What We're Drinking with Thanksgiving 2020

I am, in normal times, a big fan of Thanksgiving. It's a holiday that brings extended family together for a day of cooking, eating, and reflecting on what we're grateful for. Of course, 2020 is not a normal year. This year, family gatherings will (really should!) be smaller. If you're not traveling to help curb the spread of Covid, thank you. It's a sacrifice. Traditions are important markers in our lives, and choosing to break a tradition that is meaningful is hard. But it's also essential this year, with case rates already surging around the country and a vaccine coming in the not-too-distant future. We've made it most of the way through this marathon. Let's not stumble on the home stretch.

Because of the smaller gatherings, some of the traditional Thanksgiving meals are likely to be less common. What's a family of four going to do with a turkey? In some ways, that is likely to make pairing easier. 2020 Thanksgiving meals are likely to be less sprawling, with only a few side dishes rather than the near-dozen I know we've had in recent years. And really, no wine goes particularly well with sweet potato casserole or brussels sprouts. But if arriving at a perfect pairing isn't a realistic goal in even a normal Thanksgiving, it's definitely not the point in 2020. I loved Dave McIntyre's Thanksgiving column in the Washington Post that suggested this year you open a wine that had meaning not because of what it tasted like, or what you spent on it, but because of a memory you have about how it came to you. That's also a good reminder not to be too precious about the pairing. 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. Don't feel bad about having wine leftovers, along with your food. You'll likely learn something, and have fun along the way. 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.

Roast Chicken with Volnay

Janelle Bartholomew, Wine Club Assistant
As we approach Thanksgiving this year, I am reminded how fortunate my family is to be able to share this day together. As many people across the globe have endured such hardship in 2020, my gratitude for a healthy family is immense. People are spending this holiday season quarantined, and possibly without loved ones by their side. If anyone reading this has endured hardship this year, my thoughts and heart are with you all. On our table for the very first time I get to enjoy my rare (and only) bottle of Tablas Creek Bourboulenc!  When I tasted the wine for the first time last spring I thought it would be great for Thanksgiving. In addition to the Bourboulenc, I decided on a Domaine de la Voûte des Crozes Côte de Brouilly, Beaujolais. Whether you are enjoying the holiday surrounded by family, or laughing with family via Zoom, I hope everyone has a happy Thanksgiving.

Charlie Chester, Senior Assistant Tasting Room Manager
In these weird times my Thanksgiving day plans have been up in the air. I am pretty sure Brandon and I are traveling down to Carpinteria to spend time with my sister and my 9 and 11 year old nephews. It should be a good time watching the kids play.  We most likely will not go through too much wine because it will be just my sister and I drinking because my brother in law will be working at the fire station and my dad has opted out due to COVID and will be playing it safe with his wife and her 95 year old mother. I am thinking of bringing two bottles, 2012 Esprit Blanc, my favorite vintage of this wine. I remember Roussanne shining through with its wonderful honey characteristics.  And just to balance things out I will bring a 2016 TCV Grenache another one of my recent favorites.

COVID sucks and family gatherings are not what they used to be.  Don't get me wrong, a mellow Turkey Day is fine with me and seeing my four and a half year old son bonding with/tormenting his older cousins is something I am looking forward to indeed.

Austin Collins, Cellar Assistant
Due to the "complexities" of this year the holidays bear a somewhat hollow feeling. Nonetheless, the drinking must continue. Original travel plans have been cancelled and backcountry maps have been unfolded. For this year, Thanksgiving will be spent in the woods. Exact locations are not specific but, the beverages need be. Lugging 750 mL glass bottles for miles and miles on your back is not really ideal. Thus, I am opting for the canned wine option this year. I will be bringing a selection of canned wines including but not limited to, a HYKIT Wines 4-pack, that should be sufficient for the adventure. But, once the trek is complete and the bags unpacked yet again there is one wine that must always make an appearance at Thanksgiving, a final stamp of completion. One, or maybe two, magnums of Domaine Dupeuble Beaujolais Nouveau. Happy Thanksgiving!!!

Neil Collins, Executive Winemaker
Well as always there will be a healthy supply of Bristols Cider on hand. I think we will begin with some Lone Madrone Pet Nat of Chenin Blanc. Moving into a rosé from Gros Noré, a Fixin Burgundy from Domaine Mongeard-Mugneret, and of course a magnum of 2015 Esprit De Tablas!! I opened a bottle this week to try and it was singing!!! Maybe a Warre's Otima around the fire at days end. Happy Thanksgiving all, be safe and be thankful.

Ian Consoli, Media and Marketing
This year my family will be having a bottle of the 2017 Esprit de Tablas Blanc with our Thanksgiving meal. It has been tasting phenomenal in the tasting room of late and I can fully imagine it melting into a forkful of turkey dipped in mashed potatoes and Mama's gravy. I'm still up in the air about a red. I drank through my supply of Counoise (a turkey day go-to) so looking at possibly a Thacher Cinsault to take its place.

Darren Delmore, National Sales Manager
Over the past couple years I've developed a slight interest in natural wines - meaning wines that are grown organically and receive no added yeast, acid, fining, filtration and often no sulfites. Finding one that didn't look like a hazy IPA or wasn't capable of removing toenail polish put me off in the beginning, but the best producers around the globe are now taking pride in producing cleaner, faultless versions. I curbside picked-up a bottle of Matassa 2019 Cuvee Romanissa Rouge from Domaine LA, made by natural wine god Tom Lubbe in the Cotes Catalanes zone of southern France. It's a light-colored blend of Carignane and Lledoner Pelut, an obscure grape that loosely translates as ‘hairy Grenache’. Maybe Neil and the boys will have to dust off the grafting station to bring that furry varietal into the Tablas mix! 

Chelsea Franchi, Senior Assistant Winemaker
I always love Thanksgiving; spending time with family to take pause and reflect on the gifts in our lives, but this year, my gratitude is too immense to do anything but let it wash over me.  I’ll be spending the holiday kissing the ten tiny fingers and ten tiny toes of our new baby girl and trying to understand how I could have ever become so fortunate. 

I usually try to open bottles from other wineries during the holidays, but this year, it’s important to me to drink Tablas Creek.  Not only to feel a little closer to all the wonderful  coworkers I’ve been missing during maternity leave and the crazy whirlwind that has been COVID, but also to appreciate how lucky I am to work for such an upstanding organization that takes care of its people and its community. We’ll be foregoing the turkey this year in favor of prime rib, and will be opening a bottle of 2007 Panoplie that we’ve been patiently waiting to open.  What better time than 2020 to open the good stuff you’ve been holding onto?!  

