightweight glass, which we did in 2010, but that's still 350% of the footprint of a lighter-weight package like bag-in-box. We've been experimenting with that, and while I think it's a step in the right direction for some wines, it's still a single-use package, requires the creation of some plastic, and isn't great for storage much longer than six months. The glass bottle would be less problematic if it were recycled reliably (it's not; the glass recycling rate in the United States is a dismal 31%) and could become a preferred solution again if we could figure out some sort of wash-and-reuse system along the lines of what soda producers do in Latin America. There are smart people working on this, but the logistical hurdles are daunting and it still seems a long way off. So while we don't expect to move our ageworthy wines out of glass bottle, we've been looking for ways to help at the margins.  

Kegs, filled through our partnership with Free Flow, accounted for 12% of the total volume of wine that we sold wholesale last year, and meant that more than 16,000 wine bottles, capsules, and corks/capsules/screwcaps, plus the cardboard needed for more than 1,300 cases, never needed to be created. That's not negligible. But what about our tasting room? We welcomed more than 28,000 guests for tastings last year, and we sell about the same amount of wine there as we do in wholesale. Those guests got six or seven tastes of wine each. Do the math on that and that's a bottle of wine for every four tasting room guests, or enough wine just for guest samples to fill 7,000 bottles. Add in that we taste each bottle when we open it to make sure it's sound, that we use the same bottles to pour by-the-glass wines in our tasting room, that we often discard the ends of bottles rather than hold them overnight for the next day, and that, to ensure that guests get only fresh wine, rarely-poured wines get sent home with our tasting room team after a few days even if they're mostly full, and you end up with a significantly larger number: the nearly 13,000 bottles that we signed out of inventory as tasting room samples in 2022.

Let that sink in a bit. We used more than 1,000 cases of wine just to pour tasting room samples. Some of those pours were of older wines, where their time in bottle would make a difference in how they showed, but nearly 70% of what we sampled out was used within a year of when it was bottled. That's ~9,000 bottles that were sourced, shipped to us, filled, closed, labeled, opened, poured, and recycled within a year. 

So I'm pleased to announce that we've sourced kegs, filling and cleaning machines for the cellar, and a modular dispensing system for the tasting room. At each bottling, we'll be setting aside a portion of each wine, putting it in keg. Last week's batch:

Kegs of Patelin Rose for Tasting Room

The initial reviews we've been getting from our tasting room guests have been enthusiastic. So, when you next come to taste with us, know that many of the samples we'll share with you will come out of our own kegs. As each keg is emptied, we'll wash and sterilize it, and then reuse it for a future wine. A photo of the setup, in use this morning:

Pouring from Tap in the Tasting Room

We're not expecting to ever get to 100% wine service from keg in our tasting room, and that's fine. We always want to be able to offer wines with bottle age for tasting and sale, and while kegs are outstanding at preserving wine, after a year or so we would expect that the wine from keg would taste different than the same wine from bottle. We'll be trying some small-scale experiments this year to confirm or modify those assumptions. But if we can shift two-thirds or more of our tasting room sampling and glass pours from glass to reusable keg, that's a win. A win for our guests, who don't have to worry about oxidation in their samples. A win for us, since we're estimating we'll go through something like one-third less wine, and we don't have to worry about those pours coming from corked, oxidized, or otherwise flawed wines. And a win for the planet, as thousands of glass bottles and all the associated packaging no longer have a reason to be created.

After all, if glass is a problematic container for the industry at large (don't just take my word for it; the mainstream press has noticed) it seems downright crazy to use it for such temporary storage.


Looking back with a decade's perspective on 2013: a "Goldilocks" vintage at a transitional moment for Tablas Creek

I'm not sure we've ever had consecutive years with as many similarities as 2012 and 2013. Both were warm, reliably sunny vintages with about 70% of normal rainfall. Both featured benign spring weather without frost damage. And both saw us produce wines that had early appeal and showed more red than black fruit character. The major differences were twofold. First, by 2013 we were two years into what would become a five-year drought, which somewhat reduced the vines' vigor and productivity. Second, we felt we'd been caught by surprise in 2012 by high yields in some blocks, which we thought had resulted in some lots and wines with less concentration and paler colors than we wanted. This experience made us more proactive in 2013 in thinning the crop to give us what we felt the vines and the vintage could handle. These two factors combined to reduce our yields from around 3.7 tons per acre in 2012 to around 2.8 in 2013.

The relatively dry second half of the 2012-13 winter (we received just two and a half inches of rain after January 1st) meant that the 2013 growing season got off to an early start, about 10 days ahead of our average to that point. The summer proceeded without any extended heat spikes (just eight days topped 100F) or cool-downs, and we began harvest roughly that same week-and-a-half earlier than normal, on August 25th. The weather the next six weeks turned consistently warm (lots of upper 80s and low-to-mid 90s) though never hot enough to force us to stop picking or to engage the grapevines' defense mechanism of shutting down photosynthesis, so we raced through harvest in just 44 days, nearly two full weeks shorter than the year before. Our October 7th finish stood alone as our earliest-ever completion of harvest until we tied it this past year.

When we got to blending we were excited to see that we'd achieved what we'd hoped: we'd captured the freshness and brightness we liked from the 2013 vintage while layering in more depth and tannic structure. We blended the wines that we always make and made several varietal wines, including our first-ever examples of two new grapes, Terret Noir and Clairette Blanche. And the 2013 wines have often been favorites over the last decade when we've included them in horizontal tastings. So it was with interest that I approached the opportunity to taste through the entire lineup of wines that we made in 2013 this past week.

This horizontal retrospective tasting is something we do each year, looking at the complete array of wines that we made a decade earlier. It offers us several opportunities. First, it's a chance to take stock on how the wines are evolving, share those notes with our fans who may have them in their cellars, and keep our vintage chart up to date. There are wines (like the Esprits, and Panoplie) that we open fairly regularly, but others that we may not have tasted in six or seven years. Second, it's a chance to evaluate the decisions we made that year, see how they look in hindsight, and use that lens to see if there are any lessons to apply to what we're doing now. Third, it's a chance to put the vintage in perspective. Often, in the immediate aftermath of a harvest and even at blending, we're so close to this most recently completed year that it can be difficult to assess its character impartially. Plus, the full character of a vintage doesn't show itself until the wines have a chance to age a bit. Finally, it's when we choose the wines that will represent the vintage in a public retrospective tasting, which this year we'll be holding Sunday, February 5th. The lineup:

2013 Retrospective Wines

My notes on the wines are below. I've noted their closures (SC=screwcap; C=cork) and, for the blends, their varietal breakdown. Each wine is also linked to its technical information on our Web site, if you'd like to see winemaking details, professional reviews, or our tasting notes at bottling. Because of their scarcity we never made a webpage for the Clairette Blanche or Terret Noir, so if you have questions about that leave them in the comments and I'll do my best to answer. I was joined for the tasting by our cellar team (Neil Collins, Chelsea Franchi, Craig Hamm, Amanda Weaver, and Austin Collins) as well as by Viticulturist Jordan Lonborg, Regenerative Specialist Erin Mason, Biodynamicist Gustavo Prieto and Director of Marketing Ian Consoli.

