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


Veraison 2022 Sets the Stage for a Coin Flip: Will This Be Our Earliest Harvest Ever?

I got back this week from spending most of a month in Vermont to find a very different vineyard than the one I left. Instead of growing but bright green, pea-sized berries, the grapes have become full-sized and rainbow shades of purple, red, pink and green. This Grenache cluster is a great example of the diversity of color:

Veraison 2022 - Grenache 2

Veraison, if you're unfamiliar with the term, is a physiological stage of grape development where the berries stop accumulating mass and start accumulating sugar. More visibly, red grapes start their color change from green, while white grapes take on more of a yellow tint. Both red and white grapes start to soften. This landmark comes roughly six weeks before the onset of harvest, and gives us our best estimate for when harvest will begin.

Although this week has been an exception, the last month of the 2022 growing season has been warm. In the 35 days since the calendar turned to summer, our average high temperature has been 93.5°F. Eight days have topped 100°F, with another fifteen topping out in the 90's. Just one day failed to make it into the 80's. But July is almost always hot in Paso Robles, and that average is less than what we saw in July 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2021. And I was pleased with the vigor and health of the vines in my rambles around it today and yesterday. July is typically when the vineyard starts showing signs of the marathon that is the growing season. Not this year, or at least not yet. But it's definitely been warm enough to push veraison into high gear.

We spotted our first color in the vineyard on July 12th. Now, two weeks later, Syrah is moving fast, and the others getting started. I thought it would be fun to give you a visual tour. I'll start with Syrah, as usual the first Rhone red to enter version and the fastest to change colors. The cluster on the right is a little ahead of average, mostly red but still with a few green berries finishing up, while the cluster on the left is more typical:

Veraison 2022 - Syrah

Grenache is next in line. I think it's the most beautiful grape in nearly every season, but in veraison it outdoes itself, with the berries turning jewel-like in the sun. Look for lots more Grenache pictures in the next month, as we get further along than the 10% veraison I'd estimate we have now:

Veraison 2022 - Grenache

Mourvedre, even though it's typically the last to be harvested, is the next-most-advanced, well further into veraison than Counoise and only slightly behind Grenache. Note though that this doesn't mean it's going to be picked any time soon; it often has relatively early veraison and then just spends a long time in this last stage of ripening. This cluster is one of the more advanced ones, and I'd estimate it's only at 5% veraison overall:

Veraison 2022 - Mourvedre

Finally, Counoise. It took some searching to find any color. This cluster, with a few pink-purple berries in a sea of green, is about as advanced as it gets. I'd estimate we're around 1% on Counoise, overall:

Veraison 2022 - Counoise

Although it's less exciting visually than with reds, white grapes too go through veraison. The grapes turn from green to something a little yellower, and soften and start to get sweet. They also become more translucent. The process happens over a continuum as it does in the reds. Viognier goes first, followed by Vermentino, Marsanne, and Grenache Blanc, with Picpoul and Roussanne bringing up the rear. You can see the slightly golden tone that this Viognier cluster is starting to pick up:

Veraison 2022 - Viognier

It's important to note that while the veraison posts you're likely seeing from your favorite wineries may make it seem like veraison is a moment, like Christmas, it's probably better understood as a continuum, like winter, and first veraison is like first frost, or first snowfall. It will likely be a week or two so before even all the Syrah clusters are red, and more than a month until the last clusters of later grapes like Mourvedre and Counoise have finished coloring up. 

While six weeks is a good basic guide for the duration between veraison and harvest, it's not totally constant, and can be influenced by the weather that we get in the interim, as well as by the amount of fruit the vines are carrying and the inherent tendencies of the different varieties. For example, a consistently cool August in 2018 gave us more than six weeks between veraison and our first harvest on September 10th, while last year's consistent heat and low yields gave us just a five week interim. The last decade is compiled in the chart below, with each year linked to my blog post about that year's veraison:

Year First Veraison Noted Estate Harvest Begins # of Days
2012 July 25 September 5 42
2013 July 17 August 26 40
2014 July 9 August 23 45
2015 July 18 August 26 39
2016 July 13 August 18 36
2017 July 20 August 30 41
2018 July 29 September 10 43
2019 July 30 September 4 36
2020 July 21 August 25 35
2021 July 21 August 24 34
2022 July 12 ? ?

