The vineyard and harvest impacts -- positive and negative -- of our unusual September rain

It's definitely been a month with interesting weather. Just three weeks ago I was writing a blog Preparing for a potentially historic California harvest heat wave. And that heat wave was intense, with ten days in a row over 100°F, though we feel like we escaped the worst impacts that were felt in some of the regions to our north. Now, a week after that heat wave broke, we got our first real rain of the 2022-23 winter, and not from some tropical monsoonal moisture that just wandered a little far north, as we sometimes see in late summer here. No, we got a real winter storm plunging out of the Gulf of Alaska, bringing significant rain to the northern two-thirds of California:

While harvest rain is rare here in Paso Robles, it's not unheard of. In the last two decades, the only other year we received September rain was in 2010, but we got rain before the end of October in 2004, 2006, 2021, and most notably 2009, when we received nearly ten inches on October 13th. And it's more common in other wine-growing regions around the world; Chateauneuf-du-Pape, for example, has harvest rain most years, as September and October are the two rainiest months of the year. Walking around the vineyard this morning shows a very non-Californian scene, with mist in the air and droplets of water on the leaves and clusters of the vines that still have fruit. Check out Mourvedre (left) and Counoise (right):

Mourvedre cluster after the rain Counoise cluster after the rain

It's not like we got an ocean of rain; we got about a half inch overnight, with potentially another quarter-inch coming today. But the whole experience is rare enough that we've been getting tons of questions about what we expect, and we assembled this morning to discuss what's likely to happen. So I thought it might be helpful if I broke down our risks.

  • Dilution. When grapevines get rain late in the growing season, some of that water is pumped into the berries. That reduces both the percentage of sugar and the percentage of acid in the grapes, at least temporarily. As long as you get dry, warm weather after, that dilution is usually short-lived. And given how dry the summer has been, it's not always a bad thing. If you were following us during the heat wave, you know that we pre-emptively gave some water to our most heat-sensitive blocks, figuring that the minor amount of dilution, if it happened, was better than the alternative of having the vines shut down or even pull water out of the berries, creating hard, unripe raisins. Risk of this being an issue: low.
  • Rot. Fungus thrives in moisture. Luckily, most of the time during the growing season here, moisture is in short supply. But when it rains it offers any available rot spores a chance to grow and spread. Key to whether or not this happens is what comes after the rain. If it turns dry and you get a breeze, the moisture on the clusters is gone before any rot has a chance to take hold. If not, and particularly if it gets warm and stays humid, things can go south in a hurry. Looking at the forecast suggests that while today will remain cool, overcast, and showery, tomorrow and especially Wednesday look clear, dry, and breezy. That's good. On the flip side, the clusters and berries have already taken some damage from the heat, and are starting to soften, offering more opportunities for rot spores to get inside the grapes than you'd normally see this time of year. Risk of this being an issue: moderate.
  • Lack of access. Finally, an issue with wet weather is that it makes it difficult and messy to get tractors into the vineyard. Most times of year that's just an inconvenience; if you can't get into the vineyard to prune, or spread compost, or weed, it's usually not a big deal to wait a few days or even a few weeks. But during harvest, access is more important as grape chemistry can change on a daily basis, and if you can't get into the vineyard to pick you run the risk of missing your window. Mitigating this likelihood is that the grapes don't ripen particularly fast in this weather, and the roughly half-inch of rain isn't enough to saturate the deeper layers of the soil. A few days of dry, breezy weather and this won't be a problem. Risk of this being an issue: low.

 The impacts of the rain aren't all negative. In fact, there are some real positives. They include:

  • Helping the harvested vineyard blocks store energy for dormancy. While we do have some worries about the fruit still hanging, the impact of this rain on the two-thirds of the vineyard that has already been picked is nothing but positive. Those vines have expended a lot of resources getting fruit ripe over the past five months. We still have a couple of months of photosynthesis to go before they go dormant with the first hard freeze. It's normal for us to go through after we've finished picking and give the blocks that we can irrigate a bit of water anyway, to help them continue to photosynthesize and store up resources for next year. This rain does that for us, and more broadly than we ever could. 
  • Giving the grapevines with fruit still hanging the energy to make a final push. We've often seen when we've gotten early rain that after a few days where numbers (sugar and acid concentrations) retreat due to dilution, the vines then appear to get something of a second wind and make more progress toward ripeness than they had been doing before the rain. It's probably intuitive as to why. These vines have been pushing hard, with their most limited resource being water. Giving them the water that they need helps them photosynthesize more productively, and that photosynthesis translates into ripening.  
  • Cleaning the dust off the vines, clusters, and roads. It's been a long, hot, dusty summer. We've been running water trucks from our wetland area over the vineyard roads, trying to keep the dust down so that it doesn't settle on the vines (reducing photosynthesis in the same way in would on a home solar panel) and clusters (where it ultimately ends up settling to the bottom of tanks and barrels as a part of the lees). But while it's impractical to spray off the whole vineyard, that's what this rainstorm effectively did. Hey, we'll take it.

So while the rain isn't an uncomplicated boon, neither is it an unmitigated disaster. What happens over the next few days will determine whether we dodge the risk of rot, or whether we need to redouble our efforts and get the remaining grapes off the vines as fast as we can. If we did have to pick fast, at least everything is pretty much ready. The biggest issue would be space in the cellar, and we're trying to make good use of this break to press off tanks that have reached sufficient extraction to make room for what's coming. But if we get good weather later this week, this could actually end up being a good thing. Please keep your fingers crossed for dry and breezy starting tomorrow.

Meanwhile, we'll enjoy the unexpected misty respite in what's usually a hot, dusty season. I'll leave you with two last photos so you can enjoy it, too.

Long view over Tannat after the rain

Long view after the rain


We reach (and pass) the peak of the 2022 harvest... that escalated quickly

By Ian Consoli

We passed the midpoint of the 2022 harvest sometime last week, and what a week it was. In terms of timing, that's pretty early. This would make sense since this harvest was our earliest start (August 17th). But when you take into consideration our early estimation that it would be a prolonged, drawn-out harvest, this past week threw us for a loop. Harvest usually lasts about eight weeks, so passing the midpoint in three and exceeding it in the fourth is an outlier like we haven't seen. The 10-day heat wave will go down as something of a winemaker legend. I can already hear the stories from individuals who worked in cellars in Paso Robles in 2022 talking about "the heat wave of September 2022." With all the bins, fruit, and heat, our vineyard and cellar teams continue to smile and enjoy the rush of harvest 2022.

Harvest Intern Louisa Cleaning the Press Bins of fruit waiting on the crushpad

Harvest Intern Louisa Cleaning the PressHarvest intern Louisa cleans the press

 

So what did the heat wave look like?

Daily Max temp at Tablas Creek during heatwave

In this graph, you can see the max daily temperatures during the 10-day heatwave were consistently over 100, topping out just shy of 110 on three of those.

The heat caused a rapid ripening of fruit, bringing an avalanche of berries into the cellar. When the team left on September 2nd for the holiday weekend, we were ~35% of our way through harvest, based on our estimates of the tonnage we expect by the end. By the end of September 9th, that number had jumped all the way to 63% of the way through harvest. Winemaker Neil Collins and Viticulturist Jordan Lonborg noted they'd never seen a week like this in their decades in the industry. Multiple varieties jumped 6 Brix in a single week. Varieties that we typically harvest late (Bourboulenc, for example) came in at this early-mid harvest stage. Terms like "madness" and "bonkers" became the go-to when trying to explain what was going on.