  • 2013 Vermentino (SC): A great start to the day, with a nose of peppered citrus pith, wet rocks, and a slight petrol note showing the only real hint at the wine's decade of age. The mouth was vibrant, the same citrus and mineral notes that the nose hinted at except with more richness, like preserved lemon and oyster shell. The wine retained the electric acids it had at bottling, and would be a great discovery for anyone who finds a bottle in their stash.
  • 2013 Picpoul Blanc (SC): A nose of dried pineapple, mandarin orange, and sweet green herbs like lemongrass. The palate shows more pineapple, but with a smoky grilled note, and creamy texture. Picpoul doing its best piña colada impression, even after a decade. The finish showed more green herbs, passion fruit, and sea spray minerality, with lively acids and lingering richness. A treat.
  • 2013 Grenache Blanc (SC): A classic aged Grenache Blanc nose of petrol, green apple, potpourri, and crushed rock. The palate is both lush and electric with sweet spice that reminded me of crystallized ginger and cinnamon, kaffir lime and ripe apple, with creamy texture and a nice pithy bite cleaning up the long finish.
  • 2013 Viognier (SC): The nose was Viognier's classic jasmine florality and peaches and cream, cut by a lemongrass herbiness and a petrichor minerality. The palate was a little less exciting than the nose, at least to me, with flavors of fresh pear and kneaded butter, rainwater and soft texture. I think we were all missing the vibrant acids of the three previous wines; Erin called it "a mist of a flavor". I've always been an advocate of drinking Viognier young, and this did nothing to change my mind.
  • 2013 Marsanne (SC): Just our third-ever Marsanne, after we took 2012 off because we didn't think it showed enough focus. Outstanding on the nose, with grilled lemon, honeycomb, quince, and the distinctive sweet straw note I look for in the grape. The palate is also exciting, with salted honeydew and papaya flavors, and a fresh-ground cornmeal note, complex but fresh. The long finish showed notes of honeysuckle, grilled bread, creme brulee, and cardamom. A gorgeous wine in a gorgeous stage. 
  • 2013 Clairette Blanche (C): We only made one barrel from our first-ever Clairette Blanche harvest, and when we got ready to release it we found it a little thin and unexciting, not compelling enough to introduce a new grape to our audience. So we stashed it hoping it would become something more interesting. It never did. In this tasting, we found a nose showing some oxidation: scotch tape, hazelnut and bruised apple. The palate was better, like a fino sherry: salted nuts, strawberry, and red apple. The wine thinned back out on the finish, with more of that bruised apple character. In future years we'd bottle it under screwcap, which I think was a good idea, but we were hoping that the cork would enrich the wine. It didn't, or at least not enough. In retrospect, we should have included it in a blend rather than bottling it on its own.
  • 2013 Patelin de Tablas Blanc (SC; 54% Grenache Blanc, 25% Viognier, 13% Roussanne, 8% Marsanne): Pretty on the nose, with gooseberry, fresh sage, chalky mineral, and newly-cut grass aromas. The palate was fresh, with sweet mango and fresh apricot flavors, gingersnap and candied orange peel depth, and a long, soft finish with sweet spices and fresh herbs. This was meant to be opened and drunk young, but if anyone has any around, it's still going strong.
  • 2013 Cotes de Tablas Blanc (SC; 39% Viognier, 29% Grenache Blanc, 20% Marsanne, 12% Roussanne): A very appealing nose of oyster shell, fresh mandarin, meyer lemon, honeysuckle, and white pepper. A slight hint of petrol is the only sign of its age. The palate is round and luscious, like baked honeycrisp apple and lemon drop. Outstanding length, balance, and tenacity on the palate. A treat at this age.
  • 2013 Esprit de Tablas Blanc (C; 71% Roussanne, 21% Grenache Blanc, 8% Picpoul Blanc): A nose of toasted marshmallow, graham cracker, coconut, golden delicious apple, and lacquered wood. The mouth is luscious, with flavors of pears in syrup, butterscotch, toasted almond, and white pepper. The finish is long with flavors of marzipan and poached pear cut by fresh herbs and butter mint. But for all these sweet descriptors, the wine is dry and precise. Seemingly right at its peak.
  • 2013 Roussanne (C): A nose of warm honey and crushed shells, and lots of intriguing herbal notes: chamomile, pine resin, and gin botanicals. On the palate, deep and soft with flavors of creme brulee and salted caramel, but finishing dry with citrus pith and nice tannic pithy bite. Delicious.
  • 2013 Patelin de Tablas Rosé (SC; 73% Grenache, 22% Mourvedre, 5% Counoise): Our second-ever Patelin Rosé was still a beautiful pale color. A little plasticky screwcap-influenced nose at first blew off to show salter watermelon and wild strawberry aromas. The palate was in outstanding shape: strawberry preserves, rhubarb compote, green herbs and a sour cherry finish. No one would have intentionally kept this wine this long, but it was showing better than any 10-year-old rosé could reasonably expect. 
  • 2013 Dianthus (SC; 57% Mourvedre, 28% Grenache, 15% Counoise): A little rustiness in the color. The nose showed Campari, dried rose petal, and orange bitters aromas. The mouth continued our cocktail-like descriptors: a note of singed citrus peel over gardenia flower and a salty umami note. It didn't speak much of a rosé at this stage, but could be a cool gastronomic wine with something like grilled quail or rabbit. 
  • 2013 Full Circle (C): Our fourth Full Circle Pinot Noir from my dad's property in the Templeton Gap, and the first vintage that I thought really was showing well at a decade. The nose had notes of bay, new leather, black cherry, baker's chocolate, and sweet clove. On the palate, black plum, sarsaparilla, and a little sweet oak with cooling notes of juniper and sandalwood. Seemingly right at its peak, complex yet fresh.
  • 2013 Terret Noir (C): Only slightly darker than the Dianthus. The nose showed a hard candy note over molasses and wet leaves. The palate was a little medicinal with cherry cough syrup notes over tree bark, then a short finish. The wine has lost the minty, herby notes that made it fascinating when it was young, without replacing them with anything similarly rewarding. I feel good about our recent decision to put Terret Noir under screwcap and think it should probably be drunk within 5 years of vintage, despite its tannic grip. 
  • 2013 Grenache (C): A nose of sugarplum, black licorice, coffee grounds and cherry fruit leather. The mouth is pretty, fully mature, soft and luscious like a flourless chocolate cake with raspberry reduction poured over it. The finish shows a little oxidation, with flavors of hoisin and stewed strawberry and a little tannic bite. Time to drink up if you have any; it feels like this is about to start on the downslope.
  • 2013 Mourvedre (C): A nose of cassis, mocha, dry-aged meat and iron. The palate is chocolate and cherry with a little minty spice and a grilled portobello earthiness. The finish was classic Mourvedre: loam and plum skin and salty dark chocolate. In a nice place, if without the mouth-filling intensity of our best Mourvedre vintages. 
  • 2013 Syrah (C): A dark, spicy nose of graphite, black licorice, blackberry and crushed rock. The palate is similar, youthful black fruit and dense texture, lots of dark tannin and chalky mineral. The finish showed luxardo cherry and persistent crushed rock minerality. Syrah at its essence, in a good place but with plenty left in the tank.
  • 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon (C): From the two rows of Cabernet vines we have in our nursery, which most years gets tossed into our Tannat. An immediately recognizable Cabernet nose of eucalyptus, blackberry, black olive, and pencil shavings. The mouth was outstanding: blackcurrant and new leather, salty dark chocolate and firm tannic bite. A cedary oak note came out on the finish. Absolutely on point for the grape, and fun to taste since we make it so rarely.
  • 2013 Tannat (C): A gamey nose of pork fat and plum skin, wood smoke and brambly fruit. The palate is juicy with blackcurrant and cola flavors and full body. The finish is lushly tannic with notes of teriyaki, blackberry, venison jerky and salted caramel. I've always liked how the 2013 vintage treated Tannat, giving it some needed elegance, and this showing confirmed that it's one of my favorite Tannat's we've ever done.
  • 2013 Patelin de Tablas (SC; 45% Syrah, 29% Grenache, 22% Mourvedre, 4% Counoise): Surprisingly, as the only screwcap-finished red in the tasting, the nose on this was on point as soon as it was poured: spicy and meaty like soppresata, chaparral, black raspberry and dried herbs. The palate showed muddled blackberry flavors and nicely resolved tannins with black licorice and herbes de Provence accents. Soft, pretty, and what a value for anyone who bought and stashed a case at the $20/bottle this was on release. 
  • 2013 Cotes de Tablas (C; 55% Grenache, 30% Syrah, 10% Counoise, 5%Mourvedre): The nose was lovely: dried roses, kirsch, sugarplum, and a little gamey umami lurking underneath. The mouth is lively and light on its feet, with flavors of strawberry preserves, sweet star anise spice, and a little tannic powdered sugar bite. Thankfully, after a 2012 rendition that was starting to tire at age 10, this felt right at peak. 
  • 2013 En Gobelet (C; 34% Grenache, 31% Mourvedre, 19% Syrah, 11% Counoise, 5% Tannat): A nose of creamy red raspberry fruit, coffee grounds, leather, and candied violets. The mouth is like salty raspberry preserves, with sweet/spicy notes of Mexican hot chocolate, butter pastry, and Spanish chorizo. There's a nice tannic bite on the finish. Seemingly right at peak too.
  • 2013 Esprit de Tablas (C; 40% Mourvedre, 28% Syrah, 22% Grenache, 10% Counoise): The nose was showing more age than we were expecting, with aromas of soy sauce, dried meat, pomegranate reduction, and bread pudding. The mouth had flavors of chocolate-covered cherry, with a chorizo-like meatiness and a nice salty note coming out on the richly tannic finish. When a wine shows a disconnect like this between the nose and the palate, I often take it as a phase that it's going through. I tend to think that's the case here and will look forward to checking back in a few times over the next year. Meanwhile, build in time to give this a bit of a decant if you're drinking in the short term.
  • 2013 Panoplie (C; 75% Mourvedre, 15% Grenache, 10% Syrah): An exuberant nose of cassis and new leather, an alpine foresty spice, dark chocolate, and crushed rock. The palate is lovely, poised between red and black currant, black tea, white pepper, and candied violet. A little cedary oak and more dark chocolate come out on the long finish. In an outstanding place.
  • 2013 Petit Manseng (C): Our fourth bottling of this classic southwest French grape known for maintaining great acids as it reaches high (and occasionally extremely high) sugar levels, which we make each year in an off-dry style. After making this both drier (in 2011) and sweeter (in 2012) we triangulated to a style that I think was just right in 2013. It showed a nose of grilled pineapple (or pineapple upside-down cake, if you prefer), golden raisin and cumquat. The palate is sweet and lush but with electric acids, showing flavors of pistachio and lychee, smoky and wild with a lively lemon-drop finish. A great way to reawaken the palate at the end of the tasting. 