Eddie Garcia, Logistics
In our household, I have people who enjoy great wine. And all though this year has been what it has been, Thanksgiving is going to be a time where we all can sit at the table and toast to what we have going on in our lives. Health and family. And to be honest, I’m ready to enjoy this time together. I have a couple bottles that I have set aside for dinner that night including a 2015 “Chapter One” Napa Valley Cabernet from Ernest Hemingway Vineyards.  And a 2016 Brecon Feral Underclass. Both are no doubt not going to disappoint! Have a happy, healthy, and safe Thanksgiving!

Jody Gomes, Accounts Payable & Compliance
For my small family of four, Thanksgiving 2020 isn’t looking too different than in previous years. My parents, my fiancée, and I will spend all day in the kitchen cooking up a lavish meal which will be consumed in roughly 30 minutes. The highlight of the meal will of course be the wine selections. Since 2020 has been a rough year for everyone, why not open up some bottles we have stashed away. While the turkey is browning in the oven my Dad and Fiancée will have their regular Tanqueray on the rocks with olives while my Mom and I will open a bottle of 2012 Domaine Carneros Le Reve, my personal favorite sparkling from California. As a rule of thumb, sticking to a lighter and low alcohol wine usually pairs best with the heavy dinner courses. The Counoise from Tablas Creek has been a staple on my table for the last several years. The notes of bright fruit and subtle spices make for a delightful medium bodied wine that pairs perfectly with every dish on the table. Historically, one bottle of wine is never enough, we will also open a bottle of 2017 Pinot Noir from Odonata Wines. One bottle in particular I am anxiously looking forward to opening will be served after dinner where I can relax and appreciate each sip. This 2008 Petit Verdot from Geddes Wines in McLaren Vale, South Australia, was gifted to me by the Winemaker/Owner during a visit to their cellar door several years ago with my now Fiancée. It was a special trip filled with lots of wonderful memories, it is only fitting I share those memories and wine with my family during a year that has lacked memories.

I am looking forward to spending time with my small family, sharing stories and laughter. I hope everyone has a great Thanksgiving holiday filled with good times and even better wine! Cheers!

Barbara Haas, Founder
Rebecca will go down to the cellar and choose an "oldie-goldie" Burgundy for the dinner, and we will hopefully have a Dianthus for aperitif and add a nice Tablas white to the Thanksgiving table to bridge the gap between roaster chicken with chestnut stuffing and cranberry jelly and Brussels sprouts and potato and celery root puree. We might open a sweet wine with dessert when we decide on what we're having. This is not the most obsessive, buttoned-up Thanksgiving dinner ever.

Ray King, Tasting Room
I’m planning on bringing the Patelin Rosé, Cotes rouge, Cotes Blanc, Esprit rouge and Esprit Blanc for my family’s outdoor Thanksgiving celebration. Cheers, Ray

Monica O'Connor, Direct Sales Manager
Well, I was very excited looking forward to opening my 2009 Nuits-St-Georges “Les Plateaux”, which I’ve been saving for a special occasion such as what this Thanksgiving might have been.

But alas, there will be no gathering as planned, so I’ll be opening a Gruet Brut (375ml) and toast over Zoom with far-flung with friends and family on the east coast. After which I’ll be curling up with my new book, A Promised Land. Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Gustavo Prieto, Cellar, Vineyard, and Tasting Room
Well, this Thanksgiving is going to be different, less people at the table, eating outside. And for the wines, we’ll start with something fresh, a cremant de Loire, Amirault NV, followed by one of my favorite wines, the Esprit de Tablas Blanc. The vintage? I haven’t decided. For its richness and texture it can take on almost any food, especially for thanksgiving with the mix of flavors. And for the red I’m thinking a bottle of Counoise 2017, with its bright fruit, good acidity and medium body it’s definitely a wine that can complement many foods. Happy Thanksgiving!

Amanda Weaver, Cellar Assistant
Usually I have 3 to 4 bottles in my bag when I show up to Thanksgiving dinner, ready to share with relatives and friends alike, but this year with our gathering being so small I think 3 to 4 bottles might be a tad too ambitious. So instead I think I will pare it down to 2 bottles, a white and a red. For the white I tend to gravitate toward something bright and zippy to get the palate refreshed and ready for the onslaught of gravy covered mashed potatoes, stuffing, and nut loaf (I should probably mention our meal will be Vegan, hence, nut loaf). In keeping with that idea, 2018 Domaine Hippolyte Reverdy Sancerre will be joining the festivities. I came across this producer while in Sancerre, a quiet vineyard tucked into one of the many side roads of the village. Luckily, Julie Guiard was hanging about when we arrived and took us through the entire story of her family’s vineyard and how she herself was now taking the reins and hoping to leave her mark on this new generation of wines. Needless to say, I got out of there with half a case of her wines! And lucky for you, Kermit Lynch is an importer for Domaine Hippolyte Reverdy so you don’t just have to take my word, you can get out there and enjoy it yourself! Okay, onto the red! For reds I have to go with another favorite of mine, 2016 A Tribute to Grace Shake Ridge Ranch Grenache. Honestly, any Grenache from Angela Osborne would be a stunning addition to good food and good company, but this specific bottle sticks out to me for its complexity. Her wines have a lovely softness without being a pushover, they stand their ground while still invite you to explore deeper. I highly recommend visiting her tasting room in Los Alamos to really wrap your head around how cool these wines are!

And with that I leave you to ponder your own wine pairings and what you are most excited about and thankful for this season! Cheers!

Lizzy Williams, Tasting Room
This year I'm spending Thanksgiving with my husband and five dogs, hiking on the 90 acres we live on. We will have a picnic, hopefully with most of the traditional Thanksgiving sides. When it comes to opening a drink, I have a bottle of aged Esprit Rouge and a couple of '18 Cotes Blanc; however, I couldn't justify opening my favorite wines on a hike. We will be having the Castoro Zinfandel and Merlot grape juice. The nice wine will be saved for the next chance I have to share with friends.

