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October 2008
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Thanksgiving Wine Suggestions from the Tablas Creek Staff

Turkey_small We've always felt that Tablas Creek wines make great pairings with Thanksgiving meals.  The Rhone whites (particularly those based on Roussanne) are rich enough to stand up to turkey or ham, and the Rhone reds (particularly those based on Grenache) are fruity enough, spicy enough, and have enough acidity to handle the variety of rich flavors on the table.

That said, I thought it would be fun this year to poll some key Tablas Creek staff for their suggestions for what Tablas Creek wines to pair with this year's Thanksgiving feast... and also to see what non-Tablas Creek wines they are thinking about.

I've listed the suggestions without any significant editing, so the descriptions of the wines and the reasons for choosing are in the contributors' original words, which I think is a big part of the fun.

Denise Chouinard, Controller
Tablas Creek Vineyard Bergeron or Roussanne
Once all of the afternoon grazing and noshing has been enjoyed (which, along with some T-day traditional items, has to include smoked salmon mousse paired with Tablas Creek Rose!) we begin dinner with one of our favorite appetizers which is seared scallops on a minted pea puree accented with curry oil. The scallops and the sauce are wonderfully enhanced by a glass of the Tablas Creek Vineyard Bergeron or the straight Roussanne.

David Bruce Pinot Noir Bien Nacido
We often buck tradition and go with a "bird of a different feather" for Thanksgiving (though we have 'buck'ed tradition so far as to go with venison in the past!). We enjoy either a snow goose, wild turkey, or duck, and have managed to stay away from the Tur-duck-en to date. Duck is one of our favorites, and Julia Child's recipe for duck done two ways is always wonderful. If this is on the table, there has to be a Pinot Noir to accompany it. We have enjoyed several selections from David Bruce Winery including the Pinot Noir Bien Nacido.

Neil Collins, Executive Winemaker and Vineyard Manager
Tablas Creek Vineyard Rosé

I would go with the ever versatile Rosé, currant vintage or older. The Rosé has the uncanny ability to tie into the many elements of the Thanksgiving plate, including the cranberry stuff.

Lone Madrone Bristols Cider
For other, I am going to have to go with the Bristols Hard Cider as it is of the season and it is what I like!!!

Nikki Getty, Director of Wine Club, Hospitality and Events
Tablas Creek Vineyard Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc
We're doing a pumpkin soup with ginger and roasted pumpkin seeds and will serve the Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc. The ginger and pumpkin spice complement the honey and mineral flavors of the wine.

For our roasted root vegetables with drizzled balsamic vinegar, we'll serve a nice Chianti. The acidity of the Chianti and the balsamic bring out the sweetness of the vegetables.

Robert Haas, Founder and General Partner
Tablas Creek Vineyard Esprit de Beaucastel and Côtes de Tablas

This may be a copout since I was asked to choose one Tablas Creek wine. But I really like both of these two for Thanksgiving with its variety of flavors on the table. I usually lean toward older red wines but I love the elegance and grace of the Tablas Creek 2006s that goes along with their lovely red fruit flavors, spicy character and length on the palate. And one does not have to worry about sediment (pour it out to the last drop) in these young wines. Serve on the cool side (65 degrees).

Chambertin, Vielles Vignes 1985, Domaine Trapet

Sorry about this choice since it is only available out of my cellar. The wine spent most of its life after bottling in an underground cellar in Vermont and arrived in California three years ago via FedEx. It has had these years in refrigerated repose to recover from the voyage and is tasting like the great wine that perfectly mature old vine Chambertin can be. The color is appropriately slightly brick tinged red, the bouquet is quintessentially Burgundian Chambertin with an aroma of truffles and tastes of cherry, truffles, and hints of leather with just a tiny reminder of sweet new oak. The length on the palate is remarkable. Best stood up for 24 hours and decanted just before serving.

Ryan Hebert, Winemaker and Assistant Vineyard Manager
Tablas Creek Vineyard Counoise
This wine pairs great with the turkey. Lots of blueberry fruit with a juicy mouth-feel that complements the drier texture of the bird.