A few concluding thoughts

In terms of vintage character, there were a lot of non-fruit descriptors that transcended red, white, and even rosé categories. These included saline/mineral notes like oyster shell, sea spray, flint, or crushed rock, and woodland descriptors like sandalwood, cedar, and juniper. This was not a vintage for people who wanted (or want) maximum fruit concentration, but instead one where fruit elements were in balance with more savory elements. After a series of vintages in the late-2000s where we got outstanding fruit intensity but in retrospect felt that we'd let the ripeness pendulum swing too far toward jam, and three years starting in 2010 where a combination of weather and a hands-off approach to our vineyard gave us wines that (again, in retrospect) had good savory elements but tended to be a bit shy in concentrated fruit, 2013 was our opportunity to set a middle course. I felt like I saw a clearer path between the wines from the 2013 vintage to those we're making today than I'd been able to in any of our previous horizontal tastings. That's exciting. 

I was hoping that the balance that the 2013s have had all their lives would mean that they'd hold up well in bottle, and generally, they did. There were only a couple of wines that were tasting like they were past their prime, and the wines that are usually peaking at around a decade (like Grenache, or Cotes de Tablas) felt squarely in their sweet spots. But unlike with some earlier tastings, we didn't find any wines that weren't yet ready to go. Even the wines that I suspect will be the longest-lived, like Syrah, Tannat, and Panoplie, all seemed to offer outstanding drinking right now.

The whites were across the board excellent. From the high-acid screwcapped wines that we suggested people drink in the first few years to the richer Roussanne- and Marsanne-based wines, every one but the Clairette was pretty and vibrant. It's worth noting that nearly all of the screwcapped wines improved in the glass, and I thought that most of them would have benefited from a quick decant. A lot of people don't think of decanting older whites, but I think it's often a good idea, and for any wine that has been under screwcap for more than a few years. There's a clipped character that most older screwcapped wines have that dissipates with a few minutes of air. It happens anyway in the glass, but a decant speeds the process.

When I asked everyone around the table to pick their three favorites, 14 different wines received at least one vote, with the Roussanne and Cotes de Tablas red leading the way with five votes each. That diversity is a testament to the quality of the vintage. The very strong showing of the Cotes de Tablas wines (both received more favorite votes than the Esprits did in this showing) was interesting. I felt like it spoke to our process, which gives each of our blends a different lead grape and helps us identify lots in blending that are right for each wine, not just a simple hierarchy of good-better-best. It also means that you shouldn't sleep on our "lesser" red blends if you want to lay down some bottles, and maybe that we should stop thinking of them as "lesser" at all. After all, even the Patelin red was outstanding in this tasting.

We're very much looking forward to sharing the vintage's highlights with guests at our public retrospective tasting on February 5th. If you'd like to join us, we'll be tasting the following ten wines: Marsanne, Roussanne, Esprit de Tablas Blanc, Syrah, Tannat, Patelin de Tablas, Cotes de Tablas, Esprit de Tablas, Panoplie, and Petit Manseng. I can't wait. For more information, or to join us, click here


After two of our five rainiest months ever, we're ready for a break... but grateful for the moisture

I left California three weeks ago, just after Christmas, to spend some time in New England with family. At the time, I was feeling cautiously optimistic about how our winter was shaping up. We'd banked nearly 13" of rain and were at something like 170% of the rain we'd have expected at that point in the winter. The day I left, it started raining and essentially hasn't stopped. With the two-thirds of an inch that we got today, this makes 20 of the last 21 days we've seen measurable precipitation. The end-of-December rain pushed us to 13.28" for the month, making it our second-wettest December in the 25 years since we installed our weather station and a top-5 rainfall month overall.

Then came January. A series of atmospheric river storms paraded across the Pacific and slammed into California. Some were aimed farther north, but still dropped a couple of inches of rain. And one arrived on early in the morning of Monday, January 9th with its plume of moisture directed squarely at the Central Coast. We tallied 5.65" that day, including more than 4" in its peak between 1am and 10am. And when we arrived to see how things looked at the winery that morning, we realized that we couldn't even get there because Las Tablas Creek was flowing over Adelaida Road:

It wasn't until Wednesday that we could make it into our facility, and Thursday that we could reopen our tasting room. Thanks to some great work by our neighbors at Halter Ranch the debris blocking the culvert that was causing the creek to flow over the road was removed before the road was critically damaged. There was a section of Adelaida Road a few miles east of us that wasn't so lucky. And we had to close again this past Saturday because a new storm made access to the winery unsafe. Residents and businesses out here are still picking up the pieces, and what we're seeing is minor compared to the scale of damage around the state, with 19 deaths so far and floods forcing people from their homes from Sacramento to Santa Barbara.

Still, while we wish it had been spread out more, we're grateful to have received the rain. And when I got out in the vineyard today, it was stunning: lush and green from the saturated soils yet with minimal signs of erosion even on our steepest slopes:

After the rain - Counoise and cover crop

There wasn't really any standing water, even at the bottom of the hills, thanks to the remarkable ability our calcareous soils have to transport enormous quantities of water from the surface to deeper layers. That said, there was some water slowly trickling downhill in blocks like this head-trained Mourvedre at the northern edge of the property. It was wet enough that I nearly lost my boots getting this shot:

After the rain - water in head-trained Mourvedre

For all its beauty now, it's clear that things were pretty wild a week ago. You can see the deep cuts in the channels where valleys became rushing creeks (left) and the impact of 36 hours of water flowing over Adelaida Road (right):

After the rain - water flowing from Halter Ranch

After the rain - erosion on Adelaida Road

With nearly half the month still to come, January 2023 is already our third-wettest month in our history, trailing only January 2017 and (from before I started writing this blog) February 1998. We're at 281% of expected rainfall for this point in the winter and above our full-winter long-term average. After three years of drought, that's a huge relief.

Rainfall by month through January 2023

You can see from the rainfall distribution above why this season is so critical for us. We get three-quarters of our annual rainfall between December and March. If we have an extended winter dry stretch, it's almost impossible to make it up later. And drought impacts are cumulative. Grapevines generally do fine the first year of a drought cycle, thanks to their accumulated vigor. But starting the second year, you see the reduction in yields, and by the third year you start to see impacts on vine health and mortality. That's played out for us the last three years. 2020 saw roughly average yields. But 2021 saw yields off by 26% and 2022 saw them decline another 8%. A quick look at our available wines shows many more sold-out than for sale. And that's before we've even gotten to the 2022 vintage, from which there will be several wines we just won't be able to make. So getting rain this winter was particularly important.