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 with just three adults, that doesn't seem like a great idea. So, I'll try to follow Dave McIntyre's advice and pick wines that make me want to remember 2020. Maybe the 2019 Bourboulenc to start, helping celebrate that 2020 was the year we got a harvest off all the 14 grapes of the Beaucastel Chateauneuf-du-Pape collection for the first time. Plus, with its bright acids and nutty flavors, it seems like a great match for the capon we're cooking in lieu of a turkey.

As for reds, I'm leaning toward bookends both inspired by the California Wine Institute's Behind the Wines series I had the pleasure of being a part of twice this year, early on with Bob Lindquist and then in the finale with Morgan Twain Peterson. I think I'll open a bottle of Bob's Lindquist Family Wines Grenache, all bright fruit and translucent elegance, and a bottle of one of Morgan's Bedrock Heritage Vineyard blends. Mostly Zinfandel, but (as I learned in the lead-up to our session) with grapes as diverse as Mataro, Grenache, Carignane, and even Vaccarese in the blend, it seems like an appropriately American combination for this quintessentially American holiday. Plus, it's full of character, spicy and fruity, earthy and intriguing without being heavy-handed in any way.

It feels right, in the uncertainty and challenges of 2020, to celebrate the community of American wine. As Bob and Morgan demonstrate in their own ways, there is inspiring work being done in American wine on many fronts. We're fortunate to still have Bob, one of the founders of the Rhone Rangers movement we inhabit, making wines that are as soulful and expressive as anything he's ever done. And we're fortunate to have Morgan diving into the heritage vineyards that helped establish California wine, sharing what he's learning, and using that to make quintessentially American wines of balance and character. I am thankful for this community I get to be a part of and, in a weird way, for the opportunities we've had because of 2020 to interact in new ways with the inspiring people in my own sphere, and with new fans around the country and world. It's a privilege to be a part of such a rich tradition, and to help shape its future.

Wherever you are, we wish you a happy, healthy Thanksgiving, and that you are able to find things to celebrate.


Down to the Roots: The Appeal of Biochar

By Jordan Lonborg

For those of you who are tapped into the world of regenerative farming, or if you are a scholar in the study of ancient Amazonian agricultural farming tactics, biochar is probably a familiar term. If not, let me explain. Biochar is an ancient tool used to increase the fertility of the soil that has started to make a comeback in today’s regenerative farming world. At its essence, biochar is essentially a form of charcoal that is incorporated into compost or directly into the soil profile as a means of storing carbon and nutrients and increasing your soil’s moisture holding capacity.

One of the reasons biochar is making such a huge comeback in today’s regenerative farming world is that it is fairly easy to make. You start with a biomass, in our case, grapevine prunings and fallen logs and brush that we’ve collected while cleaning our forest understory to keep our fire risks down. Add some kind of receptacle, or even just a cone-shaped hole in the ground. You then light the fuel on fire burning the material from the top on down. The gases that are contained in that biomass beneath the fire combust and burn off, but leave almost all the carbon behind. If done properly, there is very little Carbon Dioxide released into the atmosphere (imagine a smokeless fire if you will). Once the fire has burned through your pile of biomass, you are left with a form of nearly pure carbon or biochar. This would be the simplest way of creating biochar for small producers. There are many other forms of production as well. There are larger kiln style burners all the way to industrial style setups that companies like Pacific Biochar are using. But in all cases, the idea is that you are turning raw fuel into a stable form of carbon as efficiently as possible.

Biochar - piles

Beyond its carbon capturing ability, biochar improves your soil in several ways. Because of its crystalline structure, one gram of biochar can contain – conservatively – over 2000 square feet of surface area. That surface area has the ability to hold on to both nutrients and water molecules and release them slowly, over time as needed. These properties are very similar to those of limestone. Both limestone and biochar are essentially banks and whenever our grapevines need a little cash, they are able to access the needed resources easily. A recent 3-year study conducted by Monterey Pacific Inc. showed that using biochar in conjunction with compost increased both grapevine yield and soil water holding capacity.

Last year, we ran a biochar trial very similar to Monterey Pacific’s here at Tablas Creek. We incorporated ten tons of biochar into some of the compost we made here on the property. We then took that biochar/compost mix and spread it out on the ground of our pig pen. Next, we moved our sheep into that pen and fed them feed harvested from the property on top of the mix for 3 days:

Biochar - Grazing sheep

We gathered that compost/biochar/manure mix and spread in our trial block. In the trial block we left 2 rows untreated, treated 2 rows with just compost, 2 rows with compost/biochar mix, and 2 rows with the compost/biochar/manure mix, repeated 3 times (18 rows total). We then seeded all rows with cover crop. It did not take a trained eye to see the difference between the rows that were treated and those that were not. The cover crops were happy in all the rows, but those that had the bio-char and compost mix (like the row on the left in the photo below) had a cover crop that was considerably taller than the rest of the block.

Biochar - Growth from application
Beyond the fact that biochar has the ability to increase yields of grapevines and soil moisture holding capacity, onsite production of biochar provides an alternative to the burn piles that pollute the air in many farm areas while also releasing massive amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere. Every farming property has to deal with biomass collected from the previous growing season. But choosing to produce biochar with that biomass is a win-win, creating a product that helps our vineyard while significantly reducing air pollution and CO2 release.

Up to this point, we’ve been purchasing biochar for our experiments. In the next couple of months, we’ll be designing a small kiln to trial here on the property. We want to get a feel for the cost, safety, and efficiency of the process. But we feel great about the prospects for this experiment. Whatever canes are left after chipping what we need for our compost program, we will turn into biochar. Whatever wood we collect while clearing the understory of the property to reduce fire hazard and improve access for our flock, we will turn into biochar. The biochar we create will be incorporated into our compost, aerating the pile and helping the composting process, which proceeds better in the presence of oxygen.

So, what do we think the impacts of biochar will be? Better soil fertility and water-holding capacity. A healthier compost pile. Reduced fire hazard and more grazeable land for our herd. Good conditions for the re-growth of native vegetation. More carbon in the soil and less (perhaps dramatically less) CO2 produced. Win-win-win-win-win.

Farm Like the World Depends On It

Biochar - overview


Tracking the Changing of the Seasons: November Brings Transformation

There are long stretches of the year when the look of the vineyard doesn't change much. Can you tell August from May? Not easily. Some of the grapes will have changed colors. The leaves of the vines might not be quite as vibrant a green. How about March from January? Maybe in the length of the cover crop, unless our sheep have been through. Maybe in the quality of the sun. But it's subtle. Not November. That's a month of rapid, visible transformation, as we get our first frosts, the vine leaves go from green to brown to missing, and (hopefully) we see the first shoots of green, with the arrival of our winter rains.