Cambiata Albarino

Great as an aperitif, also pairs well with the appetizers and first courses of the meal. This wine has no oak with great acid and minerality.

John Morris, Tasting Room Manager
Tablas Creek Vineyard Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc
Last year I was asked to cook turkey. I'm not a big fan of a huge roasted turkey with the unavoidably dried-out breast, so I choose instead Turkey Breast with a Cognac Cream Sauce from Michel Richard's Happy in the Kitchen. It's basically a riff on Steak au Poivre.  I served the Esprit Blanc. It was a beautiful foil for the sauce and the savory notes in the wine paired perfectly with all of the flavors on the table. I will do this again this year, although I will roast a whole turkey breast rather than bone and roll it, and I'll probably double the sauce.

I will also serve a Morgon from Beaujolais. I do not remember the producer. Beaujolais Nouveau is of course a standard recommendation for Thanksgiving, but I prefer the Cru Beaujolais. For those who don't know these wines, they're an outstanding value.

Tommy Oldre, National Sales Manager
Tablas Creek Vineyard Cotes de Tablas

As far as Tablas Creek wines go, I plan on having our Cotes de Tablas Rouge on my table. Between the purity and brightness of the Grenache fruit and its ability to be so broadly food-friendly, I think this wine will be an outstanding foil for much of what will be on my Thanksgiving table.

Domaine Vincent Delaporte Sancerre
For my non-Tablas Creek selection, I will probably have a bottle of Vincent Delaporte Sancerre. More than any other reason, I will have this on the table because this wine makes me happy. I am confident it will work with much of the food and I truly look forward to enjoying it over the course of the meal.

Autumn Vineyard Photo Essay, Part 6: Winter's Approach

Without particularly intending to, I realized that I'd taken several vineyard photos that showed the approach of the winter season through a chilly quality of the light and a selection of wind-blown leaves and (comparatively) bare vines.  It seems a fitting conclusion to this autumn vineyard photo essay to show the photos which look forward to winter.  First, a view of Mourvedre vines (which are always the first vines to look like they're shutting down for winter, even in October when they're still laden with fruit) with just a few lonely second-crop clusters against a chilly light-blue sky:


It seems to be combination of pale sunlight and near-white skies that give the photos their wintery feel. This next view, looking south up through two Grenache Blanc rows, has that same watery light, and the dead leaves on the ground only reinforce the appearance of impending winter:


And finally, one shot (not dissimilar from the shot of the newly-seeded cover crop from part 4 of this photo essay) of the tilled earth in the Vermentino section of the vineyard.  The main difference in the feel of the shots is that this one faces north-east, and the younger Vermentino vines appear more fragile than the older Roussanne vines in the previous photo.


I hope that you have enjoyed this photo series.  This is a particularly beautiful time of year to visit Paso Robles, and the moderate temperatures (70s during the day, 30s and 40s at night) are additional incentives.  I was struck on my drive out to the vineyard this morning by just how beautiful is this part of the world in which we have the privilege of living and working.  Another sign of the season: stay tuned next week for Thanksgiving wine suggestions.

Autumn Vineyard Photo Essay, Part 5: Grenache

Our Grenache section is always one of the most beautiful in the vineyard.  Grenache vines are vigorous, and provide satisfyingly thick trunks from even fairly young vines.  The leaves are a vibrant yellow-green during the spring and summer, noticeably brighter than other varietals.  They stay green later in the season, and explode into color when other varieties are fading to brown.  First, a closeup of brilliant orange foliage from a Grenache Noir mother vine in a pot on our patio:


A good example of the chunky Grenache trunks and other varietals can be seen below, from the old block that we planted in 1992.  I also love the greeny-reds of the Grenache foliage contrasted with the brown of the Counoise block below and with the grey-green of the olive trees:


Finally, this last shot looks west from the top of Mount Mourvedre (the Mourvedre section is behind and to the left of where I was standing when I took the shot) across two blocks of Grenache and toward the golden hills of the ranch to our west.  At the western edge of the property, the brown leaves are from a block of Syrah, while in front of there the bare vines are Mourvedre:


Autumn Vineyard Photo Essay, Part 4: Seeding the Cover Crop

There's not much to do in the vineyard at this time of year.  You need to wait for everything to go fully dormant before you prune, and once harvest is complete, the only typical action you take is to make sure that the vines get some irrigation as they're going dormant (the better to store up energy for a good start the next spring).