Vineyards themselves are typically resilient in the face of extreme rainfall events. Those events typically come in winter, when the vines are dormant, and grapevines' deep roots play an important role in helping hold soil in place. Vineyards that are regeneratively farmed tend to do even better. Both no-till farming and planted cover crops (one or the other is required for regenerative certifications) keep surface erosion to a minimum. The focus on building up the organic matter in your soils helps them hold more moisture. And the biodiversity in regenerative farming systems tends to create a denser web of life than monocultures. Witness this section in the middle of the vineyard, which a decade ago was one of our most erosion-prone areas but which we planted to a mix of perennial crops that would act as attractors for beneficial insects. The combination of shrubs and deep grass, already well-established because it hasn't been tilled in years, made for one of the least-soggy sections of the vineyard:

After the rain - Biodynamic plantings

Looking forward, we're supposed to get a few more showery days and then a solid week at least of sun. That will be welcome for everyone, from vineyard to residents to businesses. It should give the county a chance to get out and repair the damaged roads. It should shift the cover crop into overdrive, and make for some very happy sheep. It will give the soils a chance to transfer the water to deeper layers and free up space at the surface for the next storm. It might even give us a chance to get started on our pruning, which we've been unable to do because pruning in wet weather encourages the spread of fungal diseases. But as happy as we are with what we've received, we're hoping this isn't the end of the rain. The local reservoirs still have significant room; while Lake Nacimiento is at 87% capacity, Lake San Antonio is only at 32%. At Tablas Creek we're chipping away at an accumulated rainfall deficit of 28" from the last three years of drought. Plus there would be benefits during the growing season, as soils with high moisture content stay cool longer in the spring and delay budbreak, which would reduce our risk of frost damage. And on a purely aesthetic level, there's a particular character to the green here after winter rain that I love. Who wouldn't want more of this?

After the rain - New Hill and Jewel Ridge

If you were negatively impacted by these storms, please know you have our deepest sympathy. It's been a rough couple of weeks for California. But if you were worried that the vineyards here would be suffering, hopefully we can at least put that to rest. We have high hopes for the 2023 vintage.  


What does the latest atmospheric river storm mean for Paso Robles Wine Country's rain year?

[Editor's note 1/10: I've posted a quick summary of the flooding and other impacts of our January 9th atmospheric river storm in a comment. We're posting regular updates on our Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram pages. And I'm planning a blog with a more comprehensive report next week.]

Our current atmospheric river storm, which isn't even over yet, has received a lot of press with even big east coast papers like the New York Times and Washington Post giving it front-page coverage. The San Francisco Chronicle is dedicating most of its homepage to stories about the storm and its impacts. Down here in Paso Robles we got 3.53" of rain yesterday and last night, and have received another quarter-inch of rain in showers this afternoon. With other storms just a day or two out, I thought I'd do a quick assessment of what the impacts of the rain have been so far and what we're expecting next.

The tl;dr for those of you who start meals by eating dessert: the impacts to this point have been essentially all positive for us. We've already surpassed our rainfall for the winters of 2019-20, 2020-21, and 2021-22. The ground is saturated, but we haven't seen either flooding or noteworthy erosion. And Las Tablas Creek is flowing for the first time since early 2019:

We're at just about 200% of our expected January 5th total for the rainfall year which started in July. Looking month by month, we more than tripled our normal December rain and finished just a fraction of an inch behind 2004 for our wettest December ever. And unlike last year, when we had a wet December and then an almost totally dry spring, it looks like we'll surpass our normal January rainfall this weekend. Here's what it looks like so far (January's total is through this afternoon, while the expected total is for the entire month):

Rainfall by Month as of January 2023

For the rainfall year, we're up to 19.6" of total rain, with more than half the rainfall season to go. That's terrific. The fact that Las Tablas Creek is flowing is a great sign of the saturation of the soils; there are several irrigation ponds upstream from us, and other than some surface runoff that happens during storms, it's not until those ponds fill up and the top several feet of soil is saturated that the creek flows continuously. Today, the creek is flowing merrily into our lake:

Las Tablas Creek and lake

In the vineyard, you can practically hear the cover crops growing. Although we move the sheep out of the vineyard during rain events (both to provide them shelter and to keep the soil compaction that they cause in very wet weather to a minimum) there will be ample grass whenever it dries out enough to let them back in:

Cover Crop

You can get a sense of how excited they are by all this grass from the video we shared Tuesday on Twitter:

Most people who haven't spent a winter in the Paso Robles area think of it as a desert climate. And it is, in the summer. But the six winter months are wet enough on average, at least in the western fringes of the AVA where we're located, to qualify as a temperate rain forest if those months were extrapolated year-round. That fact, combined with the hilly topography, means that we're pretty well set up for heavy rainfall events. You can get some localized stream flooding (though Las Tablas Creek hasn't flooded in the two decades that I've been out here). You can get some minor mudslides where the roads have been cut through the hills. And you can have downed trees from wind and wet soils that can knock out power. But our calcareous soils are exceptionally porous, which means that they transport massive volumes of water from the surface to deeper layers before they reach saturation. By the time they do saturate, the winter grasses tend to be well-enough established that erosion is minimal (as evidence, check out my photo essay from January 2017 after we'd broken our record for our wettest month ever). Finally, the hilly landscape means that the extra water by and large flows off and fills up our reservoirs rather than flooding our towns. Lake Nacimiento, into which Las Tablas Creek and the rest of our watershed empties, was up to 747.7 feet as of today, 32 feet higher than it was just over a month ago on December 1st, but despite the billions (yes, with a "b") of additional stored gallons of water, the reservoir is still at just 38% of its capacity. Lake San Antonio is at just 13% of its capacity. We can get a lot more rain before we have to start worrying about where it might go.

Looking forward, we're expecting another major Pacific storm Sunday into Monday. And it seems like there's another one lined up behind that later next week. But while we'll be watching the forecast we're not expecting the potentially dangerous impacts for which northern California is preparing. Some of that is because it seems like these storms will be aimed such that the largest precipitation totals will be a little north of us. But just as much, it's because our soils and topography are uniquely well suited to dealing with large amounts of water in a short time. After all, we got more than a dozen inches of rain in a single storm in January 2021, and the impacts were almost all positive.

So while I'll be checking our weather station's totals regularly it won't be with dread. The opposite, really. After consecutive drought-reduced crops (see my recaps for 2021 and 2022 if you want the gory details) I'm hoping for a historically wet winter: something that will replenish our aquifers and reservoirs, delay budbreak to a more normal time frame, and set us up for a couple of years. This has happened before, in winters like 2004-05, 2009-10, and 2016-17. And it feels like we're well on our way to a similar result this year. Let's keep it coming.

Puddle mirror image


Our Most Memorable Wines of 2022

As I have done the last few years, I asked our team to share a wine or two that stuck with them from all the ones they'd tried in 2022, and why. This is always one of my favorite blogs to put together. I love seeing the breadth of wine interests of the Tablas Creek team. More than that, I love seeing what inspired them. If you don't work at a winery, you might expect that those of us who do spend most of our time drinking our own wines, but in my experience, that's far from the case. Most people who find a career in wine do so because they find it fascinating, and that interest doesn't go away just because they've landed at a particular winery, even a winery that they love. And most people who work at wineries look at exploring other wines as an enjoyable form of continuing education. So it wasn't a surprise to me that while some of the selections were Tablas Creek, most were not. But what stood out, as usual, was the degree to which the memorableness of a wine was tied to the occasion for which and the company with whom it was opened. As Neil said so well in his submission, it is "with food, company and occasion that great bottles become truly memorable ones."   

Here's everyone's submission, in their own words and only very lightly edited, in alphabetical order (except mine, which is at the end, with some concluding thoughts):

Janelle Bartholomew, Wine Club Assistant
MaineThe most memorable wine for 2022 was a bottle shared with friends on the beach in Maine this last June. Our friend and former TCV co-worker Dani wanted us to try a local wine. So we opened a Bluet, Maine Wild Blueberry Sparkling Wine and shared it on the beach. It was interesting, something new, and a little different. Sharing wine with friends makes it even that much more memorable.