I took a long walk around the vineyard yesterday to gather material for my Wednesday Instagram Live broadcast, and was struck by how different things looked after three nights of lows in the 20s than they did just a week ago. Check out this side-by-side, from between the same rows of Syrah. The photo on the left was from a week ago, and the photo on the right from yesterday:

Syrah rows before frost cropped Syrah rows after frost cropped

Before you start worrying, this is totally normal, and healthy. Frost is a signal to the grapevines that they don't need to expend any further energy maintaining leaves and ripening fruit, and instead should store carbohydrates in their root systems for the next year. Years where we don't get a hard freeze before it starts raining can be a problem, as vines expend energy that they should be conserving for the next spring in new growth that will just get frozen later.

Although we got a little rain last weekend, the two-tenths of an inch didn't have any impact that I could see other than having cleaned off our solar panels. But with more rain forecast for next week, it was a good reminder that we needed to get the vineyard put to bed. One of the pieces of this effort involves laying out straw on the hillside roads (which are less porous than the vineyard, and therefore erosion risks) so they don't become seasonal creekbeds:

Straw on vineyard road

We're also getting ready for the winter's planting. It's going to be a big year for us, with some 15 acres scheduled to go into the ground. One of the blocks we're most excited to get replanted is the block below, which was the site of our original Mourvedre vines, planted from American-sourced cuttings in 1992. It's a terrific site, just below the top of our tallest hill, but the clones themselves were weak, and even grafting French cuttings onto them some 15 years ago didn't produce wine of the quality of our other top blocks. So, two years ago we pulled it out, and have left it fallow until it will get new, high quality Mourvedre plants this winter. It's not even quite two acres, but we have high hopes for it:

Cleared ex-Mourvedre AV

Maybe the most exciting development each November is the beginning of lambing season. We try to time it so that they're born just before the cover crop sprouts, so that when they're growing the food is at its most plentiful. We're still supplementing with the fodder we harvested and baled last winter, but hopefully not for much longer. I hope you're ready for lots of baby lamb pictures over the next few months.

First lamb of 2020

I'll leave you with my favorite photo that I took yesterday, looking down through our oldest Grenache block, over Counoise (to the right of the row of olive trees) and Tannat (on the valley floor), and to Roussanne and eventually Muscardin on the far hillside. The color palette is unique to November, with golds and browns and oranges, not much green to be found, the overcast sky we only see in winter, but subtle and beautiful in its own right. Bring on winter.

Long Autumn View from Top of Vineyard


How to reopen tasting rooms indoors (more) safely... and why we won't be, at least at first

Since we reopened our tasting room in June, we've been operating outside only. Why? It's much, much safer. Even though in June we could have chosen to open indoors, we decided outdoors was the only way that we were comfortable. The state of California, a month later, made the same determination, and has required outdoor-only operation for winery tasting rooms ever since.

Fast forward five months. California's reopening plan has evolved as more science became available, eventually settling where it is now, with four different color-coded stages measuring county-level Covid risk, from yellow (minimal) through orange (moderate) and red (substantial) to purple (widespread). Since the plan was released, all the wine country counties have been in purple or red, both of which limit winery tasting rooms to outside operation only. But with San Luis Obispo County approaching the threshold of orange (moderate) Covid risk, and Napa and Marin counties already there, we're again in a period where wineries will have the option of choosing to offer indoor tastings. But should we? I am skeptical. 

Closed TR Looking Toward Door

There is a terrific interactive graphic in El Pais that models the likelihood of Covid transmission under various indoor environments, including private living rooms, bars, and schools. These models are based on research by José Luis Jiménez, an atmospheric chemist at the University of Colorado and an expert in the chemistry and dynamics of air particles. It makes for fascinating and helpful reading, whether you're a business owner thinking of how to design the safest-possible spaces, a customer deciding what sorts of businesses are safe to patronize, or a government administrator determining which sorts of businesses can safely reopen.

Jiménez's research demonstrates that it is ventilation first, and proximity second, that is the most important determinant of transmission. The analogy in the piece that I found most helpful was to think of the aerosol clouds that are the principal form of Covid transmission as like smoke. If a room doesn't have good air flow, and people are in it for an extended period, whether you're within a few feet or across the room won't make much difference. The clouds of aerosols will permeate a space, and eventually even render masks ineffective. Actions like shouting or singing, or not wearing masks, increase the speed with which those aerosols are produced and enter the environment. The flow of fresh air determines how fast those aerosols dissipate. 

The fact that your risk of infection is determined by the viral load you inhale means that it's not a binary do-you-come-into-contact-with-a-Covid-particle question. It's a how-much-virus-do-you-come-into-contact-with question. This is why outdoor activities carry very low risk unless you're right next to an infectious carrier for an extended period: fresh air keeps the concentrations of potentially infectious aerosols low. So, if a winery is considering moving back into their indoor tasting room, what should they do?

  • Maximize air flow and ventilation. First and foremost, I would be doing everything I could to keep outside air moving inside. Open doors and windows, and make sure the air is flowing in, with fans if it's not moving naturally. This isn't just for your tasting room; when I get into our office I make sure we have as many windows and doors open as possible, and I ask the rest of our team to do the same.
  • Install high quality purification HVAC systems. Not every room has great access to outside air. And that definitely increases the risks. But there are still ways that you can keep fresh air flowing in an interior room. At Tablas Creek, to protect everyone in our offices as best we can, we've put in UV air purifiers as a part of our HVAC system. You can get a similar protective effect from filters, though because the filters that can filter out aerosol particles are quite dense, they may require upgrades in fans and these filters need to be changed regularly. HVAC systems have been shown to spread Covid if not upgraded, so it's not as simple as just making sure that existing fans are on. 
  • Focus on seated tastings. Bar tastings are problematic for the same reason bars are problematic. The format puts your customers face-to-face, unmasked, in close proximity to your staff. In that situation, even increased fresh air flow may not be enough to protect them. A seated tasting, like an encounter at a restaurant, makes maintaining distance easier. It also means that the amount of time spent in close proximity (remember, accumulation of exposure matters) is less.
  • Limit the number of people in a room at once. Obviously, the fewer people you have in your space, the lower the chances that anyone, at any time, is infected. It's also essential if you hope to maintain distancing. But beyond those considerations, it also reduces the volume at which everyone has to speak to make themselves heard. Because shouting releases something like five times as many aerosols as speaking in a normal voice, reducing the ambient noise level is an important consideration. If you can also install noise-reducing insulation, that's worth considering too.
  • Make sure people are wearing masks consistently and properly. This is especially important for your own team, and for guests when they're moving around your space and past other guests. If your air flow is good, you're just trying to make sure that no one ever gets a blast of infected aerosols or (god forbid) the larger respiratory particles that the CDC was initially most concerned with, and which spurred the 6-foot social distancing guideline. Masks are great at slowing and minimizing aerosols, and almost totally effective at eliminating respiratory droplets.   

