Wine Shipping State of the Union, 2021 Edition

Six years ago, I wrote my own State of the Union, Wine Shipping Edition, breaking down the 50 states and one district into tiers based on how expensive and difficult it was for us to send wine into each. Casual wine lovers might be surprised to know that not only are there some states to which we are prohibited from shipping wine, but that each state to which we can ship has its own laws, permits, fees, and reporting requirements. Managing this morass takes specialized software and still a big chunk time for one of the members of our accounting team, so it's far from the uniform, frictionless open market that Section 8 of the US Constitution promises:

"The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises, to pay the debts and provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States; but all duties, imposts and excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;"

I mentioned in my post from 2015 that diving into the arcane details of these state laws only highlights the wisdom of the founding fathers and generations of Supreme Court justices in prioritizing the Commerce Clause, which protects the federal government's exclusive role in regulating interstate commerce. The 21st Amendment, which repealed Prohibition in 1933, as a side-effect sheltered states from the Commerce Clause's requirement to maintain an open, fair market for all players. This means that the wine market provides a glimpse into what a world absent the Commerce Clause might look like. We should all be thankful that most products we might want to buy don't have to face a similar regulatory nightmare. Our current map:

Where_We_Ship 2021

Below you can find an updated summary of what the world of wine shipping looks like, from a winery's perspective, as we enter 2021, with states broken down into tiers based on the cost and ease of doing business there.

One thing that has changed since 2015 is that the playing field has been made harder to summarize by the rise of "economic nexus" statutes, driven by the 2018 Supreme Court ruling South Dakota v. Wayfair, Inc. This ruling said that states could require out-of-state companies to collect and remit sales taxes, whereas previous law had held that they only could from companies with a physical location (a "nexus") in that state. In practice, this has meant that states have begin to implement transaction thresholds, above which wineries have had to remit state (and sometimes local) taxes, but below which they don't. That annual threshold has tended to be somewhere around 200 shipments or $100,000. For us, we're over that threshold in places like Colorado, Illinois, and of course California, but not in Iowa, DC, or Minnesota (though we're getting close). So, the numbers below reflect the conditions for a winery of our basic size and profile. I've noted the states with current or upcoming economic nexus laws with asterisks (*) below, with some explanatory notes.  

Tier I: The no-brainers (AK, DC*, MN*, MO*)

  • Right now, there are three states and the District of Columbia that have neither permit fees nor significant reporting requirements. Thank goodness for them! But, 4 of 51 isn't a great percentage. All of the others make it more difficult or expensive to ship wine to customers who want it. It's also worth noting that the permit-free status of these states is a holdover from pre-Granholm conditions and it's unclear that continuing without required permits is constitutional. DC and Minnesota are "economic nexus" destinations. If you're large enough to trigger those thresholds, bump them up to Tier II. Missouri will join them as a nexus state next year.
  • Total percentage of US population: 4.02%
  • Total number of reports required annually: 2
  • Total permit fees: $0

Tier II: Inexpensive and/or fairly easy (CA*, FL, ID, IA*, KS, MA, ME, MD, MI, MT, NC, ND, NY, OH, OR, WA, WI)

  • There are an additional seventeen states with permit fees of $200/year or less and modest reporting requirements (0-24 times per year). These states include some big ones like our home state of California, Florida, New York, Oregon, and Washington, but even for the smaller ones, the number of orders that a winery would need to fill in order to pay for the annual investment is very reasonable. You'll notice that most of the major wine-producing states fall into this tier. The two states with potential nexus-triggered reporting include Iowa (a small enough market that most wineries won't hit the nexus threshold) and California (where wineries who are based here likely already have the infrastructure in place). If you're an out-of-California winery selling here, or a winery big enough to trigger Iowa's nexus status, they'd both probably move to Tier III. 
  • Total percentage of US population: 46.93%
  • Total number of reports required annually: 178 (10.5/state avg.)
  • Total permit fees: $1,225 ($72/state avg.)

Tier III: Moderate expense or requirements (AZ, CO*, GA, IL*, IN, NV, NH, NM, PA, TX, VT, VA)

  • Once you get to the next tier of twelve, a small winery would be excused for starting to run cost-benefit analyses before springing for the permits.  Some permits start to get expensive in this tier, like Illinois' $350/year or Vermont's $330/year. Others are less expensive, but have difficult reporting requirements, like Georgia and Nevada (36 reports/year each). Colorado would be in Tier II except for the nexus requirements, which are pretty arcane. If you're small enough not to trigger the statute, move it down a tier. Illinois is probably Tier III even if you don't trigger the nexus, with separate excise tax reporting required for the city of Chicago. But even with their added challenges and expense, there are some pretty large-population states in this tier, and most wineries choose to ship to all or nearly all of them.
  • Total percentage of US population: 30.72%
  • Total number of reports required annually: 289 (24/state avg.)
  • Total permit fees: $2,063 ($172/state avg.)

Tier IV: Difficult or expensive enough to be a real question (HI, NE, SC, WV)

  • At this point, we get to four small states with difficult requirements, to the point that it's not worth it for many wineries to bother. Permits cost as much as $500/year (Nebraska) and $600/two years (South Carolina). West Virginia charges $250/year and requires the submission of 36 reports. And Hawaii requires you to get separate annual permits from each county, at a total cost of $324, and to submit 25 reports. With limited rewards, these costs tend to feel disproportionate.
  • Total percentage of the US population: 3.14%
  • Total number of reports required annually: 78 (19.5/state avg.)
  • Total permit fees: $1374 ($344/state avg.)

Tier V: Compliance Headaches (KY, OK, SD, TN, WY)

  • This next tier of five states aren't hugely expensive, but each has at least one unusual requirement. These include South Dakota's requirement that you register every label you're planning to ship into the state at a cost of $25/label/year, Oklahoma's prohibition from using fulfillment houses (so everything must be shipped from the winery location), and very low per-person or per-household import limits: 1 case/month and 3 cases/year maximum per person in Tennessee, and 4 cases/year per household in Wyoming. I could have added Minnesota in here as well, with its 2 cases/customer/year limit, but it's otherwise so easy (no permit, no reporting) that I left it in Tier I. Kentucky is the newest state to pass a direct-shipping law, and is still working out the kinks. It will probably end up in Tier II, but for now, it's like Oklahoma and not allowing wineries to use fulfillment houses, instead requiring that they ship only from their winery. A headache. 
  • Total percentage of the US population: 5.10%
  • Total number of reports required annually: 68 (13.6/state avg.)
  • Total permit fees: $550 ($110/state avg.)

Tier VI: Extremely Difficult/Expensive (CT, LA, NJ)

  • Connecticut is a shipping state for many wineries, but its expenses and challenges are significant. First, it's a costly permit, at $315/year, and requires 36 reports to be filed annually. Second, you must register each label you propose to sell in the state at a cost of $200/label, renewable every 3 years. At Tablas Creek, we sold 28 different wines direct last year (different wines, not different vintages). That would require a $5600 investment, adding $1866 to the already-considerable annual $1295 cost of permit and reporting. And finally, you can't have different label registrants for wholesale and direct sales. So, if you're like us and sell our wines to our Connecticut distributor through an agent (ours is Vineyard Brands) we couldn't register the same wines ourselves for direct sale.
  • Louisiana, at $400 and 36 reports/year, would be the most expensive state in Tier IV even if it didn't add the extra hurdle of requiring you to choose between selling a wine direct and selling it through wholesale. But it does, and that pushes it over the edge for us. There used to be more states with "distributor exclusivity" requirements like this, but Louisiana is the last one left.
  • How does New Jersey make direct shipping difficult? Let me count the ways. The permit is the country's most expensive at $938 and there are 29 reports to submit annually. There is a significant bond wineries have to post. There are registration fees of $150 per partner per year, an issue for a winery like ours owned by two families, each with several owners. Receiving a permit means that we have established a nexus with the state of NJ and are liable for paying an annual corporate income tax of at least $500. Plus there's a capacity cap of 250,000 gallons (around 100,000 cases) to ship that we fall under, but many wineries don't.
  • Total percentage of the US population: 5.18%
  • Total number of reports required annually: 101 (33.7/state avg.)
  • Total permit fees: $1653 ($551/state avg.)