One thing that we do in November, weather permitting, is to prepare the ground for a cover crop.  The cover crop plays multiple roles, providing erosion control, weed control, fertilization, and a habitat for beneficial insects.  The cover crop that we use is a custom-mixed blend of sweet peas, oats, vetch and clover. 

The first stage is to disc the ground to break up the roots of anything that remains from the previous winter and allow for better penetration of both seeds and moisture.  You can see, in this photo up between two rows of Roussanne, the newly tilled ground in the middle:


As you can see from the above photo, we've already got some green grass growing in the rows after our inch and a half of rain from the very beginning of the month.  There's more rain scheduled to come early next week, and we wanted to get everything seeded while the ground was still firm enough for tractors.  Another nice shot of the new grass growing growing among the limestone rocks at the top of the vineyard, looking down over the vineyard's oldest section of Grenache:


And finally, one shot of the newly-tilled earth, with a piece of limestone glowing in the autumn sun, clearly showing its signature sedimentary layers:


Autumn Vineyard Photo Essay, Part 3: Relics of a Challenging Vintage

2008 was a challenging vintage.  As I described in my 2008 vintage assessment, we saw issues with late frosts in the spring, early frosts in the fall, low yields, shatter and uneven ripening.  These all left marks on the vineyard which you can see even now.  This first photo shows clearly the area of frost damage (on what we call "Nipple Flat").  You can see the brown, leafless vines in the valley, with areas of green vines just a few feet higher:


This frost damage didn't end up being devastating, as it was fairly limited in impact, affecting jsut a few acres, and it allowed us to do some whole-cluster fermentations on the frosted Mourvedre vines.

The next photo shows one of the many clusters of second crop, this one from a Mourvedre vine at the top of the hill pictured in the photo above.  Vines set these smaller, later-ripening clusters every year, but it's most prevalent in years where there is a spring frost.  These clusters are a vine's reproductive defense system against inclement conditions during flowering.  Should the primary clusters be frosted or otherwise damaged, these secondary clusters can ripen and allow the vine to reproduce.  Of course, for our purposes they're largely a nuisance.  They delay the ripening of the primary fruit and can confuse the picking crew.  The cluster below was left on the vine after the Mourvedre was harvested in October.  Even now, the berries are sitting somewhere south of 20° Brix:


And finally, a photo of a phenomenon we saw this year more than any other year since we began.  Vines, despite the lack of water, kept producing new green shoots all the way through harvest.  This is extremely unusual, and we have not found a satisfactory explanation as to why we've seen it this year.  There were two varieties most affected: Roussanne, and Grenache.  The vine below is a Grenache vine from the top of the hill behind the winery.  You'd expect most of the leaves to be brown in mid-November, but you can clearly see the bright yellow-green leaf growth at the top of the canopy:


We don't know what to make of this late leaf growth.  It will stop when we get a hard freeze throughout the vineyard, but we'd rather the vines be storing their energy for next year rather than expending it in growing pointless canopy after harvest.

Any winemakers out there have any experience with things like this?