Fruit Raining into the cellar 2022

Realizing what an anomaly this past week was, I thought it would be fun to look at the last three harvest chalkboards to see how many lots we had picked by the end of September 9th. In 2020 we had harvested 19 lots; in 2021, 32 lots; this year, we are already at 65 lots. Bonkers indeed.

Chalkboards side-by-side

In terms of varieties, we have picked a bit of everything. In fact, on Tuesday and Wednesday of last week, sequential picks off the estate brought in Vermentino, Roussanne, Picardan, Syrah, Counoise, Viognier, Mourvedre, and Grenache, grapes that normally encompass a 6-8 week range. We’re done with a few varieties, including Viognier, Vermentino, Grenache Blanc, and (just today) Syrah and Marsanne, while we're continuing to wait on the bulk of perennial late-ripeners like Mourvedre, Roussanne, and Counoise. There have been days where we've been stashing grapes wherever we could find space because all of our presses are in use simultaneously, and all our tanks are full. As soon as a lot finishes fermentation, we're pressing those tanks off and washing them out to make room for that day’s fruit. The cellar is so full, we had to move the sorting table outside to make room for the fruit. It's a flurry of activity in the cellar.

Cellar team on sorting table

It is important to note that while we are seeing a record number of lots come in for this time of year, yields are a little all over the place. Varieties like Syrah, Viognier, and Marsanne (none of which were much affected by our May frosts) are seeing totals equal to or slightly higher than last year's. Picpoul Blanc, Grenache Blanc, and Vermentino (all of which have blocks in our low-lying Nipple Flat section, which was hit hard by May’s frost) are all down significantly from last year. This is particularly bad for Grenache Blanc and Vermentino, which were already down 40%-50% from 2020. Roussanne, whose most extensive planting is on Nipple Flat, is sure to be down sharply as well. For the rest, we’ll see.

Frost Damaged Grenache Blanc VineA normally vigorous Grenache Blanc vine in Nipple Flatt showing the effects of frost damage

In the vineyard, it feels like we came out of the heatwave mostly unscathed. Some pre-emptive irrigation on our more sensitive grapes like Mourvedre helped minimize raisining, the vines’ self-defense mechanism of pulling the moisture they need to survive from the clusters. There was some very limited damage, but nothing like we'd feared. Most of the remaining signs of the heatwave are what you see on the sun-kissed Marsanne cluster below: healthy and ready for harvest.

Sun kissed Marsanne Cluster

We also hit an important milestone last week with our first significant harvest of Jewel Ridge, the 35-acre dry-farmed block on the parcel we purchased in 2011. We let it lay fallow for six years, grazing our sheep there and building organic matter in the soil before beginning planting in 2017. ⁠The nearly five combined tons we picked of Roussanne, Counoise, Mourvedre, and Grenache represent a big piece of the future of Tablas Creek.

First Pick of Jewel

We continue to see lovely fruit concentration in 2022. The combination of yet another drought year and frost-reduced yields means that all our varieties come in with smaller berries and thicker skins. The fact that both sugars and acids were at ideal levels is good evidence that we were able to keep up with the heat spike. The similarities Jason drew to the 2009 vintage in his most recent blog seem to be ringing more and more accurate.

In addition to the Mourvedre, Tannat, and Counoise still hanging on the vine, there are a couple more obscure varieties we look forward to bringing in, including Terret Noir and Clairette Blanche, a personal favorite. Most exciting of all is our block of Muscardin, the 14th and final Chateauneuf du Pape variety from the Beaucastel collection. We are hopeful this year could be the year we can finally get enough to bottle on its own. If the look of the clusters is any indication, it seems we're set to make history in 2022!

Muscardin Cluster in Fall 2022

Another good piece of news: we've been able to secure some really nice additional fruit for our Patelin de Tablas wines, including 10 tons of Grenache Blanc contracted just last week. That's always been one of the primary benefits for us of the Patelin program. In years where our own crop is plentiful, we use more Tablas fruit in those wines. In years where it's scarce, we reach out to the big network of growers who have our clones in the ground in Paso Robles and secure some more fruit to purchase. That should mean that even if many of our estate wines are scarce or can't be made in 2022, we'll at least have some wines for the pipeline. And all of that fruit has looked outstanding.

So, now it's a question of how much longer harvest will last. Winemaker Neil Collins predicts another 3 weeks of fruit, which opens the possibility of being fully harvested before October even begins! That would certainly mark the first time in our history that happened. Either way, we are challenging our earliest end to harvest ever of October 3rd, set in 2001. Will the second half of harvest provide a new narrative? Stay tuned.


If you liked 2007, try 2021: a quarter-century of vintage doppelgangers at Tablas Creek

It's hard to believe, but 2021 was our 25th harvest here at Tablas Creek. What began as a simple model to make two wines, one red and one white, in the style of Chateauneuf-du-Pape, has blossomed into nearly thirty wines each year, across three colors, nineteen grapes, and a range of inspirations. We've had hot years (like 1997, 2009, 2016, and this year). We've had cold years (like 1998, 2010, and 2011). We've had "goldilocks" vintages where we hit the sweet middle ground. And yes, every vintage is different. But with a quarter century under our belt, and in response to the questions I get regularly trying to put our recent vintages in context, I thought it would be fun to dive in and talk a little about the vintage character of each of our 25 vintages, and try to give some comps for people who might have worked through their favorite and be looking to restock.

Flagship red vertical

So, from the top. Note that I didn't put anything in for 2022, since we don't know what the wines' characters are like yet from this vintage, though as you'll see there is a year that has some eye-opening echoes to how this vintage is shaping up:

  • 1997: A juicy, appealing vintage that showed surprising depth given that it came from vines at most five years old. Also the warmest year of the 1990s, with weather that is more common now, which led to a mid-August start to harvest. These wines are at the end of their lives at this point, but the red is still sound if well stored. Similar vintages: 2003, 2013.
  • 1998: Pretty much the polar opposite to 1997, with persistent on-shore flow, regular cloud cover all summer, and an October start to harvest. A relatively austere vintage in its youth, it has aged surprisingly well, and both red and white have shown well in recent tastings. Similar vintages: 2010, 2011.
  • 1999: Powerful, rambunctious wines that were the product of a warm, dry year. Whites were good from the get-go, while reds were notably tannic in their youth, though with the fruit to carry it. These wines aged well, and the red was still excellent in a recent tasting. Similar vintages: 2005, 2009.
  • 2000: The first vintage that I think we started to approach the model that we use now, including the debut of the Esprit de Beaucastel. The white was a lovely year for Roussanne, soft and appealing. The reds were earthy and meaty. Both red and white were ringers for Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Similar vintages: 2005, 2013, 2018.
  • 2001: A year with great promise and ample winter rainfall was derailed by April frosts that cost us nearly half our production and led to us declassifying most of our red production into Cotes de Tablas. An outstanding year for whites, though. The low yields and warm summer led to a relatively short hang-time, producing reds with modest concentration and a bit of a tannic edge. Similar vintages: no true comps (thankfully!) though 2009 is probably the closest overall.
  • 2002: A collector's vintage, with dense, ageworthy red wines and powerfully textured whites. The product of the first year in a drought cycle, which typically makes outstanding wines with a balance of concentration and freshness thanks to the vines' stored vigor and the intensifying effect of low rainfall. Similar vintages: 2006, 2016, 2019.
  • 2003: A joyous vintage that we underestimated at the time because it was so appealing and friendly that we thought it wouldn't have the stuffing to age. Then for 15 years we kept picking 2003 out as among our very favorites in vertical tastings. The wines are maybe not among our longest-lived, and are starting to tire a bit, but what a ride they've had. Similar vintages: 2008, 2014, 2020.
  • 2004: A vintage that I remember Francois Perrin calling "square": precise, tidy, well-structured, and classic. Very long ripening cycle, with some rain in October that delayed the picking of our latest-ripening grapes. The wines have generally aged well, and I think of them as being precisely on point for what we were going for at the time. Similar vintages: 2013, 2019.
  • 2005: A juicy, luscious, exuberant vintage in which I feel like you could taste the health of the vineyard, which got 40+ inches of rain after three years of drought. We dodged frosts, had a moderate summer and a long, beautiful fall. The grapes spent an extra month on the vines, and the vineyard was healthy throughout. We saw high yields but excellent concentration and quality. These wines have aged in outstanding fashion, gaining meatiness to balance to fruit, spice, and tannin, and the 2005 Esprit de Beaucastel is the wine I pick right now when I'm trying to show off. Similar vintages: 2007, 2017.
  • 2006: Similar overall conditions (ample rainfall, no frost) to 2005, but a later spring and a hotter summer led to wines with a bit more structure and a little less vibrancy. That seriousness meant it was a little overshadowed by the blockbuster vintages around it, and so it was a little bit of a surprise when it produced our first wine (the 2006 Esprit de Beaucastel) to be honored in the Wine Spectator's "Top 100". The low acids meant that while it has turned out to be an outstanding red vintage, it was a less strong white vintage. Similar vintages: 2002, 2016.  
  • 2007: A blockbuster year, with ample fruit, structure, spice, and meaty/earthy richness. This was a product of the previous winter, which was the coldest and driest in our history. The resulting small berries and small clusters gave outstanding concentration to everything, and the moderate summer meant that the grapes retained freshness. The reds from this year got some of our highest-ever scores, and many of these are still youthful. The whites were good but at the time we were picking riper than we do now, and I find their elevated alcohols have meant that they aged less well than the reds. Similar vintages: 2005, 2021. 
  • 2008: A challenging growing season, bookended by frosts in both April and October, led to wines that didn't have the obvious early juicy appeal of 2007. But they've turned out to be beautiful over time, with whites showing both texture and lift and reds a lovely chocolate note. This is consistently one of Winemaker Neil Collins' favorite vintages in our vertical look-backs. Similar vintages: 2015 and especially 2018.
  • 2009: The apex of the concentrated power we saw in the 2000s, its low yields a product of our third straight drought year and a damaging frost in April. Then the growing season alternated between warm and cold months until a severe heat spike in September brought many of our grapes tumbling in. We were mostly harvested when an early atmospheric river storm dumped 10 inches of rain here on October 13th, though the three week of warm, dry weather that followed allowed us to bring even those grapes in. The wines were so dense that it took me most of a decade for them to feel approachable, but they're shining now. Similar vintages: none, though these conditions sound a lot like what's happening in 2022.
  • 2010: An outlier vintage for us in many ways, unlike anything we'd seen in the previous decade. Ample winter rainfall and no spring frosts combined to produce a very healthy vineyard and good yields. A very cool summer followed, with harvest less than half complete on October 15th. Warm, sunny weather in late October and early November saved the vintage, and our November 13th last-pick was exceptionally late. The wines showed that coolness in their youth in minty, high-toned flavors, though we were still able to get good ripeness thanks to the friendly late-fall weather. An exceptionally good white vintage. Reds I'm less enchanted by, as they're tasting a little tired right now. I'm hopeful that this is just a stage. Similar vintages: 1998. 
  • 2011: Another outlier, just as cool as 2010 (and much chillier than any vintage since) but with low yields thanks to hard frosts April 8th and 9th. That combination of low yields and cool-vintage character made intensely savory wines, much more reminiscent of the northern Rhone than the south. The wines have aged well, too, while preserving the savory character they had when they were young. Similar vintages: none, though choose 1998, 2010, or 2015 if you want the cool-vintage character, or 2001 or 2009 if you want the concentrated structure.
  • 2012: A friendly, juicy vintage with big yields and modest concentration and structure, as one block after the next came in heavier than we'd estimated, even though rainfall was only about 70% of normal. The accumulated vigor from two previous wet winters and the limited demands on the vines' resources in the frost-reduced 2011 crop meant that it didn't act like a drought year. The wines were friendly and open from day one, and while the ageworthy reds have deepened in tone a bit, they're still medium-bodied and a touch on the simple side, and seem to be on a faster aging curve. Whites are lovely. Similar vintages: 2013 for reds, 2010 and 2014 for whites.
  • 2013: Similar growing season and similar wines as 2012, but we learned from our experience the previous year and proactively reduced our crop levels both to increase concentration and reduce the stress on our vines in this second year of drought. A moderate summer (very few days over the low 90s) maintained lift and translated into a leafy, herby note on top of the fruit. Warm weather during harvest and low yields led to an early start and our earliest-ever finish to harvest, as we made sure that we picked early enough to maintain freshness. Similar vintages: 2012 (but with a bit more concentration), 2018. 
  • 2014: Our third consecutive drought year plus a warm summer produced wines in the classic, juicy Californian style, with a bit less alcohol than those same wines we were making in the 2000s. We got good concentration with yields similar to 2013, though we needed to drop less fruit to get there. The wines are juicy and luscious, with enough structure to keep them balanced and pretty, high-toned red fruit flavors. Similar vintages: 2003, 2017.
  • 2015: A lovely, ethereal vintage that produced wines with intense flavors but no sense of weight. With the drought at its most severe, yields were already low and further reduced by a cold, windy May that particularly impacted our early grapes. The summer alternated between warmer than normal (June, August, October) and cooler-than-normal (May, July, September) months, and resulted in a slow, extended harvest, with many of our late grapes coming in with tremendous expressiveness at low sugar levels. My dad called the vintage "athletic", which I thought was a nice way of getting at its weightless power. Similar vintages: none, really, though 2008 and 2013 have some traits they share.
  • 2016: Even though we were still in the drought, rainfall was a bit better than the previous years, and the vineyard healthier under our new Biodynamic protocols. Yields recovered a bit from 2015 levels. A warm summer produced intense wines, both reds and whites, with dark colors and the structure to age. Similar vintages: 2002, 2006, 2019. 
  • 2017: We felt like we saw a replay of 2005, where 40+ inches of rainfall broke the drought with a bang and the vineyard tried to do three years of growing in one. We dodged frosts, had a moderate summer before a dramatic heat spike in late August, but just as things got critical it cooled in September and finished under perfect conditions in October. Good yields but outstanding concentration and colors, juicy early appeal but the structure to age. Similar vintages: 2003, 2005, 2021.
  • 2018: As played out a decade earlier, a strong vintage that was overshadowed by blockbuster years on either side, producing elegant wines that were easy to underestimate. The growing season was slightly cooler than average except for a scorching midsummer (July through mid-August). Things cooled back down for harvest, and we picked with outstanding acids and solid concentration. This appears to be one of our greatest white vintages, and a strong red vintage though maybe not with the long aging of our best years. Similar vintages: 2008, 2013.
  • 2019: A classic vintage for us, strong for both reds and whites, a product of good rain the previous winter, a cool first two-thirds of the ripening cycle, then consistently warm last third that accelerated the late grapes. The resulting compressed harvest had slightly above average yields, high quality across the board, pronounced varietal character, and good structure on the reds. A classic vintage for cellaring. Similar vintages: 2004, 2016, 2017. 
  • 2020: A year that many of us would like to forget, but which looks like it's produced wines we want to remember. The growing season was challenging, with below-average rain, a cool early summer followed by record-breaking heat in early August and mid-September, wildfires to our north and south, and, oh, a pandemic. The heat produced an early, compressed harvest. Whites turned out to be outstanding, with a lusciousness bolstered by good acids. We're still getting to know our reds, but they appear strong as well, with intense fruitiness and good tannic bite. Similar vintages: 2003 and 2014.
  • 2021: It's our most recent vintage, so take this with a grain of salt, but I think 2021 has produced wines that rival the best we've seen in our history. Yields were reduced by a dry, chilly winter, with 13 of the 16 inches of rain coming in one January storm. The summer was lovely except for a July heat spike, and harvest unfolded in ideal conditions, with each warm stretch followed by a cool-down to give the vines (and us) some time to recover. The resulting wines have concentration and freshness, juicy appeal but structure, and (as we often see in our best years) well defined varietal character. Seemingly equally strong for both whites and reds. Similar vintages: 2017, 2019, and especially 2007. 

