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August 2006
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October 2006

Preparing to blend the 2005 reds

One of the most intersesting times of year is when we first sit down to try to make the preliminary blends of either the red or white wines from the previous vintage.  When we blended the 2005 whites earlier in the year, we became convinced that the 2005 vintage was special.  This week, we sat down to take our most comprehensive look at the 2005 reds.

These wines completed their fermentation and have been aging in foudres and barrels for the past several months.  We have kept the different harvest lots distinct, so that we preserve our options for later blending.  So, we have 7 Mourvedre lots, 9 Grenache lots, 9 Syrah lots, and 2 Counoise to evaluate.

In our evaluation system, wines receive a grade of either 1, 2, or 3.  Wines graded "1" are, in our initial evaluation, worthy of consideration for the Esprit de Beaucastel: rich, powerful, ageable, and balanced, with a clear sense of place.  Wines graded "2" are good, but for various reasons less ideal for the Esprits: either we feel that they are going to be lighter or earlier-maturing lots, or their balance of flavors suggests they may be better suited to a single-varietal bottling.  And wines that receive a "3" are wines we find flawed: either dilute, unbalanced, or showing signs of oxidation, reduction, or active fermentation.  Most "3" wines, with some work in the cellar, resolve themselves into 1's or 2's with time.

In a normal year, if we were to evaluate 9 lots, we would likely rate 2 or 3 as "1" rated, 5 or 6 as various degrees of "2", and perhaps one lot as a "3".  But, 2005 was not a normal year.  We had tremendous quality as well as good quantity.  And the lots of wine reflected this.

Mourvedre: The 7 Mourvedre lots were very impressive, but perhaps not quite so much as the Syrah or Grenache.  We rated 3 lots as solid "1"s, 3 others as "2"s, and one fell (when averaging our scores) right in-between.  The character of the wines was classic: meaty, showing dark red fruit and lots of spice.

Syrah: The 9 Syrah lots were a revelation.  7 of the 9 lots received a "1", while the other two were both very respectable "2" lots. We kept checking with each other to make sure we weren't off in our evaluations, but it looks like 2005 will be the best Syrah vintage we've seen at Tablas Creek.  The character was rich, sweet, and dark, with blue and black fruit predominating.  Despite all this lushness, the mineral character and firm tannins suggest it will produce wines with both power and appeal.

Grenache: As good as the Syrah was, the Grenache matched it.  6 of the 9 lots received "1" ratings, with two "2" ratings and one that fell in-between.  The flavors were very Grenache, showing sweet red fruit (lots of cherry) with pepper and licorice spice, vibrant acids, and an immediate appeal.  We were so impressed that we are looking forward to producing our first varietal Grenache wine from the 2005 vintage.

Counoise: Counoise is always the smallest production of our red components, and we had only two lots to evaluate.  Each showed a side of Counoise: the first was light and fruity, with zippy acidity and relatively light body.  The second was big, spicy, and rustic, with lots of acid and richness, and figgy, raisiny fruit.  We'll use both in the blends (in small proportions) to provide spice, fruit, and acid, and to open up some of the more closed varietals.  For the record, we rated the first lot a "2" and the second a "1/2".

So, things are looking good for the 2005 reds.  We'll await the arrival of Francois Perrin in November to make our final decisions, but we know we're looking at an excellent vintage... likely the best we've yet seen at Tablas Creek.

Roussanne "Bergeron"

We're enjoying probably the last relatively mellow day before harvest starts in earnest.  From sampling we have done, it looks like we're going to see significant amounts of Syrah, Viognier, and Grenache Blanc this week.  Ripening is proceding under ideal conditions: low-90s daytime temperatures, upper-40s nighttime temps, full sun, no humidity, and light Santa Ana winds from the south.

Meanwhile, we're working with our early-season harvest, one component of which is our Roussanne "Bergeron" program:

Bergeron (Roussanne) grapes in a picking bin ready for pressing Bergeron grape stems, seeds, and skins are cleaned out of the press
Each year, we make a little early-picked, cool-microclimate Roussanne in the style in which it's made in the Savoie region in France (where the Roussanne grape is known as "Bergeron").  This citrusy, higher-acid version of Roussanne is great with fresh seafood, oysters on the half-shell, and fresh cheeses.  We have more details in out 2005 Harvest Report.  Above, see the Bergeron in its picking bin, and then a great shot of cleaning the skins, seeds, and stems out of the press after pressing.

The Bergeron is the sort of wine that we make exclusively for our VINsider Wine Club members.  It's typically made in 200-300 case quantities, and isn't something that we would market nationally.  But, we think it's a great  take on the Roussanne grape, and has proven to be exceptionally good with food.  Try it with aged cow's milk cheeses!

Harvest 2006 Begins!

Harvest 2006 is underway! We began picking this past Thursday (September 14) with Chardonnay grapes for our "Antithesis" Chardonnay. Viognier, traditionally the earliest-ripening Rhone varietal, followed on Friday the 15th. This week, we brought in our first lots of Roussanne, earmarked for our "Bergeron" wine, on September 19, and we expect to start harvesting Syrah, our earliest-ripening red Rhone varietal, at the beginning of next week. 

Chardonnay grapes sit in a picking bin awaiting pressingThe mild weather we’ve had for the past few weeks has slowed ripening, and we can afford to take our time bringing in the grapes, and letting the fruit hang until it’s ready to pick. We’ve seen smaller berries than normal on the clusters we’ve brought in so far, with more concentrated juice – characteristics that other local vineyards are also noticing. Acids, as well, have been healthy, which has been true in the best vintages we've seen recently.  We’re looking forward to another great harvest!

Harvest began about 2 weeks later than normal for us, which was about what we'd been figuring.  After our relatively late spring (we saw flowering about 4 weeks later than usual) our warm summer accelerated the ripening somewhat, but didn't entirely make up for our late start.

If you are interested in reviewing the 2005 Harvest, take a look at the 2005 Tablas Creek Harvest Journal