Austin Collins, Cellar and Vineyard
I do not always possess the sensory or photographic memory that I wish did. Often, I drink delicious wines without taking a photo of them and they can be lost amongst the heap of labels and flavors piling up in my brain. But, every so often a wine is just too enjoyable to be forgotten. That wine for me this year was the 2020 Silice Rouge from Maison des Ardoisières. This is a wine of 100% whole-cluster fermented Mondeuse, coming in at a cool 10.5% alcohol! It immediately took me to a forest of Eastern France, on the slopes of the Alps.

I do have one honorable mention for the list this year. We all know that a bottle of wine can be made by the company and/or setting it is enjoyed in. The setting: sitting with my wife on the balcony of a roof-top restaurant at the King George hotel in Athens, Greece. The wine: a 2020 Mandilaria from Venetsanos Winery in Santorini. The wine was decent, the view of the Acropolis was amazing, the woman sitting across from me, stunning! Happy Holidays, please enjoy those around you along with what is on the table.

Neil's wines 2022Neil Collins, Executive Winemaker
Those that know me or have read some previous “memorable bottle” blogs will know that I believe the great wines are of course great by themselves, but it is at the table with food, company and occasion that great bottles become truly memorable ones.

So, this year there was a clear and obvious choice for me. The whole Collins family, both kids along with their brides and young Finnegan our grandson, were heading up Big Sur to celebrate Finn’s first birthday. Now, it has become evident that it is a physical impossibility for one of us Collins to drive by Nepenthe without stopping for lunch, so all of us? Lunch it is! Our good friend Alicia was running the floor and brought the menus, including the magnum list. My eye was drawn immediately to a magnum of 2017 Domaine Tempier Pour Lulu, Bandol. This wine was released in recognition of Lulu Peyraud's 100th birthday. Tempier is always a favorite. Recognizing Lulu’s 100th whilst celebrating Finn’s 1st , pretty special. Nepenthe and its people, a magnum of Tempier with Steak frites all round, Collins heaven!!! And yes the wine was true to the producer, very special. Enjoy the holidays all!!

Three of Ian's top wines from 2022Ian Consoli, Director of Marketing
I had a very active wine year, making it difficult to narrow down my choices. I experienced my first trip to France (Champagne and Paris) and shared bottles with classmates in my Wine EMBA program. Also, every year at Tablas Creek offers opportunities to try unicorn wines. The year started with one of those unicorn wines when Jason Haas shared a bottle of 1990 Chave Hermitage, a selection from his father’s cellar he opened with dinner the previous night. National Sales Manager Darren Delmore and I were mind-blown by the opportunity to try this older vintage from a historic producer. In Champagne, the standout was Taittinger’s Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs 2011. It had a brioche character with the softest bubbles I have ever experienced. I highly recommend it for any bubbles lovers. I remember this Chignin Bergeron blowing everyone’s mind at a dinner in Reims. It was fun to expose other wine lovers to the glory of Roussanne. Finally, everyone in my class shared one of their favorite bottles from the winery they worked at. This To Kalon Fume Blanc from Robert Mondavi stood out and changed how I think about Sauvignon Blanc. It was a fun year of outstanding wines; I can’t wait to see what wines come my way in 2023.

Terrence Crowe, Tasting Room
The most memorable wine I opened this year was a 2003 Tablas Creek Vineyard Roussanne. Liquid silk personified. Guests are often shocked when we discuss “age-able” white wines. This 2003 Roussanne was in immaculate condition and was a fine example of the lasting power Tablas Creek wines hold.  

A shout out to my distinguished lady Marcy as always. Loving my 2019 Tablas Creek Marsanne releases right now. Really lovely stuff. 

Beaucastel

Darren Delmore, National Sales Manager
My most memorable wine of 2022 was 2010 Chateau de Beaucastel Chateauneuf-du-Pape Rouge. As employees of Tablas Creek we get access to the other wines of the Perrin portfolio. In December 2012, with a new baby in tow and a negative wine budget, I made the wise call to buy a 6 pack wooden case of this and set it and forget it in my wine storage space in Morro Bay. I remember Robert Haas and Jean Pierre Perrin saying that 2010 Beaucastel was a vintage you could drink straight away or in twenty years. I picked the in-between, and on a family getaway to the desert a couple weeks ago, we enjoyed the first bottle from the case over two days. On night one, it seemed a touch older than it should have, more of a secondary state with maple and mushroom flavors more than fruit, then on night two, all the elements were together, and the garrigue-scented dusty strawberry aromas, and rich CdP palate were fully in line. Turns out that second day was a fruit day on the biodynamic calendar, not a root day, as the first day had been.

Ray's wines 2022Ray King, Tasting Room
These are my most memorable wines of the year.

6) Tablas Creek Antithesis, Chardonnay, 2003 (no link for 2003 but here's one for the 2005)

Erin Mason, Regenerative Specialist
There are three bottles that come to mind for different reasons. The first is the 2020 Slamdance Kooperative Red Table Wine. There is something really special about drinking a young winemaker’s first wine and this one hits all the right spots for me. Daniel Callan’s earnest approach to making a wine of historical relevance from vineyards on the fringe is inspiring. Hand harvested, basket-pressed, native ferment, hand bottled… that’s a wine made with painstaking love. The packaging is sick, and the wine is completely yummy. I drank it with one of my good friends outside the Mission San Juan Bautista from plastic cups. Another is the 2018 Tzum Aine Grenache from the folks at Hiyu Farms up in Oregon. It was one of the most dynamic examples of domestic Grenache I’ve ever had—and I drink a lot of Grenache. It was paired with a cheese course that included Hoshigaki made on the farm, and the whole experience was lovely. Lastly, the 2021 Margins Assyrtiko from the Paicines Ranch vineyard where I worked. It was the first harvest ever from that vineyard. Awesome to see the potential of alternative approaches to viticulture and Assyrtiko from California.

John Morris, Tasting Room Manager
I didn’t have to think too much about this one. The most memorable wine for me this year was unquestionably a 2019 Roussanne Vieilles Vignes from Chateau de Beaucastel, graciously brought by the tasting room by all-around-nice-guy and noted wine nerd John Seals. John was in the process of relocating to Paso Robles, stopping by tasting rooms to introduce himself, tasting, scoping out the right place to work, and more to the point, sharing fabulous wines. The Vieilles Vignes was as Roussanne should be, rich, unctuous, layered, spicy, very long, and just plain delicious. It was an unexpected treat on what was already a perfect spring day in Paso Robles. Thanks John!

Nadia Nouri, Marketing Assistant
Some of my most memorable wines of 2022 are attached to memories with some of my favorite people. One night, a group of my friends and I hosted a 20’s themed murder mystery dinner party where everyone brought a bottle of wine to share, and I brought a bottle of one of my go-to’s, Donati Family Vineyard 2018 Ezio Cabernet Sauvignon. It was so fun to see what everyone else brought (as a group of college students, it was a mixed bag!) Throughout the night, we got to try everyone else’s picks as we attempted to discover who the killer was. Everyone was in character the whole night, and it turned out to be a huge surprise who the culprit was. I will never forget that night! A few of my other most memorable wines are Tablas Creek wines, of course. When I started working at Tablas Creek, I got to bring home more obscure single varietal wines like our 2021 Picardan and 2020 Terret Noir to this same group of wonderful people, who loved discovering new wine, and I am so grateful I got to share my world with them.

...And As for Me
Most summers, we go back to Vermont to spend at least a few weeks in the house in which I grew up, where my mom still spends half the year, and where my sister and her family live too. After we were unable to come back in 2020 we decided in 2021 to spend a full month back east, and loved it so much that we repeated the longer visit in 2022, soaking in all the lovely green of Vermont and the unhurried time with family. It's also a chance to dive into the amazing cellar my dad accumulated in his decades as a wine importer, and each summer we try to pick a meal where we pull out all the stops and just go for it. This year, we chose three treasures from great vintages and classic regions, and a meal designed to show them off: steaks grilled with herb butter, a gratin of summer squash, and garlic scapes from the garden. We also had corn on the cob, because it was Vermont in the summer.