So, given all that, what would the safest indoor tasting look like? It would be a seated tasting, given plenty of space, in a room with good outside air flow. Honestly, not all that different from what most of us have been doing outside, except inside. But I still don't think we'll be moving inside as soon as the state says we can.   

Why? Our space isn't ideally set up for that sort of optimally-safe indoor experience. We designed our tasting room to be surrounded by the cellar, with big windows that show the work that's going on. The two exterior doors are pretty close to one another, both toward the same corner of what is essentially a big, square room. It wouldn't be easy to get the air from outside into that space. And the cellar spaces are designed to be well-insulated, exactly the opposite of the well-ventilated rooms we would want.

There's also the question of the physical space. Our main tasting room has built-in bars around the outside and a permanent merchandise installation in the middle of the room. Because I feel that standing bar tastings are an unacceptable risk, we'd be left with a room that's unsuited to the sort of tasting we'd want to offer. I could see us using our smaller semi-private room (which we previously reconfigured for seated tastings) because the space works and we have big doors to our patio we could open. But that's only big enough for maybe 3 tables, distanced, and right now it's also the space we're using to stage all the glasses and bottles we're using in the flights we're offering, because it's closest to the patios where everyone is sitting. Putting tables in there would make it harder to serve the (much larger) patio spaces.

Plus, and I keep coming back to this, wine tasting is a non-essential activity. Sure, it's a fun and pleasant activity. And it's good for our bottom line. But I don't think that's enough: our risk has to be exceptionally low in order for me to feel comfortable with us operating. That's a high threshold. As we're operating now, outdoors only, well spaced, with good cleaning and sanitizing protocols, groups limited to 6 or fewer, and with all our people masked (and our guests masked unless they're seated at their tables) I think we clear that threshold. The fact that we haven't had a single case of Covid among any of our tasting room team, over thousands of interactions over the last five-plus months, bears that out.

But as the evolving Covid safe-operation guidelines have shown, just because the state or county (or even the CDC) says you can do something, doesn't mean that it's a good idea. We opened outdoors-only in June, even though the state said indoor tastings were allowed. A month later, they changed their guidance and everyone had to move outside. I am still committed to a cautious approach. We've invested in heaters and will be covering over the rest of the top level of our patio so we have more space that's available to us if it rains. Most winter days in Paso Robles are nice enough that with a little extra heat, being outside is a pleasure. If we have to close a few days because it's stormy, I'm willing to do that. It's better than opening in a configuration that puts us, and our guests, at risk.

So, if you're looking forward to visiting Tablas Creek this winter, bring a jacket, and plan to check the conditions. It will most likely be lovely; winter here is my favorite season. And at the very least, you can be confident you'll be enjoying a social activity that doesn't put yourself or anyone else at risk.


Grapes of the Rhone Valley: Bourboulenc

It's been an exciting couple of years for us getting to discover new grapes. Ten days ago, Muscardin became the fourteenth and final grape in the Beaucastel Chateauneuf-du-Pape collection to make it into the cellar at Tablas Creek. I wrote about it on the occasion of its grafting into the vineyard last June, and we're hoping to ferment maybe 10 gallons this year. I've written this summer about two red grapes that we harvested for the first time in 2019: Vaccarèse and Cinsaut. These are both sitting quietly in the cellar, awaiting bottling next year. But somehow I haven't yet written about Bourboulenc, which we've already put into bottle and even sent out to the members of our white wine VINsider club this fall. It's particularly egregious that I haven't taken up Bourboulenc given that it was the grape my dad was the most excited about when we decided to import seven obscure Chateauneuf du Pape grapes in 2003. So, let's dive in.

Bourboulenc lithoBourboulenc's History
The grape Bourboulenc first appears in the historical record in 1515 in a description of a vineyard near Cavaillon, an ancient village about ten miles south-east of Avignon.1 It appears to have been named after another vineyard near Avignon that was known as Barbolenquiera. Never very widely planted or exceptionally rare, Bourboulenc has seen a gradual decline in acreage since 1970, when it peaked at some 3,000 acres. Its decline is likely due to a fashion for richer white wines in the 1980s and 1990s and a shift in focus across the south of France from white to rosé in more recent years. 

Today, Bourboulenc is the fourth-most planted white grape in the Chateauneuf-du-Pape appellation (after Grenache Blanc, Clairette, and Roussanne) at nearly 85 acres2, making it roughly 1% of total plantings and 15% of white acreage. As of 2016, there were about 1,230 acres planted worldwide, all of it in France3 except the handful of acres that were planted from our clones here in California. It appears never to have gone far from where it originated, and today can be found in the regions surrounding Avignon, including Costières de Nîmes, Tavel, Cassis, Bandol, Languedoc, Corbières, Minervois, and (of course) Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

Bourboulenc is pronounced boor-boo-lenk. Like nearly all French words, the syllables are emphasized equally.

Bourboulenc at Tablas Creek
In our first round of grape imports, which we brought into quarantine in 1989 and were released in 1992, we focused on the main grapes at Beaucastel: Mourvedre, Syrah, Grenache, Counoise, Roussanne, Grenache Blanc, Marsanne, and Viognier. Shortly after, we brought in Picpoul Blanc.

By 2003, we were sufficiently convinced that the more obscure Rhone grapes could shine here that we decided to import the complete Beaucastel collection, which meant another seven grapes. Terret Noir and Clairette Blanche were the first two to be released to us, in 2009. Picardan was next in 2012. Cinsaut, Bourboulenc, and Vaccarese were released in 2015, propagated, and then planted at Tablas in 2017. Muscardin, the seventh and final of those grapes, was released to us in 2017.