Tier VII: Almost entirely prohibited (AL, AR, DE, MS, RI, UT)

  • Three states (Arkansas, Delaware, and Rhode Island) allow a winery to ship with few hurdles and minimal reporting requirements if a customer purchases wine at a winery, but won't allow the same customer to order wine by phone or email from home. The logic written into the laws is typically couched in the guise of ensuring that only of-age buyers can purchase, but given that common carriers routinely check ID's in the 40+ states that allow direct shipping, it doesn't pass critical muster and is better understood as local protectionism.
  • Three other states (Alabama, Mississippi, and Utah) allow customers to order wine from a winery, have it shipped to a state-licensed store, where taxes are collected, and then the wine released to the customer. It's slow and expensive, because it requires the customer to request and complete a state "special order" permit before shipping, and while the taxes aren't massive in Alabama, they're a whopping 88% in Utah. Mississippi's permit program is brand new, and may not be workable as initially published. In all three cases, the process is cumbersome enough that the Wine Institute still lists the three states as "prohibited".
  • Total percentage of the US population: 4.92%

Every winery has a different breaking point. For us, it comes in the middle of Tier V. We've decided that 41 states (everything in Tiers I-IV, plus Tennessee and Wyoming) warrant the expense of the annual permits and the reporting. Kentucky will come on line soon to be our 42nd, and I'm going to take another look at South Dakota now that we have a full team in our accounting department. That leaves 8 states that we either can't ship to, or have found that the requirements to do so are unreasonable. At what cost? Shipping to the 43 "shipping" states in Tiers I-V costs a total of $5,212 in permit fees plus the time and expense of preparing and filing 615 reports each year. Figure an hour for each report, at $25/hour ($15,375) for a total expense of $20,587. But for that cost, we can ship to 89.9% of the US population. Available tools (like SOVOS ShipCompliant and Avalara) provide a savings over the labor of preparing the many individual reports and are indispensable for wineries looking to ship to a broad swath of states, but still come with a cost.

Why are there some states that have made it so difficult or expensive that they're choosing to give up the state income that direct shipping would provide? The reasons vary, but mostly fall into one of two camps. Either they're making it difficult for religious or cultural reasons (think the deep south, or Utah) or they've crafted their laws in a way that protects distributors from as much competition as possible. This occurs because alcohol distributors (which are all state-licensed) see direct shipping as a threat to their businesses and are also some of the largest donors to state legislative campaigns.

So, while wine in America is not sold in a free and open market, most of that market is at least accessible to most wineries with some effort and expense. And if we're a long way from the Supreme Court's 1949 ode to the Commerce Clause of the US Constitution in H.P. Hood & Sons vs. Du Mond, the relevant text of which is below, we're at least making incremental progress:

"Our system, fostered by the Commerce Clause, is that every farmer and every craftsman shall be encouraged to produce by the certainty that he will have free access to every market in the Nation… Neither the power to tax nor the police power may be used by the state of destination with the aim and effect of establishing an economic barrier against competition with the products of another state or the labor of its residents."

Notes

  1. If you're interested in diving into the state-by-state regulations, the Wine Institute's Direct Shipping Laws for Wineries page is a great place to start.
  2. Thank you to Jeff Carroll, GM of Avalara for Beverage Alcohol for his feedback on this topic and particularly for his explanation of the growing challenge that economic nexus laws will pose.
  3. If you'd like to get involved in the push for more open direct shipping laws, the nonprofit Free the Grapes, on whose board of directors I serve, has information, resources, and templates for contacting state representatives. 

Looking back at the cold, frost-reduced 2011 vintage with a decade's perspective

2011 was a year unlike any that we'd seen before, and it seems unlikely that we'll see another like it any time soon. It was the second consecutive cold vintage, cooler than any we'd seen since 1998, and much colder than anything we've seen since 2012. It began with devastating frosts on consecutive nights that April 8th and 9th, reducing yields of early-sprouting varieties dramatically. Grenache was off 41%. Syrah and Grenache Blanc were both down 51%. Viognier was down a devastating 71%. Our late-ripening grapes were less affected, but even Mourvedre saw crops reduced 24%. Only Roussanne, always the most frost-resistant grape in the vineyard, saw increased yields over 2010, and our total yields off the estate were down 34%.

The year's challenges didn't end after the frost. Persistent onshore flow meant that we had many more foggy mornings than we're used to, cooler temperatures, and delayed ripening. A heat spike in August was one of our most severe to date, and many vineyards around California, who had pulled leaves because of mildew pressures and worries about slow ripening, saw significant sunburn. Early rain the first week of October came while most of the harvest was still on the vine, and many vineyards saw an explosion of rot. And the frost-delayed beginning to the growing season and the unusually cool summer weather combined to produce one of our latest-ever finishes to harvest, on November 8th, which allowed two more rainstorms to pass through before we were done.

Still, in the end we felt fortunate. We harvested fruit with intense flavors (from the low yields and long ripening cycle) and bright acids (from the cool year). As of mid-October, we were less than one-third complete with harvest, but we were able to harvest everything that was out. Unlike most of Northern California, when the rainstorms passed through Paso they were followed by dry, breezy weather, which meant we didn't have significant fungal issues. And because of our relatively high investment in late-sprouting, late-ripening grapes, we saw lower frost losses than many of our neighbors. I was feeling optimistic enough toward the end of harvest that I wrote a blog with the headline Why Paso Robles Will Make California's Best Wines in 2011.

Still, our options when it came to blending were significantly constrained. We ended up not making many of the wines that we were used to. No varietal Grenache, or Syrah, or Counoise, or Viognier. No dessert wines. Unusual blends of the Cotes de Tablas wines given the scarcity of some of the lead grapes. But we felt at the time that the wines we were making from that year would end up being very ageworthy. The red wines all showed a dark, brooding character that suggested they would age slowly, opening up with time to reveal extra layers of fruit, earth, and spice. The white wines all showed remarkable texture and pronounced salinity. And we've loved the expressiveness of the 2011 vintage in the recent vertical tastings we've done. So it was with great anticipation that we opened all our 2011 wines yesterday. The lineup:

Horizontal Tasting of 2011

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 or the tasting notes at bottling. 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 Marketing Coordinator Ian Consoli.