JH Summer Meal

The two wines we opened to start were a 1961 Lafite, a legendary vintage from the era when my dad was the chateau's exclusive American importer, and a 1981 Beaucastel. The Lafite was still chewy and complex. Savory with flavors of tobacco and earth and mocha, still layered, a wine to dive into. The Beaucastel was friendlier, cherry skin and loam and meat drippings, lighter on its feet, translucent and lovely. Both were fully mature but very much alive. Those two wines were so good that we didn’t end up opening the Clos des Lambrays, which gives us something to forward to on our next visit. Just a lovely occasion to taste and appreciate two magical wines that we have a personal connection to, and be thankful for my dad's judgment and foresight.  

JH most memorable wines of 2022

A few concluding thoughts:
I did my best to link each wine to a page with information about it, should you want to research details. But I don't think replicating a specific wine is necessarily the right goal. If there's one thing that I've learned from writing these end-of-year appreciations for a decade now, it's that it really is the confluence of wine and occasion that makes for the most memorable experiences. Wine, after all, is the ultimate social beverage. The size of a bottle means it's something that you share with others. The fact that wine is ephemeral, that each bottle is a reflection of particular grapes grown in a particular place in a particular vintage, means that each one is different and also a unique reflection of time and place. Add in the human element, where the winemaker or winemakers are taking (or not taking) actions based on what they see, smell, and taste, and you have what is in essence a time capsule that comes with the added benefit of helping you enjoy a meal and bring insight into the flavors it contains. What a perfect starting point for a meaningful evening.

I wish you all memorable food and wine experiences in 2023, and even more than that, the opportunity to share them with people you love.


Highlights from 1000 Blog Posts... and a Thank You

In November of 2005 I kicked off the Tablas Creek blog with a brief post that included a pretty autumn vineyard scene and a plan: that we'd "share thoughts and insights on the state of Paso Robles, Rhone varietals, California, and the wine business in general." I would not have given you very good odds that I'd still have been working on the blog seventeen years later. And probably even longer odds that we'd make it to 1,000 posts or over one million lifetime page views. But when I logged on to the blog earlier this week, this is what greeted me:

Tablas Blog at 1000 posts

In celebration, I thought I'd do a little looking back: at posts that were milestones for one reason or another, and at a few of the lessons I feel like we've learned from doing this one (ulp) thousand times. In chronological order:

First post that I'd be proud to publish today: Corks and Screwcaps: Not an open and shut case (July 2007)
It took me a while to find my footing as a blog writer. Some of that was stylistic (You need to write in first person. You need to be conversational.) but just as much was finding topics worth diving in deep on. Sure, the seasonal pieces about what's going on in the vineyard and winery are the bread and butter for a reader who wants to feel like they're inside our world. But those pieces are also ephemeral, and beyond a "hey good luck with the coming heat wave" or similar wish, don't elicit a lot of comments or have much value to revisit. With this 2007 blog on the cork-screwcap debate, I hit on a formula that would prove to be one I'd come back to again. Take a discussion going on in wine circles, share the results that we'd seen based on our in-house experiments, and try to come to a more nuanced conclusion than what I'd been reading out in the blogosphere. The result was a post that got picked up in an Eric Asimov New York Times column, accumulated 15 comments (more than double the total number of comments the blog had received to date), and still holds up today.

Blog with the most unexpected and helpful feedback: In Search of a Green(er) Wine Bottle (January 2010)
Using a blog to ask your customers what they want seems like a no-brainer. And so it turned out to be early in 2010 when we had come to the conclusion that our short-lived move to heavy wine bottles had been a mistake. Neil and I thought that what we were looking for was a lighter version of the big, impressive bottle that we'd settled on a few years before. But after sharing our thinking in this blog (and on our social media channels) we realized that we'd been thinking about it backwards and not giving our customers enough credit. I was expecting to get a balance of "we love the look and feel of the bigger bottle" and "please be more environmentally conscious". Instead, the overwhelming feedback we got was some variation of "please just give me a light, straightforward bottle that fits in my wine rack and doesn't give me a hernia when I have to lift a full case". We moved our entire production to one of the lightest Burgundy-shaped bottled on the market and have saved more than a million and a half pounds of glass from being made into bottles over the last dozen years. Thank you, Tablas Creek readers.   

Blog with the longest useful life: Investigating an Attempted Wine Scam (June 2011)
Like any other product, wine attracts its share of scammers. But unlike most other products, the shipping rules (particularly international shipping rules) around wine are so convoluted that even a normally skeptical business owner can fall for a scam email and end up out thousands in bogus shipping fees. Rather than just deleting one such email, I decided to publish it, explain what it was hoping to accomplish, and break down what gave it away as a scam. It turned out that I was one of hundreds (or thousands) of wine people to get this email, and I heard from many of them in the comments who'd gotten suspicious and discovered my piece through a Google search. And then something fun happened. Each few years, as the scammers updated their names and approach, people would find the blog and share who the scam emails were purportedly from and post updated language. That continued all the way through 2020, a total of 33 comments, and I still see in the blog traffic data that this post gets hit at least a few times a week. So what began as a blog ended up as a sort of community bulletin board where the wine community banded together to create an anti-scammer resource. So cool. 

My favorite story I've ever told: A great dinner, an amazing restaurant, and a wine that marks the beginning of Tablas Creek (May 2012)
What are the odds that Cesar Perrin and I, out at dinner together, would discover a bottle of the 1967 wine that marked the first-ever Haas-Perrin collaboration? Well, we did, and I was able to speak with my dad and track it through the years. Just an amazing and lovely coincidence that produced one of my favorite blogs to research, write, share, and re-read.

Best advice to wineries: Nine lessons the Kimpton Hotel Group offers wineries (May 2012)
I think that every writer needs to answer the question, "who am I writing for". It doesn't need to be a single audience; I know for example that we have winery folks, sommeliers, writers, and wine lovers who subscribe to this blog. But I decided pretty early on that writing a series for other winery folks, sharing what we'd learned about everything from grapegrowing to marketing to hospitality and winemaking, was a great way to start conversations and build our relationships in the community. It also offered the wine lovers in our audience a glimpse behind the curtain, so to speak, of winery life, which I found they appreciated. Some of these pieces were narrowly targeted (i.e. Making the most of time in the market or A Winery Blog. Who Needs It?) but I think that the most interesting entries in this series looked outside the world of wine and shared what I had learned from other companies I admired. There's a little nostalgia for me in reading this blog now that Kimpton has been bought by IHG. I stayed at the Hotel Monaco in Seattle earlier this fall, and while they've tried to keep a certain individuality in this and other signature Kimpton properties, it's not the same. Ownership changes matter. And there's a lesson for wineries in that too.  

Best advice to consumers: When wine tasting, step away from the carafe (November 2012)
In one of my favorite early entries, on learning how to blog, I suggest that prospective bloggers to use the blog to answer the questions they get every day. I still think that's rock-solid advice, and try to note when I've gotten a particular question from consumers multiple times that it's time to blog about it. Even better is to try to come up with some empirical evidence to support the answer you provide. In this piece, after having consumer after consumer come up to me at a wine tasting after rinsing their glasses out with the chlorinated water pitchers placed around the event space, I decided to try to figure out just how much that residual water was likely to change the experience of the wine. If you haven't read the piece before, I'm guessing you'll be surprised how big the impact can be.

Best use of a 60-year career in wine: When Terroir Was a Dirty Word (May 2013)
I could have picked any one of a dozen pieces that my dad wrote, sharing his decades of experience in the business of wine as a retailer, wholesaler, importer, and vintner. But this one stood out to me because of how much it upends conventional wisdom. I have a vivid memory of him strolling into my office, eyes twinkling, visibly pleased with himself for having unearthed this tidbit. I hope that I have the same delight in the new discoveries I make when I'm in my mid-80s, and the joy, vision, and health to inspire people as long as he did. On a related note, if you haven't read the appreciation of his life that I wrote after he died in 2018, it's here. I still miss him, and am grateful to have the chance to relive my time with him through the 30+ pieces he wrote.