We chose a small (0.66 acre) block with a west-facing slope at the far western edge of Tablas Creek for Bourboulenc, and harvested our first small crop in 2019.

Bourboulenc juiceBourboulenc in the Vineyard and Cellar
Bourboulenc vines are fairly vigorous, the berries relatively large, and the clusters loose, which makes it resistant to rot. In France, it is known as drought-tolerant and prized for its ability to retain good acids while still achieving above-average body, but can be a risk because it is late-ripening. We haven't found that to be true here. In 2019 (our first harvest) we picked 2.15 tons of Bourboulenc at 20° Brix (roughly 12.4% potential alcohol), and a pH of 3.38. In 2020 we harvested 3.05 tons at 19° Brix and a pH of 3.38. Both years we picked in September, at roughly the one-third mark of harvest. That puts the grape in synch with Marsanne and Grenache Blanc. The sugars were among the lower levels that we picked, and the acids toward the lower pH (higher acid) end.

In 2019, and to a lesser extent in 2020, we noticed a distinctive orange color in the Bourboulenc juice as it came out of the press. Much of that color dropped out during fermentation, but it remained a darker gold than most of our white wines. This is not mentioned in the literature anywhere that we've been able to find, nor is it a phenomenon that the Perrins have seen at Beaucastel. We're working on the tentative hypothesis that perhaps because the vines were young the clusters were exposed to too much sun, and worked in 2020 to leave more canopy to shade the clusters better.

In the cellar we have fermented  Bourboulenc in a small stainless steel tank each of the last two years and then moved it to neutral barrels to complete its malolactic fermentation.

In the long run, we're excited to have Bourboulenc become a part of our blends. But we always prefer to bottle new grapes on their own the first few years so we can wrap our own heads around their character and share it with our guests and fans. So, it was exciting that it showed well in our blending trials this spring. We bottled some 145 cases of our 2019 Bourboulenc. 80 of those cases we set aside to go out to the members of our White Wine-Only VINsider Club this fall. We sold out of the other 65 in less than six weeks, as it quickly became a favorite among both our team and our guests.

Flavors and Aromas
Our experience with Bourboulenc here is only one vintage long, but that debut vintage showed a nose of lychee and wet rocks, lightly floral, with an unusual and appealing fresh almond note. On the palate, it was richly textured and softly mineral, with pineapple and Seville orange fruit and a little mintiness, pretty and delicate and lovely. We have no idea how this will age, but given its slightly oxidative note even in its youth I'm guessing it might be best suited to drinking younger rather than older. We will know more in coming years.

Footnotes (all highly recommended for those interested in further reading)

  1. Jancis Robinson, Wine Grapes, HarperCollins, 2012
  2. Harry Karis, The Chateauneuf-du-Pape Wine Book, Kavino, 2009
  3. Kym Anderson and Signe Nelgen, Which Wine Grapes Are Grown Where, University of Adelaida Press, 2020

Harvest 2020 Recap: Fast and Furious, a Reflection of Our Warmest Harvest Season Ever

On Friday, with the bin of Tannat pictured below, we completed the 2020 harvest. This capped a 45-day sprint: among our shorter harvests and earliest finishes in our history. What produced this sustained sprint? Our warmest-ever harvest season, with really no breaks in the heat, except for a couple of days where the atmospheric smoke was so thick that the sun never came out and the days topped out in the low 70s. That wasn't pleasant. But for all the unusual conditions and unrelenting pace, we're still happy with the quality of what's in the cellar. And that, in 2020, is reason to celebrate:

Last bin of 2020 harvest

Many years, you expect to see a bell curve-shaped harvest graph. Not 2020. After a fairly gentle first two weeks, we brought in between 60 and 75 tons off the estate each week for five weeks, and then were done. The chart below shows the box-shaped curve (in the chart, blue is purchased fruit for the Patelin program, and orange estate-grown fruit):

Harvest Tons By Week 2020

Yields were solid, up about 7% from 2019, but still in that 3-3.5 tons per acre that we see in many of our favorite vintages. This is somewhat of a surprise. We were expecting yields at or below last year even before the record heat waves impacted yields on sensitive grapes like Mourvedre and Roussanne. And those two grapes did suffer a bit. But other grapes, particularly the Grenaches, made up the difference. The complete picture:

Grape 2020 Yields (tons) 2019 Yields (tons) % Change vs. 2019
Viognier 18.8 17.4 +8.0%
Marsanne 13.0 12.3 +5.7%
Grenache Blanc 46.7 28.3 +65.0%
Picpoul Blanc 8.7 8.6 +1.2%
Vermentino 21.1 24.7 -14.6%
Roussanne 34.8 46.1 -24.5%
Other whites 7.9 7.8 +1.3%
Total Whites 151.0 145.2 +4.0%
Grenache 74.9 51.4 +45.7%
Syrah 43.8 42.5 +3.1%
Mourvedre 46.9 49.6 -5.4%
Tannat 17.6 19.0 -7.4%
Counoise 15.9 20.0 -20.5%
Other reds 7.2 5.6 +28.6%
Total Reds 206.3 188.1 +9.7%
Total 357.3 333.3  +7.2%

Average yields ended up at 3.35 tons per acre, just slightly above our ten-year average, and almost exactly our average if you exclude the frost years of 2009 and 2011. Other years between 3 and 3.5 tons per acre include 2008, 2018, and 2019, all among our favorite years. It's perhaps unsurprising that our later-ripening grapes (like Mourvedre, Roussanne, Tannat, and Counoise) were the ones that were down (by just under 15%, on average) since the vines were starting to wear down under the relentless heat and dry conditions. Why we weren't down overall can be credited to Grenache, and that was up not because of the conditions in 2020, but because in 2019 both Grenache Noir and Grenache Blanc suffered reduced yields due to shatter (incomplete fertilization of berries caused by cool weather or wind during flowering).

I am concerned that this is two years in a row of very low Mourvedre production. Both years came in under two tons per acre. Some of that is variety-specific (we know it's not a high-yielding grape like Grenache or even Syrah) but it came in at 2.6 tons/acre as recently as 2017, and in the mid-2000's averaged around 3.0 tons/acre. We know we have some missing vines in some of our older Mourvedre blocks, and we'll be replanting a Mourvedre block we pulled out a couple of years ago. Hopefully, between some additional focus on vine health and these new blocks, we'll be able to get our Mourvedre production back up. For this year, I'm expecting it to constrain the amount of Esprit de Tablas and varietal Mourvedre we can make.

