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October 2009
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December 2009

Easy Homemade Mayonnaise Recipe

After tinkering with blender mayonnaise recipes for a while, I got to one that is delicious, easy, and repeatable.  And it's good to have a homemade mayonnaise recipe when you know you're staring down several days of leftover turkey sandwiches...

2 large egg yolks
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon smooth Dijon mustard
2 tsp fresh lemon juice
3/4 tsp kosher salt
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3/4 cup vegetable oil

Combine olive oil and vegetable oil.  A two-cup measuring cup with a pour spout is perfect.

In a blender, combine egg yolks, egg, and mustard. Process for 5 seconds.

Add lemon juice and salt. Process for one minute.

With the blender running, slowly pour in half the oil mixture in a steady stream. It's particularly important to be slow for the first half of the oil.

Finish adding the oil. Don't worry if not all of it combines.

Pour the mayonnaise into a bowl; whisk to combine if some oil is left unmixed.

Check seasonings and add more lemon juice, mustard or salt to taste.

Wine Pairing:
We had this with stone crab claws and the 2007 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc, which was a terrific pairing.  The combination of the richness and bite from the olive oil, the acidity of the lemon juice, and the creaminess from the eggs makes it a great foil for the minerally density of Roussanne-based whites.  And it would be equally good with a rich but not too oaky Chardonnay... like a Premier Cru or Grand Cru white Burgundy.

Does social media sell wine? (No, but don't let that deter you.)

This past week, I sat on a panel organized by Dina Mande of Juice Marketing that provided information on the possibilities of social networking for other members of the Paso Robles wine and hospitality community.  The three of us on the panel were chosen because we were early adopters of blogs, Facebook, and/or Twitter.  The hour-long discussion began with a flurry of statistics showing the seismic shift in marketing away from traditional media toward social networking sites and I took my role to be give whatever "best practices" tips I could provide.  I got lots of questions about how to integrate blogs and Facebook, how often to post, what kind of information to share, and how to find your voice. 

A question I didn't get, which sort of surprised me, was "does it work?".  Or, more specifically applied to a winery, "does social media sell wine?".  I would have been interested to hear the answers that the panelists would have given.  The closest thing to an answer (given to a different question of "how do I know if people are listening to my tweets?") was from Shannon Coleman of Lone Madrone, who said that she knew of eight or ten sales that were directly attributable to something she had posted on Twitter.

Eight or ten sales?  At Tablas Creek, we average something near four-hundred direct sales transactions (combining tasting room orders with those we receive online or by phone) per week.  That's thousands of sales each month, and somewhere near 20,000 sales per year.  Eight or ten sales attributable to social media is a drop in the bucket. 

And our experience at Tablas Creek would support Shannon's experience.  In April, we offered a $10 shipping special, where we would ship any order, of any size, to any of the 28 states that we could ship to, for just $10.  A few days before we announced this to our wine club, I posted information about it on our Facebook page, which at the time had some 800 fans.  We received one order in the next 24 hours (about the limit of time that a Facebook status update stays visible to most people) and I'm not even sure that this was attributable to Facebook.  When we sent it out to our wine club (about 3500 people) via email a few days later, we received over 100 orders in the next week.  When we sent it out to our non-wine club consumer mailing list (about another 3000 people) we got another flurry of orders, between 5 and 10 each day for a week.  Similarly, when I've posted about tasting room specials on our Facebook page and asked our tasting room staff to take note of whether that update has brought customers into the tasting room, they've generally reported at most one or two responses.  And we have one of the larger Facebook winery fan bases at over 1100.

If your customers won't buy from you, maybe social networking sites are really best used for driving attendance at your events.  Nope.  Facebook event RSVP's are notoriously unreliable.  There was a funny article about a year ago in the New York Times Magazine where author Hal Niedzviecki invited his 700-plus Facebook friends (many of whom he barely knew) to a gathering.  15 people RSVP'ed as "confirmed" and 60 as "maybe attending".  Only one showed up.  In a similar vein, last year the Paso Robles Rhone Rangers used their Facebook group to promote the 2009 Paso Robles Rhone Rangers Experience.  We invited the roughly 1000 members of the group to attend, and received 57 "confirmed" as well as 167 "maybe attending" RSVP's.  Eliminating the winery members who attended as a part of their professional responsibilities, I only know of two groups who bought tickets to attend the event who also listed themselves as attendees on Facebook... and one of those groups joined the Facebook group after buying their tickets.