Best tie-in with current events: State of the Union, Wine Shipping Edition (January 2015)
I always enjoy diving into the intersection of wine and law. Because the 21st Amendment (which repealed Prohibition) gives states wide leeway to regulate alcohol within their borders, there's a wider range of regulatory statues in place than for almost any other product type. Many of these statutes were written by (or with the encouragement of) state-licensed liquor wholesalers, whose interests are usually in protecting themselves from competition. This also makes them relatively fertile ground for "sunshine" journalism, where a little public light shined on a backroom pocket-lining arrangement can have an impact. If you can do it with some humor so much the better. Direct shipping of alcohol is the wine/law intersection that has seen the most interest and the most movement in recent decades. In this piece, I dove into the patchwork of laws regulating winery shipping, dividing up states into tiers and putting numbers on the costs. I even had a hook to tie it to: the impending January 2015 State of the Union Address. I was pleased I was able to make it all work, and know at least in one case where the publication of this piece played a role in the changing of a state's statute.

Favorite rant: Customer Disservice: Nine Lessons from a Terrible Hertz Experience (June 2015)
I appreciate a good rant. But the key to making one valuable, I think, comes with tying more generally applicable lessons to the frustration that made the experience rant-worthy. I was able to turn what felt like the longest 45 minutes of my life into nine lessons that a winery could use to evaluate their own operations. I even managed to incorporate a relevant Seinfeld clip, which it seems I'm physically incapable of not watching each time I revisit the blog. 

Prettiest collection of photographs: Paso Robles is Absurdly Beautiful Right Now (January 2019)
A blog is a great place to share pictures of what's going on at the vineyard and winery. I try to do that in every piece, and vineyards are beautiful enough places that 306 of the 1000 posts carry the Pretty Pictures tag. But there are also posts where the photographs, rather than illustrating the text, become the main event. Here in Paso Robles, it seems that it's the moments when we actually have moisture in the air that I find the most beautiful. I'd arrived at the vineyard that morning to find fog lifting over the newly-green vineyard, and still don't think I've ever had a better day taking pictures here.

Best pandemic idea: The vineyard in January, from four perspectives (January 2021)
The pandemic gave me the time and space (and the necessity, given how many other marketing avenues had shut down) to refocus on our blog, and I feel that the roughly year between March 2020 and February 2021 produced the best sustained writing in its history. Nearly a dozen of these dealt directly with the challenges of the pandemic and reopening, and I'm proud of the information that we gathered and shared to help the wine community make good choices. But the forced time in town and at home also produced deep dives into grape histories (explorations of the California trajectories of Syrah and of Mourvedre were two of the hardest blogs to leave out of this highlight list) and this family-focused photo essay. Around the 2021 holidays, with travel off the table, we decided as a family that each member would get to choose four activities, two inside and two outside, for us to do as a group. No one got veto power, so the idea was to get everyone out of their comfort zone a little. One of my choices was to have everyone explore the vineyard and take photos from their perspectives. So in this piece, you get not just my view of Tablas Creek, but that of my wife Meghan and our two boys, Eli (15 at the time) and Sebastian (13). Seeing a familiar place through new eyes is always a treat.

Most impactful blog on our own decision-making: A Winery Carbon Footprint Self-Assessment: Why I Can't Give Us an "A" Despite All Our Progress (May 2021)
I've tried to share our pursuit of greater sustainability on the blog, and to be transparent about where we think we're doing well and where we're struggling. I believe that this transparency is a part of why members of our community look to us as leaders in this space. So when I discovered a 2011 California Sustainable Winegrowers Alliance report on the carbon footprint of California wine, I thought that it was important to evaluate how our own operations looked in contrast to that baseline. What stood out to me was how great the impact was of the packaging, with the manufacture and transport of the glass bottle accounting for more than half the carbon footprint of the average California winery: greater than everything a winery does in the vineyard and cellar combined. This realization refocused us on alternative packaging (leading directly to the decision to branch out into wine in box this year) as well as on getting a full greenhouse gas inventory, which is underway now. I look forward to sharing the changes that will come from that.

Conclusion:
I've been asked a lot what it is about the blog that keeps me coming back to it. After all, it's work to write and edit, work to go out and take photographs, work to engage with the community and respond to comments, questions, and feedback. I think that in order for a blog to have staying power, you need to want to write. I know that I value the time I get to put words to paper (OK, screen) and feel the lack when I've gone too long without doing so. The opportunity to do so often allows me to work through the questions that I have running through my own head and come to a conclusion I'm happy with. In other words, it's not about promotion -- though I hope that reading these thoughts makes you feel a deeper connection with Tablas Creek -- but instead about processing. But mostly it's the community of writers, winery folks, wine trade and wine lovers who make up the blog's audience who make it feel like it's an endeavor worth investing in. I've met many of the wine people who most inspire me through this effort. Hopefully I've provided a little inspiration in return. 

Thank you to Marc Perrin, who suggested I start a blog back in 2005 because it would do great things for our search engine positioning. Neither of us could ever have imagined what this would become. Thank you too to my team, who have written over 150 of those 1000 posts and bring their own fascinating perspectives and experiences to the table each time they do. Finally, though, thank you to the community of readers of this blog, who've given me the space and encouragement to figure out how to do it, and the engagement to make it all feel worthwhile.


Reflecting on 15 Years at Tablas Creek – An Interview with Three Familiar Faces

By Ian Consoli

2007 was a big year for Tablas Creek. It was a blockbuster vintage, one of the most intense (and highest-scoring) in our history. It was the first year we could ship to five new states (Florida, Maine, Michigan, South Carolina, and Vermont) as unconsititutional state laws were changed following the Granholm v Hield Supreme Court decision. Ohio and Nebraska would join the group later in 2007. Behind the scenes, the TTB was working through its internal issues that the submission of the Paso Robles sub-AVAs brought to light, and paving the way for the AVA map we know today. Our founder Robert Haas turned 80, and we saw great articles like this one in the San Francisco Chronicle celebrating his influential career.

It was also a milestone year because of who we brought on board the Tablas Creek team. Three people you likely know today started working here that year: including Senior Assistant Winemaker Chelsea Franchi, Tasting Room Manager John Morris, and Director of Biodynamics Gustavo Prieto. They came to us from all over the world at different stages of their personal and professional lives. We decided to ask each of them to reflect on the past 15 years, from how they came here initially to how it's going today. Thank you, Chelsea, John, and Gustavo, for your 15 years of dedication to everything Tablas Creek!

Chelsea Franchi  John  Morris  Gustavo PrietoChelsea Franchi, John Morris, and Gustavo Prieto

Please state your name and position.

My name is Chelsea Franchi. I am the Senior Assistant Winemaker.

My name is John Morris. I am the Tasting Room Manager.

Gustavo Prieto, I am the Biodynamicist.

 

What brought you to Tablas Creek 15 Years ago?

I came tasting here with a friend from Cal Poly, which was a super mind-blowing experience. I was talking to somebody years ago at a Rhone Rangers event about how people tend to lean towards either Rhone reds or Rhone whites. Of course, you can love both of them, but one sucks you in early on. For me, it was Esprit Blanc here at Tablas. It started an absolute obsession with Rhone whites. So yeah, decided a few weeks after I came tasting here that I should apply for a job.

A couple of things. I had talked about working at Tablas Creek a couple of times, but there was nothing full-time available. When a position did open up, I went for it. I wanted to be here because the wine was more up my alley than most in Paso back then. I had come from Seattle, where I was mainly drinking European wines with lower alcohol and more nuance and finesse.

I was impressed by the wines and I wanted to learn more, so I decided to apply for a position. It was like all roads led to Tablas Creek.

John  Gustavo  and Chelsea working

What was your position title when you started?

Greeter? <laugh>. Basically a glorified hostess.

Tasting Room Manager! So, you know, I've made no progress in 15 years  <laughs>. I feel like I've had three jobs within the same position, really. There was my role before we expanded the tasting room in 2011, post-expansion, and now with the changes COVID-19 brought about. The job has evolved as we have grown.

Tasting room attendant.

Chelsea in TR 2007Chelsea working the register in our old tasting room

 Did you think you would still be here 15 years later?

I was still in college and didn't have the imagination to begin to dream that I could have ended up in the position I am in. So no, no I did not.

No. No, I didn't. If anybody would've told me when I walked in the door that I'd still be here in 15 years, I would've probably not believed them.

I hoped so!