  • 2011 Vermentino (SC): The nose initially showed all of Vermentino's mineral notes (flint, oyster shell) but with just a little time the citrus leaf and grapefruit pith character emerged. On the palate, very young tasting and bright, with preserved lemon flavors, bright acids, plenty of stony minerality, and briny sea spray notes on the finish. Still youthful and bright, though it's a good reminder to let older screwcapped whites breathe a bit before judging them.
  • 2011 Picpoul Blanc (C): None of us were quite sure why we bottled this under cork, when the other aromatic whites were all screwcapped and Picpoul Blanc had been screwcapped the year before. The wine showed a deeper golden color than any of the other whites we opened. On the nose, sweet aromas of toasted marshmallow, creme caramel, chamomile, and wheat kernels. The mouth was viscous and rich, with flavors of lemon meringue, creamy texture, and a long finish of Asian pear and lemongrass. I think we all wished this had been finished in screwcap too, as it would have shown more of the brightness we love about Picpoul.
  • 2011 Grenache Blanc (SC): A nose of peppered citrus and chalky minerality that reminded me of a Chablis with a decade in bottle. On the mouth, the initial impression was a sweet one of spun sugar, then bright acids took over, then rich texture and a pithy bite on the finish helping keep the sweet lychee flavors fresh. Pretty, youthful, and in an excellent place. A terrific showing for this grape that's known to oxidize young.
  • 2011 Patelin de Tablas Blanc (SC; 45% Grenache Blanc, 34% Viognier, 18% Roussanne, 3% Marsanne): Our second-ever Patelin Blanc showed very well, with a nose of pineapple skin, apple, and crunchy nectarine. On the palate, sweet fruit, good acids, and surprisingly rich texture, with lemon curd and flan flavors and a fruity, vibrant finish with apple fruit leather and mandarin orange notes. Seems to strike a great balance between Viognier's fleshiness and Grenache Blanc's tension. Really pretty.
  • 2011 Cotes de Tablas Blanc (SC; 27% Viognier, 26% Grenache Blanc, 25% Marsanne, 22% Roussanne): An unusual Cotes de Tablas because we had so little Viognier, and therefore decided to leave the Viognier on the skins during fermentation to extract maximum character from the grape. The nose showed sweeter dried peach, white gummy bear and cream soda notes, but also a salty sea spray character. The mouth was spectacular. Rich texture, a pronounced saline note like high quality salted butter, and fruit flavors of dried mango and orange creamsicle. A little skin texture kept things from being too weighty. A highlight for me, and many of us.
  • 2011 Marsanne (SC): Our second-ever varietal Marsanne. A nose like the sea that we all came up with different ways of describing, from kelp forest to sea spray to miso. A little hint of quince... almost sweet but not quite. On the palate, more generous than the nose suggested, with a creamy minerality, egg custard and beeswax notes, and a hint of butterscotch. A little nuttiness (blanched almond) cane out on the long finish. Pretty and elegant.
  • 2011 Roussanne (C): A weird showing for this wine. The color was medium gold, and showed a slight haze. The flavors were a little more reminiscent of a sour beer or cider than typical Roussanne honey and nuts, with coriander, yuzu, and wheaty notes. A hint of retsina-like pine sap and some sweet oak came out on the finish. I'm still hopeful that a little more time in bottle will help this assume a more recognizable form, but for now, it's more interesting than pleasurable.
  • 2011 Esprit de Tablas Blanc (C; 64% Roussanne, 26% Grenache Blanc, 10% Picpoul Blanc): Very Roussanne on the nose, with aromas of pear, pineapple, candied ginger and graham cracker. The mouth is lovely and mouth-watering, with fresh pineapple and sarsaparilla flavors and rich texture that brightens up on the finish leaving lingering notes of roasted nuts and clove. At peak maturity but with plenty left in the tank.
  • 2011 Antithesis Chardonnay (C): Our last Chardonnay bottling, from a vintage that seemed like it should have played to the cool-loving grape's strengths. A creamy nose of marshmallow and sweet oak. The palate showed lots of glycerine texture, and flavors of baked apple and caramel. The finish came off to me a bit sweet-tasting, with notes of chamomile and white tea. Not particularly evocative of Chardonnay to me, and felt a little overripe. Drink up if you've got any left.
  • 2011 Rosé (SC; 58% Mourvedre, 30% Grenache, 12% Counoise): Still a nice deep pink-orange in the glass. The nose isn't recognizably a rosé nose, or even terribly wine-like at this point. Reminded us of a Negroni, with a spicy wintery nose of mulling spices. The mouth shows sweetness on the attack with candied strawberry flavors and a bitter tinge on the finish like Campari. No one would have intentionally kept this wine this long, but it's at least still interesting. 
  • 2011 Full Circle (C): Our second Full Circle Pinot Noir from my dad's property in the Templeton Gap, and not our favorite showing, to the point that we opened a second bottle because we thought the first might have been oxidized. But the second bottle was the same: a nose of coffee grounds and cocoa hulls, a little oxidized and pruney. The mouth is in a nicer place, showing dark chocolate-covered cherries, saddle leather, and a little seed tannin perhaps from whole cluster fermentations. The finish showed a figgy note. This seems like it could have been impacted by the heat spike, or perhaps we just picked it a little too ripe.
  • 2011 Tannat (C): A cool herby eucalyptus note over sweet/bitter aromas that we variously described as dark chocolate, molasses, and black cherry cola. On the palate, still youthful: unsweetened chocolate and juniper forest, still quite tannic, with a nice smoky black raspberry note coming out on the finish. If you have some of this, I'd recommend you stash it at the back of your cellar for another couple of years.
  • 2011 Patelin de Tablas (SC; 52% Syrah, 29% Grenache, 18% Mourvedre, 1% Counoise): This wine has always carried a touch of a reductive character from the cool vintage and the high percentage of Syrah, and it still does, with a gunpowdery minerality over iron, black cherry, and meat drippings. Neil compared it to a Loire Cabernet Franc. The mouth is in a nice place, with a sweet minty chocolate note, savory baking spices, and nicely resolved tannins. I'm sure most of this has long been drunk, but if you find a bottle you're in for a treat. We sold this for $20 at the time. 
  • 2011 Cotes de Tablas (C; 49% Grenache, 28% Syrah, 15% Mourvedre, 8% Counoise): The nose is beautiful, very red fruited in contrast to the darkness of the previous two wines, with notes of cherry and sweet herbs. The mouth is juicy and lively, with beautiful raspberry and sweet tobacco notes. There are still some tannins that keep the juicy finish from being overly sweet. A consensus favorite and absolutely at peak. 
  • 2011 Mourvedre (C): A lovely mature nose of dried cranberry, leather, sweet cola and potpourri. The mouth is fully resolved too with milk chocolate-covered cherries, soft tannins, and a little soy umami note. A hint of oxidation started to come out with a few minutes in the glass, suggesting that while this is very pretty, the clock is ticking. Might be a year or two past peak. Drink up if you've got any.
  • 2011 En Gobelet (C; 29% Mourvedre, 27% Grenache, 26% Tannat, 18% Syrah): With so much Tannat, relatively little Grenache, and no Counoise, it was probably unsurprising that the En Gobelet was so dominated by dark notes and still youthfully tight. The nose was brooding and iron-like, with the other grapes seeming subservient to Tannat. With time, a little minty dark chocolate did come out. On the palate, luscious and mouth-coating like a traditional Black Forest cake made with cherry liqueur. The tannins are still massive, and this wine feels a ways still from its peak.
  • 2011 Esprit de Tablas (C; 40% Mourvedre, 30% Grenache, 20% Syrah, 10% Counoise): Initially reserved on the nose, with savory Worcestershire and roasted meat coming out with time. On the palate, in a very nice place, with semi-sweet chocolate, rose petals, and soy marinade flavors and some powdered-sugar tannins maintaining order. The long finish shows all the components of a flourless chocolate cake, with a meaty, salty lingering note. At peak, or nearly so, with plenty of life left.
  • 2011 Panoplie (C; 60% Mourvedre, 30% Grenache, 10% Syrah): A powerhouse on the nose, with aromas of sugar plums, Worcestershire sauce, loam, and a little minty lift. On the palate, soft and generous, with sweet Mexican chocolate and fresh blackberry, and meat dripping flavors, and well integrated tannins that glide into a generous finish of baker's chocolate, rose petals, and black tea. At peak, with lots more to come.
  • 2011 Petit Manseng (C): Our second 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. The nose showed lychee, pineapple, green herbs and petrol, reminiscent of an aged demi-sec Chenin Blanc. The palate was like a lemon bar with powdered sugar, sweet but still bracingly tart, with a long finish of mango and caramel. Fun, unique, and still youthful. 