It should be becoming clear that the strength of social networking sites is not in getting people to do things. 

What social media does is protect a business's mind-share.  Think marketing, not sales.  No matter how pervasive a winery's social media presence, it will still sell its wine in traditional ways: at the tasting room, based on recommendations of restaurateurs or wine shop owners, or by referrals either professional or personal.  What social media does is more subtle.  Each day, your customers and the people who make up your distribution network make dozens of decisions about what to promote and what to patronize.  And this audience, like the rest of the population, is getting an increasing share of their ideas through online interactions on social networking sites.  The average Facebook user spends nearly six hours per month on Facebook, about 15 minutes a day.  And with over 300,000,000 users, a significant portion of everyone's network is on Facebook.  (Twitter, with about 25,000,000 active users, is far behind, but there is some evidence that this audience is skewed toward the "taste-making" segment of the population, including bloggers and journalists.)

So, a winery's efforts in the social media sphere will be rewarded by its followers accepting it as a more regular part of their lives, with all the benefits that implies.  And while these benefits can be difficult for a business to measure, they can cumulatively be very powerful.  Tablas Creek's fan list includes our marketing agents, export customers, distributor managers, distributor salespeople, wine shop owners and employees, restaurant owners and employees, and other winery-affiliated personnel as well as wine club members and non-wine club consumers.  How each interacts with Tablas Creek will be different depending on their role, but in each case, being a regular part of their social network puts a finger on the scales in our favor.  And, in the same way that, as a Facebook user, I find it increasingly difficult to keep in touch with my non-Facebook friends, each member of our fan base is gradually losing some measure of connection with other wineries who are not using social networking. 

So, what are the lessons for a winery?  Don't count on your social networking presence to increase your sales directly.  Don't focus on promoting sales or events.  Don't spend too much time marketing to any single affiliation in your user base.  Instead, focus on broader topics that will appeal to a wide audience.  Show your personality.  Make your fans feel good about their choice of being your fan by sharing good news.  Be responsive and interactive -- doing so makes it easier for your network to feel like their connection to you is reciprocated. 

And know that what you're doing is a long-term investment.  The tools may change, but the movement toward social networking -- on both a business and personal level -- is here to stay.

Note from the Cellar: "We're finished!" (...bringing in the 2009 fruit...)

Considering what a huge deal it is to complete a harvest, the end is shockingly anticlimactic.  It's not as though we all watch as the last bin of fruit is unloaded from the truck, smiling proudly as it is poured onto the sorting table.  Rather, we meant to take some photos of the end of harvest this year, and only after everything was clean and put away did we realize that we had forgotten to bring out the camera.  On the plus side, the last of the fruit came in at a steady pace (we didn't get bombarded by bins) and we were able to play around with some of the smaller lots we produce here.

One of those small lots is our Pinot Noir, of which we have produced one barrel of each year since 2007.  Because it is such a minute amount, it's more of a "passion project" than anything.  This year, like the previous two years, we brought a small amount into the cellar (0.31 tons, to be exact).  With such a tiny amount of fruit, it was difficult to decide what to do with it - even a macro-bin was too large for a proper fermentation to take place.  Many of the small artisanal wineries in the area pull the heads out of their barrels to ferment small lots, so we decided to give it a try.  We prowled through the cellar until we found a puncheon (a large format barrel that hold 132 gallons) that had a leaky head, steamed it, rinsed it, and set to work making a fermentation vessel.  None of us have ever attempted this, but Ryan set to work like he'd done it a hundred times before.  The photo here is the least blurry photo I was able to capture - apparently, the auto focus doesn't work quite as fast as Ryan does.


The fermentation went smoothly after the wine was transferred to the barrel, and before we knew it, it was time to press.  With lots as small as this one, it's both senseless and a little dangerous to press the wine using our bladder press.  Considering how long it takes to clean out the red press, it just doesn't make a lot of sense to press such a small amount of wine.  It's also a bit risky - the bladder would have to inflate far more than it would with a normal press load and we would run the risk af tearing a hole in the bladder due to over-inflation.  So instead, we borrowed a mini basket press from Steve Goldman, a fellow winemaker and friend of Neil's. 