Using the range of durations between first veraison and first harvest (34 to 45 days) we can have good confidence that we'll begin picking sometime between August 15th and August 26th. The weather between now and then will determine where in the range we'll fall, influenced as well by the crop levels, since lighter crops ripen faster than heavier ones. It looks like we're seeing medium crop levels this year, better than last year but not at the levels we saw in a year like 2017, which suggests we'd trend toward the earlier end of the range above, but maybe not challenge last year's record-short duration. Still, we have a chance of besting 2016 for our earliest-ever beginning to harvest. 

What's next for the vineyard? We'll watch the different grapes go through veraison. That progress is already happening fast, and the view in the vineyard is changing daily. We'll be posting regular photos of veraison's progress on our FacebookTwitter, and Instagram pages. I spent some time yesterday with our Viticulturist Jordy Lonborg, and he's excited about the vines' health. It looks like we lost a little crop to sunburn during the heat spikes, but nothing crippling, and the vigor in the vineyard should give the vines the ability to make a strong finishing push. In a few weeks, we'll start sampling the early varieties, looking for the moment when the flavors are fully developed and the balance of sugars and acids ideal. In the cellar, we'll use that time to finish bottling the last of our 2020 reds, refill those barrels and foudres with our newly-blended 2021s, and get started cleaning and checking all the tanks and equipment we'll be using once harvest begins.  

So, now we wait, and enjoy the show. We may not know exactly how much time is on that timer, but we can hear it starting to tick.

Veraison 2022 - Syrah Horizontal


A True Product of Tablas Creek Vineyard: An Interview with Cellar Assistant Austin Collins

By Ian Consoli

Austin Collins didn’t just grow up with Tablas Creek, he grew up at Tablas Creek. The son of winemaker Neil Collins, who moved with his family to the property when he started in 1998, Austin was here when the Tablas Creek nursery was in full swing. He was here when Tablas Creek harvested its second vintage from the Beaucastel clones and when we harvested the 14th and final of those clones. He was here when Tablas Creek got our organic certification in 2003, our Biodynamic certification in 2016, and the world's first Regenerative Organic Certification in 2020.

Austin joined the Tablas Creek team full-time in 2019 and now lives in that house on the property with his wife Taylor and newborn son Finnegan, who will be the third generation of Collins to live on this property. Now we can look forward to imagining what he will witness.

I sat down with Austin, a friend from my childhood, and asked about his journey, ambitions, and future.

 Who are you?

My name is Austin Collins. I am technically the cellar assistant, but I am more in the vineyard at this point. I am also the property caretaker here at Tablas Creek.

What are some of your daily activities?

I run irrigation right now. Turning on the water, fixing broken lines, and choosing where the water goes each day. Also, just looking at the vineyard, seeing what needs to be done, and making sure it looks good, and all the equipment and tractors are functioning correctly.

Where did you grow up?

I grew up here! At Tablas Creek, in the house right behind me. That's where I live now with my wife and our eight-month-old son.

For those who don't know, how did you end up growing up here?

My dad has been the winemaker here pretty much since the beginning, since 1998. We lived in France at Beaucastel for nine months to a year, then we moved into this house when I was about four.

Austin by his house

When did you really start to get into wine?

I started getting into it in 2015 when I moved back from school. I did a harvest at our family company, Bristols Cider, where I got into fermentation and realized how fun and unique it is. From there, I started drinking wine with friends, coworkers, and mentors. I did my first harvest internship at Linne Calodo here in Paso Robles with Matt Trevisan, and that's where it all started.