We had 118 harvest lots, an increase of 23 over 2019. Most of that is multiple picks that we made with our late-ripening blocks (identified with Roman numerals in the chalkboard below) but it's also exciting to see our first-ever harvest of Muscardin:

2020 Harvest Chalkboard Final

That Muscardin, 130 pounds in total, is currently sitting in our smallest stainless steel microfermenter. We're hoping for maybe 10 gallons of wine, enough to taste and evaluate. Stay tuned!

Muscardin Microfermenter

Muscardin Microfermenter Closeup

Another way that you can get a quick assessment of concentration is to look at average sugars and acids. Since 2007, the average degrees Brix and pH:

Year Avg. Sugars Avg. pH
2007 24.42 3.67
2008 23.87 3.64
2009 23.42 3.69
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

You'll note that 2020's numbers are very similar to last year's, and in fact our average harvest pH has been steady for three years. Given how much we love the 2019's, that's a good thing. It also suggests that, as much as we know that the late-ripening grapes did suffer in the heat, our multiple picks allowed us to get the riper clusters off the healthier vines early enough to maintain solid acids.

In terms of weather, I feel like I invited disaster when in late July I commented that 2020's conditions had been, so far, benign. And almost from that moment, it got hot. Some of those days had noteworthy, record-breaking heat. But even the days that weren't noteworthy were mostly warmer than normal. Between August 10th and October 9th (our last day of harvest), we saw just 15 days cooler than seasonal averages, vs. 46 days above, often significantly so. You can see the two stretches that broke records in mid-August and early September, but it's worth also noting the third spike in late September and early October, with daytime highs some 15+ degrees above normal. 

Daily High Temps 2020 Harvest

Looking at that information another way, our August degree day totals were 25% above the average of what is already our a very hot month. September was 21% above average. And the first 9 days of October (we finished picking October 9th) were 55% above our 20-year averages. No wonder harvest was short! The chart below shows our degree days by month, including the warmer-than-normal May and June, the cooler-than-normal July, and then the scorching August-October periods. Note that October's information is for the first 9 days, as we picked our last block on October 9th:

Degree Days vs Average 2020 Growing Season

I mentioned in my introduction that the duration of harvest -- 45 days -- was on the short side for us. But it's in keeping with what we've observed with all our vintage markers since August, that the durations were compressed by the heat. That includes the duration between veraison and harvest, and between first harvest and last harvest. But individual grapes often stretched across the harvest, as we went through in multiple passes to get what was ripe off the vines while it still had good acidity, knowing we would come back a second or third time if necessary. So, the sequencing we often talk about, with harvest beginning with grapes like Syrah, Vermentino, and Viognier, moving to mid-ripening grapes like Marsanne, Grenache Blanc, and Grenache, and finishing with late grapes like Roussanne, Counoise, Picpoul, and Mourvedre is more complex in 2020. Here's the spread in harvest dates for our principal grapes. We picked four different grapes on our last harvest day (October 9th). The first pick of those grapes were September 4th, September 15th, September 23rd, and September 29th!

  • Viognier: August 25-September 12
  • Counoise: September 4-October 9
  • Vermentino: September 9-11
  • Syrah: September 9-October 8
  • Marsanne: September 10-11
  • Grenache Blanc: September 14-28
  • Grenache Noir: September 15-October 9
  • Roussanne: September 16-October 8
  • Mourvedre: September 23-October 9
  • Tannat: September 29-October 9
  • Picpoul: October 2-7

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 he was unusually enthusiastic, commenting that all the lots showed lots of character, better acids than he'd been expecting, and savory, spicy personalities. We've been tasting lots to try to find any that might have even a hint of smoke taint from the California wildfires earlier in the season, but haven't found even one. That's a relief. As for the vintage's personality, we'll know more in coming weeks.

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, where they'll winter over without taking up space. And everything smells amazing, the rich aroma of young red wines spreading throughout the cellar with every press load: 

2020 Press Load in the Sun

Now that the fruit is in, it's welcome to start raining any time. There was a chance of some rain this past weekend, though as often happens with early-season systems, it petered out without providing any precipitation here. And, there's nothing wet in the long-term forecast. But that gives us time to put the vineyard to bed, get the animals out into the vineyard to eat any second crop clusters before they rot, spread their manure and jump start the winter soil microbial activity. It also means that we don't have to worry about grapes on the vine being impacted by any other extreme weather that we might see. It is 2020, after all.

And yet, despite all the challenges, in this craziest year that any of us have experienced, we're feeling cautiously optimistic that the 2020 wines might provide something we want to remember.


Creating a Wine Tasting Show: The Story behind Chelsea and the Shepherd

By Ian Consoli

If you follow only our blog and not our other social media channels, it’s possible that you don’t yet know Chelsea and the Shepherd. Or at least, you might know Chelsea, or the Shepherd, but not Chelsea and the Shepherd. If that’s the case, please allow me to introduce you. Blog readers, meet our YouTube series in which our Senior Assistant Winemaker Chelsea Franchi and our Shepherd Nathan Stuart walk you through the wines in Tablas Creek Vineyard’s most recently released VINsider wine club shipment. YouTube series, meet our readers.

For many, the series has become a favorite. Some gravitate toward Chelsea’s incisive observations (and next level vocabulary). Others identify with Nathan, as he brings the wine tasting process down to Earth.

As we prepare for the release of Chelsea and the Shepherd Season 2 I thought it would be fun to share how it came to be created. It’s a story that begins with two guys with just enough time on their hands to be creative and a desire to make the wine tasting process less intimidating and more fun.

Chelsea and Nathan Main Thumbnail

Shepherd Nathan Stuart came to Tablas Creek with an eclectic resume and a remarkable collection of talents. Shepherd. Cellar hand. Trained vineyard guy. Cameraman. Drone operator. Video editor. In early 2019, when I moved into my marketing role here at Tablas Creek, he had already produced two amazing videos sharing Tablas Creek’s story: the Esprit de Tablas Story and the People behind Patelin de Tablas. We were fortunate enough to share an office. Day one Nathan looks at me with an eager smile under an impressively giant mustache and says, “Oh we’re doing marketing together now? This is going to be fun.”