One of the most fun things about what I get to do is to come to know wines (and years) almost as people, with personalities and life journeys that add depth to the things we perceive on first impression. Opening an older vintage can be like revisiting an old friend, and sometimes it makes me realize that years have what are in essence sibling relationships with other years. Of course, not every year has a comp. There are some years like 2001, 2009, and 2015 whose unusual combination of factors leads to vintages we just haven't seen before or since. Perhaps that will change when we have a half-century of  years under our belt. I'll report back. Meanwhile, I hope that some of you found this helpful, or at least interesting. If this just raises new questions, leave them in the comments and I'll do my best to answer. 


Preparing for a potentially historic California harvest heat wave

So far this harvest season, the weather has been just about perfect. It's been warm (average high temp 93.5°F) but not too warm (highest high just 102.8°F, and just 48 hours over 95°F). Nights have been chilly (average low temp 54.7°F) but not too chilly (lowest low temp 47.7°F). Each warm stretch has been followed by a cool-off. You can get a sense of this by looking at the daily temperature ranges since August 1st:

Daily Temperatures August 2022

All that moderation is exactly what you want for your vines as they make that final push toward harvest. Unfortunately, it looks like we're getting something rather different starting tomorrow. A heat wave is coming, and it's a big one. The New York Times is calling it "brutal", the Washington Post is calling it "record-threatening", and the San Francisco Chronicle is calling it "dangerously hot". Here in Paso Robles, our forecast is for a string of days that might touch 110°F:

Forecast highs heat wave 2022

Many parts of California are looking at temperatures that will exceed seasonal norms by 12-14°C (22-25°F) in what is already a warm time of year. The European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecast (ECMWF) gives a great graphical depiction just how widespread the temperature anomaly will be across the western United States. A shout out to Daniel Swain and his blog Weather West, where I found this image, and which I consider required reading for anyone interested in California weather or climate:

Temperature Anomaly Heat Wave August 2022

A couple of mitigating factors give me some hope that we might escape the heat wave's worst effects. First, it's not quite as hot out here as in the town of Paso Robles. So if the forecast for town is 110°F, it's more likely to be 106°F or 107°F here. Those few degrees help. Second, the vineyard looks really healthy this year. That vigor is going to be put to the test in coming days, but at least we're starting from a good position. Third, it looks like the nights are supposed to cool off. Even at the height of the high pressure ridge, it looks like the town of Paso Robles is going to drop into the 60s. Out here it's usually 3-5°F cooler at night than in town. So the vines will still have a chance to refresh themselves a bit at night. And finally, it's late enough in the year that we have somewhat shorter days and longer nights than we would if it were mid-summer. The twelve hours and 57 minutes between sunrise and sunset is an hour and 38 minutes less heating time than we would have had on our longest day of the year.

On the other side of the ledger, we're in our third year of drought here in California, it's late enough in the growing season that even in a normal year we'd expect the top several feet of soil to be dry and the vines to be under high stress, and we had another heat event in July that already resulted in some losses.

However it shakes out, it's going to be a challenge, and our tools to deal with the heat are limited. The best option is to bring anything that's ready or nearly so into the cellar and get them into tanks or barrels where the outside temperature doesn't matter. Over the last two days, we've brought in nearly 47 tons of grapes, or roughly 10% of what we expect to do this entire harvest season, including these Grenache Blanc bins on our crushpad today:

Grenache Blanc on crushpad

We'll be continuing to bring in grapes through the wave, starting early in the pre-dawn hours with light towers and headlamps when it's still cool and continuing until probably only around 10am, when temperatures get high enough that we worry about the effects of oxidation on the newly harvested clusters. A big piece of what's coming in next will be Syrah, which is ready to go and looking amazing:

Syrah clusters

But there are grapes that are still a long way from being ready. Heck, there are grapes like Counoise that haven't even finished veraison. Harvesting those isn't a viable option, and it's important to remember that even with this week's push we're still only about a third of the way through harvest. So we've been doing something you rarely see after veraison and turning on our irrigation lines in our most heat-sensitive varieties, trying to give them the reserves they need to withstand the heat. I posted about this on Twitter today:

We're trying to avoid raisining, where the vines activate a self-defense mechanism by pulling the liquid out of their berries and using it to replace what they're losing to evaporation and photosynthesis. The resulting hard, sour raisins won't reinflate, costing us production. This Mourvedre cluster shows both that there are grapes still finishing veraison and a few of these premature raisins, the result of an earlier heat wave in mid-July that caused modest losses in Mourvedre:

Mourvedre cluster with raisining

Those two options are pretty much our entire toolkit, at least in the short term. And, of course, we don't even have one of those options on the 40% of our vineyard without irrigation infrastructure. In the longer term, the farming choices we make can help build the vines' resilience to heat and drought. Focusing on dry-farming builds deeper root systems, which have more reliable access to water and are less impacted by what's going on at the surface. Regenerative farming helps build the organic content of our soils, which then hold more moisture. And Biodynamics (along with the regenerative practices) produces more robust vines that have greater reserves to draw from. 

Fingers crossed, please, that it's enough. 


With its August 17th beginning, 2022 becomes our earliest-ever start to harvest

By Ian Consoli

In the early morning of August 17th, we brought in our earliest estate-fruit pick ever with just under four tons of Viognier. Our first purchased fruit came in later that the same day: 4.25 tons of Syrah from Fralich Vineyard. And just like that, the 2022 harvest began! We steadily brought in fruit over the next week before temperatures cooled a bit the last few days, and everything slowed down.

The next day saw our annual "Cellar Crew Day" at the Haas Vineyard, source of our Full Circle Pinot Noir. This tradition allows the whole cellar team to be a part of the picking process before the thick of harvest. It's also an opportunity for our core cellar team to better get to know the harvest interns. A few photos from that pick, beginning with Vineyard Manager David Maduena, starting his 31st harvest here at Tablas Creek, monitoring the bins of Pinot Noir:

David Maduena

Senior Assistant Winemaker Chelsea Franchi in her 14th harvest at Tablas Creek picks alongside one of this year's cellar interns, Louisa:

Chelsea and Intern harvesting

Seeing the first bins of fruit on the crush pad is always a welcome sight:

Syrah on the Crushpad

Unlike last year, where temperatures dropped in late August and we waited a week between our first estate pick and our second, this year is steadily moving along. After the Viognier came in on Wednesday, we harvested half a bin of Roussanne from Jewel Ridge on Thursday, Vermentino on Saturday, then Grenache Blanc and Syrah on Monday. Over the past week, we have maintained a daily high of around 100 degrees with just a slight dip over the weekend into the 80s, maintaining prime ripening conditions for the fruit this time of year:

Our estate fruit isn't the only thing we are keeping track of. We source from about ten vineyards throughout Paso Robles for our Patelin program, and with these kinds of ripening conditions, viticulturist Jordan Lonborg needs to pull samples from all of them a couple of times a week to ensure we pick at just the right time. Every time we finish picking from one of these partner vineyards, there's one less stop Jordan needs to make in the morning. Right now, he's visiting every one of them. Here's his haul from Wednesday morning:

Samples

It's early, but it looks like we may be seeing another lower-yielding vintage. That’s not surprising, given the drought conditions and the frosts we saw in April and May, but we’d hoped it might be more localized. Instead, Winemaker Neil Collins noted that yields are down on both the estate and Patelin picks so far from a year ago, and a year ago yields were down from the previous year. Still, quality looks very strong.