Did you always want to work in wine?

No [laughs]. Absolutely not. I thought it was ridiculous for a very long time, to see people drink, sip, and talk about wine. I thought it was madness until about 2015.

What did you want to do before you got into wine?

I went to school to study wildlife biology. I wanted to work in animal behavior studies. Then I got into plants, botany, andrology, and things like that.

Do you utilize any of those studies here?

Definitely, yeah. Biology and plant studies, absolutely.

Other than Linne Calodo, what winery experience did you have before Tablas Creek?

I spent a lot of time in the cellar here when I was a kid during harvest and kind of all year. After Linne Calodo, I interned in Burgundy, in Meursault at Domaine Matrot. Right after that internship, I worked at Beaucastel, which is obviously Tablas's sister winery in Châteauneuf. A few months after working there, I went to New Zealand and worked at a winery called Ata Rangi in Martinborough. Afterward, I returned, worked at Linne Calodo again for another harvest, and started working here in January 2019.

Growing up here on the property and living here currently, what's something you can share about Tablas Creek, this property, this place that not many people would know?

At our tallest point, you can see all of the coastal range through Big Sur. You can actually see Junipero Serra Peak, the tallest peak in Monterey County.

What is your favorite part about working at Tablas Creek?

Definitely the land. I grew up here, so it's the most special place in my world. I've been all over and always come back here thinking it's a special spot. Even the roads you can take from here. Adelaide Road to Klau Mine to Cypress Mountain towards Cambria is probably the best road in the county.

Austin Collins on a quad

I've heard you talk about Grenache flowering. Could you describe that experience?

That is a very nostalgic experience. I mean, this whole industry is a nostalgic experience between working in the cellar and in the vineyard. The flowering of Grenache vines is an incredibly strong smell. I didn't realize what it was until I got into the industry, particularly working in the vineyard. During flowering, like early June, you can just smell this intense perfume smell and it's strongest off the Grenache vines.

If a genie said you could be head winemaker anywhere you wanted, where would you pick?

That's tough. My favorite wineries are very small, so my being there would change them too much. It would be easier for me to answer if it was regional. My favorite wine region to work in would be Jura or Savoie, which are both Eastern France at the foothills of the Alps, between Burgundy and Switzerland.

Best bottle of wine you ever had?

That's a mean question. That's so hard. I was thinking about this last night, and I'll just use the first bottle that came to my head because you can go down a rabbit hole of wine bottles that you've had. It was a 1990 Trimbach Riesling Cuvee Frederic Emile. I drank it in France with Francois Perrin and Cesar Perrin at Francois' house for dinner, and it was just stunning. Absolutely amazing.

Was that when you were working at Beaucastel?

Yeah, that's when I was working there. Francois invited me over for dinner, and I got to look at his wine list in his home cellar. He said, "Choose any bottle you would like." That was wild.

What's next for you?

I don't see myself going anywhere anytime soon. So probably just being here at Tablas. Tomorrow.

Could you tell us a little bit about your family life?

I married Taylor, my wife, in 2019, and we had Finnegan this past November. Being a dad changed my life massively. I have been here a lot. Lots of family time, walking around the vineyard, walking around our garden, walking in the creek bed, down and through the trees and the forest. It's grounded me a lot.

What do you do with your free time?

When I have free time? Yeah, there's not a lot of that these days [laughs]. I help run a music venue at our cider house in Atascadero. That's kind of my other job, but most of my free time is spent there. Also, watching live music and going to shows and music festivals anytime I can. Backpacking is my other passion. Anytime I can go out for a couple nights, I go either alone or with a buddy or two.

Would you rather:

Cake or Pie

Cake.

Breathe under water or fly?

Fly because I think if I was breathing underwater, I'd still be really slow at swimming, and I'd probably get eaten by something.

Drink new world or old world wine?

That's tough. Every day is different, you know. Both.

What about today?