Fun it certainly has been. To his technical talent Nathan adds a creative mind, openness to discussion, and an inability to turn off his imagination. He also, it turns out, is just as good in front of the camera as he is behind it. The net result? I’ve been living in a think tank for most of the last two years.

Fast forward to a vertical tasting of Panoplie in July of 2019. I sat in awe as I first got to bear witness to Senior Assistant Winemaker Chelsea Franchi’s descriptors and vocabulary. After scurrying back to the think tank and mentioning it to Nathan, the idea of capturing her ability to paint pictures with her words was born.

Fast forward again, to November 2019, just after a harvest in which I see the value of Nathan’s periodic forays into cellar life, how he makes the rest of the team laugh, how his ability to work hard but not seriously makes the whole team better, and it clicks, “a wine tasting show with a winemaker and the shepherd!” Chelsea absolutely loves the idea. The valve on the think tank opens up, the ideas pour out like some freshly fermented Grenache, and Chelsea and the Shepherd is born.

Our challenge: even in a non-Covid year, we ask a lot of our members if they want to learn about the wines we send to them. We host a pickup party each spring and fall, and it’s a testament to their dedication that so many of them make the trip each time, but still, it’s an experience that the 90+% of our members who don’t join us can’t share. How to bring this experience to members, wherever they live? Technology! Our idea: A YouTube video to walk wine club members through their newest six-bottle shipment. Give great information, but don’t assume too much knowledge. We know that people can join us at any point in their wine journey, so it’s essential that we be approachable for newcomers. By combining Chelsea’s wine knowledge and vocabulary with Nathan’s everyman relatability, it seemed like we had a good balance.

The first take: February, 2020. Nathan prepares his camera for a six-wine, single-day shoot. Un-planned, un-rehearsed, they sit down for a full 8-hour workday, a testament to Nathan’s boundless energy and Chelsea’s patience and inherent parenting skills. They piece together what will ultimately become the first episode of Chelsea and the Shepherd. For Nathan, that 8-hour film day is just the beginning as he takes many more to turn those hours of footage into a five-minute video.

Covid’s impact: The original launch date of the Chelsea and the Shepherd video was March 24th 2020. We’d prepared a couple of teaser videos that we pushed back because mid-March felt so scary. But as we settled into a “new normal” of lockdowns, social distancing, and stay-at-home orders we began to recognize that this video was a potentially powerful way for us to connect our fans and our wines with the tasting room closed. Turning it into a series seemed only appropriate. Nathan utilized the extra footage, compiled individual videos for each wine, and our YouTube video became a YouTube series.

Had Covid-19 not hit, it’s hard to know whether or not we would have felt compelled to turn it into a full series. We’re glad we did, and plan to continue to release new seasons with every wine club shipment, giving you insights that, in the past, were only available if you visited.

And now: Enjoy Season Two, Episode One of Chelsea and the Shepherd on our YouTube Channel! While you’re there, consider subscribing and following along.

So did we reach our goal of appealing to all of our audiences? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.


What the cellar and vineyard look and feel like at harvest's peak

As I write this, we've passed the 90% mark of the 2020 harvest. But that doesn't mean we're on the gentle tail end of things, just waiting for the last few lots to finish as we cruise into autumn. No, this harvest is more like a sprint to the tape at the end of a race. Today, we have harvested two different blocks of Mourvedre, three different blocks of Counoise, plus Roussanne and Picpoul. We are pressing off red lots, washing barrels to put those newly-pressed wines into, and washing out the tanks they came from so they're ready for more. It's a beehive of activity. I thought it would be fun to give a visual tour of what this, one of the busiest days of the year, feels like. First, the crushpad, littered with bins and barrels:

Crushpad with bins and barrels

Our main cellar room, looking toward the crushpad, shows closed tanks around the outside and open-top fermenters down the middle. They're all full, except a few of our largest blending tanks and the one open-top that is clean and ready for some of the Mourvedre that arrived today. Each tank has to be punched down or pumped over at least twice a day:

Main cellar room

The room where we have our white fermentations going looks deceptively quiet, but each of the barrels gets measured each day so we know its progress through fermentation. You can see some of that work going on in the back of the room, between the foudre stacks:

White cellar room

We've moved as many barrels as we can out of our red barrel room to make room for macro-bins, each with a small-lot fermentation going:

Barrel cellar room

The room that's full of upright tanks (below left) is quiet now, but five of the six big tanks are full of fermenting red lots. The sixth? It was drained and washed this morning, and will be filled this afternoon. For now it's empty, so you can see (below right) the warm color stained inside by generations of red fermentations, as well as the stainless steel tubing that allows us to control the temperature (and therefore the speed) of the fermentations inside:

Upright cellar room Inside an upright tank

The only room that's not seeing any activity is our foudre room, where the 2019 red blends are sitting quietly, aging and mellowing, in preparation for next summer's bottling:

Foudre room

On the crushpad, we have twin presses going. In the left we have newly-harvested Roussanne. In the right is Mourvedre that has been fermenting and macerating on the skins for about two weeks:

Roussanne in the press

Mourverdre in the press

Where does the newly-pressed wine go? Into barrels. Most of these barrels have been sitting empty the last few months, so we need to make sure they're clean and that the staves haven't dried out. Steam is a very water-efficient way of doing both:

Washing barrels

In the vineyard, it's getting hard to find blocks with grapes still on the vines. After today, those blocks will be limited to Mourvedre and Counoise, and even most of those blocks have been picked once already. A couple of blocks with fruit still on them include the Mourvedre just south of the winery (left) and a low-lying head-trained Counoise block toward the western edge of our original parcel (right). Everything is ready; it's just a question of sequencing to make sure we have space for what arrives.

Mourvedre clusters Counoise head trained

Finally, one piece that it feels appropriate to end on. I talk a lot about the importance of continuity in our vineyard crew, who we've given year-round employment to since the mid-1990's. We rely on that crew to do most of our sorting out in the field, so underripe or damaged grapes don't even make it to the sorting table. I loved this photo of our lowest-lying Grenache block, which was picked Monday, with rejected clusters left on the ground to decompose and return their nutrients to the soil:

Grenache cluster on the ground

With the fruit nearly all in, the chance of rain that's in the forecast for this weekend would have only positive consequences. We'll keep our fingers crossed for that, and enjoy the last few days with grapes on the vine and the cellar a beehive of activity.

Crushpad October 2020