Autumn Vineyard Photo Essay, Part 2: Near and Far

One of the things that I always love to try to capture in my photographs are the perception of distance.  It's a challenging thing to try to translate the wide open spaces of the vineyard (and that feel of having something interesting all around you) into the fixed frames of a finished photograph.  I was pleased with how these three photos captured both the vibrancy of the foreground and the receding layers of distance.  First, a photo from the top of Mount Mourvedre, looking west over the top rows of Grenache into the Santa Lucia mountain range:


Then, a view that is a little harder to see, looking north-east from the top of Mount Mourvedre down over the Viognier section, across Adelaida Road and to the multicolored vineyards of Halter Ranch:


And finally, one shot of what's usually my favorite view of Tablas Creek because of how it showcases the patchwork of different vineyard sections: looking north from our "new hill" down through a section of Grenache Blanc, across head-pruned Tannat and back up the south-facing slopes planted with Grenache Noir and Mourvedre:


Autumn Vineyard Photo Essay, Part 1: A Riot of Color

One consequence of the end of daylight savings has been that I'm at the vineyard at the end of the day a lot more often.  At this time of year particularly, the combination of the late-day slanting yellow sun and the foliage turning colors makes for some spectacular scenes in the afternoon.  I have a whole series of photos I want to share, and am planning to post three thematically connected photos each day for the next week.  For this first post, wanted to celebrate the colors of fall.  First, a look down from the top of the vineyard through the Grenache (left, mostly green) and Mourvedre (right, mostly red) sections:


Next, a photo of the Vermentino vineyard with one lone remaining cluster (evidently missed during harvest) that shows the deep blue skies:


And finally, a shot of Grenache Noir vines showing the brilliant greens and reds that make November such a beautiful time of year:


Challenges in assessing a vintage like 2008

I had a meeting with the Paso Robles Rhone Rangers yesterday, and while we were waiting for everyone to arrive we spent some time kicking around impressions of the recently concluded harvest.  The general consensus was that all we were missing from our list of calamities was a plague of locusts.  We'd had late spring frosts, major issues with shatter due to wind during flowering, weeks of smoky weather from Monterey County forest fires, a heat spike in August, a very unusual early October freeze, and rain at the end of the October.  Still, most of the producers there were encouraged about how the wines in their cellar were looking and tasting, and felt surprisingly positive about the vintage's prospects.

And, everyone was happy that we hadn't had to deal with some of the additional issues that producers in Napa and Sonoma had faced, most notably a big rainstorm in early October that just sent some clouds as far south as Paso Robles.

Some things were clear.  Yields were low (although not as much on Rhone varieties as on Bordeaux varieties or Zinfandel).  Reds were impacted by these low yields more than whites -- in fact, most of the producers there, like us, saw increased yields on whites.  Grapes came in very soft, but with relatively moderate sugars.  Wineries who were not estate and had to meet a substantial number of cases struggled to find adequate sources of fruit. 

It struck me that this is the sort of vintage where there will be a great temptation for writers looking to tell a simple story to dismiss the vintage as a bad one.  Cabernet, Merlot and Zinfandel all struggled throughout California with erratic yields, shatter, and uneven, early ripening.  Later-ripening varietals in the North Coast saw significant rain.  Any producer who had to source fruit to match or grow their annual production was forced to get fruit from places that they would normally have rejected out of hand.  These challenges were particularly severe for producers based in the North Coast.

Yet, for we Rhone producers in the Central Coast, the vintage has the potential to be a great one.  Yields on most Rhone varietals were lower (concentrating character) but largely avoided the problems with shatter that affected Bordeaux varietals and Zinfandel.  We dodged the early October rain that afflicted regions to our north.  The late, cold spring probably saved us from the August heat wave, as the grapes were still sufficiently unripe that there was time to moderate the sugar accumulation and acids stayed high.  The warm, sunny (perfect) weather for the last half of October allowed the vines time to recover from the cold snap earlier in the month and ripen without going flabby.  Finally, the relatively light yields meant that we were all done before it rained last weekend.  Some years, we have a significant amount of Mourvedre still out at the end of October.

I feel like one of those movie characters who after a gun fight looks around to see everything around him riddled with holes, but somehow emerges unscathed. 

And I hope that writers, when it comes time to assess the 2008 vintage, will take the time to look at the unscathed combatant rather than at the carnage all around.