Although an earlier-than-normal harvest does come with complications for staff (the cellar team typically takes a bit of time off before the rush of harvest), the steady pace at which this harvest started bodes well for the next couple of months. We're looking at temperatures in the 90s over the next week with a slight dip over the weekend. This is the type of weather pattern we hope for at this time of year, and we're looking forward to what next week will bring.

What's next? It seems like we might get a little more Syrah at the end of the week. In the meantime, we'll be enjoying the lovely harvest aromas of fermenting Viognier in the cellar and this slow, steady start to harvest. It's just the beginning, but it's been a good beginning. I'll leave you with the Syrah clusters that look like they're coming next.

Syrah Clusters


What we've learned about making box wine, six months and three colors later

Back in February, I published a blog that created a bit of a stir. In it, I made the case that boxes of wine (the cardboard kind normally found on grocery store shelves, not the wooden kind found in fancy cellars) deserved another look from higher-end producers. It had become stigmatized in the market, the container for what people assumed would be cheap plonk. But I asserted that there were compelling reasons to shift certain wines into boxes, most notably that it offered advantages in preservation (it can last weeks in your fridge after being opened), storage space (glass bottles are bulky, and the packaging needed to cushion them takes up yet more space), and portability (a full 3L bag-in-box weighs seven pounds while the same volume in bottles weighs eleven). Plus, and probably most importantly, because glass bottles are heavy and require lots of energy to melt and mold, a 3L wine bag-in-box offers an 84% carbon footprint reduction vs. the four glass bottles that would contain the same wine.

The blog got 54 comments, more than any other we've ever published. It spurred stories in Wine Searcher, Forbes, and even the Robb Report. I was invited to speak about the decision at the WiVi tradeshow and on the XChateau Podcast. More recently, the New York Times published an article in which wine columnist Eric Asimov pointed to our experiments with the wine boxes as a productive step forward for wine producers grappling with the environmental impact of our default package. The initial batch of 324 boxes of our Patelin de Tablas Rosé sold out four hours after we announced their release in an email to our wine club and mailing list. We made more (522 boxes) of the Patelin de Tablas Blanc in June, and despite releasing them in a much less shipping-friendly season sold them out in less than a month. This week, we put our first red into box, the 2021 Patelin de Tablas. We're planning to release it soon, and I expect it to go fast.

Cellar team making Patelin red boxes Chelsea filling Patelin red boxes

The response from our customers has been amazing. I was hoping that we'd sell out of the Patelin Rosé boxes in a month, so being out in four hours was definitely above my wildest aspirations. And the feedback we've seen from customers either directly or online has been terrific. But I've been most gratified to hear from so many other producers who are also looking to explore this lower-carbon package and want to know what we've learned. A few have even jumped in and done it, including Kobayashi Winery, who released their high-end Roussanne/Marsanne blend in a $195 box.

In the spirit of using the blog to answer the questions I get every day, here's a quick summary of what we've learned after six months:

  • The public is more open than they've ever been to alternative packaging. This first hurdle, which I assumed would be the biggest one, turned out to be no big deal. Granted, we have a direct relationship with the customers on our mailing list and in our wine club. But so do other wineries. And based on the number of people who let me know that this was their first-ever purchase of a boxed wine, we weren't dealing with people who were already converts to the package. That's amazing. And it's not just boxes. Writers as on platforms as diverse and distinguished as JancisRobinson.com, SommTV, San Francisco Chronicle, and Wine Enthusiast have recently published pieces in support of lighter-weight, lower-waste wine containers like boxes, cans, kegs, and bottles made from paper, resin, and plastic. 
  • The wholesale market is likely to be slower to adjust. When I published that February blog, I heard from a few independent retailers around the country asking if they could buy some of these boxes. We didn't make enough this first go-around to sell them in the wholesale market, but I put out some feelers with our wholesalers for next year. Although there were a few exceptions, the responses I got were not generally enthusiastic. Most boiled down to some version of, "You want people to spend how much for your box of wine? That won't work with our current box wine outlets." And I get this. A quick search on the shelves at our local Albertsons revealed a decent array of box wines... all selling for between $20 and $35. Doing the math, that translates to between $5 and $8.75 per 750ml. Our Patelin boxes, priced at $95, work out to $23.75 per 750ml bottle. I submit that this is still a great value -- bottles of Patelin sell for $28, after all -- but I could easily imagine the sticker shock of a grocery store customer wondering what this outlier was doing on a shelf at triple the price of the next-most-expensive box. If someone knows and trusts Tablas Creek already, great. That's easy to overcome. But are those people looking in the box wine section of their local retail store? Perhaps not. However, I still think that there is a market for high-end box wines in wholesale. It's just not at the traditional grocery and retail chain outlets. The sweet spot, I think, would be to market this to smaller, independent retailers who talk to their customers and would be excited to share the advantages of boxes. And to hip restaurants who don't have keg systems to pour wine by the glass. After all, the preservation and waste-reduction advantages offered by boxes could prove incredibly valuable at a restaurant level. No more pouring out the oxidized ends of bottles after two days. No more bins full of empty glass.    
  • The infrastructure to support small producers packaging in bag-in-box has a long way to come... but it could happen fast. There is a supply network that allows small- to medium-size wineries to operate with reasonable economies of scale. These include brokers who consolidate the offerings of vendors of bottles, capsules, labels and corks; mobile bottling lines that allow a winery to bottle a few weeks a year without having to invest in a line that costs hundreds of thousands of dollars; and warehouses who ship wine for hundreds of wineries and can negotiate on reasonable footing with common carriers like UPS and FedEx. All those pieces still need to be developed for boxes of wine. We had one off-the-shelf option (thank you AstraPouch!) on the open market for sourcing our boxes and the bags that go inside. That's fine; you don't need to make millions of boxes to contract with a printer to make your own. We're leaning toward doing so for future runs. But if you were wondering why for this year we used the plain craft cardboard box with our label stuck onto it, well, that was the only option available. For the filling, we had a similarly restricted set of options. There are no mobile boxing lines in California. There is one in Oregon, but the minimum commitment to have them drive all the way down here was in the tens of thousands of boxes. There is a custom boxing line in the Central Valley at which you can rent space if you can bring your wine and materials to them, but their minimums were similarly high. So we were left with renting (and eventually buying) a semi-automated bag filler from Torr Industries and building all the boxes ourselves. That's time consuming (see below) and not very scalable. Finally, on the shipping end, we work with the largest fulfillment house in California to ship our wine to our consumers. They didn't have a package for boxes because they'd never done it before. We had to do a bunch of trial and error, and still aren't 100% satisfied with where we ended up. What's more, neither FedEx nor UPS have approved shipping boxes for wine in box, which means they won't take any responsibility that the product arrives intact.
  • It's time consuming doing the box construction and filling yourself. As I mentioned in the last point, because of the lack of availability and prohibitively high minimum quantities for automated box-filling lines, we had to set up a little assembly line and do it ourselves. You can see the process in the pictures at the beginning of the piece. Someone has to attach the bag to the filler, start the fill, then when it's done detach it and repeat. Meanwhile, someone else has to be assembling and taping the top of the boxes, while yet another person puts a bag into that half-assembled box and then closes and tapes up the bottom. Finally, someone has to carefully stick on the label, then put the box into its "master" case box that holds six of the finished 3L packages. Each stage takes time, on average 30 seconds to fill, 20 seconds to assemble the top of the box, 24 seconds to put the bag into the box and tape up the bottom, and 16 seconds to stick on each label. That's 90 seconds per box of labor. To make 400 boxes, as we did Monday, it takes 10 hours of work time, not counting the time it takes to set up and calibrate the machine, unpack the shipments of materials, or close up finished master cases and prepare them for transport. For our cellar team of four, making 400 3L boxes was an afternoon's work. That's a lot slower than bottling using a mobile bottling line. How much slower? We normally can bottle 2000 cases in a full day of work. The 400 3L boxes is equivalent to 133 9L cases. So if we'd done a full day, we might have finished the equivalent of 275 cases... less than 15% of the volume we could have put into bottles in that same time. That's a huge disincentive to scale up a boxed wine program.
  • The package itself is even better than we'd thought. For all the challenges, we're believers in the package. We're now roughly six months out from our first batch of boxes, and the wine is still showing beautifully when we open a new box, indistinguishable from a newly-opened screwcapped bottle. We've tried the wine after having it be open two months and four months in a fridge, and it showed fresh and pure. We'll keep testing and will know more after a year, but as far as the integrity of the wine in the box, we've been happy.