A few concluding thoughts

2011 is a vintage we're unlikely to ever see the likes of again. In the last decade, the impacts of climate change on California have become much more pronounced, and 2011 was already an unusually cold vintage. I'm not sad about that; this was a tough year for grapegrowers around the state, even though I was pleased with how we handled the year's challenges. In this tasting, the wines were a little more uneven than in a truly great year, with a few reds unexpectedly showing signs of age. I'm not sure whether that is a function of the uneven and sometimes very low yields, the heat spike, or the fact that we still had in the back of our heads the ripeness levels we were used to seeing in the 2005-2009 era, and perhaps left some of the grapes on the vine longer than we would have now. It could be a combination. Still, the best wines were really strong, and the whites overall outstanding.

It was not easy selling the 2011 in the market when they were first released. It was clear that the wines had potential, but the character was darker, denser, and more brooding than the blockbuster, juicy 2009's or the elegant, open-knit 2010's. I feel like I spent a lot of time contextualizing the vintage, explaining why Paso Robles shouldn't be painted with the same brush as Napa/Sonoma in this difficult vintage, and hoping people could look beyond the brooding present to what the wines promised to become. I was only partially successful, and it wasn't until we were ready to release the 2012 reds that the 2011's really started to open up. Oh, well. It meant that we stashed a higher-than-normal quantity of our top wines, and have been able to portion them out to people in recent years. There are worse problems to have.

I asked the team to vote for their favorites, and the wines that received multiple nominations cut across the spectrum that we make: Vermentino, Grenache Blanc, Cotes de Tablas Blanc, Esprit de Tablas Blanc, Patelin de Tablas, Cotes de Tablas, Mourvedre, and Panoplie. That both Cotes de Tablas wines showed so well is a continuation of what we've seen time and again at these tastings. Although we think of the Cotes wines as ones to drink while we wait for the Esprits to mature, at a decade out both show consistently well. I should remember that and lay more down.

It's worth noting that nearly all of the 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 particularly so with wines that have been under screwcap. There's a clipped character that most older screwcapped whites have that dissipates with a few minutes of air. It happens anyway in the glass, but a decant would have been welcome.

In uneven vintages, the benefits of blending are even more evident. We made less of both Esprit de Tablas and Esprit de Tablas Blanc in 2011 than we did in 2010. Some of that was because there was less wine to work with, and if we'd made an equal amount of Esprit and Esprit Blanc we wouldn't have had many other wines. But more of that was our commitment to only blending the very top lots into the Esprits. And that quality really showed through in the Esprit Blanc, Esprit, and Panoplie. I think we can be proud of the process that produced those wines.

In a normal year, this tasting would be the prelude for a public event at which we would share the highlights of this tasting with wine club members and other guests. Ten years is a great duration to show the rewards of cellaring; it's enough time that the wines have become something different and started to pick up some secondary and tertiary flavors, but not so long that whites are generally over the hill. That's not an option this year, or at least not right now. If things continue to improve, I'm tentatively thinking of hosting our 2011 horizontal tasting this November. Fingers crossed.


The vineyard in January, from four perspectives

Over the roughly ten day break that encompassed Christmas, New Year's, and the weekends on either end, I had what I thought was a good idea for helping provide some structure to our family. At the beginning of the stretch, each of the four of us suggested two indoor activities and two outdoor activities. We then laid these 16 activities out across the vacation, taking into account closures, weather, and giving us room to take a day off if we felt overscheduled. No one got veto power, so if Sebastian (age 13) wanted the whole family to play Mario Kart... that's what we did. If Eli (age 15) wanted to get breakfast burritos in Cambria and take the dog to the beach... that was our plan for a morning. If Meghan wanted the family to watch Queen's Gambit... we did that too. It turned out to be a lot of fun. Everyone got into the spirit of it.

One of the things that I put on the list was to go out and do a photographic exploration of the vineyard. All of us, to one degree or another, enjoy taking pictures. But since we don't live on the property (we live in town) I'm the only one who's regularly out there documenting what things look like. So, on New Year's Day, we headed off around 3pm to catch the low light and the setting sun. I didn't dictate where in the vineyard everyone went, or try to keep us together, because I know that I have a handful of routes I tend to return to when I'm out taking pictures, and I didn't want that to become everyone's default. I also didn't suggest any particular content or narrative, for the same reason.

I thought that what came of the ramble was really fun. Here's a look at three of my favorite photos from each of us that we took that afternoon.

Eli (Age 15)
We'll start with this photo of one of the vineyard oak trees, with the thin wintery sun shining through some clouds behind it. Both Seb and I took very similar photos of this same tree, but I think this one is the best:

Eli - Oak tree in with winter clouds

Next, a photo of Sadie running through the vineyard. Again, I love the wintery quality of the light that Eli captured, and the manic joy of running dog:

Eli - Sadie running

Finally, a photo of a flock of birds that he caught mid-liftoff. I love the framing of this, and the fact that the whole thing, from unpruned vines to birds in flight, feels wild:

Eli - Birds over vines

Sebastian (Age 13)
I could have filled this entire blog with pictures of the dog that Seb took. But I wanted to highlight his vision of the vineyard instead, starting with this photo of one of the oak trees at the top of the property's highest hill. I love the framing of this shot, with (yes) Sadie skulking around the base.

Seb - Oak tree and Sadie

The winter light was a common theme all of us explored, in one way or another. This photo of Seb's focuses on the clouds, olive trees in the foreground reduced to silhouettes:

Seb - Winter sun
And finally a panoramic Seb took looking up from a part of the property I walk past all the time but don't believe I've ever photographed: the base of our old nursery block, where we've recently converted some shade houses to a new wine storage building (one corner of which is barely visible at the far right):

Seb - Panoramic with olive trees

Meghan
It was hard for me to pick just three of Meghan's photos. But it wasn't hard to choose this portrait of Paco the alpaca, set off against the dry-laid stone of our animal enclosure, as one of the three:

Paco January 2021

After that, Meghan mostly took pictures in black and white. I love this one of our old vineyard truck, olive trees and grapevines in the background:

Meghan - Vineyard Truck B&W

I also loved her black and white photo of Sadie, merle swirling patterns on full display, with her one blue eye glowing white as she looks up our "Scruffy Hill" block:

Meghan - Sadie B&W

Me
I tried to take some shots from perspectives I don't usually pursue. This first one is looking north through an old Roussanne block, limestone rock in the foreground, unpruned vines in the late-day sun:

Unpruned Roussanne vines and limestone rock

We've started our vineyard pruning, but that's not the only thing we trim back each winter. Our fruit trees need to be pruned too, and I loved the geometry of this one, surrounded by new Cinsaut vines that I'm also really excited about:

Newly pruned fruit tree

I took a bunch of sunset-related shots on Scruffy Hill, some of which I've already shared to our social media. But this closeup of a Grenache vine with the multi-hued sky behind, was probably my favorite:

Grenache vine on Scruffy Hill at Sunset

I'll leave you with one more photo of Meghan's, looking up the Scruffy Hill block with me and the boys at the top, each looking for our shots.

Meghan - Scruffy with J E and S B&W

Happy new year, everyone! 


Our Most Memorable Wines of 2020

One of the things I appreciate most about the team that I work with at Tablas Creek is the wide range of their interests and experiences. If you don't work at a winery, you might expect that those of us who do spend most of their time drinking their 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.