Today? New world.

Be a winemaker or a viticulturist?

Both, because being able to do both is so important that I think you have to do both.

Austin Collins


Why is Glass Recycling in the United States So Dismal?

Glass is a product with a number of inherent advantages. It's made from a readily-available and non-toxic source (sand). It's exceptionally stable and nonreactive, and so provides a terrific vessel for containing products like wine that you might want to store for decades. And it can be melted down and reused without any degradation of its quality, so it's a perfect product for recycling. And yet, in the United States, it's recycled less than a third of the time. This fact is one of the main reasons we've been exploring alternative packaging like the bag-in-box that we debuted for our Patelin de Tablas Rosé earlier this year. But it doesn't have to be this way. Other countries recycle a much higher percentage of their glass than we do here. I found our depressingly low rate of glass recycling eye-opening enough that I have spent a fair amount of time over the last few months researching why. The conclusions say a lot about what our society and industry values right now. I'm guessing and hoping that this information might be eye-opening for you as well.

Before we start investigating why, a quick review of the facts. According to the EPA, in the United States our glass recycling percentage is 31%, and non-recycled glass represents about 5% of the waste that goes into American landfills each year: 7.6 million tons of glass annually. Our recycling rate is less than half of that in Europe (74% overall) and one-third of the best-performing countries like Sweden, Belgium, and Slovenia (all over 95%). And it's actually worse than those numbers appear, since a significant percentage of the glass that is collected and classified as "recycled" in the United States is in fact crushed up and used for road base rather than melted down and used to make new glass.

The stakes are significant. Recycling glass has positive impacts not just on the waste stream, but on energy use and greenhouse gas emissions. According to the Glass Packaging Institute, making new glass containers from recycled glass saves between 20% and 30% of the energy, roughly 50% of CO2 emissions, and offsets a greater-than 100% requirement for inputs, compared to working from raw materials. What's more, according to a 2017 survey by the Glass Recycling Coalition, 96% of Americans want and expect that glass be included in their recycling options.

So why, if waste glass is a usable commodity, if consumers expect to recycle it, and if doing so saves on cost compared to working from raw materials, isn't the picture here better? The consensus among experts is that it boils down to three main factors.

  • The most widely adopted recycling system in the United States is problematic for glass. Single-stream recycling, in which glass, plastic, and paper are co-mingled in a single bin for pickup and transport to a materials recovery facility (MRF), is overwhelmingly the most common community-sponsored recycling system in America. It is convenient for households, who can toss all their recyclables in one place, and for solid waste companies, who can pick them up with one truck. However, while plastic and paper are unlikely to be damaged in the collection process, glass is fragile and often shatters in the collection process, becoming difficult to sort and also contaminating the other recyclables. Plus, single-stream recycling systems encourage “wish-cycling” where consumers throw nonrecyclable products like light bulbs, plastic bags, soiled cardboard, and Styrofoam into their bins figuring that it’s better to over-recycle than to throw away something that’s recyclable. Doing so adds cost to the recycler and sometimes leads to it being less expensive to send loads to the landfill than pay the cleaning and sorting costs. By contrast, multi-stream recycling systems, in which glass, paper/cardboard, and plastic are placed in different receptacles and collected separately, bypass the MRF entirely and can usually go straight to a processing facility. The downside of these systems is that they cost more for the municipality and solid waste companies, and there is often not the political will to pass along these costs to taxpayers. But the difference is outcomes is stark: just 40% of the glass that goes into single-stream recycling systems ends up getting recycled, compared to 90% from multi-stream recycling systems.