So, where does this leave us? Not all that far from where we began. We think the package is good for the wine and now have confirmation that consumers are willing to give it a try even at a higher price. We have learned that the infrastructure to support smaller producers who want to move to bag-in-box is limited. We have learned that there are lots of other wineries out there who are interested, but that many are stymied by the lack of infrastructure. And we know that the wine press is focused like never before on bigger picture questions on the sustainability of wine and the containers it comes in.

All this together seems to me like it will result in changes coming sooner than later that will make it accessible for smaller wineries to offer boxes of their wine to customers. After all, it's a business opportunity, as well as a chance to help move the wine world to a lower-carbon future. Now we wait.

Patelin Red Boxes


Comparing Clusters and Vine Growth in Our Principal Red Rhone Varieties as Harvest 2022 Aproaches

This is a time of year when things move fast in the vineyard. In just the last couple of weeks, we've gone from just starting veraison to more than halfway through. Large swaths of fully-colored grapes don't look much different than they will at harvest, and they're getting tasty. Even better, the vines themselves still look great. Typically, by mid-August some of the lower vigor grapes (I'm looking at you, Mourvedre) start to look a little tired, with some yellowing or browning of the leaves. Not this year. Throughout the vineyard, the vines look deep green and vigorous. That bodes well for their ability to make a strong finishing push.

I thought it would be fun to take a look at our main red grape varieties, both cluster and vine, to get a comparative sense of how they grow and what they look like now. So I took a walk through our Scruffy Hill block, which we planted back in 2005 and 2006 with the idea it would someday be a vineyard block designate, and got representative photos of the four red Rhone varieties we had available to plant in that era. I then went to a new head-trained Cinsaut block to complete the quintet of grapes we think of as our core set. I'll share them in the order in which we expect them to arrive in the cellar, starting with Syrah and finishing with Mourvedre. Without further ado:

Syrah

There are Syrah blocks at the tops of our hills that look like they might only be a couple of weeks from harvest. But our Scruffy Hill section will likely be longer than that; you can see that the cluster I photographed still has a green berry, and there are other green clusters in the background. But overall I'd guess we're 80% of the way through veraison in Syrah. The grapes are characteristically blue-black, and the clusters modest in size and roughly cylindrical. In terms of the vine, you can see its vigor and its sprawling growth pattern, which is why we train it up high. That way the long canes can arc down like an umbrella instead of trailing on the ground. 

Pre-harvest 2022 - Syrah Pre-harvest 2022 - Syrah Vine

Grenache

Grenache has made a lot of progress through veraison in the last few weeks, and I'd estimate it's past the 50% mark vineyard-wide. You can see in the cluster I chose its relatively pale purple color and its tightly bunched, large clusters of fairly large grapes. The vine is also characteristic: stocky and robust, looking twice as old as its 16-year age, with a large number of relatively stiff canes shooting out at a variety of angles and a plentiful supply of grapes. We should see our first Grenache lots in mid-September, but our last lots not until mid-October. 

Pre-harvest 2022 - Grenache Pre-harvest 2022 - Grenache vine

Cinsaut

Cinsaut may actually come in before Grenache, but the only head-trained block that we have is in one of the lowest parts of the vineyard and was impacted by the frosts we saw this spring. So, the vine's progress is a bit behind where it should be, and where the trellised blocks are elsewhere in the vineyard. But the cluster is still coloring up nicely, with a mix of colors between green and medium purple. The range of grape sizes is unusual (it's a condition colorfully known as "hens and chicks") and appears to be a symptom of the difficult weather it had during flowering. The vine, even in its youth, is already showing the long canes characteristic of Cinsaut and the vigor and upright growth pattern that made it so successful in both Mediterranean Europe and old Californian head-trained, dry-farmed vineyards. We expect it to come in roughly in synch with Grenache. 

Pre-harvest 2022 - Cinsaut Pre-harvest 2022 - Cinsaut Vine

Counoise

There are still Counoise blocks where you have to do some hunting around to find purple berries, but the Scruffy Hill block was at about 50%. This cluster shows the large berries that made Counoise a prized table grape before the development of seedless grapes, and its fairly pale color. The vine shows the moderate vigor and upright growth characteristic of Counoise. We don't expect to see our first Counoise grapes in the cellar until early October.

Pre-harvest 2022 - Counoise Pre-harvest 2022 - Counoise Vine

Mourvedre

We have a lot of Mourvedre blocks, in various stages of ripening.  The Scruffy Hill Mourvedre block is lower down the hillside, and it's relatively early into veraison. But there are hilltop trellised blocks that are nearly done. Still, even when it finishes veraison Mourvedre takes a while to get to ripeness, and we're not likely to see much if any in the cellar until October. The photo below shows the grape's relatively loose clusters, which helps it shrug off early rains, should we be so lucky, and the medium-dark color that the red berries have achieved shows why it produces darker wines than Counoise, Cinsaut, or Grenache. The vine is typical of what we see in the block this year, although as I mentioned in the intro it's unusually green compared to many other years. I would normally expect our Mourvedre vines to look more or less like the Counoise photo above, but this year they have longer canes and more leafy vigor. That's as good a sign as any that the vineyard has unusual vigor and is well positioned for this finishing push.

Pre-harvest 2022 - Mourvedre Pre-harvest 2022 - Mourvedre Vine

A quick note about this year's variability

Although as I noted in a few weeks ago we're likely to challenge our earliest-ever beginning to harvest, I'm starting to believe that it's likely to be quite an extended harvest season. Thanks to the frosts we got in March, April, and May, there's more difference than I'm used to seeing between the tops of the hills (which avoided the frosts and sprouted early) and the bottoms (which either stayed dormant through the frosts or were frozen back when they emerged). And we're used to a long harvest, typically lasting around eight weeks between the arrival of the first and last fruit. This year may be longer.