This year, I asked our key people to share a wine that stuck with them from all the ones they'd tried in 2020. I wasn't sure what to expect, given the challenges that the year presented to all of us. Would it be the last wine that people enjoyed with friends before they learned the meaning of "social distancing"? A bottle that they enjoyed with a family unit? Something that reminded them of someone they lost? Some people couldn't find a wine that they wanted to remember, in a year they wanted to forget. And I get that. But there were plenty of reminders too that wine does serve to bring us together, and is still one of the best proxies for (and reminders of) travel that we have available to us. 

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

Janelle Bartholomew, Wine Club Assistant
I couldn’t choose just one memorable wine this year, so I included a couple that stuck out for me. As I’m writing this, I realize both of these wines stick out likely because it was my first time ever to enjoy these varietals – which makes anything just a bit more special. The first wine that stuck with me is Meyer-Fonne Vieilles Vignes Pinot Blanc 2018.  This wine hails from Alsace, a region that never seems to disappoint! Lovely white peach and honey resonate on the palate and lingers with a long elegant finish. My only qualm…. I wish I’d bought more!  The second wine that immediately comes to mind is the 2019 (Tablas Creek) Bourboulenc. I was lucky enough to secure myself a single bottle this year, and enjoyed it with Thanksgiving dinner.  What I loved most about the Bourboulenc was the texture of this wine, it has more body than I expected but still maintained a great amount of acidity that makes it quite lively.  When I first tasted it, I thought “if Roussanne and Grenache Blanc had a baby, this would be it!” Such a treat… and I can’t wait for next year’s release!

Charlie Chester, Senior Assistant Tasting Room Manager
Charlie DadMy most memorable wine of this year was just a few weeks ago. Saturday December 5th, the day before my fathers 80th birthday. My girlfriend Amber and I drove down to his house in Solvang, my sister and her husband, Matt drove up from Carpinteria and we cooked dinner for dad and his wife Diane.  It was bound to be a great time that deserved a special wine. My sister, Kacey, was in charge of the main dish. She grilled a pork rib roast and it was delicious.  I knew what was on the menu and I thought that the 2015 Esprit de Tablas would be nice with it so I got my hands on a magnum to compliment both the meal and the celebration. I think a magnum always boosts the level of celebration a bit and we were celebrating a monumental occasion and needed a bottle of size and quality to match.  I brought a gold marker to let everyone sign and wish the dad a happy birthday. It was truly a great time with great company!

As you can see (right) I also got dad our new Tablas Creek Patagonia windbreaker and my sister's husband is a firefighter in Santa Barbara and styled him out with an SBFD hat and t-shirt.

Austin Collins, Cellar Assistant
Much of 2020 is a blur. Part of me still feels like it's March but, as I stare at the flickering lights on our Christmas tree I know that's not true. Another reminder is the upcoming new year and, for the first time I think most of us are celebrating the end of a year, not just the promise of a new one. In retrospect, it's statistically true that most of us drank a bit more this year! But, much like the year, a lot of the wines opened blend together in my head. So, two that I can remember are the 2017 Garance from Chateau de Bois Brincon (100% Pineau d'Aunis). Insane white pepper on the nose and a lovely rustic mouth with bright purple fruits. Secondly, a 2018 Gruner Veltliner from Hum Hofer. While not the best Gruner in the world I had it with my wife on our first wedding anniversary at the lovely eatery Bell's in Los Alamos. It also comes in a unique package: a 1000 mL bright green bottle topped with a crown cap. Here's to a better year ahead! Cheers!

Neil Collins, Executive Winemaker
So many bottles have crossed our table through these trying times, it is hard to narrow it down. We opened a bottle of Ojai Vineyards Sans Soufre. On the table with a group of much more expensive wines, Sans Soufre was head and shoulders the wine of the night.

As is tradition we tasted many great wines at the harvest lunch table, for me one of the stand out wines was the Lone Madrone 2001 Il Toyon Nebbiolo. Christmas morning opening presents, fire in the grate a bottle of Albert Boxler Riesling from Brand, a stunning bottle. Lucky we are!

Ian Consoli, Media and Marketing
In SLO County in 2020 I think we had one week where we could eat in a restaurant. I’m exaggerating of course, but when the opportunity arose following previous shutdowns what restaurant do you think I chose to go to with my best wine drinking friends? Ember. Obviously. We took two bottles that both paired mind blowingly well with Chef Brian’s creations. A 2014 Chateau du Beaucastel Châteauneuf du Pape with a Duck Ragu and a 2016 Stephane Ogier Mon Village Côte-Rôtie with the filet. To be sitting inside a restaurant experiencing pairings that had me melting into my chair took me all the way back to 2019.

Darren Delmore, National Sales Manager
Love Potion My white wine of the year is Tablas Creek's 2014 Esprit de Tablas Blanc. It's not quite a tradition yet, but this will be a third Christmas Eve that I make Daniel Boulud's Onion Soup and follow his recommended pairing of Roussanne. When you taste the dense, slick, rooty, herbed broth and melted gruyere and salty crouton mixed in, you see why a low acid and equally rich viscous white like the Esprit Blanc is the ideal companion. 2014 was such a powerful vintage for Roussanne that I'm saving a couple bottles for the ten year mark. 

My red wine of the year is The Other Right 2019 "Love Potion" Shiraz McLaren Vale Australia. Sulfite free Shiraz (the label says it's "Shiraz Juice") from a coastal site in a warm, drought affected vintage. The alcohol is moderate and the wine is full of power and energy - truly living wine. The whole clusters are fully integrated, likely aged in an old puncheon, and made with nearly zero electricity. I learned of the winemakers Alex and Galit on the excellent podcast Real Wine People out of Australia (very much worth a binge listening). Alex is a wine scientist at the Australian Wine Research Institute, and is jokingly the only wine scientist in the world to make natural wine. Plus who doesn't need a little Love Potion in a year like 2020?

Chelsea Franchi, Senior Assistant Winemaker
Cruise at Tempier

Most years, the most memorable wine for me is the bottle that has been opened to mark a special occasion, whatever that may be.  Granted, for special occasions, we typically pull out something that’s special to us! Domaine Tempier has been the go-to for my husband and me for the decade we’ve been married.  Back in 2013 (photo above) we had the excellent fortune to go on one of the Tablas Creek cruises. One of the days on the cruise, we spent an afternoon visiting the domaine and fell even deeper in love with them. Many an anniversary has been marked with a bottle of red (or sometimes rosé!) from this winery. 

Trevor with BohdiAugust of this year, we welcomed the arrival of our daughter, Bohdi, which meant I spent a good deal of this year abstaining. The night we brought Bo home, my mom came over to cook us dinner and then left us to enjoy our first meal at home as a newly minted family of three (amazing, right?!).  Since my mom made some ridiculously beautiful rib eyes, it was only fitting that we open a bottle of red that could stand up to them.  We had a bottle of Pour Lulu (Lulu is the matriarch of Domaine Tempier, who passed away this October at 102) in our stacks and it was decided that a bottle that was made in homage to a strong and beloved woman was the perfect way to honor the arrival of our new strong, beloved little girl.  It needed a few hours of decanting, but when those tight, muscular wings started to open up, it was an utter delight and a perfect accompaniment (right) to one of the most exciting nights of our lives.

Barbara Haas, Co-Founder and Partner
I had a fun experience the other day with a wine I hadn’t tasted in at least two years. I had prepared a nice braised chicken (with onions, garlic, herbs, and tomatoes), and I went downstairs to look for an appropriate wine. My guests were two old friends who refused to give me any guidance – even as to white or red. That was MY job, they said. They have had many bottles of Tablas here, particularly over this past year, so I wanted to offer them something different. But it didn’t seem fair to submit an old Burgundy to the acidity of the tomatoes in the dish. As I was scanning the wine rack, I noticed a 2016 Julienas. Most Beaujolais should be drunk young, I know, but this was a “cru” and so I hoped it was still in good form.