Trash and Recycling

  • The United States is big. There are roughly 400 MRF facilities around the country. But there are many fewer glass processing facilities, which turn recycled glass containers into cullet, or usable fragments often sorted by color: just 63 nation-wide, in 30 states. There are even fewer glass manufacturing facilities: just 44, in 21 states. Processing facilities are often far away from population centers where glass is collected and MRFs built. Glass is heavy and bulky, which means that the transportation costs from MRF to processing facility can, absent other incentives, raise the price of the cullet that results high enough to outweigh the savings from using recycled glass.
  • Transparency is low, both pre- and post-consumer. First, from the post-consumer end. Most people don’t know what happens to their recyclables once they’ve been collected. Consumer surveys show that residents overwhelmingly want their communities to recycle, and reasonably assume that if they do their part their municipality will take care of the rest. But municipalities have little incentive to report on what happens after the recycling is collected. Do you know where your town’s recyclables are sorted? Or what percentage is sent to the landfill? Do you know whether the process makes or loses money for the community? I didn’t. And communities, which have largely chosen a recycling system that gives consumers a false sense of effectiveness, don’t have the incentives to make this information easy to find. Second, from the pre-consumer end. Have you ever seen a wine label display the recycled content of their glass? I don’t think I have. That’s an indication that wineries don’t think that their customers care about this information, or at least don’t care enough to displace other content in what is valuable and scarce label real estate. And bottle suppliers don’t seem to think that wineries care about this information. We pushed our glass supplier TricorBraun to get us bottles with the highest-possible percentage of recycled glass. Our antique green bottles are made with between 60% and 70% recycled material, and our flint (clear) bottles made with 35-50% recycled material. That’s the most that’s available for domestically-produced wine bottles. But that information isn’t easy to find. If you look at their TricorBraun's selection of Burgundy-shaped bottles, each listing includes information about their weight, base diameter, color, neck size, height, punt height, mold number, capacity, finish, and style. But there’s no information on the bottle’s recycled content. That’s surely an indication that bottle suppliers either don’t see this as a point of differentiation or don’t have recycled content widely enough available for the resulting information to be worth sharing. And wine isn’t unique. Glass containers, whether for beverages, food, or household products, don’t typically disclose the amount of recycled content. All this makes it difficult for a consumer to make informed purchasing decisions. 

So what’s the way forward here, for consumers and wineries? I see a few possible avenues that could help.

  • Wineries: ask your bottle brokers and manufacturers about the recycled content of the bottles you buy, and demand bottles with as high a recycled content as possible. It’s clear to me that bottle producers and brokers are not sufficiently focused on increasing the recycled content of their products. If that’s the case, it’s because it isn’t being asked of them by their customers. Wineries of all sizes, but particularly larger ones, have significant market power. We’re not a large winery, but we will still buy something like 350,000 bottles this year. The larger the winery, the more power you have to move the needle. And for wineries who are a part of organizations like International Wineries for Climate Action (IWCA) and committed to achieving meaningful carbon footprint reductions by 2030, increasing the recycled content of your glass bottles should be a piece of the solution you’re pursuing, along with reducing the weight of those bottles and exploring alternate packaging. Because the glass bottle accounts for more than half the carbon footprint of the average California winery, it also offers the most important target for improvement. 
  • Sustainability certifiers: Add a recycled glass component to your winery metrics if you haven’t already. Most California wineries are a part of a sustainability program. But at least our local program (SIP Certified) doesn’t appear to have any mention of using recycled glass in your bottles in its protocols. I have my issues with sustainability programs, which I’ve shared at length here and elsewhere, but they remain a powerful tool in incentivizing the high percentage of wineries who participate in them to make incremental positive changes. (And wineries, if you’re a part of a sustainability program that doesn’t include anything about this, ask them why.)
  • Consumers: Ask the wineries that you patronize about the recycled content of their bottles. If you have a direct relationship with any wineries, reach out to them directly. Wineries are unusual consumer products in that most do have direct relationships with many of their customers. But if you don’t, ask your local retailer. If they don’t know, they can ask the distributor. The more people along the supply chain who are inquiring about this information, the more pressure there will be on bottle suppliers to use more recycled content, the more market there will be for recycled glass, which will make it more attractive for communities to recycle their waste glass rather than sending it to the landfill.
  • Everyone: Push your communities to be more transparent about the outcomes of their recycling programs. This is particularly important if you’re a part of a single-stream recycling system. If the recyclables are being sorted and used at a high rate, that’s great. But it’s likely not. If not, push for multi-stream recycling, or at least better education on why materials aren’t being used. Is it because of contamination? If so, encourage your community to share information about the costs of “wish-cycling”. Is it a cost decision? Find out what it would take to implement a multi-stream recycling program. There are real challenges here, particularly with the market for recycled commodities still developing. But the status quo, where local governments are quietly misleading their citizens about the efficiency of their recycling programs, isn’t viable.