After pressing the Pinot, we ended up with about 45-50 gallons of wine that was transferred to barrel and topped up with some leftover Tannat we had on hand.  Given the fact that we only have enough fruit to produce one barrel of this wine, most of the wine is distributed to the partners of Tablas Creek, but it's a fun project in any case.

Now that harvest is officially over (all the fruit is in and all the reds have been pressed off), it's time to get the cellar cleaned up and organized to continue topping and begin pulling samples to monitor the progress of our secondary (malolactic) fermentations.  There is still much work to be done before we can put this vintage to rest, but it is a truly exciting thing to watch as each and every barrel begins to show its own unique personality.

The following are a few shots that were taken both during harvest and after harvest had been completed:


Above: A refractometer reading of Roussanne


National Sales Manager (and cellar veteran) Tommy Oldre rolls up his sleeves to help process Mourvedre


I may have missed the photo-op for the final bin of fruit, but third to last isn't so bad!  Mourvedre waiting to be processed


A parting shot of the destemmer after it had been cleaned for the last time of the vintage

The Rhone Report and the appeal of wine criticism by varietal

Last week, Jeb Dunnuck published the second issue of The Rhone Report, which he describes as a newsletter "dedicated to the wines and grapes of the Rhone Valley".  Issue #2 is a tremendous undertaking, with 72 pages of articles, reviews, and tasting notes.  The bulk of the issue is devoted to California's Rhone Rangers (like Tablas Creek) in which he writes up notes from 88 producers.  In his first issue earlier this year, he tackled current releases from the Southern Rhone.

Amazingly, this remarkable report is (so far) free.  Even more amazingly, it's not done by a wine professional; while Jeb has worked in one of Colorado's top wine shops in the past, he's a software engineer by trade and has produced The Rhone Report in his spare time.

The time when a single reviewer could cover all the world's important wines is finished; the world of wine is so diverse, and growing so fast, that even the world's most respected (and branded) wine reviewers have taken on assistants to help share the load.  Robert Parker now only personally reviews wines from California, Bordeaux and the Rhone for The Wine Advocate, and has added five reviewers who cover the rest of the world.  At Tablas Creek, we last saw Steve Tanzer himself in 2006; we have seen his assistant Josh Raynolds -- a remarkable taster in his own right -- the past three years, and Tanzer has recently added a third expert to the International Wine Cellar.    Magazines like the Wine Spectator (ten, divided by region and varietal) and the Wine Enthusiast (six, divided by region) have long had a stable of reviewers to handle the incredible diversity of the world of wine.  The Spectator, at this point, has three reviewers just to handle the submissions of California wines!

I think it's inevitable that having multiple reviewers housed under the same roof will lead to inconsistencies.  One reviewer's 92-point wine will be another reviewer's 85-point wine, as each reviewer naturally has a style of wine they find most compelling.  And panel tastings are not the answer, as exceptional wines are not typically wines that appeal to every palate.

The advantages of a single reviewer who covers wines from the entire world are obvious: that a consumer can calibrate his or her preferences with those of the reviewer, and then follow that reviewer on his or her journeys through different regions and different grapes.  But given the impossibility in this day and age of one reviewer covering the entire world of wine, it's worth considering what the best way is to break up the wine world into manageable portions while minimizing inconsistency.

Enter the world of varietal-specific wine criticism.  There are now several wine reviewers who publish reports focused on one region, or on one family of grape varieties.  Probably the best known, and most successful, of these reviewers is Alan Meadows of Burghound, who has published his report dedicated to the wines of Burgundy (and their expatriate cousins) since 2001.  His expertise in the notoriously complex world of Burgundy has developed to the point that I recently had an industry veteran tell me that his reviews move the Burgundy market more than those of Parker, Tanzer or the Spectator.  Antonio Galloni made a similar name for himself with the Piedmont Report (now a part of starting in 2004 before being hired by Robert Parker in 2006 to cover Italy for the Wine Advocate.  In both cases, the reviewers were non-professionals who turned a passion for wines from a particular region into a second career.  These regions also had the advantage of both being under-served, at the time, by the most important reviewers of the day. 