Gustavo and John at a tasting in 2007Gustavo and John at a tasting in 2007

What kinds of wine were you drinking then and what are you mostly drinking now?

That's a really interesting question. To look back on it and try to compare and contrast. Back then, I drank a lot of entry-level reds from France, Spain, and Italy. They were less expensive, higher toned, with that brighter acidity and a little bit of grip to them. Cost was a huge factor because I was a college student. Now I'd say I probably drink more domestic stuff and explore more California wines. But obviously still plenty of wines from other countries.

I was mostly drinking red wines, especially Cabernet Sauvignon from Chile. Now I enjoy Rhone blends and varietals, reds, whites, and rosés. Also, red and white Burgundy, but I'm very open to all kinds of wines.

 What is the biggest change you have witnessed at Tablas Creek since you started?

I think the change at Tablas Creek is, more often than not, a progression of our core values. Seeing the introduction of new varieties in the vineyard and coming into the cellar. There is a harvest elation when a new variety hits the cellar door for the first time. Everybody has their camera phones out, taking videos of it going onto the sorting table and its first pump over. That excitement is so cool and so real. Also, the biodynamic and ROC certifications. And none of these beliefs are new to Tablas Creek, but we're making them bigger and better, continuing that ideology.

The size. I feel like the integrity has always been there and still is, which is super important to me. And the reason for being is the same, but, you know, when I started in the tasting room, I had six or seven employees. That has now grown to eight full-time employees and twenty-five total.

The continual evolution of our farming practices that keep pushing us toward greater sustainability, and seeing the evolution from organic to biodynamic and now the ROC certification.

Tasting Room team in 2007Tasting room staff at Tablas Creek Vineyard in 2007

What is the most significant change in your life over the past 15 years?

I feel like some of the biggest, most important things a human can do have happened since I started here. I got engaged, bought a house, got married, and had a baby. Yeah, like all of the great things <laugh>.

I got married and took on a few stepkids. No question, that's the biggest change.

Please share one of your favorite stories/memories from the past 15 years at Tablas Creek.

When I had been working here a week or two as a greeter, I was standing outside one sunny Saturday morning, and a… gruff-looking gentleman <laugh>, approached the front doors. It was a bustling weekend day and I, as kindly as I could, told the gentleman that we were busy and that he would need to come back some other time. He brushed past me without a second glance and said, "I'm the winemaker" <laugh>. It turned out to be winemaker Neil Collins, who lives on the property. I thought, 'well, it was a really good two-week run. I had a really good time, and now I'm fired.' Clearly, I wasn't fired, and now I work with Neil and I've worked with him for 15 years. He is like a father figure to me. Oh, the things we've overcome <laugh>.

This was some years ago, on a perfect Spring day during Hospice du Rhone, before we opened the new tasting room and things weren’t quite as busy or tightly scheduled as they are now.  10 or 12 French men and women, some with limited English, some with none, strolled into the tasting room and asked for a tour. Why not!  As we walked into the vineyard doing our best to communicate, it was revealed that I was hosting winemakers and vignerons from Domaine du Gros 'Noré, Domaine Clape, and another prominent property that escapes me, in town for Hospice.  Bear in mind that I was relatively new at this time, and certainly didn’t have the depth of knowledge to answer deep technical question about the vineyard or winemaking.  Good thing there was a language barrier!  Anyway, I did my best, I believe they were happy, and I again thanked my lucky stars for landing at Tablas Creek.

About 5 years ago, during our annual pig roast party, all of the sheep managed to knock down their fence, run down Vineyard drive, and up the neighbor's hill. Neil and I spent an hour chasing after them, finally bringing the last ones in after dark. It's funny now, not so much then!

Significant Life events in the past 15 yearsSignificant life events for Chelsea and John in the past 15 years

You have one Tablas Creek wine from any vintage to take to a deserted island. What's it going to be?

That one is really difficult, but I think it would have to be the 2003 Esprit de Beaucastel. That was one of the Esprits we were pouring in the tasting room when I started here. To this day, it still has the lushness, velvety texture, and chewy fruit, all of the elements that I loved about it then I still love about it today. And it's one of those really cool wines that just, I mean, all wines have the ability to transport you if you give them the opportunity, but that one especially takes me back to where I was in that moment of time. It's funny to look back on that wine and think how many things have changed. But that wine, the way I feel about it, has not.

2017 Esprit de Tablas Blanc. The Esprit Blanc tends to be my favorite wine in general because it is so unique and is almost always the best white wine in the region, and possibly even California some years. The 2017 is so complex. It's waxy, herbal, and spicy. But it's not too big or too rich. Good acidity, just super balanced wine.

Uf, that's a tough one, but if I have to choose one, it would be the 2005 Esprit de Beaucastel rouge.

Any parting thoughts?

The fact that I've known Gustavo and John for 15 years, and Neil, Jason and all of these people for 15 years is really special. Even people I met working in the tasting room that I still see today. Every time I walk into the tasting room or attend a Tablas Creek event, I meet somebody new and look forward to seeing them the next time they visit. We have such a great audience, and it's a true delight to make friends with everybody who comes through these doors. It's a really unique and special experience and I absolutely love that.

Yeah, I feel lucky to be here, to be part of the contributing team. It's been a really great 15 years.

2007 Chelsea Franchi  John  Morris  Gustavo PrietoThe earliest archived photos of Chelsea, John and Gustavo at Tablas Creek Vineyard

 


A Vineyard Life: When It Rains in the Adelaide

By Austin Collins

There is no doubt that winter is upon us. This past week alone we have received over five inches of rain. That's more than our long-term average for the month, and half of what we got in one of our wettest-ever Decembers last year. And there is more on the way. We even got a brief, but incredibly strong hail storm, littering the ground with marble-sized pellets. In fact, it was my one-year-old's first time seeing hail. One of many firsts under the skies of Tablas Creek Vineyard, just like his father. It is days and weeks like this that allow us to loosen our shoulders and enjoy our holidays just a little bit more. These past few years of drought have taken a severe toll on us, and are a big reason why, along with the unseasonably late frosts of 2022, our crop yields have been unprecedentedly low. So, the next time you are having dinner and rain is tapping on your window, open a good bottle of wine and give a nod to the clouds.

Austin - View toward Las Tablas Creek

With the recent rainfall we received I was taken back to my early years on the Tablas Creek property. This is the view off of my back patio. Down the steps and into the bed of Las Tablas Creek, the access point to many of my childhood adventures. During the rainy season this creek would begin to flow again, and with the return of water came life. I have strong memories of hearing the creek rushing through the darkness of the Adelaide nights, the sound of toads reverberating off of the ancient oaks. Back then there wasn't much traffic on the roads and the sounds of the land were accompanied by only silence.

Austin - Rain over misty vineyard

As I child my favorite thing to do was explore this property. Sure, I played some sports, but I remember being at my happiest romping through this wild and dirty playground. The great thing about having the vineyard and forest as your playground is the changes it experiences throughout the year. In summer it's warm, dry, and full of sun-drenched grasses until late in the evening. In the winter my playground would transform. The cold would encourage leaves to cover the forest floors, the vines became bare, hardly resembling their summertime guise. Small cover crops sprouted and annual grasses began to peek through the darkened soil.

Austin - View over dormant vines

When it rains at Tablas Creek, vineyard work comes to a standstill. Tractors are parked under cover and sheep rest on blankets of straw in the barn. That meant I had the hills to myself, a child of the mud.

Austin - Olive trees and rock wall

Good, wet storms do not hit us too often here in Paso Robles. That being said I feel as though people can still take them for granted when they do come. In fact, it confused me as a young child when people deemed the weather miserable when water fell from the sky. "Bring it on", I always thought. I think our dry farmed vines and olive trees agreed with me.

Austin - Sun emerging

The rain sure meant a lot to me back then. It still does. How can it not? Look how much it does for us. If you don't grow crops for food or for wine, I think everyone can appreciate the beauty rain brings to the planet. Whether it is during a storm, or after, through the clearest air our lens can find, rain did that.

[Editor's note: after this piece was published, our Winemaker Neil Collins, Austin's dad, sent us this photo of Austin playing in one of these very same puddles. As he said, "proof".]

Austin playing in the mud