We know that we can do better, because European countries have shown the way, typically with a combination of multi-stream recycling (to produce good supply) and industry mandates for recycled content (to ensure that there is demand). Neither of those are impossible here; they're just a question of focus and political will. Yes, distances are shorter in Europe; the more densely populated continent means that the shipping costs between consumer collection and glass processing are less. But that’s an incremental difference. If there were more demand from consumers and beverage producers, there would be more recycled glass products available. And that would create a positive feedback loop that would encourage better recycling decisions at the community level.

Glass RecyclingPhoto modified from the original on Wikimedia Commons by user Ecovidrio

We can do the same, or something similar, here. Let’s get to work.


Tasting the wines in the 2022 VINsider "Collector's Edition" shipment

Each summer, I taste through library vintages of our Esprit and Esprit Blanc to choose the wines for the upcoming VINsider Wine Club Collector's Edition shipment. We created the Collector's Edition version of our VINsider Wine Club back in 2009 to give our biggest fans a chance to see what our flagship wines were like aged in perfect conditions. Members also get a slightly larger allocation of the current release of Esprits to track as they evolve. This club gives us a chance show off our wines' ageworthiness, and it's been a great success, generating a waiting list each year since we started it.

This year, our selections will be the 2014 Esprit de Tablas and the 2016 Esprit de Tablas Blanc. Although both vintages were during our 2012-2016 five-year drought, the growing seasons proceeded quite differently.

2014 was in the middle of the drought, but that manifested itself mostly in a growing season that shifted early; both budbreak and harvest were among our earliest on record. The vineyard held up well, with crops just slightly below our long-term averages at 2.78 tons/acre and producing wines with a classic Californian style. These wines had lushness at the forefront but plenty of structure and minerality to back that up. [You can read my recap of the 2014 vintage here.]

2016 actually showed some recovery after the punishingly dry 2015 vintage, and the ~20 inches of rain we got was, while still below our long-term average, the most we'd seen since 2011. The growing season saw a very warm beginning, then an extended cool-down in August and the first half of September, and then when it got warm again, it didn't break until after we'd finished harvesting on October 8th, our earliest concluding harvest ever. The result was that the early-ripening grapes came in with good brightness and focus, while later-ripening grapes showed deep, dense flavors. Overall yields were right at our long-term average, at 2.97 tons/acre. [My recap of the 2016 vintage can be found here.]

In the end, despite their different conditions, the two vintages had more similarities than differences in how they manifested their flavors. Both showed good lush profiles, with backbone and acids to provide balance. Within those broad similarities, 2014 produced wines with a little more open, juicy personality, while 2016 showed a bit more density and tension. Both 2014 Esprit and 2016 Esprit Blanc showed beautifully when I tasted them today, with the first signs of maturity but plenty left in the tank for people who'd like to age them further. The pair:

2022 Collectors Edition Wines

My tasting notes:

  • 2016 Esprit de Tablas Blanc: Still a youthful pale gold color. Rich and powerful on the nose, immediately Roussanne in character, with an oyster shell minerality under the vanilla custard, beeswax, and tarragon notes. The palate is both rich and vibrant, with crème brulée and poached pear flavors, a lovely spine of preserved lemon acidity, and a long, broad finish of citrus zest, mandarin, and wet rocks. This vintage tied for our most Roussanne ever in the Esprit Blanc, and it was in full evidence today: 75% Roussanne, 18% Grenache Blanc, and 7% Picpoul Blanc. Lovely now, but should age in classic fashion if you'd prefer to lean into the butterscotch and roasted nuts character of aged Roussanne.
  • 2014 Esprit de Tablas: A complex nose of fruitcake, chaparral, teriyaki, and warm baking spices. On the palate, evenly balanced between redder and darker notes, with baker's chocolate, ripe plum, minty herbs, and sarsaparilla flavors. The finish lingers with moderate tannic grip, playing off flavors of black licorice, cherry skin, baking spices and a little minty juniper lift. This is just starting to show secondary flavors, and those who want more of the meaty truffly character of aged Mourvedre should feel comfortable holding this for another decade at least. 40% Mourvedre, 35% Grenache, 20% Syrah, and 5% Counoise.

So how have the wines changed? The flavors in the Esprit Blanc have shifted slightly in tone, deepening from new honey to something more like vanilla custard, while retaining the minerality and acid balance of the vintage. The flavors in the Esprit have shifted from more red-fruited to something poised between red and black, and the texture has smoothed out. Both are still youthful enough that anyone who loved them when they were young will feel like they're visiting an old friend, but yet a friend who has gone on to do interesting things with their life. And, of course, they've got plenty of evolving still to do; if collectors prefer a fully mature profile they should feel safe letting them sit another decade. 

The complete Collector's Edition shipment is awfully exciting, at least to me, between the combination of the library vintages and the variety of new wines. We've been thrilled with how the 2020s have been showing, and I'm convinced the 2021 whites will go down among the best we've ever made:

  • 2 bottles of 2014 Esprit de Tablas
  • 1 bottle of 2016 Esprit de Tablas Blanc
  • 3 bottles of 2020 Esprit de Tablas
  • 2 bottles of 2020 Esprit de Tablas Blanc
  • 1 bottle of 2020 En Gobelet
  • 1 bottle of 2020 Grenache
  • 1 bottle of 2021 Patelin de Tablas Blanc
  • 1 bottle of 2021 Grenache Blanc

We will be adding to the Collector's Edition membership, subject to available space, in the next few weeks. If you're on the waiting list, you should be receiving an email soon with news, one way or the other, of whether you've made it on for this round. We add members, once a year, in the order in which we received applications to the waiting list. If you are currently a VINsider member and interested in getting on the waiting list, you can upgrade to the Collector's Edition online or by giving our wine club office a call. And if you are not currently a member, but would like to be, you can sign up for the VINsider Wine Club Collector's Edition, with all the benefits of VINsider Wine Club membership while you're on the waiting list.

Those of you who are members, I'd love to hear your thoughts.  And thank you, as always, for your patronage. We are grateful, and don't take it for granted.


Congratulations to Ian Consoli, Paso Robles Wine Country's "Master Marketer" of 2022!

Yesterday afternoon, several of the Tablas Creek team joined some 200 members of the Paso Robles wine community at the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance's mid-year meeting. We got updates on the work of the PRWCA and a presentation from Assistant City Manager of Paso Robles Chris Huot, who highlighted the results of the wine community's partnership with our city and shared the city of Paso Robles' five-year plan. The PRWCA also gave out three awards, for "Unsung Hero", "Good Neighbor", and "Master Marketer". We are excited that our own Director of Marketing Ian Consoli was voted by his peers the recipient of this last award! You can read the official announcement from the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance. 