It was lovely! Clean and pure and very Beaujolais, and so different from our Rhone-style wines. The very specific and unique taste reminded me how fun it is to vary the wines one drinks, and how silly not to when one has the chance. The experience is like trying different kinds of foods, or listening to different styles of music. It wakes the senses, which in turn wakes the brain, and gives delight.

I vow to add more variety to my wine-drinking in 2021. I always have the comfort of knowing I have a good selection of Tablas wines, and I believe that tasting the other wines in the cellar will give me a deeper appreciation of what we make and how it fits in with its colleagues.

Pam Horton, Assistant Controller
There are two wines that come to mind when I think about 2020. First, is the Tablas Creek Vineyard 2019 Bourboulenc. I have to say that I was intrigued by the name as I had never heard of this grape before. What a wonderful wine! I know that I wasn’t the only one who loved it, because it was sold out in no time. I will be looking forward to the next release. My second favorite wine is from another Paso Robles winery, Tackitt Family Vineyard’s 2018 Willie Pete White. It is a really nice light Sauvignon Blanc which was wonderful to drink during the summer. Tackitt has two lines of wine, their Tackitt Family Vineyard and their EOD Cellars. Willie Pete White is part of the EOD Cellars line and all of the proceeds from the wine sold are donated to the EOD Warrior Foundation. So for me it’s a win-win as I’m purchasing a wine I love and also supporting a great cause.

Ray King, Tasting Room
I have a few wines that stood out and provided fun relief in 2020.

All of the wines I picked were all a part of a meal, or in preparation for a meal. I truly love when great wines come together with great cuisine.

1) 2016 Domaine de La Pirolette, Saint Amour, Le Carjot. This Gamay noir I picked up while in France in 2019 and it was delicious . I served this with Ratatouille Gratin and grilled tri-tip in my backyard.

2) Hot summer evenings, while grilling, I would enjoy a slightly chilled 2018 Tablas Creek Counoise. While eating the dinner I grilled, usually a Ribeye served with Humboldt Fog cheese on top, I would enjoy the 2017 Tablas Creek Tannat. This combo made for great hot summer evenings.

3) Hot summer days, enjoying a cocktail in the afternoon. Aperol Spritz made with 2016 Caudrina Romano Dogliotti “La Selvatica”. This sparkling Asti is sweet and only 7% alcohol. This wine brought a nice, and new, twist on a classic summer cocktail. 

4) 2018 Tablas Creek Marsanne. I drank this wine and used it in the cooking of my Grilled Chicken, Red Bell Pepper, Fettuccine Alfredo. The Marsanne added a nice kick of acid to this lovely, and rich, dish.

Misty Lies, Tasting Room Team Lead
Aussie afternoonWhen it comes down to picking my favorite bottle of wine for the year it will actually be a toss up for three bottles all shared between friends at an afternoon bbq. Before the world went crazy we had the pleasure of traveling to Melbourne Australia to visit  a friend I hadn’t seen in 33 years and new ones that were met along the way because of him. We had a great bbq one afternoon and did some sharing of wines. I brought down a bottle of our 2010 Tannat that went up against a 2001 Howard Park Cabernet Sauvignon as well as a 2015 Penfolds Bin 389 Cabernet Shiraz. All three were fun wines and everyone was happy to finally try the Tannat I have been telling them about for a few years now. During the year with all the ups and downs, I have come back to this afternoon and appreciated every minute of that day. Wines have a way of making meals a little bit more special and as always are best shared around a table of good friends.

John Morris, Tasting Room Manager
My favorite wine of 2020?  I haven’t enjoyed it yet, but I’ll let you know on New Year’s Eve! I can’t let it go unmentioned that I’ve had the unique opportunity to taste the singular, spectacular 2017 Esprit de Tablas Blanc most days this year.  This wine has gotten wide and much-deserved praise, and special attention in our blog published recently. It really is a knockout. And the 2017 Esprit de Tablas (red) is pretty special in its own right, perhaps my favorite vintage yet.  We’re super lucky to taste these wines on a regular basis. But as for my yet-to-be most delicious wine of 2020, I plan to head down to 15C in Templeton and ask for the best Champagne under $100, pop it 30 seconds after I walk in the door, raise a toast, and say good-bye to this most difficult year. Here’s to 2021!

Rumyn Purewal, Tasting Room Team Lead
It is hard to believe that this year started out like many others. And it started with my favorite wine of the year. I went to dinner with my fellow pals, also Tablas Creek family, Leslie and Ian, at local eatery Heirloom. We got the food to go and had a picnic in the Adelaide with one of those pairings that takes you to a magical place. With all locally grown and sourced food prepared by amazing people and chefs we paired the meal with a Portuguese wine recommended by Darren Delmore, a Humus Vinho Regional Lisboa. A natural wine made with indigenous Portuguese grapes. It was an incredible experience that stuck with me throughout the year. I hope everyone has a happy and healthy New Years. Cheers! 

Troy Tucker, Tasting Room
Troy bottles of the yearSo I have 3 wines that stood out to me this year the most.

The first was the 2017 Thacher Cinsaut. A very unique and balanced wine full of character! A nerdy wine to say the least.

The second was the 2017 La Encantada Pinot Noir from Decroux/TH Estate. The vineyard really really makes this wine. Very expressive of terroir and captures the delicacy and complexity of Pinot Noir. I could go on and on about this wine!

And third is none other than the 2012 Esprit de Tablas Rouge (pictured right). Not to toot our own horns too much but, wow! So soft, so powerful, so many layers of clean vigorous personality. After 40 minutes in a decanter, it opened and gave one of the cleanest softest drinking wines I've had from Paso in a while! Paired amazing with the ribeye from McPhee's too!

Me
My mom is building a new house. As a part of that construction, earlier this summer we had to move a wine fridge that was inconveniently positioned in her garage right where a door needed to be cut. So, Meghan, the boys and I spent a few hours one afternoon in June emptying that wine fridge, moving the wines that were there into different storage, and identifying some bottles that were ready to open. One that I "rescued" was a bottle made by Jacques d'Angerville, the Burgundy proprietor who was my dad's closest friend in the region that made his reputation as an importer.

The wines from Domaine Marquis d'Angerville always speak to the elegant side of Pinot Noir. The bottle we opened was a Volnay Caillerets from 1979, reputed as a good but not great vintage, but the wine was sublime, with minerality and tension, crunchy red fruit even at age 40+, and the lovely loamy earth character I find so distinctive in mature Burgundy. It turned the meal of a simple roast chicken into one of the highlights of our dining year. In a year marked by losses and absences, I felt my dad's presence strongly that night. Wines have the ability to preserve a conjunction of place, time, and people. The Volnay evoked all that, while also being a testament to my dad's vision and foresight, and a lasting legacy to Jacques's genius, nearly two decades after his death. 

Roast Chicken and Volnay

A few concluding thoughts:
As you might expect, this was an eclectic list. Some wines are Tablas Creek, but most are not. Many were older, which says that for all the challenges of storing and being patient with wines, the rewards can be marvelous. But the thing that stood out most for me was the extent to which wines help mark and commemorate milestones our lives, or give regular moments additional depth and meaning. I have high hopes for 2021. May your food and wine experiences be memorable, and may we all find more to celebrate next year.


The Esprit de Tablas Blanc is having a moment

I know, you're supposed to love all your children equally. But it's an open secret to the people I work with that year in and year out, my favorite wine that we make is our Esprit de Tablas Blanc. That's not an indictment of any of our other wines. And it's not even that I open more bottles of Esprit Blanc than I do anything else (that honor goes this year to our Vermentino). But I feel like the Esprit Blanc is a wine that year after year we can stand up against the best examples of rich, textured whites made anywhere in the world, from any number of different grapes, and have it shine.