Still, I'm feeling optimistic about things. We're well set up to handle uneven or delayed ripening, since we give our field crew year-round employment and pick selectively while making multiple passes through our blocks even in a normal year. If we're going to have a 10-week lag between our first and last grapes, it's good to get an early start. And if you were designing perfect ripening weather, what we've gotten the last couple of weeks and what's forecast for next week (days topping out in the upper 80s to upper 90s, with onshore flow and cool nights) would be exactly what you'd wish for.

Let's get this party started.


Tasting the wines in the Fall 2022 VINsider Wine Club shipments

Each spring and fall, we send out a selection of six wines to the members of our VINsider Wine Club.  In many cases, these are wines that only go out to our club. In others, the club gets a first look at wines that may see a later national release. Before each shipment, we reintroduce ourselves to these wines (which, in some cases, we may not have tasted since before bottling) by opening the full lineup and writing the notes that will be included with the club shipments. Yesterday I sat down with Winemakers Neil Collins and Chelsea Franchi and we dove into this fall's collection.

We base each year's fall shipments around the newest releases of the Esprit de Tablas and Esprit de Tablas Blanc, and this fall's shipment is no exception. But there's a lot more to this fall's shipment than the Esprits. In our classic (mixed) shipment we have two varietal wines, one red and one white, both of which I love, and two blends: the newest (and in my opinion, best-ever) vintage of our "neighborhood" white, the Patelin de Tablas Blanc, and our small-production En Gobelet blend, selected entirely from our head-trained, dry-farmed vineyard blocks. We think it's one of the most compelling classic shipments we've ever put together, and the additional wines that will go into the red wine and white wine selections are super cool as well. I'm excited to get them in our members' hands soon.  

The classic shipment includes six different wines:

Fall 2022 Classic Shipment

2021 PATELIN DE TABLAS BLANC

  • Production Notes: Patelin is French slang for "neighborhood" and the Patelin de Tablas Blanc is our white Rhone-style blend sourced from five great neighboring Rhone vineyards: Derby, Fralich, Castoro, Pomar Junction, and Creston Ridge, with a 7% addition of Tablas Creek fruit. We base the wine on the richness and acidity of Grenache Blanc (54%), with Viognier (29%) providing lush stone fruit and floral notes, Marsanne (9%) and Roussanne (7%) adding minerality and texture, and for the first time, a little Bourboulenc (1%) for its pithy tropicality. The wine was fermented entirely in stainless steel and then bottled in screwcap in May 2022 to preserve its freshness.
  • Tasting Notes: A lovely Rhone-like nose of peach pit, chalky minerality, and sweet sarsaparilla spice. On the palate, ripe pear and fresh apricot, a pronounced limestone-like minerality, and lovely acids that bring out Grenache Blanc's signature pithy bite on the long, tropical finish. Drink now and over the next few years.
  • Production: 2900 cases
  • List Price: $28 VINsider Price: $22.40

2021 GRENACHE BLANC

  • Production Notes: The chilly, dry 2020-21 winter produced punishingly low yields for some of our early-sprouting grapes, and Grenache Blanc was no exception, with the harvest down nearly 50%. That meant that we produced our smallest quantity of our 100% Grenache Blanc in more than a decade. But the combination of the low crop levels and the ideal 2021 growing season gave us Grenache Blanc with unusual concentration and rich texture. For the varietal Grenache Blanc, we chose mostly lots fermented in stainless steel (for energy), with a smaller addition from foudre (for roundness). The lots were blended in May 2022 and bottled under screwcap the next month.
  • Tasting Notes: An appealing nose of heirloom red apples and sweet spices. On the palate, on point between brighter and lusher elements: mouth-filling with flavors of fresh apple cider and citrus blossom, sea spray minerality and a hint of butterscotch. Vibrant acids keep order, and lead to a long, pithy finish with a pronounced saline mineral note. Drink now and over the next few years.
  • Production: 750 cases.
  • List Price: $35 VINsider Price: $28

2020 ESPRIT DE TABLAS BLANC

  • Production Notes: The challenges of the 2020 vintages included drought, heat, and pandemic, although we were spared the brunt of the state's terrible fires, which stayed well to our north. But Roussanne, at least, thrived, though its yields suffered as the hot harvest season dragged on. In the end, it was down 25% even as our overall yields were up 7%. Roussanne's scarcity, along with its relatively low acids, constrained us a bit in our blending, opening the door for us to use our highest percentage of complementary grapes since our initial Esprit Blanc in 2001. The final blend included 46% Roussanne, fermented in a mix of oak of various sizes and ages for power and density, 28% Grenache Blanc for texture and pithy bite, and 14% Picpoul for tropical intensity and bright acids. Rounding out the blend were three of our new white Rhone grapes: 5% Bourboulenc (appearing in Esprit Blanc for the first time) for limestoney, citrusy lift, 4% Clairette Blanche for its clean fruitiness and chalky minerality, and 3% Picardan for a little burst of acid, further emphasizing the mineral notes. As we have done since 2012, we returned the blend to foudre after it was assembled in May 2021 and aged it through the subsequent harvest before bottling it in December 2021. We've been letting it deepen in bottle ever since.
  • Tasting Notes: An immediately appealing nose of poached pear and baked quince, vanilla custard and nutmeg spice. On the palate, lovely and long, with Roussanne-driven flavors of beeswax and preserved lemon, rounded out by just a hint of sweet oak. Fresh and lifted, but long and textured. A charming Esprit Blanc that will be hard to resist young but which should also do beautifully with time in the cellar. Drink over the next two decades.
  • Production: 1880 cases
  • List Price: $50 VINsider Price: $40

2020 GRENACHE

  • Production Notes: Grenache thrived despite the challenges of the 2020 vintage, with yields up 45% and a lovely spine of tannic bite deepening the juicy appeal that we expect every year from this famously fruity grape. For our varietal bottling we as usual chose lots that emphasized Grenache's freshness and avoided riper lots that tend toward higher alcohols. The lots were blended in June 2021 and aged in neutral oak until its bottling in February 2022.
  • Tasting Notes: A lifted nose of minty, herby wild strawberry over deeper notes of teriyaki and black raspberries. On the palate, redcurrant and red licorice flavors, with tannins like fresh cherry skin providing counterpoint. The long finish shows red fruit, sweet spice, and firm tannic grip. Don't be thrown by the wine's relatively pale color; it packs a ton of flavor. Drink soon to enjoy the crunchy fruit character, or hold for a decade or more for a smoother experience.
  • Production: 1122 cases
  • List Price: $40 VINsider Price: $32

2020 EN GOBELET

  • Production Notes: Our thirteenth En Gobelet, a non-traditional blend all from head-trained, dry-farmed blocks, and mostly from the 12-acre block we call Scruffy Hill, planted in 2005 and 2006 to be a self-sufficient field blend. These lots tend to show more elegance and minerality than our closer-spaced irrigated blocks, although in 2020 the wine shows plenty of complexity. We chose a blend of 37% Grenache, 25% Mourvedre, 22% Syrah, 11% Counoise, and 5% Tannat, with the higher-than-normal percentages of Syrah and Tannat combining to give dark spice and firm tannins in this warm, luscious year. The wine was blended in June of 2021, aged in foudre, and bottled in April 2022.
  • Tasting Notes: A lovely deep red color, darker than many previous years. On the nose, spicy and savory, with notes of chaparral and star anise over wild grapes and brambly black fruit. On the palate, flavors of dark chocolate-covered cherries, juniper spice, and ripe fresh figs. A lovely tannic richness emphasizes salty minerality on the long finish. Deep, complex, and built for the long term. Decant this if you're drinking it now, or wait and drink any time over the next two decades.
  • Production: 906 cases
  • List Price: $55 VINsider Price: $44