It seems to me that a reviewer who focuses on wines from a family of grapes comes closer to the experience that wine consumers have than one who focuses exclusively on region.  [Of course, it's worth acknowledging that for many European regions, place and varietal are inseparable.]  Someone might more reasonably expect the same standards be applied to a Syrah from California as to a Syrah from Hermitage.  Or a Roussanne from Washington as a Roussanne from Chateauneuf du Pape.  And I think that consumers tend to think that way.  A lover of Syrah is likely familiar with the wines from both regions.  I've always found it a shortcoming that the reviewers of Tablas Creek's wines from the Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast are not responsible for reviewing (and may not have much familiarity with) Beaucastel.

Varietal-specific reviewing makes sense if the shared character of the same grape grown in different areas is more salient than that of different grapes grown in the same area.  And I think that it does.  Comparing a Cabernet from Paso Robles and a Viognier from Paso Robles using the same criteria may not be like comparing apples and oranges, but it does at least seem to be on that continuum.  A Grenache can of course receive reflections from the place in which it is grown, or the winemaker who grows it, but it is still a Grenache.  And a reviewer who chooses to specialize in a particular family of grapes can safely be assumed to be an enthusiast for that grape (after all, who would want to spend a significant time tasting, say, Chenin Blanc if they can't stand the grape?).  So, you're freed from the possible conflict of a reviewer disliking a wine because of the inherent character of the varietal.

Will The Rhone Report take its place alongside Burghound and the Piedmont Report?  I'm not sure.  It seems unlikely, for instance, that anyone is going to make a living writing the "Bordeaux Blotter" when Robert Parker has been the acknowledged expert on Bordeaux for three decades.  And Parker has been largely responsible for the elevation of the Rhone Valley (and, more recently, the Rhone Ranger movement in California) to the forefront of the world of fine wine.  So, there isn't really a void that Jeb is filling.  Parker, in his August 2009 report on the Rhone Rangers, himself reviewed 488 wines from 117 producers.  But Jeb's contributions are still a welcome addition to the world of Rhone wines, and I hope that he continues.

Even if, in the long run, his success means that the Rhone Report won't remain free.  But while it is, go check it out.

Enjoying fall foliage while putting the vineyard to bed

This is a deceptively quiet time of year.  We aren't harvesting any more, but we're still pressing off some red lots in the cellar and only a few select lots have actually finished fermentation.  In the vineyard, we're doing anything we can to help the vines gather resources for 2010 before they go dormant.  In a typical vintage, that would include some post-harvest irrigation as well as fertilization and seeding of the cover crop.  This year, we have an enormous advantage: the 10-inch rainstorm from October that threatened the harvest.  Winemaker Ryan Hebert calculated that we'd have to irrigate 24 hours a day, every day, for seven months in order to match the 10 inches of rain that fell. 

So, the vineyard is greener and the cover crop off to an earlier start than I can ever remember.  The big storm also had the impact of allowing the compost and other organic fertilizers that we've spread on the vineyard over the last year to penetrate the soil.  You can apply anything you want to the vineyard... but unless you have the rain to allow it to get into the soil (and deep enough into the soil to reach where the vines' roots are) you're not going to see much effect.

This is also the time of year when the fall colors are at their peak.  Syrah, particularly, colors up almost like a maple tree, with reds and oranges as well as yellows and greens.  I took the opportunity to get out in the vineyard a bit to get some of the photos of what's going on.  First, a shot I loved from outside the winery, as we steam clean barrels.  Steam cleaning is much more efficient in its water use than pressure cleaning, and more effective to boot.  On a cool morning, the steam billowing around the barrels was fun to try to photograph.  Check out the rainbow.


Getting out into the vineyard (the Roussanne block in this case) you can see both the new cover crop and the effects of the disking that we've done to break up the soil and allow both rain and nutrients to penetrate the soil:


There was a dramatic contrast between a section of Grenache Blanc, still a spring-like yellow-green, and a Syrah block in full fall colors.  An owl box (unoccupied, this year) is in the foreground.


A look up between two Syrah rows shows how advanced the cover crop is for early November.  Most years, we haven't had our first rain yet by now, and November looks very dry and brown.