Esprit Blanc bottles

So, it's pretty cool that in this end-of-year holiday season the Esprit Blanc (both 2017 and 2018 vintages) has been getting some serious love from writers. I don't usually write much about the press we receive here on the blog, but I thought it was worth highlighting some of the honors it's received in the last few weeks. Roughly in the order in which they were released:

2017 Esprit Blanc in Wine Enthusiast's "Top 100 Cellar Selections of 2020"
There is a visceral assumption in America that white wines (or at least dry white wines) should be drunk young. This may be true for many white grapes, but there is a long list of exceptions. Still, Wine Enthusiast deserves serious kudos for including so many whites in this year's Top 100 Cellar Selections list: 20 dry whites in all, not counting five sparkling wines and two sweet whites. Those selections are drawn from grapes you would expect (Riesling, Semillon, and Chardonnay, from multiple regions) as well as those you might not (Gruner-Veltliner, Albarino, and Garagnega). And it's great to see the 2017 Esprit de Tablas Blanc bringing Roussanne and Rhone-style to that party. This summer, we opened and tasted every vintage of our Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc and Esprit de Tablas Blanc for our annual summer vertical tasting, and the longevity of the wines really stood out. In my notes from the tasting, I shared that the list of favorites spanned nearly two decades:

I asked everyone around the table to pick four favorites, and the wines that got multiple votes were 2001 (3), 2006 (3), 2009 (3), 2013 (2), and 2017 (5). But there were wonderful vintages that didn't get "favorite" votes too. The wines do change and evolve, and you should do your best to explore if you prefer your Esprit Blancs older, younger, or somewhere in the middle. But across the board, we thought that they were great showcases for the texture, richness, structure, spice and minerality we think this property imbues in our white wines.

Rhone-style whites can age well, as a rule, but do so a little differently than many of the whites that are famously ageworthy. Grapes like Riesling or Chablis-style Chardonnay age based on their acidity, with texture playing a secondary role. Rhone whites, particularly Roussanne, age based on their texture, with acidity almost irrelevant. The 2017 Esprit Blanc is intensely Roussanne in character, with density, structure, and texture galore, and flavors of honey and mineral that we expect to deepen into caramel and nuts over time.

2018 Esprit Blanc in Wine & Spirits "Top 100 Wines of 2020"
Wine & Spirits Magazine does their Top 100 a little differently than most. In addition to a list of wines, they publish a list of Top 100 Wineries. We were proud to be a part of this year's list. And in their list of wines (which I can't find online anywhere, though there's a link to the issue in which it appears) they don't rank them. Instead, they choose the best wines from various categories throughout the year. That ensures that instead of a list with a dozen Napa Cabernets, or white Burgundies, or German Rieslings represented, a broad range of types of wines and regions of origin is represented.

We were excited to see one of our wines make the list for the second year in a row. Last year it was the 2016 Esprit de Tablas. This year, it was the 2018 Esprit de Tablas Blanc honored as "Best California White Blend". As I find generally true of Wine & Spirits' reviews, Patrick Comiskey's tasting note is almost lyrical:

Tablas Creek's top white has been roussanne-dominant for several vintages now, and they've learned how to capture the variety's elegant fleshiness without letting it get blowsy, propping it up with higher-acid whites, like grenache blanc, picpoul, clairette, and picardan. This wine smells of apple pulp and honey at first go, giving up little but seductive texture. On the second day open, the wine becomes grand, the weight of roussanne comfortable and powerful, with a lemony, crisp apple contour.

94-95 point Reviews for 2018 Esprit Blanc from Vinous, BevX, Owen Bargreen, and Blue Lifestyle
Sometimes a wine will really resonate with one reviewer, but not so much with others. It's been noteworthy to see the consistency of the reviews that the 2018 Esprit Blanc has gotten. The 93 from Wine & Spirits Magazine (a famously conservative grader) was good enough to get it into their Top 100 wines of the year, and the other recent scores the wine has gotten have been a point or two higher. Each reviewer pulls something different out of the wine, but the consistent mid-90s scores that the wine has received the last couple of vintages feels like a small but significant step up from what we've seen before. I won't bother repeating the different notes, but if you're curious, they're all linked from the 2018 Esprit Blanc's page on our website.

2017 Esprit Blanc in Bloomberg's "Top 10 Wines of 2020"
Top 100 is great. But top 10? That's new territory for us, for any of our wines. So when we saw that the 2017 Esprit Blanc had made Elin McCoy's Top 10 Wines of 2020 list for Bloomberg, alongside icons like Krug and Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, we were floored. Even better, her description of the wine and of Tablas Creek encapsulates maybe better than any other short profile we've gotten what we're all about:

This showstopping California blend of five white Rhône varieties from Paso Robles is a vivid reminder that you don’t have to compromise on quality to support wineries consciously working to make the world a better place. The stunning Esprit de Tablas white has salty minerality; zesty acidity; rich, complex flavors; and serious aging potential—a grand wine for a reasonable price. Tablas Creek became the world’s first Regenerative Organic Certified winery this year, embracing a new comprehensive program that includes social responsibility for its workers.

A "grand wine for a reasonable price"? That's an epitaph any wine would want on its Hall of Fame plaque. And from my perspective, it couldn't happen for a more deserving wine we make, or at a better time.

Cheers, everyone.


A picture is worth 1000 words, late fall edition

With our tasting room closed again due to our Regional Stay Home Order, we've decided that it's more important than ever to share lots of photos to make sure that people can maintain a sense of what it's like out here. To that end, I was out yesterday walking around the vineyard to get some photos to share, and found it inescapable how dry it was. Often, by early December, we've gotten a couple of nice rainstorms, and the vineyard is already notably green. Not in 2020. It's been cold, which is good, because it forces the grapevines into dormancy, but we've only gotten a couple of small rainstorms, and nothing recently. I couldn't help but feel the stress of the grapevines I passed.

And yet, the annual cycle continues. I got one photo of a head-trained Mourvedre vine, roughly a decade old, that I thought was illustrative:

Head Trained Mourvedre Vine in Late Fall

Consider, if you will, the stresses that this and all our other vines have endured this year and endure, more or less, each year:

  • An almost total lack of topsoil. Our deepest topsoils are a couple of feet thick, and much of the property has the fractured calcareous shale you see right at the surface. 
  • Minimal rain for six months every summer and fall. Our total rainfall in the last 8 months is 0.8"⁠. That's a little extreme, but the average total May-October rainfall here at Tablas Creek over the last 25 years is just over two inches. Yes, our winters are wet. And yes, our soils do an amazing job retaining that winter rain. But this is a lot more extreme than anything grapevines have to deal with even in the driest parts of Europe.
  • Regular frosts in the winter. In the last month, it's dropped below freezing ten nights. That's not unusual; we average about 40 frost nights a year here, and though we've been lucky in recent years, spring freezes are the most significant annual weather threat we face. That too is more than Mediterranean regions like Chateauneuf-du-Pape face.
  • Scorching summers. This summer, we had 21 days top 100. That was unusual; I wrote earlier this year how 2020 was the year where climate change felt real. But we average roughly a dozen 100+ days each year. And while the Mediterranean can get very hot, 90s are a lot more common than 100s there.

That Mourvedre vine has never had a drop of irrigation. There's not even any irrigation infrastructure in that block. And yet, each year it sprouts, flowers, ripens a crop, and stores what it needs for the next year. And out of this struggle comes grapes (and wines) of intensity and character. Deep roots that reflect the calcareous soils we love. Resilience and longevity.

It's not an easy life, but we wouldn't have it any other way.