2020 ESPRIT DE TABLAS

  • Production Notes: As always, the Esprit is based on the red fruit and meatiness of Mourvedre (40%). 30% Grenache (for sweet spice and bright acids), 21% Syrah (for dark color and savory, tannic richness), and 5% Counoise (for brambly spice and freshness) were in line with most recent years, but in this relatively luscious vintage we found a place for two of our newest grapes for the first time: 3% Vaccarese, for black fruit and minerality, and 1% Cinsaut, for sweet spice and herby wildness. This blend produced something both luscious and weightless, complex and yet pure. The wine's components were fermented separately, then selected for Esprit, blended in June 2021 and aged a year in foudre before bottling in July 2022.
  • Tasting Notes: A pretty nose that speaks clearly of Mourvedre in its elderberry and blackcurrant fruit and its eucalyptus and soy marinade umami notes. On the palate, black cherry and musky mulberry fruit, new leather, and a loamy richness that suggests a lovely meaty note will develop with time. The firm but ripe tannins maintain order and lead to a long, spicy finish. This is an Esprit that will drink well young, but don't let this trick you into thinking it won't have the stuffing to age. Enjoy any time in the next 20-25 years.
  • Production: 3480 cases
  • List Price: $65 VINsider Price: $52

Two additional wines joined the Patelin de Tablas BlancGrenache Blanc, and Esprit de Tablas Blanc in the white-only shipment (we doubled up the Esprit Blanc):

Fall 2022 White Selection Shipment

2021 BOURBOULENC

  • Production Notes: Our third-ever bottling of Bourboulenc, from our third-ever harvest of this relatively obscure Rhone white grape. Bourboulenc is known in France to make wines with fresh fruit aromatics and a distinctive nutty character, with fairly good acids and relatively low alcohol. In just a few years, it's become a favorite here, making it into the Esprit Blanc the last two years. Still, this 209-case varietal bottling is its primary showcase, and represents about 75% of our total harvest. It was blended in May 2022 and bottled in June.
  • Tasting Notes: A nose of sea spray, mandarin, and citrus blossom. On the palate, rich but bright like lemon curd, with additional notes of vanilla shortbread and chalky minerals. Clean and long on the palate, with a lingering finish of preserved lemon and a verbena-like green herb character. Unique and delicious. Our experience aging Bourboulenc is limited, but we plan to drink ours over the next few years.
  • Production: 209 cases
  • List Price: $35 VINsider Price: $28

2019 PETIT MANSENG

  • Production Notes: Our tenth bottling of this traditional grape from southwest France, Petit Manseng is best known from the appellation of Jurançon, where it has made admired sweet wines for centuries that you rarely hear about in America. Petit Manseng achieves sufficient concentration and sugar content -- and maintains its acids sufficiently -- to make naturally sweet, balanced wines without botrytis. Harvested at 29.4° Brix and a pH of 3.36, we fermented it in barrel, and stopped its fermentation when it had about 90 grams/liter of sugar left. This is a little sweeter than most of our recent Petit Manseng vintages, but acids are high enough that it shows lovely lift to balance the sweetness. The wine was aged on its lees in barrel and bottled in June 2020.
  • Tasting Notes: Medium gold. An exotic nose of honey, citrus leaf, and grilled pineapple. In the mouth, the wine begins lushly sweet, like candied orange peel, then a notes of green shiso-like herbiness, followed by a pithy bite, and finally the acids come out and restore order. Sweet but light on its feet, with a spicy pink peppercorn note coming out on the finish. A little sweeter and more intense than but reminiscent of a demi-sec Vouvray, for anyone with that as a reference point. Would be amazing, we thought, with a salty cheese or lemon olive oil cake or prosciutto and melon. Drink now or age for up to another decade for a nuttier character.
  • Production: 190 cases
  • List Price: $50 VINsider Price: $40

Two additional reds joined the GrenacheEn Gobelet and two bottles of the Esprit de Tablas in the red-only shipment:

Fall 2022 Red Selection Shipment

2020 FULL CIRCLE

  • Production Notes: The eleventh vintage of our Full Circle Pinot Noir, grown on the small vineyard outside the Haas family's home in Templeton, in the cool (for Paso) Templeton Gap AVA. Its name reflects Robert Haas's career: from a start introducing America to the greatness of Burgundy, through decades focusing on grapes from the Rhone, one of his last acts was to plant Pinot at his home and oversee our first few vintages. The grapes were fermented in one-ton microfermenters, half de-stemmed and half with stems for a more savory profile, punched down twice daily by hand. After pressing, the wine was moved into a mix of one-year-old and two-year-old Marcel Cadet 60-gallon barrels, for a hint of oak. The wine stayed on its lees, stirred occasionally, for 10 months, before being blended and bottled in August 2021. We've aged the wine in bottle for an additional year since then.
  • Tasting Notes: An immediately recognizable Pinot Noir nose of cola, cherry skin, and sweet spice. The palate is juicy, vibrant, and salty, with red fruit deepened by a little smoky oak. The experience brightens back up on the finish, highlighted by bright acids, wild herbs, and sweet mulling spices. Drink now and over the next decade.
  • Production: 367 cases
  • List Price: $45 VINsider Price: $36

2017 PATELIN DE TABLAS

  • Production Notes: Most of our Patelin de Tablas, blended from a selection of local vineyards planted to our clones, is sold in restaurants and wine shops and mostly consumed in the first few years. But in recent years, when we have a vintage we love, we've started stashing a modest quantity in our library to show how it can age. And the blockbuster 2017 vintage produced a Patelin de Tablas worthy of that aging, and more. The blend of 48% Syrah, 32% Grenache, 16% Mourvedre, and 4% Counoise tastes like it has one foot in the old world and one in the new, as well as one foot in the northern Rhone and one in the south. It was blended in May of 2018 and bottled in August of that same year. In the intervening four years, it's developed a lovely meatiness to complement the black fruit and spice it has had since the beginning.
  • Tasting Notes: A meaty nose of pancetta, baker's chocolate, and brambly blackberry. On the palate, juicy black fruit with a salted brown butter richness and a sweet tobacco herbiness. The long finish, with notes of iron and blackberry, still shows the wine's essential youthfulness, with its age coming out in that recurring pancetta note. We recommend you decant this (and any screwcapped red) and enjoy it any time in the next six-to-eight years.
  • Production: 3588 cases
  • Library Price: $38 VINsider Price: $30.40

The tasting was a great way to hone in on the character of our two most recent vintages. 2020 is a vintage that is most noteworthy for its lush fruit, though it has the tannic structure and acids to stand up to it. 2021 is a blockbuster, whose low yields produced wines with excellent concentration and great vibrancy. They are both worthy successors to the classic 2019s, and we can't wait to find out what our members think.

JH NC and CF with fall 2022 shipment wines

If you're a wine club member, we've got a range of options for you to try these wines. We are planning to host a live in-person pickup party on Sunday, October 16th. Neil and I will be hosting another virtual pickup party the evening of Friday, October 7th. And we'll again be offering club members who visit the opportunity to choose the shipment wines as their tasting flight between mid-September and early-October. Consider this a "save the date"; we will be putting details on all this on our VINsider News & Updates page and announcing them via email soon.

If you're not a wine club member, and you've read all this way, then why not join us while there's still a chance to get this fall shipment? Details and how to join are at tablascreek.com/wine_club/vinsider_club