In the Syrah, I found a second-crop cluster that had not been harvested, nicely framed next to a particularly colorful leaf:


I took several shots of the Syrah foliage.  My favorite is the one below.


And finally, one last photo of the same border between the Grenache Blanc and Syrah, set against the clear November sky:


Harvest 2009 Evaluation and Recap

The 2009 harvest is done.  In the barn.  Finally.  At 64 days (beginning September 1st and ending November 3rd) it was our second-longest harvest this decade.  The only longer harvest, 2004, also saw the end of the harvest delayed by rain.

The weather during harvest was challenging, to say the least.  After a relatively cool early summer and a hot July, we entered into a pattern of roughly two weeks of unusually hot weather followed by two weeks of unusually cool weather.  One of these heat spikes came in late September, which added to the stress of the vineyard and led to us bringing in 50 tons (a quarter of our harvest) in the last week of September.  Cooler weather returned in early October to allow a more leisurely pace of harvest, but was followed by a fluke fall storm that dropped 10 inches of rain on the vineyard on October 13th.  The storm was well forecast, and we were able to bring in 70 tons of ripe fruit the week before the rain.  The clouds cleared and late October saw our best weather of the harvest season: consistent days in the 80s and nights in the low 40s.  This perfect weather allowed the fruit that was out in the rain to reconcentrate, and we resumed harvesting on October 27th and completed the harvest on November 3rd.

Overall, the harvest will be remembered as difficult and light, but it looks like the quality should be very good.  The yields are our lowest since 2001.  We brought in 198 tons, down 24% compared to 2008 and 38% from our high-water mark of 319 tons in 2005.  This lower tonnage is despite our getting our first production from the Scruffy Hill section of the vineyard: a head-pruned, dry-farmed 10-acre block on the south side of Tablas Creek. Final tonnages for 2009 for our principal varietals were:

Grape 2009 Yields (tons) 2008 Yields (tons) % Change
Viognier 12.2 19.4 -37.1%
Marsanne 5.3
Grenache Blanc 19.9
Picpoul Blanc 5.2
Vermentino 5.5
Total Whites 89.6
Grenache 35.8
Mourvedre 35.8
Tannat 5.8
Counoise 8.3
Total Reds 107
Total 196.6

Three factors, at least, led to the low yields.  First was drought.  We had our third consecutive drought year in Paso Robles, with rainfall totals last winter only about 60% of normal.  Second was frost.  We had our most damaging frost since 2001, impacting an estimated 35% of the vineyard.  Third was dehydration.  We had a heat spike in September, which caused rapid dehydration of the grape clusters and led to low cluster weights.  We avoided a fourth contributing factor; 24 tons of fruit were still on the vines when the big storm hit on October 13th and could easily have been lost to rot, but the terrific weather in late October saved us.

Thanks to the ingenuity of our winemaking team we also were able to use our greenhouses to concentrate an additional 7 tons of fruit that we didn't believe would survive the rain on the vines.  We picked three lots -- two of Roussanne and one of Counoise -- that were nearly but not quite ripe and brought them into the greenhouse to get a little additional concentration.  These nine tons entered the cellar a week or two later (for photos of and more information on the greenhouse project, check out Chelsea Magnusson's Note from the Cellar from last week).

So, yields could easily have been worse.  This was certainly a vintage where the quality of the vineyard and winemaking team mattered a lot: between the heat, the cold, the rain, the uneven ripening and the low yields there were more potential pitfalls than any vintage of which I've been a part.  It's a real testament to Neil, Ryan, Chelsea, and David (our cellar and vineyard team) that what we have in the cellar looks as good as it does.  And quality looks remarkable.  The wines are intensely colored and have very deep flavors.  Alcohols are lower than in past years; the average degree Brix this year was 23.4, down from 23.9 last year and 24.3 in 2007.  The wines have wonderful lushness, probably a consequence of the exceptionally low yields.  Overall, we averaged just under 2 tons per acre, with Syrah and Mourvedre (normally both relatively vigorous) among the lowest yielding, at 1.6 and 1.7 tons per acre, respectively.

It's too early to know how the different lots will play out over the course of the winter.  But it seems likely that given the low yields and the high quality, there will be very little Cotes de Tablas this year.  Esprit (both red and white) seems safe.  Stay tuned as we fit the pieces together...