Ian Consoli award winner

When we hired Ian (as Marketing Coordinator at the time, back in 2019) one of the ways we introduced him to people is by having our last Marketing Coordinator interview him. If you haven't read that piece on the blog, it's a great introduction to who he is. But he's come a long way since then, and really taken the reins of our marketing at a period when it was more important than ever before, thanks to the pandemic-induced closing of our tasting room and curtailing of the festivals, seminars, and tastings where we used to tell our story to new customers and reconnect with existing ones. In recognition of his growth I promoted him to Director of Marketing early last year. He's the first person to hold that title here since I had it in the early 2000s. I caught up with Ian to ask him a few questions about how he got here and what the award meant to him. If you see him in the next few weeks, give him a high five!

Congratulations, Ian! Can you bring people up to speed on who you are and how you got here?
Thank you! Sure. I am a local boy, a graduate of Templeton High School in 2007. I have a short list of local accomplishments, including homecoming king, supporting roles in various school plays, and a CIF championship with the Templeton tennis team in 2005. Now I get to add one more accomplishment to that list! I picked up a marketing degree from Cal State Fullerton and did sales in various industries. I developed my marketing skills when I became the Marketing Director for a small social enterprise in Los Angeles, CA. I had given all I could to that company, was feeling burned out, and decided to move home while I planned my next step. I ended up pouring one day a week in the tasting room at Tablas Creek. The tasting room manager, John Morris, saw my potential, gave me a full-time position, and convinced me to stick around because he thought the marketing role would open up. He ended up being right. Working as the Marketing Director at Tablas Creek is the most fulfilling role I have ever held.

Please talk a little about what this award means to you.
It's a pretty big deal. In my acceptance speech of the award, I said it was the greatest honor of my life thus far, and I meant it. I have dedicated my whole professional life to sales and marketing, and it is a true honor to be recognized by my peers. I consider myself very fortunate to have chosen marketing as my focus in college and have intentionally moved towards this position ever since. I remember sitting in the audience when last year's winner accepted the award and thinking, I'm going to win that next year. I set my intention, worked towards it, and it worked out!

As you look back on the different marketing initiatives that you've spearheaded for Tablas Creek, can you pick three that stand out as meaningful to you, and explain why?
The most fun I ever had was producing the Chelsea and the Shepherd series. It felt original and right for the time. I wrote a whole blog on that creative process.

Sitting side-by-side with Neil Collins for the Tasting with Neil series on Facebook and YouTube Live was also awesome. I got to be a fly on the wall these conversations between legendary winemakers while tasting all of the wines. It was epic, and I look forward to returning to that series.

Getting the word out about ROC stands out as well. We had to come together as a team and send the message on multiple channels from PR, social media, email, print, hosting groups, and participating in seminars. It was an all-hands-on-deck initiative, and it was cool to see everyone come together.

Do you feel like your approach to marketing has changed because of the pandemic?
I think so. When the pandemic hit, I realized we were losing our most vital outlet for interacting with customers, our tasting room. We had to fill that gap through our marketing efforts. Thanks to our loyal customers, we successfully did so. It left me wondering why we hadn't put that much work into staying in contact with people the whole time. I bring the same intensity (as if the tasting room were closed) to my marketing efforts daily.

Can you give a shout out to a couple of other wineries whose marketing you admire?
You can't bring up wine marketing without talking about Wine Folly. They are incredible, and I'm happy the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance is partnering with them to educate customers on our region further.

Tank Winery always feels cool to me. They know who they are, brand well, and their GM, Ed Feuchuk, does a good job of making sure he's on panels and participating in the wine community.

Fetzer and Bonterra as well. Their branding and messaging are clean, and so is their wine. It's exciting to see Fetzer come onboard for ROC as well.

So what's the next challenge you're looking forward to tackling?
Social media is changing. Pictures are on the way out, if not already out. Scroll through Instagram and all you'll see is videos. I'm looking forward to digging in on video creation and editing in a big way over the next few months. I just hired a marketing intern, a recent graduate of Cal Poly SLO. Our conversations surrounding trends and content creation make me excited about our feed's future. I'm also excited to complete my MBA in Wine Business from Sonoma State in August. I look forward to continuing to apply everything I learned to my position at Tablas Creek.