Mourvedre: Sidelined by Phylloxera No More

One of the silver linings of the last nine months unable to travel has been the chance to spend time virtually with some of California winemakers whose work I find inspiring. One of these is Bedrock Wine Company's Morgan Twain-Peterson. He and I were paired up in the finale of the California Wine Institute's "Behind the Wine" series. We got a chance to talk about heritage clones and the work he's doing as a part of the California Historic Vineyard Society, which has interesting parallels to the work we've been doing bringing in the complete collection of Rhone varieties. It turns out that in mapping the pre-phylloxera vineyards he's working with, he's uncovering genetic diversity that has amazed even him. The vineyards are, as you would probably expect, mostly Zinfandel, but (as I learned in the lead-up to our session) include plenty of Rhone varieties like Mataro (the old name for Mourvedre), Grenache, and Carignane. He found one vineyard with three Vaccarese vines, and another with one Clairette Blanche. That's amazing.

Ampelography Cover PageWeek before last, Morgan sent me a link as a follow up to our conversation about Mourvedre/Mataro. It was a link to a copy of the 1884 Ampelography by Charles A Wetmore, archived via Google and the University of California. Wetmore was at that time the Chief Executive Viticultural Officer of California's wine's first governing body: the Board of State Viticultural Commissioners.

Inside, Wetmore takes the major grape varieties that had at that point made their way to California and evaluates each for its success and potential in the state. One of the grapes that he was most excited about was Mataro. [A quick aside; even then there was confusion about its name, with Wetmore noting that it was "called generally Mourvedre" along the Mediterranean coast of France, but Mataro "along the Spanish coast" with both names in widespread use.] He begins: "Although this is not as extensively cultivated now as other varieties for red wine, yet its present popularity demands for it a place next to the Zinfandel; indeed, I believe that for the future it will have a wider range of usefulness."

He continues with (for me) the piece's most interesting assertion: "All the great French authorities agree in placing the Mataro as the finest red wine grape of the southern regions." This is a good reminder that before phylloxera, Mourvedre was the dominant Rhone grape, not Grenache. After some comments on its ripening, he says "The apparent defect of this grape is the roughness of the new wine; but this is the defect of most noble varieties. Like the Cabernet-Sauvignon of Bordeaux, it requires age to develop its quality."

He goes on: "The chief merits of Mataro are, viz: The vine bears well and resists early fall rains; the fruit contains an abundance of tannin; the wine is wholesome, easily fermented and contributes its fermenting and keeping qualities to others with which it is combined." That is an amazingly pithy summation of why so many Rhone (and Rhone Rangers) producers work with Mourvedre, even if it's not a lead grape for them: the tannic structure and resistance to oxidation that Mourvedre brings to a blend even in small quantities.

After quoting some French authorities, he concludes "I believe there are few red wine vineyards in California, whether for dry or sweet wine, wherein the introduction of a proportion of Mataro, varying from ten to seventy-five per cent, will not be a positive gain." So, if both French and California authorities were so bullish on Mourvedre's potential, what happened to it? Why did it become a relatively trace variety, which in 2000 represented some 7,600 hectares in France, less than one-tenth of Grenache's 95,000 hectare total, while also languishing in California and representing just 605 acres in 2000, barely more than one tenth of one percent of total wine grape acreage? There are doubtless many reasons, but I think it's fair to put a significant portion of the blame on the root parasite phylloxera.

It is significant that Wetmore's work was published in 1884. That date comes during the phylloxera outbreak in Europe, and just before phylloxera devastated vineyards in California and forced widespread replanting onto grafted vines. Mourvedre didn't graft easily onto the rootstocks of the period, so was largely lost. The exceptions were the regions (like Contra Costa here in California, and Bandol on the Mediterranean coast) where the sand content of the soil was high enough to resist phylloxera, and vines could be planted on their own roots. It's from Bandol that Jacques Perrin got the Mourvedre clones that won Beaucastel renown.

1892 French  EnqueteThis time capsule of a document is a great reminder of what a setback that era was and how many of the planting trends we accept as normal and historical are in fact a reaction to what was fashionable (and possible) in its aftermath. Case in point: the widespread pan-Mediterranean rise of Grenache. While digging in the online French viticultural archives, I found this remarkable quote from this book from 1892, whose title roughly translates as "Investigation of the Reconstitution of the Vineyards in France and on American Vines" (pictured right) speaking about the region of the Var, which is now largely planted to Grenache. My translation of the relevant section is below. Riparia is the scientific name for the first of the American-sourced rootstocks that became necessary in the post-phylloxera era:

"The dominant plant is Alicante-Bouschet grafted on Riparia. We still notice Clairette, Ugni Blanc, Chasselas, Calmeite Noir, and Mourvèdre also grafted onto Riparia; while all the plantations made up of the first grape varieties indicated are vigorous, those made up of Mourvèdre are much less so, and seem to suffer. The owners of Saint-Cyr especially believe that this last grape takes [grafts] with difficulty."

Mourvedre isn't an easy grape even without its grafting issues. It ripens late, typically three weeks after Grenache. It is less vigorous and productive than grapes like Grenache, Cinsaut, and Carignane. And in the very late 19th and early 20th centuries, when neither California nor the south of France were commanding high prices for their wines, it's easy for me to imagine the decision making process of growers wondering what to replant after having to pull out thousands of dead vine trunks. That grape that ripens late and might not take successfully to this still-new grafting process? Or something easy and vigorous like Grenache. Yeah. Easy choice. If they worried about quality or color, it would be easy enough to figure they could solve that problem later. But getting something that would grow successfully had to be priority number one. A few decades of decisions like that and it's easy to understand how Mourvedre could become scarce.

That cautionary tale also highlights Jacques Perrin's bravery (and wisdom) in searching out the traditional grapes of Chateauneuf-du-Pape in the decades after World War II. Grafting technology was better. Viticulturists in France had a half a century of experience cross-breeding rootstocks and better understood which crosses worked well for which soils, which climates, and (critically) which grapes. Jacques' experimental vineyards are still there, including this great hand-lettered sign.

Old Mourvedre sign at Beaucastel Square
The success Beaucastel has had with Mourvedre and other even-rarer Rhone grapes is a major inspiration for our push to bring in and plant the historical grapes of the Rhone. There are, after all, lots of reasons that grapes can have become unfashionable that has nothing to do with the quality of wine they might make here and now. Take Picardan for example. It proved to be prone to powdery mildew -- a scourge of French vineyards in the mid-19th Century -- and was already in steep decline when phylloxera hit a few decades later. It would likely have gone extinct but for Jacques' efforts. But here, with mildew hardly ever a problem and a warming climate making higher-acid grapes more appealing, it's been terrific. And there are likely more discoveries like this to be made. 

Success stories like these are one more reason to admire and support the work that Morgan and the other founders of the California Historic Vineyard Society (including Turley's Tegan Passalacqua, Ridge's David Gates, and Carlisle's Mike Officer) are doing to map and DNA-test California's heritage vineyards, and to work with UC Davis's Foundation Plant Services to then clean up, archive, and reproduce these varieties so other grapegrowers can plant them. They've already shown that these old vineyards contain amazing diversity, with grapes there that appear to be unique in the world -- likely rare European varieties that have since gone extinct in their homelands. Which of these might be the next Picardan... or Mourvedre is an exciting question to consider.

Mourvedre, if you're curious, may be starting to recover both here and in France. From those 7,600 hectares in France in 2000, as of 2016 it was up to 8,754, an increase of about 15%. In California, its acreage has climbed as of 2019 to 1,166 acres, growth of 93% since 2000. There's hope yet. 

Meanwhile, if you're looking for a time capsule into that nearly-lost world of pre-phylloxera, pre-Prohibition California viticulture, check out the Ampelography. It's a treat.


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.